Aberdeenshire is a rich hunting-ground for those interested in Pictish stones. And few places in Aberdeenshire have proved to be quite as rich in these intriguing remnants of a little-understood period of our history as the area around Rhynie, a village a little over eight miles north-west of Alford.
The best group of Pictish stones in Rhynie are the three on display in a shelter next to the car park at the Old Kirkyard, which you reach by descending a narrow single track road into the valley of the Water of Bogie on the south side of the village. This at first seems to be leading you out of the village, but it is only a third of a mile from the junction with the A97 to your destination.
The three Pictish stones you have come to see stand in a shelter at the north end of the car park. The largest stone, 1.3m tall, is irregularly shaped but has been well prepared for the carving. It carries a depiction of the head of a "beast", in this case probably intended to represent a seal or an otter, and it also carries a typical abstract Pictish symbol, a double disc and Z-rod.
The third symbol is a carving of a mirror and comb. The second stone, which is a little smaller at 0.75m tall, has been given a rectangular shape. It carries two abstract symbols plus a carving of a mirror. The third, smallest stone, seems to be a fragment of an originally larger stone and carries a carving of a beast, of a comb, and of part of a curving symbol.
A larger Pictish stone, the Craw Stone, standing to 1.8m, can be found in a field a few hundred yards uphill beyond the kirkyard. Of those on display in the shelter, the smallest was found in the field near the Craw Stone, while the other two were found in the foundations of the Old Kirk when it was demolished in 1878. Rhynie has two further Pictish stones on display, albeit in a very weathered state, at the west end of the village green, while another was broken up for use as building material in 1803. The best known Pictish stone found near the village, bearing a carving of what has become known as "Rhynie Man" is now on display at the headquarters of Aberdeenshire Council on the edge of Aberdeen. Only three miles north-east of Rhynie, two more Pictish symbol stones are on display in a shelter in the garden of Leith Hall.
The Old Kirkyard itself gives a fascinating insight into a rather more recent period of the area's history. Against its west wall a stone shelter has been built protecting what seems to be the oldest surviving grave slab in the kirkyard, dating back to October 1688, while nearby is an unusual coffin-shaped grave marker.