The minor roads north-west of Tarland in Aberdeenshire climb into the foothills of the Grampian Mountains. The road that leads through Migvie also passes a number of other tiny settlements. But visitors seldom come this way unless in search of the Migvie Stone, a beautifully carved Pictish cross slab.
The Migvie Stone stands in Migvie Kirkyard, and limited parking is available at a bend in the track leading from the road, near the kirkyard gates. The stone stands not far inside the kirkyard, at the corner of a low stone burial enclosure. What you find is an irregularly shaped slab of gneiss, standing 2.1m tall. The front side of the stone faces east, away from the gate you will have come through. Much of this face is occupied by a carved cross filled with knotwork decoration.
The outline of the cross is unusually "waisted", and the four arms meet at its centre. The upper corners are carved to represent metal rings, as if the cross is a depiction of a pendant. It takes the right light and a little imagination to make them out, but the areas left on the front of the stone by the angles of the cross are home to additional carvings. Three of these are in the form of Pictish symbols, including an unusual pair of shears and a horseshoe. The lower right area carries a depiction of a rider on a horse. Experts in Pictish stones will tell you that the carvings on the Migvie Stone are less well done than on many similar stones, but in this setting the stone is nonetheless a magnificent monument.
The rear side of the stone, facing you as you come through the gate, is less smooth than the front, and part if it carries a carving of a horse and rider.
Migvie Kirk itself is an unassuming grey stone box with apparently blacked-out windows placed on rising ground at the north side of the kirkyard. It would be very easy to overlook the kirk altogether as you wander around the kirkyard. We certainly would have done, except that we'd missed seeing the Migvie Stone on first entering the kirkyard, so ended up checking around the rear of the kirk to see if the stone was propped against it: then checking the door to see if the stone was inside.
What we found inside was utterly unexpected, and quite magnificent. Movement sensing lights clicked on and we found ourselves in one of the most beautiful modern church interiors we've seen anywhere. Migvie Kirk is actually a deconsecrated church standing on part of the Tillypronie Estate. It has been restored to what you see today by the laird, Philip Astor, in memory of his parents. All of the work was undertaken by local artists and craftspeople and the restoration was completed in 2001.
The focal point for the kirk is formed by a group of stone chairs. They are carved with biblical texts, Pictish symbols and Ogham scripts. The chairs match the light-coloured stone tiling on the floor, while the walls and ceilings are all white. The centre of the north wall of the kirk is dominated by a huge oblique cross set into the plasterwork, and there are three stained glass windows, two in the south wall and one in the west, commissioned especially for the kirk.
Elsewhere on the walls, biblical texts are set amongst the work of local artists, and panels depicting religious sites in Aberdeenshire. And off to one side of the door stands another Pictish symbol stone. Though used sparingly, the quality of the woodwork in the kirk is magnificent, whether in the form of the table with carved knotwork legs, or the interior of the kirk doors, which are carved to carry a copy of the pattern found on the front face of the Migvie Stone.