The group assembled at 10 a.m. sharp in the square at Fowlis Wester. A few old faces, a couple of new ones - in total seven; Irene, Martin, Frank, Andy, Nick, ScottY and Debs. The weather was ominously threatening damp... so nothing new there then. Due to the fact that the church service was just about to start, and no-one had remembered their copy of 'Hymns Ancient and Modern', it was decided to head for the circles first. We piled into a couple of the cars and motored up the hill a bit to the parking place. As we walked up the track, happed in mist, to the circles, scaring sheep for miles around, various animated discussions were held regarding bizarre theories encountered, which included a graphic description of barking seals by Martin.... (not his theory, I hasten to add). We looked at the outlier, the two circles, and wandered over the hillside to look down on the two-stone row at Crofthead marked by the alignment of stones on the eastern circle. Then a stroll back to the cars, marked by heavier and even damper mist, and back down the hill to the kirk. The service was over and we were able to access the two sculptured slabs plus the couple of fragments. The stones are excellent and well worth a look, though the larger needs to be dusted periodically, as spider's webs abounded! Nice little church, and then a wander round the graveyard afterwards so Irene could add to her collection of clay pipe pieces.
On to Auchterarder, winding through the back roads and one wee missed turning (map the right way up the next time, Martin!). A group of three stones by the Tullibardine road, a single out on a traffic island and two in dense undergrowth at the side of the road. The single is heavily girdled, and very easy to access all round. The other two were almost covered by brambles, so Frank pulled a machete from his pocket (OK, a Swiss Army knife - not so dramatic though is it?) and set to work. After a few deft slashes the rest of us piled in with our boots, and soon the area around both stones was relatively clear. The NW stone has four large, strange gouges on the northernmost face, but little else of distinction. The SE, however, ScottY maintained had a handprint on the south face. And there was indeed a handprint, faded but still clearly delineated, a medium sized left hand pointed downwards with the thumb straight down. A fair amount of passing traffic by now was looking a bit puzzled, particularly when Andy appeared to be taking a photograph of a nearby telegraph pole. However, let's not get into the discussion which that evoked...
By now stomachs were rumbling, and we were reminded of the only real reason for these outings - FOOD! So all into the cars again and we trundled towards Dunning. A bit of fun finding parking spots in this rather small village, but mission accomplished and into the Kirkstyle Inn. They seemed a little bemused as we hadn't booked, but found us space in the children's play area (singularly appropriate) and even found us an ashtray. No fire and a depressing lack of spaniels, but Frank found us a zebra, hippo and elephant so that cheered us up a bit. The food was good (if a bit limited in choice for the lettuce-munchers, of whom it turned out we have two), and Frank regaled us with tales out of school regarding another time and place where everyone was very serious AND vegetarian.... Our two veggies have a well-developed sense of humour (well, ScottY's from Cowdenbeath - it's part of the survival issue in West Fife - and Andy's known us long enough to take a teasing) and this carried us through to the puddings. The Kirkstyle does have a separate (though one page only) pudding menu. Selections were made and justice done to these, though they all had a worryingly similar look. No problems with the taste though, and worth a re-visit at some point!
Over to the church to view the Dupplin Cross, a magnificent piece of work from the 8th century, ably explained by the custodian. Pictures taken from all angles, and an examination of the ogham on the original base. This is a truly superb stone, and should not be missed. From here we walked down through the village to the edge of a barley field, where there is a small single standing stone. Very limited area round about it, and several signs of damage in the form of scrapes and traces of orange paint show that the farmer here does not care for this megalith the way we would hope for. A slight downer right at the end of the day, then, but a pretty productive day out. The next one is already in the planning for November, and should feature the Moulin Inn near Pitlochry again. Some musing about an Argyll weekend, but that's for the future. Thanks to everyone who attended, and we'll do it again soon!