The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth

We visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth a few weeks ago.

BRM sign P1010267

Bronte Parsonage Museum P1010266

BPM front P1010269

You can’t take photos inside the museum, so I bought the guide book and a booklet, The Brontës and Haworth to remind me of our visit and you can see some photos on the Brontë  Society website. It’s a fascinating house – a recreation of the Brontës home, as well as a museum displaying memorabilia, manuscripts, books and artworks. There is so much to see and all in a smaller house (with small rooms) than I had imagined.

I knew that the Brontës’ wrote their stories and poems in tiny notebooks (about the size of a credit card) in small handwriting but seeing the original manuscripts I was amazed at just how very small it is! And standing next to the display cabinet containing Charlotte Brontë’s dress she wore to set out for her honeymoon tour in Ireland I could see she wasn’t very tall – certainly less than 5ft.

The museum contains some of the Brontes’ paintings and drawings and Emily’s mahogany artist’s box – they really were talented in more than one field. I was intrigued by a large cupboard with 12 panels on the door, each panel containing a painting of one of the 12 apostles. I was even more fascinated by it and wished I’d been able to take a photograph of the cupboard, when later on whilst re-reading  Jane Eyre I came across this description of a cabinet in a room on the third storey of Thornfield Hall:

the doors of a great cabinet opposite – whose front, divided into twelve panels, bore in grim design, the heads of the twelve apostles, each enclosed in its separate panel as in a frame …

According as the shifting obscurity and flickering gleam hovered here or glanced there, it was no the bearded physician, Luke, that bent his brow; now St John’s long hair that waved; and anon the devilish face of Judas, that grew out of the panel, and seemed gathering life and threatening a revelation of the arch-traitor – of Satan himself – in his subordinates form.

I realised that this was the cupboard I had seen in the Museum! I’d stood in front of it for some while wondering what it was as there is nothing in the guide book about it.  Seeing it at night by candlelight must have been very different from standing in a museum looking at it in daylight! Since then I’ve been unable to find out much about this cupboard, apart from a post on the Stubbs Family History blog, which explains how the Museum acquired the cupboard. And you can see a photograph of it here.

I now intend to read more of Charlotte Brontë’s novels and Mrs Gaskell’s biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, first published in 1857 – Charlotte had died in 1855, aged 38.

I’d also like to read a more modern biography, maybe Charlotte Brontë: a Passionate Life by Lyndall Gordon or The Brontës by Juliet Barker about the family.

What would you recommend?

The Lake District – Honister Pass

Honister Pass P1010084
Honister Pass

Whilst we were staying in the Lake District a few weeks ago we drove through the Honister Pass, one of the highest passes in Cumbria. It connects the Buttermere Valley with the eastern end of Borrowdale Valley. There is a slate mine but we didn’t have time to take a tour – just enough time for a quick drink and a look round the cafe/shop/showroom and stone garden.

Honister Slate mine P1010070
Honister Slate Mine entrance
Honister Sky High Cafe P1010069
Honister Sky High Cafe

The little stone garden is most unusual:

Honister - stone garden
Honister – stone garden
Honister - stone garden
Honister – stone garden

and they fly the flag in the cafe:

Honister Sky High Cafe
Honister Sky High Cafe

as well as in words on this slate at the entrance:

Fly the Flag
Fly the Flag

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

The Lake District: Aira Force

Last Saturday I wrote about our trip on Ullswater on a grey, overcast morning, a couple of weeks ago. That same day the the sky cleared, and the sun shone as we went to see Aira Force, below Gowbarrow Fell above the shores of Ullswater.  You wouldn’t have thought it was the same day, as the extra layers of clothing had to come off!

Aira Force (from ‘fors’ the Viking word for waterfall) is a beautiful, wonderful place – a series of waterfalls, cascading down a fracture in the ancient volcanic rocks in a deep gorge. People have been visiting Aira Force for about 250 years. This is the plan of Aira Force on the National Trust board at the entrance to the Glade (with my added notation):

Aira Force plan P1010130

 From the Glade you start to ascend the waterfall walking through the Pinetum, which includes firs, pines, spruces, cedars and yews planted in the 19th century. The photo below shows the trunk of a Monkey Puzzle tree, the top way above me:

Pinetum P1010133The paths are circular, most of them dating back to the early 19th century when visitors were escorted by tour guides. There are three bridges across the Aira Beck – the first reference to a bridge was by Wordsworth in 1787. Below is a view of one of the bridges:

Bridge P1010140There are also several sets of steps:

Steps P1010144and of course, the cascades, falling 66 feet from the top to the bottom:

Waterfall P1010149I managed to snap a rainbow:

Rainbow P1010148

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

The Lake District: Ullswater

The shore of Ullswater is famous as the place that inspired Wordsworth to write his poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud‘, after a lakeshore walk in 1802, and it’s also where Donald Campbell broke the world water speed record on 23 July 1955 in the jet powered Bluebird K7. The lake is a ribbon lake formed after the last ice age, sculpted by three separate glaciers.

There were no speed boats on the lake, they’re banned now, and the season for daffodils was over on the dull, cloudy morning when we went on a ‘steamer’ on Ullswater, during our recent holiday in the Lake District. The Ullswater ‘Steamers’ have been sailing on the lake since 1859 and the oldest boat currently still in use is the Lady of the Lake, built in 1877, believed to be the oldest working passenger vessel in the world. It was in steam until the 1930s and it was the boat we boarded for our trip down the length of the lake and back again.

Waiting for the boat at Glenridding Pier
Waiting for the boat at Glenridding Pier
Lady of the Lake P1010111
On board the Lady of the Lake

Even though the weather wasn’t very good it wasn’t raining and we had a pleasant trip with views of both sides of the lake and the mountains .

Norfolk Island, Ullswater P1010103
Norfolk Island, Ullswater
Pooley Bridge pier P1010112
Pooley Bridge Pier
return journey P1010120
Ullswater

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Stone circles are amongst the most tangible and durable connections to the past. They have fascinated me ever since I was a young teenager and saw Stonehenge. We were on our way to Girl Guide camp in the New Forest, travelling overnight by coach from Cheshire and reached Stonehenge just before dawn. I was just about awake as we scrambled down from the coach and made our way over the field to be at Stonehenge as the sun came up. It was magical.

We were the only people there and in those days Stonehenge was fully accessible. I’ve been there since, and seen it on TV but I am so glad I had that experience before full access to Stonehenge was available, before there was a carpark and a visitor centre, shop and café. Now you can only view the stones from a short distance away along a tarmac pathway – after you’ve planned your visit in advance, parked your car and been driven 10 minutes by a shuttle bus, because entry to Stonehenge is by timed tickets. (Access is free at the solstices.)  I understand the need for all this but it still makes me shudder.

When I discovered that there is a stone circle near Keswick I was keen to go there whilst we were staying in the Lake District last week. Although there were more people at Castlerigg Stone Circle than I would have liked I really did appreciate the informality of the site.  There are no restrictions and you can wander around the stones as much you like. I suppose you’d have to get there at dawn or at least a lot earlier than we did to be there on your own.

Castlerigg is set on a plateau near Keswick, surrounded by hills, including Skiddaw and Blencathra. There is no carpark, visitor centre or shop – and I hope it stays that way. You can park in a little lane, where there was an ice-cream van selling delicious home-made ice-cream on the day we were there.

This was our first sight of the stones:

Approaching Castlerigg Stone Circle (1)  P1010056

Stone circles are ancient monuments. There are over 50 stone circles in the Lake District, made with locally available stones. Nobody knows what their function was, although there is much debate about whether they had a ritual and religious use, an astronomical significance or an economic function.

Castlerigg dates from around 5,200 BC which makes it older than the pyramids! Here is part of the circle. It is about 30 metres in diameter, which makes it quite difficult to take photos of the whole circle:

Castlerigg view 2

As you can see that the stones vary in size. The tallest stone is 2.3 metres and the largest weighs about 16 tonnes.

Castlerigg P1010061

And here are two photos of parts of the interpretation boards:

Int Bd Castlerigg P1010051

Int Bd Castlerigg P1010052

Castlerigg Stone Circle is described A Guide to the Stone Circles of the Lake District by David Watson, published in 2009 with colour photographs, maps and directions to the sites. The cover photo shows Castlerigg Stone Circle.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Still Catching Up

I’ve been missing from my blog for most of September, but I’ve still been reading. We’ve just returned from a  few days in the Lake District – such a beautiful part of the UK!

Caldbeck, Cumbria
Caldbeck, Cumbria

I managed to squeeze in some reading time as well as walking in the fells near Caldbeck and visiting the Pencil Museum in Keswick, Castlerigg Stone Circle, the Honister Pass, Ullswater and Aira Force. I’ll post some photos later on.

I took two books with me that I had already begun reading and finished one of them – Entry Island by Peter May. I’ve previously read May’s Lewis Trilogy – The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen all of which I loved and whilst I did enjoy Entry Island I don’t think it quite lives up to the Lewis books. However, as I discovered when I came home this weekend Entry Island has been awarded the third annual Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival.

Entry Island is set in present day Magdalen Islands, part of the province of Quebec, in the Gulf of St Lawrence, and in the nineteenth century on the Isle of Lewis at the time of the Highland Clearances.  It mixes together two stories and two genres, crime fiction and historical fiction. It has a strong sense of place in both locations and beautiful descriptions of the landscape as for example in this passage:

It was another ten minutes before the ferry slipped out of the harbour, gliding past the outer breakwater on a sea like glass, to reveal Entry Island in the far distance, stretched out on the far side of the bay, the sun only now rising above a gathering of dark morning cloud beyond it. The island drew Sime’s focus and held it there, almost trancelike, as the sun sent its reflection careening towards him, creating what was almost a halo effect around the island itself. There was something magical about it. Almost mystical. (page 14)

The characters are convincing – Detective Sime Mackenzie, based in Montreal is part of the team sent to Entry Island to investigate the death of the wealthy businessman, James Cowell found stabbed to death. His wife, Kirsty is the obvious suspect. Sime is suffering from insomnia, a situation made worse by the fact that his ex-wife is also on the investigating team. Sime is convinced that he knows Kirsty, although they have never met before and he doubts that she is the culprit. Running parallel to this crime fiction element is the historical one, linked by Sime’s ancestor, also called Sime who was a crofter’s son on the Isle of Lewis and whose love for the laird’s daughter seemed doomed from the start. The story of life on Lewis and the harsh treatment the crofters received during the potato famine, followed by the terrible conditions they endured during their transportation to Canada is powerfully and emotionally portrayed.

The two stories are linked together well, but I found the present day investigation not too convincing and rather contrived as the team seemed to jump to conclusions without much thought or thorough investigation of the evidence. And I thought that the historical element was dominant at the expense of the modern day crime story making the book a little unbalanced. However, as I said I liked the book, which is an entertaining read that held my interest to the end.

Peter May is a prolific author. He was born and brought up in Scotland, but he now lives in France. As well as The Lewis Trilogy he has also written The Enzo Files, a series of seven books featuring Scottish forensic scientist, Enzo MacLeod, who lives in France, teaches at a university in Toulouse, and is working on solving seven of France’s most famous cold cases by applying the latest scientific techniques and The China Thrillers, a series of six books featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and Margaret Campbell, forensic pathologist from Chicago. He has also had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer. 

I still have three other books to write about, including my first book for this year’s R.I.P. Challenge, Testament of a Witch, which like Entry Island also qualifies for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge. Will I ever catch up with myself?

Saturday Snapshot – Glen Etive

Here are some more photos from our recent holiday in Scotland. They are of Glen Etive in the Highlands. We drove down a little track alongside the River Etive:

River Etive P1000071until we got to Loch Etive:

Loch Etive P1000091Loch Etive is a sea loch and is part of the Rathad Mara Project to transport timber from the forests using a mobile floating pier, now derelict:

Floating Pier Loch Etive P1000090

An interpretation board by the loch side records that Glen Etive was the home of ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows‘, a first century Pictish princess who was betrothed to Conchobar, the High King of Ulster. According to Celtic tales she fled to Scotland to Glen Etive, with her lover Naoise and his two brothers, where she spent a most idyllic and peaceful time. But promised safe conduct and hospitality by Conchobar, they reluctantly leave Etive for Ireland. It ends in tragedy because Conchobar’s promise is broken, Naoise and his brothers are murdered and Deirdre according to one tale kills her self by falling from a chariot, dashing her head against a rock. In another version she simply dies of a broken heart.

Glen Etive Int Bd P1000075For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

 

Scottish Scenes from Our Holiday

Whilst we were on holiday this summer in and around Glencoe we visited Castle Stalker again. We first saw it nearly two years ago at the end of an afternoon as the light was fading. So this time we went in the morning and looked at it from both sides. We were staying at Kentallen near Glencoe – Castle Stalker is on the same road, the A828 between Kentallen and Oban and there is a view point behind the View Cafe. Just a short distance along the road there is another viewpoint via an old lane. This takes you down to the shore of Loch Linnhe:

Castle Stalker 1and here it is in close-up:

Castle Stalker 2When I say we ‘visited’ Castle Stalker it’s not strictly accurate as although it is open to visitors that’s only for five days a year  – and not during the time we were there.

From Castle Stalker we drove on to Oban, which as it was the holiday season was packed. But we walked up the hillside above Oban to McCaig’s Tower overlooking the town and it was much quieter there. It’s not actually a tower but a Roman style Colosseum built over a five year period from 1895 until his death in 1902 by John Stuart McCaig. It was unfinished at the time of his death. He intended it to have a roof and a central tower.

McCaig's Tower from below P1000051

Inside the tower is a garden with spectacular views over the town, the harbour and out to  the islands of KerreraLismore and Mull.

McCaig's Tower P1000034

 

Oban from McCaig's Tower P1000042

I have more photos to show another day of Glen Etive, a beautiful glen in the Central Highlands.

 Saturday Snapshot is a weekly event hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Cragside: The Turkish Baths

I haven’t done a Saturday Snapshot for months!

Turkish Bath P1090264

Here are some photos of the Turkish Baths at Cragside, in Northumberland that I’ve been meaning to post since our last visit. There’s a lot to see at Cragside. It’s now owned by the National Trust and was formerly the home of William George Armstrong (1810 – 1900). We didn’t manage to see this suite of rooms the first time we visited as there was quite a queue.  But on our second visit there weren’t as many people. You go down stairs from the Library lobby to go into the rooms below the Library. The guide book describes them as:

The suite of rooms includes a steam bath, a cold plunge, a hot bath and a shower, as well as water closets and a changing room. They are the lowest and the first completed part of Norman Shaw’s first addition to the original house. His plan, which shows that modifications were still being made, is dated 5 May 1870, and Armstrong’s friend, Thomas Sopwith, recorded in his diary that ‘the Turkish Bath at Cragside was used for the first time on November 4th 1870′.
The baths were part of Lord Armstrong’s innovative provision of central heating for the whole house. The space occupied by the baths is cleverly situated between chambers with huge water-pipe coils, which, heated from the boiler to the north, were the source of hot air that was ducted up into the main house. (NT guide book for Cragside)

Turkish Bath P1090265

Turkish Bath P1090266Apparently, Lord Armstrong was keen to build up foreign business and thought that:

Chinese or Burmese, or Japanese arms ministers would be more likely to agree to handsome contracts, if they were both well entertained and comfortable – even in a Northumbrian winter. (NT guide book for Cragside)

I think it’s an excellent idea and wish we had space for something similar!

The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser

The Steel Bonnets 001The full title of this book is The Steel Bonnets: the Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers by George MacDonald Fraser. It’s a detailed account of the Border between England and Scotland up to the accession of James VI’s succession to the English throne in 1603.

The people living in the Borders, both English and Scottish feuded amongst themselves, Scots against Scots, English against English, and Scots against English – robbery, blackmail, raiding, arson, kidnapping, murder and extortion were regular events during that period, amongst a number of families, including Armstrongs, Johnstones, Forsters and Hetheringtons, Elliots, Fenwicks, Bells and Nixons, Littles and Scotts, Maxwells and Kerrs. Some families had both English and Scottish members, making it all very confusing. Fraser searched many sources in compiling this history, including State and Border papers and letters, listed in the Bibliography.

There is a map showing the six Marches that made up the Border – three on each side, East, Middle and West. Each March had its own Warden. It’s not very easy to see on my copy of this map, but it shows the general locations:

Border Marches map

The seamen of the first Elizabeth might sweep the world’s greatest fleet off the seas, but for all the protection she could give to her Northumbrian peasants they might as well have been in Africa. While young Shakespeare wrote his plays, and the monarchs of England and Scotland ruled the comparatively secure hearts of their kingdoms, the narrow hill land between was dominated by the lance and the sword. The tribal leaders from their towers, the broken men and outlaws of the mosses, the ordinary peasants of the valleys, in their own phrase, “Shook loose the Border.” They continued to shake it as long as it was a political reality, practising systematic robbery and destruction on each other. History has christened them the Border Reivers.*

*Reiver, reaver – robber, raider, marauder, plunderer. the term is obsolete, but lingers on in words like bereave. (page 3)

The book is divided into five parts:

  • Part I a brief historical sketch up to 1500 from the Roman period.
  • Part II describing what the Border was like in that century, the people who lived there, who were the leading robber families, how they lived, ate, dressed, built their homes, the games they played (football, the fore-runner of rugby, soccer and American football, horse racing, hawking, hunting, fishing and gambling), and the songs they sang – Border ballads.
  • Part III – about the reivers, how they rode their raids, conducted their feuds etc and the Border Law, and how the March Wardens tried to keep order, what it was like for ordinary folk living in the frontier country.
  • Part IV – historical survey of the reiving century from 1503 – 1603, how the reivers fitted into the history of their time and the part they played in the long-drawn Anglo- Scottish struggle..
  • Part V – how their story ended when England and Scotland came under one king, and the old Border ceased to be.

James became the King of all Britain in 1603:

… he was determined to make one country where there had been two before, to bury the old quarrels, and to keep the peace. (page 360)

Fraser makes the point that whilst James pacified the Borders using a

‘heavy hand and it makes an ugly story’, … ‘at the end of the day he left the old, wild, bloody Border a fit place for ordinary folk to live. If the border riders were harshly dealt with, it is not irrelevant to point out that they had dealt fairly harshly in their time. Undoubtedly injustice and atrocity took place in settling the frontier, but the victims are not to be accounted any nobler just because of that.

It is also wrong to suggest that James was ignorant of Border conditions. He knew a great deal about them, from first-hand experience – certainly more than any occupant of the English throne since Richard III. He may be charged with cruelty, indifference and dishonesty in his attitude to Border affairs, but not with ignorance or stupidity. (pages 360 -361)

It’s taken me since the beginning of December to read this book. I read it slowly in small sections as there is a lot to take in and I found the structure of the book a bit confusing and disjointed, as inevitably it meant that information was repeated. There are a large number of footnotes, which interrupted the flow of the text if I paused to read them – which I did, as they contained much relevant information. I would have preferred it to have been incorporated into the main body of the book.

However, I’m glad I read it – it’s a tour de force, and a mine of information! An ideal book for Read Scotland 2014 if you are interested in the history of the region and/or the families, or like me, you live there.

George MacDonald Fraser (1925 – 2008) was a Scot born in England (Carlisle), a Borderer himself. In 1943 he enlisted in The Border Regiment and served in the Burma Campaign. He was later granted a commission into the Gordon Highlanders. After the War he became a journalist. He was the author of the ‘Flashman‘ books, other novels and movie scripts.

Saturday Snapshot – Flodden

It’s the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden this year – it was on 9th September 1513 that the armies of England and Scotland met at Flodden Field, near Branxton in Northumberland. There have been events this year to commemorate the battle and the men from both nations who died in this last medieval battle between England and Scotland.

Living not far from the site of the battle this week we went to see what had changed as a result of the anniversary. There’s now a surfaced path leading up to the Monument.

(Click on the photos to see them enlarged)

500th anniversary P1010826

There are some more information boards and signs to guide you round the Battlefield Trail:

Battlefield trail signpost P1010837The monument isn’t actually on the site of the battle but stands on Piper’s Hill.

Flodden MonumentFrom the monument you can look towards the north down on the village of Branxton:

Branxton P1010831The two armies lined up south of the monument with a marshy dip between them. The Scots advanced first, unaware of the of the ground conditions below them. Now it’s a ditch but in 1513 there was a brook surrounded by a reeded quagmire downhill – where the Scots were bogged down, the rear ranks pushing forward into the front ranks, crushing the fallen bodies and causing chaos. They were then easy prey for the deadly English billhooks.

It looks like this now – the ditch between the hedge and fence is now nearly dry, after weeks of rain in 1513 it was a quagmire:

Boggy Ground P1010835

 and the two armies came face to face:

Tthe Killing Fields P1010858

Flodden 1513: Scotland’s Greatest Defeat by John Sadler is an excellent account of the strategies and tactics of both armies, with maps and plans showing how the battle began and a time timeline of the various conflicts giving a detailed account of events.

Having read this book and the information boards around the trail I was able to visualise the battle, even on a peaceful weekday afternoon 500 years later. The Scottish troops had moved from their original position on Flodden Edge as the English approached the battlefield, putting them at a disadvantage. The outcome could have been different if they had seen the dip below them as they charged down the hill – or even if the English had attacked first.

But then, the battle needn’t have taken place at all if James IV of Scotland had not invaded England in an attempt to divert English troops from their fight against the French. Indeed he had entered into a Treaty of Perpetual Peace with England in 1502. But in 1512 he had also renewed the Auld Alliance with the French, putting him in the position of either declaring for France against Henry VIII (James’s brother-in-law) or remaining neutral, which would make him vulnerable to any further English expansion, as Henry had revived his claim to the Scottish throne.

Despite pressure from senior members of his council to avoid an outright breach with England, when Henry arrived in Calais preparing to wage war against the French, James decided to go to war against the English. Prior to the battle at Flodden he had crossed the River Tweed into England where he then attacked and captured Norham Castle, and then destroyed both Etal and Ford Castles whilst the English were still mustering their troops. But the outcome was a disaster for Scotland and James was killed on Flodden Field:

The king’s was but one of many hundreds of bodies, sprawled and piled on the bloodied turf. The whole hillside from the brook northwards was a killing ground, the dead, maimed and horribly injured competing for space, severed limbs and streaming entrails spilling fresh gore. The din would have been terrific, with hoarse shouts and the screams of the dying men, the crash of spears, a crescendo rising and spilling like breakers against the shore. (page 82, Flodden 1513 by John Sadler)

Each time I go to Branxton, or see the monument as we drive south along the A697, I think about the battle and all those who died there in 1513.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots

It’s been a busy time here recently, as these photos of some of the places we’ve visited show:

We’ve been away visiting family. We stayed at Marlow in Buckinghamshire. The photo below shows the Marlow Bridge – a road and footbridge across the River Thames. The original crossing probably dates back to 1309. The current suspension bridge was built 1829 and 1832 and was restored in 1956-7.

Marlow Bridge P1090134

There were the usual boats, ducks and swans but we were surprised to see this driving up the Thames:

Amphibious car Marlow P1090141We had a flying visit to Eton and Windsor, not far from Marlow. We had lunch at the 300 year old George Inn at Eton on one side of the Thames:

George Inn Eton P1090082and then we crossed the bridge into Windsor for a quick look at Windsor Castle:

Windsor Castle P1090097

 Other trips out were to Silverstone in Northamptonshire where our nephew has a hospitality suite and we watched the practice for the British MotoGP. His suite, located right over the pit lane, has fantastic views over the start/finish straight.

Silverstone P1090230And then we were off to Coventry to see our other nephew’s show The Prodigals (he’s the musical supervisor/director). Before  the show we managed to go to Coventry Cathedral, but only to see the outside as it was near to closing time for the Cathedral and opening time for the show. The photo below shows the entrance to the Cathedral through the huge Screen of Saints and Angels, with a reflection of the ruins of the old Cathedral:

Coventry Cathedral P1090236and finally the next photo shows the enormous bronze statues, designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, of St Michael defeating the Devil:

Coventry Cathedral P1090238

I’ve got more photos – plenty for several Saturday Snapshot posts!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots: Pisa

I’ve been looking through some old holiday photos – these are from 2000 when we visited Pisa whilst staying near Florence.

This is our first view of the Leaning Tower, which doesn’t actually look as though it’s leaning much at this angle:

View Leaning Tower Pisa DCP_0104But when we got nearer you can see just how far it leans:

Leaning tower Pisa DCP_0105That’s me in the sun hat.

And here’s another view of the Tower taken from the roof of the Cathedral:

View Leaning tower Pisa DCP_0133We didn’t have long to spend in Pisa itself after we had looked round the Cathedral, but I was interested in this little church we passed on the way to the Cathedral Square. It’s Santa Maria della Spina, tucked away next to the river Arno:

Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa DCP_0101A lovely Gothic church, in sparkling white marble and very eye-catching as we walked by. I wished we’d had time to see more but we had to catch the train.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill

One of the things that struck me when I was reading Agatha Christie’s An Autobiography was her love of houses. It stemmed from her childhood dolls’ house. She enjoyed buying all the things to put in it – not just furniture, but all the household implements such as brushes and dustpans, and food, cutlery and glasses. She also liked playing at moving house, using a cardboard box as a furniture van.

Writing about her life with her husband, Max Mallowan she wrote:

We were always choosing sites for houses. This was mainly owing to me, houses having always been my passion – there was indeed a moment in my life, not long before the outbreak of the second war, when I was the proud owner of eight houses. (page 440 of An Autobiography)

Agatha Christie at HomeSo when I saw that Hilary Macaskill had written this book – Agatha Christie at Home – I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. It’s a beautiful book, with many photographs – more than 100 colour photos – illustrating Agatha’s life and homes. I took my time reading it, first of all looking at the photos, before reading the text.

There is a Foreword by Mathew Prichard, her grandson, explaining the love his grandmother had for Devon, in particular for Torquay, where she was born and Greenway, the house that had a special place in her heart.  He expressed his hope that this book will ‘transmit some of the magic that my whole family felt when they were there.’  And this book does indeed do that!

There is an overview of Agatha Christie’s life followed by descriptions of the houses and countryside she loved – from Ashfield in Torquay her first home, where she was born and brought up to Greenway, a Georgian mansion above the River Dart, now owned by the National Trust.

There are no spoilers in this book but Hilary Macaskill has identified the settings Agatha Christie used in her books and how some of the place names have been altered, but are still recognizable from her descriptions. I hadn’t realised that the names of some of her characters are taken from the names of streets or villages, such as Luscombe Road in Paignton which she adopted for Colonel Luscombe in At Bertram’s Hotel.

It’s a useful book too if you want to find out more about visiting Devon with tourist information and website addresses. The final chapter is about Agatha Christie’s legacy and her continuing popularity both nationally and internationally. As well as being able to visit Greenway, which has been restored to the way it was when Agatha lived there, there are events to celebrate her life and works, such as the annual Agatha Christie week that takes place in Torquay each September around her birthday.

I haven’t been to Greenway, although I have stayed in Torquay, but that was before Greenway was open to the public. It is enormously popular – on the first day it was opened over 400 visitors came to see the house. But Agatha Christie was a very private person and I can’t imagine what she would have thought about that. After all she had refused permission for an ‘authorized life’ to be written, stating:

‘I write books to be sold and I hope people will enjoy them but I think people should be interested in books and not their authors.’ (page 129)

Knowing that I think I’d feel I was invading her privacy if I did go to Greenway!

Saturday Snapshots: Wallington

Griffins' heads, Wallington

Wallington is now owned by the National Trust but was for generations the home of the Blackett and Trevelyan families. It’s in the village of Cambo, Northumberland, to the west of Morpeth, approached down a series of country lanes. We visited it just over a week ago, never having heard of it or of Cambo until I looked in the NT handbook. There’s a lot to see, including these strange objects on the front lawn – they’re griffin heads that were originally on Bishopsgate in London (according to wikipedia this was the gate where the heads of criminals were displayed on spikes).

I took lots of photos, mainly inside the house, which was built in the late 17th century. We didn’t have time to see everything and spent most of the time looking round the house. I’ve just posted a few of my photos today (click on them to enlarge):

First the entrance to the property is under a Clock Tower topped by a cupola on nine Doric columns:

Clock Tower, Wallington

This opens into a grassed courtyard where people were sitting having picnics and children were playing ball games. Crossing the grass takes you to the entrance to the house:

Wallington entranceI think the Central Hall is impressive, but one of the house stewards told me not all visitors like it. I suppose not everybody thinks an Italianate Renaissance palazzo type courtyard is right for the house, or perhaps it’s the wall paintings they don’t like.

Central Hall, Wallington P1080991The wall paintings illustrate the history of Northumberland. They are the work of William Bell Scott, a friend of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The photo below shows three of the paintings, featuring Egfrid, King of Northumberland with St Cuthbert, Danish Vikings landing at Tynemouth and the death of the Venerable Bede.

Wall paintings, Wallington P1080993Just a few more photos – below a photo of one of the cabinets containing a collection of model soldiers, 3,800 in total. These belonged to the three sons of Sir George Otto Trevelyan. They set them out following the plans of the battles of Marlborough and Napoleonic wars to re-enact the battles. Now they are laid out in regiments:

Model soldiers, Wallington P1090002There are the usual rooms – Kitchen (my photos of this are a bit dark), Parlour, Study, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Library, Nusery, Bedrooms and Galleries, all with many paintings, sculptures, beautiful furniture and collections of ceramics and textiles.

I was intrigued by this large boot in one of the bedrooms:

Boot Bath, Wallington P1090021It’s a Boot Bath – used by Sir William Blackett in the 18th century. It’s made of metal sheets soldered together. I don’t think I’d have liked using it, but it was designed for modesty – just your head and shoulders could be seen when you’re sitting in it – and for warmth! It was originally used in a bedroom downstairs and placed near a fire. I don’t think I’d like to have been one of the servants either, whose job it was to fill it up or empty it.

One final photo. After going round the house and part of the garden we needed some refreshment: a cup of Earl Grey tea with coffee and walnut cake for me and and mug of coffee with chocolate fudge cake for David (you can see my reflection in the teapot):

Teatime, Wallington P1090036

That’s enough for now – more photos another day, maybe of the Cabinet of Curiosities on the top floor of the house.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots

Today’s Saturday Snapshots are from our visit last week to Polkommet Country Park, West Lothian in Scotland. The Park has some lovely woodland walks alongside the River Almond:

River Almond P1080925Our granddaughter couldn’t resist getting her feet wet:

E & River Almond P1080937 For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots: Loch Ness

My Saturday Snapshots are some more photos from our last holiday in Scotland. We had been to Inverness and decided to drive back to Coylumbridge along the road following the western shore of Loch Ness. We stopped and went down these steps from the road.Loch Ness steps P1080650It was a calm peaceful scene – no sign of anything on the loch – not a monster in sight.Loch Ness P1080647There are a few interpretation boards by the side of the road above Loch Ness. They are not in very good condition now, a bit dirty, but you can still read them. The one below states that St Columba is said to have seen the monster in the 6th century, that ospreys fish in the loch and that seals sometimes visit chasing salmon and trout. What I didn’t know is that a Wellington bomber had crashed in the loch during a snowstorm in 1940.

Loch Ness Interpr Board P1080651

The next board states that the loch is 38km long and up to 238m deep, rivers feeding into the loch generate hydro-electricity that was first used industrially in 1895 for smelting  aluminium. This board includes information about the Caledonian Canal, which links Inverness in the north to Fort William about 60 miles to the south. The canal, constructed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1822, is really a system of four canals linking to the lochs, one of which is Loch Ness.Loch Ness Interpr Bd P1080653I think it’s time for some new interpretation boards to replace these old and grubby ones!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads

Saturday Snapshots

This Saturday I’m continuing to post photos from our recent holiday in Scotland.

This is Loch Morlich  is in the Glenmore Forest Park, 300 metres above sea level, between Aviemore and Cairngorm Mountain.

Loch Morlich P1080591

Loch Morlich P1080595

There is a level circular walk around the Loch, which has a Sailing Club. I took the two photos shown above on a wet and cloudy afternoon when there weren’t many people around. I hadn’t expected to find a beach so close to the mountains and about 30 miles from the sea!

Later in the week on a brighter day we went back to Loch Morlich, just a bit further round the shore. This part of the Loch is the home of Loch Morlich Watersports Centre and we arrived just as groups of young people were leaving, so we had the beach to ourselves: :

Loch Morlich P1010773 There is a Beach Cafe:

Loch Morlich watersports 01

Loch Morlich Boathouse Cafe

Loch Morlich is managed by Forestry Commission Scotland and is the first and only fresh water loch to ever have received the Rural Beach Award in Keep Scotland Beautiful’s (KSB) Seaside Award campaign.Loch Morlich watersports 02

Click on the photos to enlarge.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy.

Saturday Snapshots

Last Saturday I posted photos of An Lochan Uaine near the path on our walk through Glenmore Forest Park. Today here are some more photos of our walk  after we left the lochan. The route continued along the Ryvoan Pass on the old Rathad nam Mearlach – or Thieves Road. Cattle raiders used hill tracks like this to move their spoils avoiding the more well-used routes.

As we went gradually up the hill this building came into view:

Bothy1 P1080705

Bothy2P1080706It’s a bothy – see this article explaining what a bothy is. The photo below shows the entrance:

Bothy3P1080709and this is what is inside:

Bothy4P1080710There are some rules:

Bothy rules P1080722It’s a very welcome shelter – especially on a wet, windy day!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy.

Saturday Snapshot

We’ve been away last week – we went here:

Caringorms P1080750the Cairngorms – and there was snow in May.

Cairngorm shop P1080752Lower down the snow fell too but didn’t stick. The photo below is of a beautiful little loch in the Glenmore Forest Park, An Lochan Uaine the ‘green lochan’ (although in my photo it looks blue – it was really green!). ‘Lochan’ is Gaelic for ‘ a small loch, or lake’.

An Lochan Uaine P1080677The green shows up more in this photo:

An Lochan Uaine P1080681

We have many more photos, which no doubt, I’ll be posting and writing about later. Click on the photos to see them enlarged.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy.

Berwick’s Elizabethan Ramparts

Following on from last Saturday’s Saturday Snapshots here are a few more photos of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is the northernmost town in England. It’s a Border town that changed hands between England and Scotland 14 times until it finally became part of England in 1482. It’s a walled town; the original medieval walls were built in the 13th century and the Elizabethan Ramparts, dating from 1558 are virtually intact.

Berwick Elizabethan Ramparts

The fortifications replaced the medieval wall on the North and East sides of the town. The photo above shows part of the Elizabethan wall that is now the boundary wall of a car park.

Below are two photos of sections of the walls:

Berwick Ramparts 1

Berwick walls & bridges

The photo below shows a Russian cannon, captured in the Crimea. Before the Second World War this part of part of the walls was once bristling with artillery. All that remains now is this cannon which was brought back as one of the trophies at the end of the Crimean War (1854-56). The top of the barrel of the gun is embossed with the double-headed eagle emblem of the Russian Tzar.

Berwick Ramparts Canon

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Berwick Castle

There is little left of Berwick Castle. Ruins are almost as enticing as libraries and bookshops to me. If there are any of these in an area I love to go and explore, so it’s amazing that after living near Berwick-upon-Tweed for over three years the most I’ve seen of Berwick Castle is the view of a wall from Berwick Railway Station. It was the building of the railway that caused the Castle’s final destruction when in 1847 substantial parts of the Castle were demolished to make way for the Station! Apparently the walls were so thick they had to use gunpowder to reduce them to rubble.

We were in Berwick on Wednesday; it was a dismal afternoon as rain blew in from the North Sea, not ideal for taking photos, especially on a camera phone. I’ll go back another day, when the sun is out, to take more photos.

The photo below shows the approach to the Castle ruins from Coronation Park above the River Tweed. The Park was created to celebrate the coronation of George VI in 1937. The area at the top of the Park was known as Gallows Knowe. It was the place of public executions in Berwick, the last being in 1823 – maybe the very place where we stood to take photos.

Berwick Castle grounds IMG_0459

The Castle was first recorded in 1160, probably built by King David I of Scotland, and was completely rebuilt by Edward I of England, after he captured it in 1296, with a strong circuit of walls,  towers and turrets, including royal apartments, a great hall and a chapel. Berwick- upon-Tweed is the most northerly town in England. a border town that changed hands between England and Scotland many times until 1482 when it was retaken from Scotland.

The photo below shows the castle mound, and the remains of the castle walls, including a rounded gun tower . On the right of the photo the White Walls are visible – this was a battlemented wall that still runs from the corner of the castle down to the River Tweed. It was built to defend the river approach to the castle and town around 1297 – 1298. Also, just about visible on the extreme right of the photo is the Royal Border Bridge carrying the railway line into Berwick Station.

Berwick Castle mound and wall IMG_0469The next photo (below) shows more detail of the Bridge and White Walls.

Berwick Castle and Royal Border Bridge IMG_0475For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

This is the Flodden Visitor Centre. It’s in a former telephone box in the village of Branxton in Northumberland. Flodden Visitor Centre P1080503It claims to be the smallest visitor centre in the world:

Flodden Visitor Centre P1080499

It’s part of the commemoration of the Battle of Flodden which took place 500 years ago in September between the English and Scottish armies in the fields near Branxton.

Flodden Visitor Centre P1080501Inside there is a map showing the routes of the two armies and indicating several sites related to the battle. There are leaflets and even a button to press the hear about the battle.

If you are in London on 14 May you can get tickets for a lunchtime lecture on the Battle of Flodden 1513 by historian Clive Hallam Baker at the Tower of London. He is the author of The Battle of Flodden: Why and How.

Other books about Flodden, with links to my reviews:

Fiction:

Non fiction:

  •  Flodden: the Scottish Invasion of Henry VIII’s England by Nigel Barr
  • New Light on Floddon (sic) by Gerard F T Leather – I have not written about this short book published in 1938, which Leather, a member of the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club had written after studying the battle for a talk. As he explained there were actually four distinct fights going on a more or less the same time and the old name of the battle was that of Branxton Moor, a more correct title, in his opinion, as the battle scene was a mile and a half from Flodden.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshots: Alnwick Treehouse

I’ve posted photos of our visit to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland before. Adjacent to the Castle is Alnwick Garden, a formal garden with a cascading fountain. Also in the Garden there is a fantastic Treehouse and a Poison Garden, safely secured behind locked gates. When we were there there a very long queue to go into the Poison Garden, so we left that for another day and went to Treehouse.

Treehouse Alnwick
Treehouse Alnwick

It’s an enormous structure made from sustainably sourced cedar, redwood and pine, extending high up into the trees.

Treehouse Alnwick
Treehouse Alnwick

There are wobbly walkways:

Wobbly Walkway
Wobbly Walkway
treehouse Alnwick P1050990
Wobbly Walkway

and a restaurant:

Treehouse restaurant
Treehouse restaurant

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshots – on Sunday

A few years ago we had a holiday in Gloucestershire – in Painswick. I’ve posted some photos in the past but not these of a walk in Frith Wood, which is on a ridge between Slad and Painswick. It’s a beautiful, magical wood of magnificent beech trees, with a mix of oak, ash and sycamore and it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Frith Wood

Frith Wood DSC_0106

Frith Wood DSC_0100 Frith Wood DSC_0109For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshots

Coldstream Old Marriage House

This is the 18th century Old Marriage House in Coldstream. It was also the Toll House for the bridge, which crosses the River Tweed from Coldstream in Scotland to Cornhill-on-Tweed in England. The Old Marriage House is at the Scottish end of the bridge and is now a private home. But from 1754 until 1856 it was popular (like the Smithy at Gretna Green) for runaway marriages, because during that period under Scottish law couples could get married without parental consent and without giving prior public notice.

In the 19th century 1,446 ‘irregular’ marriages, valid in Scots law were conducted by ‘priests’, whose numbers included local men such as shoemakers and molecatchers. During that period five earls and at least two, maybe three, Lord Chancellors of England were married there.

Coldstream Bridge P1060422This is the Coldstream Bridge, built between 1763-6, designed by John Smeaton. It replaced the old ford across the river.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Scottish History

Ever since we moved to live just south of the border with Scotland I’ve been interested in learning more about its history. My knowledge was limited to the basics and mainly related to the monarchy – Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, James VI of Scotland and I of England, the Jacobite Rebellions, and Bonnie Prince Charlie and so on.

Many books have been written on Scottish history and when I saw this little book some years ago I thought it could be a good place to start to find out more:

A Short History of Scotland by Richard Killeen is by its very nature a summary account and a basic introduction. There are 31 short chapters covering the period from Prehistoric Scotland up to the Twentieth Century – all in 69 pages, including coloured illustrations of people and places.

I found the early chapters the most interesting (maybe because it was mainly new information for me) covering the early periods – Iron Age Celts, Roman Scotland and later invaders – Anglo-Saxons, raiders from Dalriada in Ireland (Irish Celts), Picts and Vikings.

Much of the book is the history of the monarchy. Kenneth MacAlpin was the first King of Scotland (9th century) but not of all modern Scotland – he never established himself in the Borders, which was held by the Anglo-Saxon Northumbrians. Northumbria had formerly extended from the Humber right up to the Forth, and it was not until Malcolm II (1005-34) won the battle of Carham in 1018 that the land north of the Tweed became part of his kingdom.

The book traces the history of Scotland through the various battles for power and control – the Norman settlement of the lowlands founding abbeys and cathedrals, the contest for the crown between John Balliol and Robert Bruce (both members of the Norman aristocracy) and the intervention of Edward I of England in choosing John Balliol as king in 1292 and claiming formal overlordship for himself and his successors.

Scottish kings had paid feudal homage to English kings before the 1290s. As far back as 1174, William the Lion had acknowledged himself the formal vassal of Henry II. Such acts did not imply that Scotland was a dependency of England. In the first place, England and Scotland hardly existed in the modern sense. The age of centralised states with uniform laws, secure boundaries with centralised administration – all things we take completely for granted – lay well in the future. (page 28)

Edward’s actions triggered Scottish resistance, with William Wallace winning victory over the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297. Wallace was then defeated within a year at the Battle of Falkirk. Robert the Bruce gained the crown, and in 1314 defeated Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn: ‘the battle which confirmed Scotland as an independent kingdom.’ (page 31)

Moving forward in time, Killeen describes the history of Scotland until the Reformation as ‘a guignol of intrigue, faction and murder mixed with solid achievement.’ The rest of the book includes chapters on the Stewarts, Mary Queen of Scots, the Union of Crowns (1603), the Civil War, Glencoe, the Act of Union (1707), Scottish Enlightenment, the Clearances and the Industrial Revolution.

Reading this little book has spurred me on to read more detailed histories and I’ve started with Neil Oliver’s A History of Scotland. More about that another time.

Saturday Snapshots

My snapshots today are of Inchree Wood and Righ Falls in Glen Righ, on the eastern side of Loch Linnhe, near Glencoe. It was a cool day in September this year when we walked up the woodland trail to see the waterfalls, but the views were still spectacular.

The walk is through woodland with views of Loch Linnhe below:

The waterfall comes into view:

It cascades down the hill side:

The trail continues uphill through broad-leaf and conifer trees:

It’s a good place to see red squirrels:

through the viewing holes:

But we were disappointed not to see one!

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Castle Stalker

I was delighted to find this romantic ruined castle during our holiday on the west coast of Scotland. This is Castle Stalker, a 15th century tower house built by the Stewarts of Appin. It’s on a small island in Loch Linnhe, just north east of Port Appin (the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, a fictionalised account of the “Appin Murder” of 1752).

It was quite late in the day when we got there and the light was fading, so my photo is rather dark. I’d love to go back and take a trip across the loch to the island and see round the castle. It’s privately owned and there are tours on just 5 weeks of the year. There’s a brief history of the castle on the Castle Stalker website.

Castle Stalker is the location of Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

 

Saturday Snapshot

My Saturday Snapshots this week are some holiday photos from our holiday in Brittany way back in 1988. We had quite an eventful beginning to our holiday because soon after we landed  our car broke down and my French was immediately tested trying to say ‘the accelerator cable has broken’.

After a wait of two hours it was mended and we eventually got to our camp site at Ploumanach, near Perros Guirec on La Cote de Granit Rose, the Pink Granite Coast. The coast with its amazing rock formations was a few minutes walk from our caravan.

Just a few miles along the coast is Le Gouffre, or ‘abyss’, a place where the waves crash against a gap in the cliffs.

And near by is this amazing house wedged between huge granite boulders

It was built in 1861.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s Blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Rosslyn Castle

During our recent visit to Scotland we went to Rosslyn Chapel and also to Rosslyn Castle. This was our second visit to the Chapel, but our first to the Castle. (We went to Rosslyn Chapel three years ago – see this post for information on the Chapel and some photos.) On that first visit the Chapel was surrounded with scaffolding and you could go up to the roof. From there you can see the Castle far below the Chapel built on high on a rocky promontory in the Roslin Glen.

The Castle is in Roslin Glen – the nearby village is spelt Roslin, but the Chapel and Castle are spelt Rosslyn – like the earldom. The derivation of the name is from the Celtic words ‘ross‘, a rocky promontory and ‘lynn‘, a waterfall – not as described in The Da Vinci Code as deriving from a longitudinal Rose Line on the north-south meridian that runs through Glastonbury!

This time we decided to go to the Castle after seeing the Chapel. It’s down a little lane between trees and you walk over a bridge to get to the ruins.

It was a dismal rainy day but still the castle ruins stood out – stark and dramatic against the  skyline:

These are the ruins of the original 14th century castle, built in the 1330s for Henry Sinclair, the Earl of Orkney. At that time there was a drawbridge – replaced now by the modern access bridge. Behind the ruined walls you can see what looks like a house:

My photo is dark because by this time it was raining quite heavily. The castle was largely destroyed during the 15th and 16th centuries and was rebuilt in the 16th and 17th centuries as a fortified house with five floors. The building from this side looks like any other house, but from the other side it is enormous. We didn’t go round to see it, but there are photos on the Landmark Trust website showing its size and the renovated rooms that are available to let as holiday accommodation.

The photo below shows the remains of the west wall:

and here are the remains of the gatehouse:

There were only a few other people walking round the ruins, whereas the Chapel was packed, with people arriving in cars and coaches. In fact inside the Chapel it was so crowed you could hardly walk round for other people. I suppose it’s the popularity of The Da Vinci Code that attracts so many people, but it’s hard to get a proper sense of its history and to see its beauty with so many other people there. There is now a Visitor Centre, where you can buy books and souvenirs and get drinks and sandwiches etc, also very crowded.

I preferred the Castle – so atmospheric.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshots: Stirling Castle

We spent last week in Scotland. Except for Monday the weather was atrocious with torrential rain on most days. But Monday brought blue skies and glorious sunshine, so we took advantage of the good weather and visited Stirling Castle, maintained and managed by Historic Scotland. This is a most spectacular castle standing high on a volcanic rock. It was one of the most favoured homes of Scottish kings and queens from the 12th century, although it is an ancient site.

I have many photos – here is just a small selection:

A statue of King Robert the Bruce stands outside the modern entrance to the castle:

Robert the Bruce statue

In the background is the National Wallace Monument which overlooks the scene of Scotland’s victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Stirling Castle Forework

The Forework (above) was installed by James V around 1500, originally the main entrance, it is now an inner entrance to the castle.

The photo below shows the Queen Anne Garden, which on Monday was being used for a crossbow demonstration – children were queuing to have a go for themselves. Behind the garden is James V’s Renaissance Palace of Princelie Virtue which he had built for himself and his French Queen, Mary of Guise (the parents of Mary Queen of Scots) on the site of earlier buildings.

The pale golden building peeping out beyond the Palace is the Great Hall, commissioned by James IV (who died at Flodden Field in 1513) and completed in 1503. It almost glows in the sunlight because it is covered with ‘king’s gold’ limewash. It has been renovated and was reopened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999.

Stirling Castle Queen Anne Garden

Just visible in the photo above are the statues on the facade of the Palace and the Prince’s Walk. The statues are grotesque and warlike, portraying monsters hurling missiles south against any invaders. They include one of the Devil, with breasts:

Stirling Castle Devil Statue

There is so much to see and so much history within the Castle that I’d really like to go again one day. As well as the Official Souvenir Guide Book there are guided tours of the castle and an audio tour that you can listen to on your own, if you prefer – which I did.

I have far too many photos for one post, so maybe ‘ll post more photos in due course.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

I still haven’t sorted out my photos of Glencoe and Glen Nevis from our holiday there the other week. So, in the meantime here are a few photos I took the day we didn’t go to Lyme Regis.

We were staying with my sister on New Year’s Eve nearly five years ago. We had wanted to go to Lyme Regis – to see the Cobb and so on, but when we got there it was so full of people and cars that there was nowhere to park and so we carried on along the coast to Seaton, a small traditional seaside town at the mouth of the River Axe. In contrast to Lyme Regis there were just a few people strolling along the promenade and beach.

Its coastline is part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. The whole Site is 95 miles long and covers a complete record through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of geological time. The White Cliff at Seaton is composed of white chalk about 90 to 110 million years old.

At the other side of the bay the cliffs are red, which the interpretation board told me are from the Triassic period and the red colour (caused by iron oxide) indicates the climate was hot and dry for much of the year just like present day deserts in the Middle East!

I suppose the lure of fossils, combined with the literary association of Lyme Regis – the Cobb in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and John Fowles’s setting for The French Lieutenant’s Woman mean that more people are attracted to visit Lyme Regis but still Seaton is an interesting place to see – I don’t imagine there are many places you can see a 185 million-year ‘geological walk through time’. And I had walked along the Cobb the last time we went to Lyme Regis.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: On Holiday

We’ve been away last week, over at Kentallen on the west coast of Scotland – near Glencoe. These were the views of Loch Linnhe from our bedroom windows, taken late afternoon on the day we arrived. Click on the photos to enlarge them:

Here’s a close-up of the flag:

We got back home last night and I’ve got lots more photos of the places we visited – I just need time to sort them all out.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home with Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Horncliffe Bridge

The Union Chain Bridge links England and Scotland over the River Tweed at Horncliffe, just a few miles from where we live. Below is a view of the bridge seen from a footpath on the banks of the river. This was the first suspension bridge in Europe to carry road traffic. It still carries vehicular traffic.

Scotland is on the left as you look at the photo and England on the right.

Designed by Captain Samuel Brown, the bridge was opened in 1820, when it was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world, with a span of 137 metres (449 ft). It is a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument.

I took the photo below standing on the bridge looking towards Scotland:

And a closer view of the bridge on the English side of the border:

Just up the road from the bridge is the Chain Bridge Honey Farm, a fascinating place where you can see a live colony of bees, behind glass, making honey, and where you can buy honey and other products such as candles made from beeswax. I’ll maybe write more about that in another Saturday Snapshot post.

The Visitor Centre at the Honey Farm also has a beautiful mural painted by local artist,Tony Johnson. My photo below shows a section of the map – my blue arrow points to the Chain Bridge. Also shown in this photo is Smailholm Tower (on the left of the photo as you look at it) which I featured in an earlier Saturday Snapshot post.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home with Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Duddo Stone Circle

Stone circles fascinate me. They have done ever since I was a young teenager and went to Stonehenge. It was dawn as we were travelling to the New Forest for our annual Girl Guide camp there. The coach driver stopped so we could get out and see the sun rising over the stones. This was in the days when the stones were open and we ran across so we could be in the circle when the sun came up – it was magical. These days Stonehenge is fenced off and going there is just not the same experience.

There is a small stone circle not very far from where we live and we went to see it last Saturday. Duddo Stone Circle is a group of five Neolithic/Bronze Age stones – radiocarbon dating indicates they were erected around 2000BC. Originally there were seven stones. Excavations in the 1890s revealed the socket holes of the missing stones and also the cremated human remains in the central pit.

This is the view of the stone circle standing proud on a low hill next to the small Northumberland village of Duddo as you approach the stones along a permissive path:

Farmers used to plough across the inside of the circle.These days they don’t, but farm all around the circle:

It’s fantastic up inside the stone circle. Unlike Stonehenge (which is of course much bigger) you can walk right up to the stones and go inside the circle. The stones are sandstone, varying in height from 1.3 metres to 2.3 metres. The site is listed on the Schedule of Ancient Monuments – No. 1006622.

It was very windy last Saturday and I found it hard to keep my camera steady, but I did manage to get some close ups of the stones. Stones that have been sculpted by the wind into weird shapes.

We had the stones to ourselves and it was easy to imagine what it must have been like up there on the hill all those years ago, with views all round to the Cheviots and the Eildon Hills in Scotland and to wonder just why the stones were there and what they had meant to the people who erected them. The Defra information board below the stones indicated that the fragments of human bones found in the central pit dated from 1740 – 1660 BC suggesting that the use of the site for burial was a later event. Its original purpose remains a mystery – I like that.

As we left more walkers arrived:

The small figures on the skyline show the size of the stones.

Also in Duddo are the remains of a medieval tower house. We didn’t have time to look at it last Saturday, but we’ll go there another day.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Marlow

D took this photo of Marlow Bridge in Buckinghamshire several years ago. Marlow Bridge crosses the River Thames between Marlow and Bisham in Berkshire. There has been a bridge here since the 14th century, but this suspension bridge was erected in 1829 -1832.

We used to live in Buckinghamshire and often visited Marlow. I took the photo shown below when the grandchildren were younger, playing in Higginson Park.

Marlow is also the home of Sir Steve Redgrave, the Olympic Rowing Champion who won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000. His statue stands in Higginson Park – in the background of my photo. For a better photo of his statue see Wikipedia – I was taking a photo of the grandchildren, not Sir Steve’s statue. :)

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Views of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne is one of my favourite places, cut off from the mainland of Britain twice a day by the tides and accessed over a causeway. We went there last Tuesday and here are a few photos I took then together with one I took on an earlier visit.

Lindisfarne Priory was founded in 635 by Aidan, an Irish monk who came to the island from the monastery on Iona, founded by St Columba. It was the home of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

I took the photo below in February 2011, on a cold winter’s day. It shows the statue of St Aidan in the Priory grounds with Lindisfarne Castle, across the bay, in the background.

The monastery was originally wooden buildings  and the remains that we see today are those of the 12th century priory, probably standing on the site of the 7th century monastery. The Priory’s former grandeur is still there to see:Lindisfarne was also the home of Cuthbert, who became the prior in 685. Eleven years after his burial it became a shrine when his body was exhumed and was found to be undecayed. One hundred years later when the monks fled from the island during Viking raids they took his relics with them, eventually re-establishing his shrine in Durham Cathedral in 995.

This sculpture of St Cuthbert is cast in bronze, originally carved from an elm tree. It shows a contemplative Cuthbert:

Last Tuesday was one of the hottest days of the year. We had intended to visit the castle as well, but as so many other people had the same idea we just went for a walk round the foot of the castle, then along the coast and back inland. This is the route we took.

We stopped for a look at the walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll in 1911.

And then carried on to the coast line: On the way home we stopped at The Barn at Beal, on the mainland, just over the causeway, for a cup of coffee.

A Saturday Snapshot post – see more on Alyce’s blog At Home with Books.

Birthday Treats

Yesterday was my birthday. I had some lovely presents, including two books:

Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains – a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England’s throne?

Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.

A fascinating blend of history and mystery.

  • A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths. I posted the opening lines in yesterday’s post. This book is the fourth of the Ruth Galloway investigations. The description on the back cover is –

Night falls on Halloween eve. The museum in King’s Lynn is preparing for an unusual event – the opening of a coffin excavated from the site of a medieval church. But when archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise, she finds the museum’s curator lying dead beside it. Ruth and Detective Inspector Nelson are forced to cross paths once again when he’s called in to investigate the murder, and their past tensions are reignited. And as Ruth becomes further embroiled in the case, she must decide where her loyalties lie – a choice that her very survival depends on.

It was the perfect summer’s day and we went over to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of my favourite places. We’ve been there a few times, but never in such good weather. We went round the Priory, walked up to the castle and then along the coast and back inland again. Here’s one of the Priory – I’ll put up some more photos of the day later in the week. Whilst on the island D bought me this book:

Lindisfarne: the Cradle Island by Magnus Magnusson – a history of the island from the beginnings to the present day, telling the story of people and nature. Known as ‘the cradle island’ it is the ancient shrine of Celtic Christianity and the home of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Saturday Snapshot

On a grey, dismal day in May we visited Smailholm Tower in the Scottish Borders. It’s a four-storey tower house on a base of volcanic rock, a stark feature on the skyline between Kelso and Selkirk in the Tweed Valley.

(click on the photos to enlarge)

It was built in the 15th century by the Pringle family on Smailholm Craig, providing protection from the elements and from raiding parties of English reivers (raiders).

Standing 650ft (200m) above sea level, it’s walls are 9ft (2.5m) thick and 65ft (20m) high and it has one small entrance in the south wall and tiny windows.

Inside it’s quite dark and most of my photos inside aren’t very good. There’s a spiral staircase giving access to all five floors and the battlements.

In 1645 the Pringle family sold the tower and Smailholm Craig to the Scott family. Sir Walter Scott lived at Smailholm for a while with his grandmother and Aunt Janet after he’d had polio because they thought the fresh country air would be good for him. It was his aunt who told him tales of the Border countryside which gave him his passion for folklore and history.

The three upper floors house an exhibition of costume figures and tapestries to illustrate Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Borders, his collection of ballads. The photo below is of the Queen of the Fairies:

and below is one of little Walter Scott and his Aunt Janet:

I was fascinated by the roof of the tower, because it’s covered in turf, making a living roof:

There are spectacular views of the surrounding countryside on the way up. Below is the view of the Eildon Hills through a window:and even more panoramic views from the battlements:

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshots – Jubilee Celebrations

Last Saturday I posted photos of the coronation procession I took part in in 1953. Irene asked if I would post photos of what was happening in my area for the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Well, it was relatively quiet where we live, nearly 350 miles from London. We watched some of the River Pageant on television:

I liked the aerial views and the close-up shots of the Queen and Royal Family, but it was different from actually being there:

The next day our son and his family came to stay and we had a barbecue on the decking, decorated with our daughter-in-law’s hand knitted bunting:

Food was eaten, drinks were drunk and games were played:

Then in the evening we went to one of the 4,200 Diamond Jubilee Beacons that were lit all over the UK and the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Commonwealth and Overseas UK Territories. Ours was at Watchlaw Farm in Northumberland, where there are magnificent views of the Cheviots and the Tweed Valley:

The beacon was lit just after 10pm:

and soon it was blazing away:

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

D took a video which is on YouTube – watch out for the rocket towards the end of the video!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Wondrous Words Wednesday

I came across this wondrous word yesterday when I visited Smailholm Tower, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders. It’s: Barmkin and here is a photo –

Smailholm Tower and Barmkin Wall

A Barmkin is a stone perimeter wall, built to protect the courtyard and tower. This one at Smailholm was originally 6 ft thick, although most of it is a ruinous state now. My photo shows it at the western end where it remains with the only entrance gate into the courtyard.

I like the sound of this Scots word which is thought to be a corruption of the word barbican, meaning the outer fortified defence  of a city or castle.

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme created by Kathy at BermudaOnion, where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.

Saturday Snapshot

This scene has become very familiar to me over the last four weeks:

It’s the Edinburgh skyline I can see from the Edinburgh Western General Hospital. The tall spire towards the left of the photo is the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens. Moving to the right of that is the fortress that is Edinburgh Castle and below that the green dome is the copper-clad dome of West Register House, one of the buildings of the National Archive of Scotland, in Charlotte Square.

And this is why – it’s the view from the Edinburgh Cancer Centre, where I’ve been going for the last four weeks. (Last week I wrote about being diagnosed with a breast cancer – see this post.)

It’s not as grim inside as it looks outside – it’s quite nice actually. I’ve got two more sessions of radiotherapy next week and then that is the end of my treatment, apart from follow-up appointments and a bone density scan. I’ll be glad to get back to ‘normal’. Maybe then I’ll get back to writing about books – I’ve got quite a pile lined up to review.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshots

Today’s Saturday Snapshots were taken on a local walk near home over two years ago. It was a few days after Christmas and the ground was still covered in snow, when we walked down to the River Tweed:

View of River Tweed from the public footpath

We walked through the woodland above the Tweed back home climbing over the ladder style from the woodland into the adjoining field. The photo below shows our  grandson climbing the style:

Climbing the ladder style

And this one is on the footpath in the field :

Walking back home

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Bamburgh Castle

Last Monday we visited Bamburgh Castle on the coast in Northumberland overlooking the North Sea. It’s a dramatic sight, a huge castle extending over ¼ of a mile, built on a volcanic outcrop, 45 metres above sea level. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

Bamburgh Castle from the carpark

Bamburgh Castle was bought by Lord Armstrong (who built Cragside) and renovated by him at the end of the 19th century. The castle still belongs to the Armstrong family, and is open to the public. It also hosts weddings and corporate events and has been used as a film location since the 1920s, featuring in films such as Ivanhoe (1952), El Cid (1961), Mary, Queen of Scots (1972), and Elizabeth (1998).

The entrance is through two gatehouse towers, which still have some of the original stonework. They were altered and added to in the 19th century.

Gatehouse Towers

From there you walk along the Battery Terrace, with its cannons facing the sea, placed there ready to defend the castle when Napoleon threatened to invade Britain.

Battery Terrace

From the Battery Terrace you can see Lindisfarne to the north and the Farne Islands to the south. Lindisfarne is just a dot on the horizon above the first cannon in the photo.

Inner Farne on the horizon

The photo below is of the Keep, which was originally built in the 12th century. It sits on a massive plinth to prevent attackers digging beneath it and setting fires to collapse it.

The Keep

And finally a view of Bamburgh Castle taken from the road from Seahouses to Bamburgh:

Bamburgh Castle taken from Seahouses

See Alyce’s blog At Home With Books for more Saturday Snapshots.

Daphne du Maurier: Fact and Fiction

Recently I’ve had a bit of a run on books by and about Daphne du Maurier. First of all I read The Parasites, which reminded me that I’d had Justine Picardie’s novel, Daphne sitting on my bookshelves unread, so I immediately got it down. Then I just had to read My Cousin Rachel, a book I’ve had for years and never got round to reading before now. After that I read Daphne du Maurier: a Daughter’s Memoir by Flavia Leng, just because it was one of the books Justine Picardie consulted in writing her novel. I’ve previously read Margaret Forster’s biography Daphne du Maurier and Daphne du Maurier’s The ‘Rebecca’ Notebook and Other Memories, which is mainly autobiographical.

Daphne by Justine Picardie (2008) – synopsis (from the back cover):

It is 1957. As Daphne du Maurier wanders alone through her remote mansion on the Cornish coast, she is haunted by thoughts of her failing marriage and the legendary heroine of her most famous novel, Rebecca, who now seems close at hand. Seeking distraction, she becomes fascinated by Branwell, the reprobate brother of the Bronte sisters, and begins a correspondence with the enigmatic scholar Alex Symington in which truth and fiction combine. Meanwhile, in present day London, a lonely young woman struggles with her thesis on du Maurier and the Brontes and finds herself retreating from her distant husband into a fifty-year-old literary mystery.

My view: 4/5

This book merges fact and fiction so well that it’s hard to differentiate between the two. I much preferred the story of Daphne herself and her search for information about Branwell. I had to go back to Forster’s biography of Daphne to compare the accounts of her life, which matched up pretty well. I was less keen on the modern day story of a young woman, the second wife of an older man. It had too many obvious parallels with Rebecca for my liking. And if you haven’t read Rebecca, this book gives away the plot. There are also references to My Cousin Rachel, which I glossed over in case there were any spoilers there too (I don’t think there were). All in all, a very satisfying mystery about Daphne and the missing Bronte documents.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951) – synopsis (Amazon):

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. In almost no time at all, the new widow – Philip’s cousin Rachel – turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet …might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?

My view: 4/5

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, completely taken in by the characters and loving the setting in an old mansion in Cornwall. The story is narrated by Philip, so the other characters are seen through his eyes. The tension mounts as Philip becomes obsessed with Rachel and I was never quite sure what was real and what to believe. He is not a stable character and as Rachel’s own thoughts are not revealed it’s not clear if she can be believed either, whether she is sincere or evil and manipulative.

Daphne du Maurier: a Daughter’s Memoir (1994) – synopsis (from the back cover):

In this moving and revealing memoir, Flavia Leng paints a powerful portrait of her mother, Daphne du Maurier. She presents an account of an unusual and often lonely childhood spent in London and especially Cornwall, at her mother’s beloved home, Menabilly. Family friends included Nelson and Ellen Doubleday, Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward. However, at the centre of this story is Daphne du Maurier herself. The book reveals a writer with a deep attachment to Cornwall, where she put down her roots and found inspiration for her novels, and who spent much of her life as a recluse, withdrawn not only from the outside world but also from members of her own family. A picture emerges of a woman who lived in a world of her own creation that was beyond the comprehension of those around her.

My view: 3.5/5

In the epilogue Flavia Leng, Daphne du Maurier younger daughter, explained that she began to write this memoir of her childhood two years before her mother died in 1989 and it was never meant for publication – it was just for the family. And that to me epitomises this memoir – it’s an account of her childhood and of her family as seen through a child’s eyes. It seems a lonely childhood, despite being the middle child. As children Flavia and her older sister Tessa didn’t get on and both she and Tessa saw that their mother lavished more affection on her beloved son, Christopher who they called Kits. But a picture emerges of Daphne, who they called Bing, as a solitary person, closeted away with her typewriter or lost in her world of ‘never, never land’, peopled by the characters she invented, with little time for her children, who were looked after by Nanny and then ‘Tod’, their governess.

Like her mother Flavia has a great love of Cornwall which shines through the book – she was never happier than when alone in Menabilly and the surrounding woodlands. It’s a sad memoir ending with Flavia feeling she had no roots left after her parents died:

I have heard it said that a person only really grows up when both parents have gone; what I do know is that life will never be quite the same again. Cornwall no longer holds the enchantment it once did. Gone is the excitement of driving down those leafy, winding roads to the lovely old houses, my beloved Menabilly, and then later Kilmarth where Bing lived out her years.

Saturday Snapshot

Not very far from where we live stands Twizel Castle, high up on the hillside above the River Till. You can see it from the road glimpsed through the trees. I imagined what it was like to have lived there and wondered who had built it. It’s now in ruins, was it one of the castles that had been attacked centuries ago by the Scots, from just over the border?

Twizel Castle

One day instead of just looking as we passed it we stopped and walked up to see it properly. It’s up a steep footpath:

Footpath up to Twizel Castle

and this is what we found:

Twizel Castle

and inside, dereliction:

Twizel Castle inside

It’s amazing it’s still standing:

Twizel Castle

This castle is not what it seems. It was never lived in as it’s an 18th century castle that was never completed. It stands on the site of a medieval tower house, that was, indeed, destroyed by the Scots in 1496. It’s a Grade 2 Listed Building and is on English Heritage’s At Risk Register. For more information see Images of England and Gatehouse Gazetteer.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Dewars Lane

Berwick-upon-Tweed is an interesting English town near the border with Scotland, with three bridges crossing the Tweed. There are the Elizabethan Town Walls, Ramparts, Barracks, a ruined castle and quaint passageways like Dewars Lane, which dates back to medieval times. This is what it looks like today.

The white building on the right at the end of the passageway is now a Youth Hostel, Art Gallery and Bistro. It was built in 1769 and was originally a granary. Its fantastic tilted walls are the result of a fire in 1815, after which it was propped up rather than being rebuilt. It was used for storing grain up until 1985 and was then left unoccupied, gradually becoming derelict. It has recently been restored by the Berwick Preservation Trust.

The artist L S Lowry sketched it in 1936  on one of his many visits to the town and it is now part of the town’s Lowry Trail. Below is Lowry’s pencil drawing of the Lane.

And here is my sketch:

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Nice Weather – for Ducks!

It’s pretty wild and windy here this morning with sleet, which is almost snow. Not the weather to go out in, but these visitors to our garden seem to like it.

They went further upstream – below you can see the male’s head bobbing above the bank:

Then they tried a little walk. The photo below shows the female in the sleet.

 Thanks to D, who took these photos.

Saturday Snapshot: A View of Glasgow

A couple of years ago we went to the Glasgow Science Centre on the banks of the River Clyde .

Entrance to Glasgow Science Centre

There is so much to see and do in the Centre, not least the Planetarium which dominates the scene as you approach the entrance.

You can go up to the roof, where the view is excellent:

View of Glasgow from the Science Centre

The armadillo shaped building on the north bank of the Clyde is the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, where, amongst other events, they hold hold auditions for X-Factor.

The Planetarium is fascinating – I wished it was possible to take photos inside, but of course I couldn’t. It was enough, though, to sit back and gaze upon the night sky and have constellations and planets pointed out to me.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

Coldstream

Coldstream is our nearest Scottish town, the other side of the River Tweed. The view as you approach from the English side of the border is dominated by this monument that towers 70 feet above the town. It’s known as ‘Charlie‘ and was erected in 1834 as a tribute to Sir Charles Marjoribanks who was the first Liberal Member of Parliament for Berwickshire after the Reform Act of 1832. He died in 1833 at the age of 39.

'Charlie' - Sir Charles Marjoribanks

Below my photo is rather dark, just showing the silhouette of the statue as it rears up behind the houses in front and below it.

Coldstream - Marjoribanks Monument

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home with Books.

Saturday Snapshot

There is a field at the back of our garden which is on a steep slope (it is much steeper than it looks in my photos). A couple of weeks ago I spotted three roe deer at the top of the field, grazing, and quickly took a few photos using the zoom lens.

They soon were aware I was around and began to move away.

They jumped over the fence and were soon out of sight. You can just see their white rumps – one getting ready to jump and two on the other side.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot: Cragside Again

Following on from last Saturday’s snapshots of Cragside here are a few more photos.

There were many other visitors when we were there and it was difficult sometimes to get a good photo and I had to be quick before someone moved in front of my camera. So, some of my photos are a bit out of focus and rather dark. (It’s amazing that you can take photos in National Trust properties – in the past it was strictly forbidden. I asked one of the room stewards why they allowed them now and he explained that because you can take photos on mobile phones it was impossible to stop people. It’s good to take your own photos, but actually there are much better ones than mine in the guidebook.)

The first room we saw was the kitchen. As you can see the area is fenced off. It’s not very big but there are also sculleries and larder and cellar storage beneath the kitchen, with a ‘dumb waiter’ to carry food and equipment up and down. The Butler, Housekeeper and Cook each had their own areas.

In the next photo you can see the spits with joints of meat in front of the range.

There is a dishwasher. Rather primitive compared to the modern models this dishwasher has wire compartments for crockery, a motor turned it whilst hot soapy water was squirted into it from a boiler. This had been invented in 1886 by a wealthy American, Josephine Cochrane whose servants had chipped her fine china.

None of the rooms at Cragside are very large, apart from the Drawing Room, and I could imagine being comfortable in most of them, such as the Dining Room. It has a lovely inglenook fireplace with stained glass windows designed by William Morris.

The windows either side represent the Four Seasons. the photo below shows two of the windows – Spring and Summer.

I still have more photos, but these are enough for one post. (Click the photos to see a larger view.)

Cragside is open to visitors from today. I  would really like to go there again this year, there is so much I didn’t take in and I only had a brief look at the grounds.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

My photos this week are a few of Cragside in Northumberland, now owned by the National Trust. It was built in 1863, with further extensions over the next 15 or so years, by William Armstrong, who later became Lord Armstrong. Armstrong was a remarkable man – a scientist, an innovator and a successful industrialist.

We visited it last year. Here is the view of the house approaching from the public car park:

and the view from the gardens:

It has to be one of my favourite National Trust properties and it’s a very popular house with everyone else too – the place was packed when we were there last April. There is so much to see inside the house, too much for one post. The house was very modern for its times, with all the latest and advanced technical devices of the day.

One of my favourite rooms is the Library, with its  stained glass windows, comfy chairs, leather sofas and the latest lighting available. This was the first room in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity.

The light suspended from the ceiling has four bulbs within the ornate and fringed light shade. I tried very hard to get a photo without any of the other visitors, but gave up when there was just one person looking out of the window – anyway he gives scale to the room.

There are four more bulbs around the room, place in globes, sitting on vases:

The books are in oak bookcases around the room:

Note the library steps at the left-hand side of the photo.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

At a later date I might post more photos – of the kitchen with its dishwasher, the lovely dining room with its William Morris stained glass windows and of the amazing Gallery, with its collection of paintings and sculptures. As for the Drawing Room, this was not to my taste at all with its huge marble chimney piece.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

Our back garden isn’t the usual type of garden as it’s mainly grass, a stream and woodland. At the end of January we had a tidying-up session in the woodland and a small fire burning small branches that the wind had blown down.

Further down the wood the snowdrops are still in flower.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog, At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshots

A few years ago we had a holiday in the Cotswolds and visited Burford in Oxfordshire. We had  welcome cup of tea and cakes in The Copper Kettle on the High Street.

This is the view looking down the High Street.

The building dates back to around 1500.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog, At Home With Books.

The Burry Man’s Day by Catriona McPherson

This is the second in Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series.

Synopsis (taken from the back cover):

August 1923, and as the village of Queensferry prepares for the annual Ferry Fair and the walk of the Burry Man, feelings are running high. Between his pagan greenery, his lucky pennies and the nips of whisky he is treated to wherever he goes, the Burry Man has something to offend everyone wherever he goes whether minister, priest or temperance pamphleteer. And then at the Fair, in full view of everyone – including Dandy Gilver, present at the festivities to hand out prizes he drops down dead.

It looks as though the Burry Man has been poisoned – but if so, then the list of suspects must include everyone in the town with a bottle of whisky in the house, and, here in Queensferry, that means just about everyone …

Part of my interest in The Burry Man’s Day is that it is set in South Queensferry, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, now part of the city of Edinburgh, formerly in the County of Linlithgowshire. I’ve been there once. It’s close to the Forth Road Railway Bridge:

I haven’t seen the Burry Man’s Parade, which features strongly in this book; it must be a strange sight.

The book has a rather slow start, but it’s one I enjoyed for all its historical detail about the place, its traditions and the people. It has a great sense of place, with a map of Queensferry at the beginning of the book which helps you follow the action. I wasn’t very taken with Dandy Gilver. I liked her more in a later book in the series. In this book she comes across as a busy-body, albeit kind-hearted, and a snob, but then that’s probably just a reflection of the class structure of the times. She’s married to Hugh, who seems to spend his life hunting and shooting and managing his large estate at Gilverton in Perthshire. Dandy doesn’t have much in common with him, being rather bored by life at Gilverton and Hugh doesn’t feature much in this book.

This is Dandy’s second investigation and I suppose if I read the first book, After the Armistice Ball, I might understand her relation with Hugh and with Alec Osborne, her co-investigator. That’s one of the drawbacks of reading a series out of order.

There’s a lot more to this mystery than the death of Robert Dudgeon, who been the Burry Man for 25 years. He’d been extremely reluctant to take the part this year and the question  why was that remained unanswered for the majority of the book. I had an idea about the reason, but only guessed part of it. It’s a convoluted tale and the motive for the murder is buried deep in the descriptions of the characters and their histories. It’s a book you need to concentrate on, and at some points I did have difficulty in sorting out some of the minor characters. Other than that I think it’s a very good book, although maybe a bit too long.

  • My Rating 4/5
  • Author’s website: http://www.dandygilver.com/author.htm – where you can read an extract from this book
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Robinson Publishing (30 Aug 2007)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1845295927
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845295929
  • Source: Library book

Saturday Snapshot

This is the Bell Tower at the northern side of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly town in England. It was built about 1577, replacing a 14th century tower on the medieval walls of the town. There used to be a warning bell in the tower that sentries would sound at the sight of danger to the townspeople. At one time there used to be a beacon on top, which could be lit if the country was invaded.

These days it’s an odd sight on a grassy mound at the end of a residential road.

But in earlier days it was in a prime position overlooking the sea, the fields and the town. Nearby is Lord’s Mount, a fort built in  around 1540 during Henry VIII’s reign. It was orginally on two floors but all that remains are parts of the ground floor and you can see fireplaces, a flagged kitchen floor, a well and a privy.

There used to be guns mounted on the parapet and I climbed what was left of the steps to see the view. I didn’t venture on to the top; it was very windy and I don’t have a head for heights!

Photos taken September 2011.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot – Newcastle’s Castle

A few Saturdays ago I posted photos of Newcastle uponTyne’s bridges. Today here are some more photos I took on that grey, gloomy day. This time they are of Newcastle’s Castle Keep and Black Gate.

Our first sight of the castle was as it appeared behind the railway line:

The Castle was was built in stone during the reign of Henry II, between 1168 and 1178, at a cost of £1,144. There was an earlier castle on the site, a wooden motte and bailey castle built by William the Conqueror’s son, Robert Curthose. This was replaced by the stone castle – hence the name of Newcastle! It stands high above the River Tyne – Newcastle upon Tyne.

This is the Castle Keep, which is the only remaining part of the 12th century Castle:

It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is open to the public, but we didn’t have time that day to go inside. On our next visit to Newcastle, we will make time to have a proper look at the Castle Keep!

The Gatehouse to the Castle is still standing – the Black Gate. It was added to the Castle site in 1247 by Henry III.  The wooden footbridge was originally a drawbridge.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books.

S is for Smailholm Tower and Sir Walter Scott

I took these photos of Smailholm Tower, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders on a grey day in November last year. It’s open to the public, but in the winter it’s only open at the weekends  and we went on a weekday! We keep meaning to go back and see the inside.

I think it’s an impressive sight!

It’s a peel tower perched on top of a rocky crag, originally built in the 15th/16th centuries to protect its occupants from English raiders. It’s now a Scheduled Ancient Monument in the care of Historic Scotland.

Although the Tower now stands alone on the crag it was once the centre of a small castle toun. Sir Walter Scott stayed with his grandparents who lived at Sandyknowe Farm in the hollow near the Tower, where his parents hoped his delicate health would improve. It was there that his love of the Borders began as his aunt and grandmother recited to him ballads and Border tales and legends.

For more S posts visit ABC Wednesday.

Westwood by Stella Gibbons: a Book Review

I found Westwood by Stella Gibbons a slightly disappointing book. I liked it, but didn’t love it, as I’d hoped I would. I do enjoy descriptive writing, and there are some beautiful descriptive passages, but there were far too many, even for me, which eventually made me wish Gibbons would just get a move on. Lynne Truss in the introduction wrote that she loves it deeply and it made her laugh and weep. I found it amusing in places and also touching. It’s a slow meander through the characters, their lives and their houses.

Margaret Steggles, a plain young woman finds a ration book on Hampstead Heath which provides her with an introduction into the lives of Gerard Challis and his family, his beautiful wife, Seraphina, his self-absorbed daughter Hebe and her spoilt children and Zita the family’s maid. Margaret idolises Gerard, who is a playwright. He in turn falls under the spell of her best friend, Hilda. The contrast between Margaret and Hilda is marked. Margaret is serious, somewhat of a snob, ‘not the type to attract men’, and impressed by the artistic circle surrounding the Challis family. Hilda, a beautiful young woman who attracts many male admirers has no trace of romance in her nature and Margaret realises that Hilda ‘would not or could not be serious’. Margaret becomes obsessed with Gerard’s house, Westwood and longs to be there whenever she can. Feeling that she has outgrown Hilda, she cultivates a friendship with Zita.

This is not a wartime novel, although it is set in London just after the Blitz and there are some wonderful descriptions of the city and its unexpected green and unspoilt places amidst the ruins of bombed houses. Although the war is not really in focus, the atmosphere of the times infuses the novel. The nature of war itself is discussed by Grantey, the family’s old nurse in her conversation with Hebe:

… it’s all part of God’s plan for doing away with war for good and all.

All those dreadful explosions and atrocities and secret weapons they keep on talking about, … and not knowing when you go to bed at night if you’ll be alive when you wake up in the  morning – that’s all part of God’s plan. He’s letting it get worse and worse, so’s it’ll destroy itself, like; it’ll get so bad not even wicked people’ll want it , and then it’ll stop. (page 277)

Really???

It’s a novel about relationships, about friendship, about hope and longing and above all about disappointment and ‘coming to terms with life’.

*Slight spoiler alert follows*

*I wouldn’t have known without Lynne Truss’s introduction to the book that Gerard was based on the writer Charles Morgan, who had annoyed Stella Gibbons, and Gerard’s characters in his dreadful plays are parodies of Morgan’s female characters. Morgan had claimed that a sense of humour was lacking in writers.The pompous Gerard is the butt of the humour in the novel  – in particular the scene where his grandchildren find him in a compromising situation in Kew Gardens – that did make me smile.*

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics (4 Aug 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 009952872X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099528722
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating 3/5

Stella Gibbons’s more famous novel is Cold Comfort Farm. I used to think I’d read it, now I’m not so sure. I like Westwood just enough to make me curious to look out for it. If you’ve read it, or Westwood, what are your views?

I Never Knew That About England by Christopher Winn

I came across I Never Knew That About England by Christopher Winn, soon after I decided to read my way around Britain in my Britain in Books project. This book is a collection of stories ‘that have England as their backdrop’.

It’s arranged alphabetically by the 39 traditional counties of England, so it fits in very well with my project. Winn writes in his preface that he has made every effort to get the facts right, but notes that many of the stories

are not eternal truths but have been handed down through time, sometimes by word of mouth only. Details can vary according to different sources, but the essential substance and essence remains. (page 7)

The book is a miscellany of stories, anecdotes and a ‘smattering of fascinating facts and figures.’  I’m going to dip into it every now and then and post little snippets as they appeal to me, starting with my home county of Cheshire.

Cheshire - click on image to enlarge

Cheshire is in the north-west of England, bordering Wales. Readers of Mrs Gaskell know that Cranford is based on the town of Knutsford, but what I never knew is that the village of Mobberley, near Knutsford, where one of my aunties lived, is the birthplace of George Mallory (1886 – 1924), the mountaineer who died attempting to climb Mount Everest. His father was the Rev. Herbert Leigh Mallory, the rector of Mobberley and it is said that he practised climbing up the church tower. I found this article in the Knutsford Guardian about the family home, Hobcroft House.

When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, Mallory replied: ‘Because it’s there’. It’s never been discovered whether Mallory did reach the summit. The camera Mallory and his companion Sandy Irvine took with them as they set out to make it to the top has never been found. Irvine’s body too has never been discovered, but in 1999 Mallory’s body was found on the North Face, 1,000 feet below the summit. There is a memorial window in the St Wilfrid’s Church dedicated to Mallory, inscribed:

lost to human sight between earth and heaven

Saturday Snapshot – A Walk Along the River Till

On Wednesday we walked alongside the River Till in Northumberland, England to its junction with the River Tweed, in Scotland.We started at the medieval Twizel Bridge – the bridge crossed by the English Army  on their way to the battle at Flodden in 1513. The bridge is now a pedestrian route, the traffic speeding along a new main road. Both bridges across the River Till are shown in my photo below. (The medieval bridge is in front of the new bridge) :

Here is a closer look at the medieval bridge:

As we went along the river bank the salmon were leaping out of the water, but no matter how quick I tried to be with the camera I couldn’t snap a fish as it leapt out of water. This is the closest I got:

The nearer circle is where the fish jumped out and the further one where it went back into the river!

We carried on down the river bank to Twizel Viaduct. This stands 90 feet over the Till and used to carry the Tweedmouth to Kelso railway line. It was built by the York Newcastle & Berwick Railway between 1846-9. This line closed in 1965:

The autumn trees still have most of their copper leaves:

But when we got to the junction of the Till and Tweed there were these leafless trees on the opposite side of the river. The angle of the trunks is just amazing:

We weren’t the only people out enjoying the autumn sunshine – the fishermen were there too.

There is a ruined castle on the ridge overlooking the Till, but more about that in a later post.

Saturday Snapshot post, hosted by Alyce, At Home with Books.

White Nights by Ann Cleeves: a Book Review

White Nights by Ann Cleeves is the second in her Shetland Quartet, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. The first book is Raven Black, which I read and wrote about last year. I enjoyed this one just as much as the first and, although I think it stands well on its own, I think it best to read them in order as some of the characters appear in both and you can follow the development of their relationships.

White Nights is set mainly in Biddista, a fictional village of a few houses, a shop, an art gallery and restaurant called the Herring House, and an old Manse. Kenny Thomson finds a man’s body hanging in the hut where the boat owners of the village of Biddista keep their lines and pots. Perez recognises the dead man – he’s the mystery man who had caused a scene the previous evening at the opening of Bella Sinclair’s and Fran Hunter’s art exhibition. At first it looks as though the man, his face covered by a clown’s mask, has committed suicide, but he’d been dead before he was strung up and the murder team from Inverness, headed up by Roy Taylor, are called in. It takes quite some time before they can identify the dead man and even longer before the motive for killing him is revealed. And that is only after more deaths have occurred.

This is a most satisfying book for me. It’s not only full of believable characters, each one an individual in their own right, it also has a nicely complicated plot and a great sense of location. As well as the mystery of who killed the man in the clown mask and why, there is also the disappearance 15 years earlier of Kenny’s older brother Lawrence. It was thought that he left the island after Bella had broken his heart. Kenny hadn’t heard from him since and at first thought the dead man could be him.

It’s the place, itself, that for me conveyed the most powerful aspects of the book. The ‘white nights’ are the summer nights when the sun never really goes down. They call it the ‘summer dim’, the dusk lasts all night, and in contrast to the bleak, black winters, fills people with ‘a kind of frenzy‘. The landscape and the climate certainly play a great part in people’s lives.Taylor feels very much an outsider, almost too impatient to cope with what he thinks is Perez’s hesitant approach, until it occurred to him that

here in this bizarre, bleak, treeless community, Perez’s strange methods might actually get results. (page 263)

However, I did think that the ending came rather suddenly after the careful build up to the mystery. The tension just gradually faded away as it became obvious who the culprit was. But I still think it’s a very good book, that held my interest, one that made me want to get back to it each time I had to put it down.

This book was an excellent choice for my project, Britain in Books, of reading my way through the British Isles. I could see the landscape and the sea, and I could hear the birds, the kittiwakes on the cliffs, the puffins and skuas. The Shetland Islands are part of theBritish Isles, but are so far north of the mainland that they are on about the same latitude as the southern point of Greenland. I’ve included a map of the Islands (click image to enlarge) and for a more detailed map showing the locations of the Shetland Quartet see Ann Cleeves’s website. There is more information on Shetland at Shetlopedia.

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Pan (5 Jun 2009)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0330448250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330448253
  • Source: Library Book
  • My Rating: 4/5

The other books in the Shetland Quartet are:

Saturday Snapshot: Bridges on the Tyne

Every now and then we go to Newcastle upon Tyne, usually only managing to go round the shops, but on Tuesday we decided to see a bit more of the city.

Even though it was a grey, misty day (as these photos, taken in the early afternoon, show) we decided to have a look at the River Tyne. The river is crossed by several bridges and went to the High Level Bridge, designed by  Robert Stephenson and built between 1847 and 1849. It’s a road and railway bridge. Below is the view of the pedestrian/road crossing below the railway line.

From this bridge we could see more bridges crossing the river. Below is the view of the Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge between Newcastle and the Gateshead Metro Centre :

We walked about halfway across the bridge to see more bridges  across the river. The photo below shows the Swing Bridge (red and white) and the Tyne Bridge, in the centre with The Sage, an international music centre in the background:

East of  the Tyne Bridge is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (white):

Standing on the High Level Bridge, my eye was caught by this statue on the top of a building below:

This is King Neptune with two fishwives seated on both sides. This was the old fish market, erected in 1880.

Saturday Snapshot post, hosted by Alyce, At Home with Books.

Saturday Snapshots – Great Hetha Walk

We’ve been having a mix of weather recently what with wet days, windy days, dull grey days and a few beautiful sunny days. Wednesday was one of the days when the sun shone the sky was blue and it even felt a bit spring-like. So that afternoon Dave and I decided it was time we took a walk in the Cheviot Hills.

We’ve lived just north of the Cheviots for nearly two years now and have been saying ever since we arrived that we must go walking in the hills. I don’t know how many hills there are that form the range, but there are many of these rounded hills bisected by valleys. They straddle the border between England and Scotland, that area of land fought over in the past, a land where the Border Reivers held sway. The Cheviot, itself is the highest point at 815 metres and the last major peak in England, but we decided to start small with Great Hetha above College Valley and work up to walking the Marilyns.

The photo above shows the view at the start of our walk with Great Hetha on the skyline. It’s 210 metres at the summit where there are the remains of an ancient hillfort. We parked in the car park just south of Hethpool and the walk began easily enough along the private road through the Valley. The photo below shows the Valley looking south:

After a short distance and turning right it’s a steep uphill climb described in Walks in the Cheviot Hills by David Haffey as a ‘strenuous climb‘! I was soon struggling for breath. We stopped halfway up to look at the view northwards to Scotland (and to get our breath back!).

Looking up at that point we could see a small cairn on the summit, still a steep climb ahead.

It was worth the climb to reach the hillfort. This is an Iron Age hillfort dating from about 500BC. The remains of the stone ramparts are still there and it was easy to imagine what it must have been like in such an isolated place, being able to see for miles around, aware of any approach to the hill. According to the Walks guidebook such hillforts would have contained several timber-built round-houses within the stone ramparts, probably being occupied for several centuries.

From there we left the route in the guidebook and walked down the other side of the hill to the valley below and crossed the Elsdon Burn. The sky was most dramatic:

It was getting towards the end of the afternoon and as we headed back to the car, the sheep were being rounded up in the field, below a wooded dome-shaped hill known locally as the Collingwood Oaks (after Admiral Lord Collingwood – there is a hotel in Cornhill called the Collingwood Arms, more about that another time maybe). I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the running sheep (they were galloping!) but I managed to snap the farmer and his three sheepdogs on their way back, with the Collingwood Oaks in the background.

There are more photos of our walk on Flickr.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce, At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

I’ve been reading Joan Leegant’s novel Wherever You Go, which is set in Israel and America. I’ll be writing about this book, which I really liked in a future post. It reminded me of our visit to Israel in 1993, so I got out the photo albums and here are just a few:

First a sight of camels on the skyline – photo taken from the coach on the way to Jerusalem.

Then a view of Jerusalem showing the Dome of the Rock, but not the usual view of the golden dome because this was in 1993 when the covering was being refurbished. It was covered with scaffolding all around it!

The Chagall Windows get a brief mention in Wherever You Go, when one of the characters talks of them disparagingly – Mariah the self-appointed arbiter of taste saying to Yona, one of the main characters:

I suppose you’ll go see the Chagall windows in the famous hospital in Jerusalem, Mariah had sniffed, the legendary artist deemed by the gallery crowd to be the painterly equivalentof Fiddler on the Roofall mush and sloppy sentimentality, colorful art, like colorful clothes, against the law. (page 122)

The beautiful Chagall Windows in the Synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Centre were on our tour and I loved them. You couldn’t take photos inside but here is one of the outside:

I bought a tapestry canvas of one of the windows, Zebulon, whilst I was there. I still haven’t bought the wool to actually stitch the tapestry! I’d love it to look something like this when I’ve stitched it:

The whole visit was very memorable, and we have loads of photos, but one in particular was very special – the Yad Vashem Memorial. The photo shows the statue at the entrance to the Children’s Memorial in an underground cavern. You go down into a dark chamber where candles are reflected so it seems as though you are lost in space surrounded by stars:

Maybe sometime I’ll post more photos of our visit.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce on her blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

I’m stepping back in time again this week for my Saturday Snapshot, but not quite as far back as last week. This is a photo of the two dogs we used to have, enjoying running for a stick in the Chiltern Hills, near our home at that time, in Great Kimble in Buckinghamshire. We were on the footpath below Pulpit Wood looking down on the old rifle range.

Zoe is the golden retriever, who always had to get the stick first with Ben, the border collie cross following on behind.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

I have a scrolling photo viewer on the computer desktop and this photo greeted me this morning when I switched the computer on. It’s the view from the field near to my previous house looking towards the town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. The grey tower block in the background is where I used to work at the County Council offices – I was on the 8th floor, just over halfway up the building.

I like this photo because it shows the contrast between the old and the new, although the County Hall tower block is not new, completed in 1966, it’s certainly centuries older than the timber-framed house in the foreground.

Believe it or not, the tower block, sometimes called Pooley’s Folly after the architect, is a Grade II Listed Building. It’s constructed out of concrete and glass and whilst I was working there it was discovered that the core of the building was crumbling and it had to be reinforced. We were surrounded by scaffolding for months. It’s also a most inconvenient building to work in, boiling hot in the summer, freezing in the winter, draughty windows and only two lifts serving 13 fours and no service lift. I spent hours in total over the years I worked there just waiting for the lift. Still, that meant I had more time to read whilst waiting.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home with Books.

Saturday Snapshot

Earlier this year we visited Conundrum Farm:

We walked the farm trail where you can feed the animals. Our granddaughter liked the pygmy goats:

I wasn’t too keen on this somewhat larger goat that apparently often jumps over the fence and wanders around the farm:

There’s also a Battle Trail, which we didn’t do, across the battlefield of Halidon Hill, where the English recaptured Berwick-upon-Tweed from the Scots in 1333. We’re saving that for another visit.

See more Saturday Snapshots on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

 I took this photo a few weeks ago through the window of The Maltings Kitchen, in Berwick-upon-Tweed. It shows the River Tweed on its way down into the North Sea, a seagull sitting on top of one of the chimneys below the restaurant, and a crow-stepped gable end of one of the buildings. And on the skyline you can just see the Royal Border Bridge carrying the East Coast Main Line Railway over the Tweed, built by Robert Stephenson and opened by Queen Victoria in 1850.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at At Home with Books.

Saturday Snapshot

These are the ruins of Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders, founded by Cistercian monks in 1136, and now maintained by Historic Scotland.  Alexander II and other Scottish kings and nobles are buried at the abbey and the embalmed heart of Robert the Bruce is said to be buried here. We visited it on a sunny April day last year.

Below is a view from the roof:

and here is a close up of two of the gargoyles:

Posted for Saturday Snapshot, hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books.

Saturday Snapshot

I posted photos of a ruined castle last Wednesday. Today I’m featuring a much larger castle – Alnwick Castle, which is the second largest inhabited castle in England.  The Duke of Northumberland and his family live here; the family have lived at Alnwick for 700 years. The castle was used to film parts of some of the Harry Potter films – the castle was Hogwarts in the first two films and Harry’s broomstick flying lessons were filmed in the Outer Bailey. Other films made there include Elizabeth and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

We went there the week before last with our grandson, a lover of Harry Potter. He liked the historical setting, the battlements and the canons,  but most of all I think he liked the Knights’ Quest and the Harry Potter magic show, with Harry and Professor Dumbledore:

We’ll have to go back for another visit as there is so much to see and we only had time for a quick walk round the State Rooms, which are very grand, although I was amused to see a Table Football in the Library (I think that is where it was), definite proof that Alnwick Castle is also a family home.

See more Saturday Snapshots at Alyce’s blog At Home with Books.

Castles

As a lover of history (as well as books) I love castles, particularly ruined castles – or as my grandson calls them smashed castles. Here are some photos of one near us.

This is Norham Castle, high above the south bank of the River Tweed, parts of it date back to the 12th century.

It was repeatedly attacked and besieged and was largely destroyed by James IV of Scotland in 1513 before the Battle of Flodden Field.

The photo below shows the remains of the huge Great Tower, where the Bishop of Durham  and his guests would stay when they visited the Castle.

J M W Turner painted several views of the ruined castle – they are in the Tate Collection. And I like this 1836 engraving of Moon Rise at Norham Castle by William Miller:

An ABC Wednesday post for the letter C.

Saturday Snapshot – Standing Stones

Pre-historic Standing Stones at Carnac, Brittany

Today’s Saturday Snapshot photo is an old one from years ago, when we visited Brittany. We were camping next to the site of these Standing Stones at Carnac. Some of the stones are huge – my husband and son are  standing in front of one of the stones in the background.

Friday Finds – Bookshops

This week I found details of some independent bookshops in the Scottish Borders – The Borders Book Trail:

I’ve visited just two of them – The Main Street Trading Company at St Boswells and Latimer Books at Kelso, both lovely bookshops, well worth visiting. The Main Street bookshop has the additional attraction of a café and gift shop.

I hope to look up the other bookshops as well, especially the wonderfully named Founditatlast Bookshop whose address is The Middle of Nowhere (actually it’s near Kelso). This is a secondhand bookshop spread over four floors with thousands of books on practically any subject.

Then there is The CobbyShop, also near Kelso, selling secondhand children’s books and postcards, three bookshops in Melrose, one in Peebles and lastly, by no means least, Last Century Books in Innerleithen. More details on The Borders Book Trail website. (By the way, I’m not getting commission from any of these shops, just in case you were wondering!)

A Friday Finds post.

Tryfan, Snowdonia

Tryfan is the 14th highest peak in Wales at 3010 feet.

I took this photo from the car as we were travelling along the A5 in the Ogwen Valley, part of the Nant Ffrancon Pass. The A5 Holyhead to London trunk road was re-engineered by Thomas Telford between 1810 and 1826.

Here it was shrouded in clouds.

And here is a photo taken later that same day when the clouds had cleared a bit. The speck in the sky is a helicopter, possibly a mountain rescue helicopter from RAF Valley stationed on Anglesey.

An ABC Wednesday post T is for …

Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company

We’ve been away most of last week visiting family and going to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Macbeth at the transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Watching a live performance of any of Shakespeare’s plays is a special treat, one that we manage less frequently now that we’ve moved so far away from Stratford, but combining our visit with a family occasion made it possible this year. The new auditorium is impressive with a huge stage thrusting into the audience, seating around 1,000 people on three sides of the stage. Our seats were in the stalls, very close to the stage, with a group of school children seated in front of us, whose reactions were highly amusing.

The set design was dramatic and atmospherically dark, shattered stained glass windows in a ruined church with defaced images of saints and piles of rubble on the floor. At one point in the play Macbeth and Banquo erupted onto the stage through holes in the back wall. There are no weird sisters in this version of Macbeth; the prophecy is announced in suitably ghost-like tones by three children (the children of Macduff) suspended in the air above the stage as though they have been hung on meat hooks.

It was the children and Seyton the porter who stole the show for me, although the other actors all gave excellent performances. The murder of the children had me gasping and almost in tears as Macduff’s little daughter was taken away to her death. Jamie Beamish as Seyton was fantastic and his pyrotechnics really shocked me. Jonathan Slinger portrayed Macbeth as an frenetic lunatic who made me decidedly edgy and I never knew how close to me in the audience he was going to get – I was glad I wasn’t on the front row.

A hugely enjoyable performance.

Saturday Snapshots – Castles

Bamburgh Castle seen from Lindisfarne

This is Bamburgh Castle, off the coast of Northumberland south of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and on Monday when we went to  the Island, it was clearly visible on the horizon. The sea was shimmering in the sunshine.

I posted a photo of Lindisfarne Castle when we visited the island in March. Early on Monday morning it was raining but it soon stopped and the sun came out, even though it remained extremely windy.

The Castle was originally an Elizabethan fort protecting the harbour. It was built between 1570 and 1572 and was garrisoned for over 300 years – guns and soldiers were removed in 1893. Now it is owned by the National Trust.

The photo below is of Lindisfarne Castle taken from the walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll north of the Castle. The site of the garden was where the soldiers of the fort had formerly grown vegetables.

Lindisfarne Castle

Inside the Castle it’s an Edwardian house, designed by the architect Edwin Lutyens for his friend Edward Hudson, who was the founder of Country Life magazine. By 1902 the castle was derelict and Lutyens turned it into a holiday home for Hudson. It’s both homely and dramatic. There are columns and rounded arches; the rooms are all small  – you can imagine yourself living there. The dining room in the old Tudor fortress has a vaulted ceiling with a wide arched chimney-piece. It had once been a bakery and there is an old bread oven next to the fireplace.

Lindisfarne Castle Dining Room

These days you can get married in the Ship Room, so called because of the wooden model ship that hangs from the ceiling, flanked by two Dutch 17th century chandeliers:

Lindisfarne Castle Ship Room

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home with Books.

L is for L S Lowry

L S Lowry was an English painter well known for his urban paintings of industrial towns like Salford in Lancashire, scenes peopled by his ‘matchstalk men and his matchstalk cats and dogs‘ (I always thought it was ‘Matchstick’ not ‘Matchstalk’, until I checked the song lyrics today!)

What is less well known (at least to me) was that he also painted many scenes of Berwick-upon-Tweed a seaside town he regularly visited from the 1930s until a couple of years before his death in 1976.

There is a Lowry Trail around the town and here are some photos of one of the locations:

This is ‘On the Sands‘, oil on canvas 1959 (click on the photo to enlarge), showing his matchstick figures. The shelter became dilapidated and was restored in 2001. This is how it looks today:

There is actually a little beach behind this scene:

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday L is for …

Saturday Snapshot


Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island

We went to the Holy Island of  Lindisfarne in February one cold and misty day. The Island is reached by crossing the causeway at low tide. We went in the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre where we saw displays of the Vikings on the Island.

The Castle is perched on top of a craggy rock. It was originally a Tudor fort and was converted into a private house in 1903 by Edwin Lutyens. We only looked at it as we had to leave the island as the tide was coming in. It’s now owned by the National Trust and we’ll make sure we have time to look around next time we go over to the island.

To participate in Alyce’s Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. All Alyce asks is that you don’t post random photos that you find online.

Sunday Scene – More Snow

We woke up this morning to yet more snow, as in most of Britain.

The birds were flocking to the feeders – which now need replenishing. Today the woodpecker stayed long enough for me to take some photos.

The tits are bolder and come up onto the decking outside the kitchen.

This one landed in the snow and nearly sank.

Lucy, who hasn’t ventured outside since the snow first came at the end of November, sits and watches the birds as they come near the window.

This is what she wished she could catch

S is for …

… Secondhand books

Yesterday I went to Barter Books in Alnwick, a superb secondhand bookshop where you can not only buy books but exchange books. I took a pile along and came back with some more and am still in credit for more books for my next visit. It’s a great way to recycle books.

I have written about Barter Books before, but not posted any photos of what it’s like inside. It is in a huge old railway station, built in 1887 and closed to passengers in 1968.

(Click on the photos to see more detail)

There is a cafe in what used to be the station waiting room where we refreshed ourselves with coffee and toasted teacakes in front of a roaring fire. The painting on the wall above the fireplace shows the station as it was in 1908 when the future King George V and Queen Mary visited Alnwick.

We then browsed the shelves. There are all sorts of books, fiction, non fiction, first editions, valuable antiquarian books, signed copies, maps, dvds, pamphlets and so on.

In one section there is a miniature overhead railway line with trains passing every few minutes.

It’s a very special bookshop.

This is an an entry in ABC Wednesday for the letter S.

Flodden: the Scottish Invasion of Henry VIII’s England

Flodden by Niall Barr is an account of the Battle of Flodden between the English and the Scots in 1513, which challenges the traditional view of the battle.  In 1512 James IV, Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, had renewed the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, promising mutual support should England attack either country. So when Henry made war on France, James had no alternative and he crossed the River Tweed into England with about 40,000 men.

The weather that September was much like it’s been this September – wet and stormy. The battle field was at Branxton, then just a few houses surrounded by bog and woodland. The two armies came face to face separated by a small valley with the English at the bottom of Flodden Hill. The Scots attacked down the hill and were chopped to pieces by the English and James himself was killed. Barr shows how, contrary to the traditional view, James led a well organised and prepared army and considers that it was using new, continental weapons and military tactics in the wrong situation that led to his defeat.

There is a bit too much detail about the weapons used and military history for my liking and I scan read the chapters dealing with that. But the book as a whole gives a real flavour of the times, the diplomacy, the main protagonists and the battle. I found it interesting, maybe because I live in the area where it all took place. I’ve been to the battle field, which today is so peaceful and tranquil, but I could imagine the terrible carnage that took place there nearly 500 years ago.

Map on the notice board in the car park below Flodden Field

Wordless Wednesday – Stuttgart

A selection of photos from our visit to Stuttgart last week.
Stuttgart seen from the viewpoint near the Rack Railway
Schillerplatz Stuttgart
Zum Paulaner Inn Stuttgart

 

Schlossplatz Fountain

 

Schlossgarten Lake and Fountain

Biergarten Stuttgarter Schlossgarten Menu
Ofenfrischer Schweinebraten & Bier in the Biergarten

A Wordless Wednesday post

Sunday Scene

Yesterday it was my birthday and as well as books D gave me a new camera. I’ve been trying it out today: here are a few photos I took in our garden and

Back garden
Lucy
Back garden from the decking

of the front garden

Front garden

and the field across the road where the rapeseed was being cut this afternoon.

Cutting rapeseed

(Click on the photos to enlarge.)