Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle P1020073

I think that Northumberland is one of the loveliest parts of the United Kingdom, with the Cheviot Hills and in particular the beautiful golden sands along the coast of the North Sea. It also has a large share of castles. Since we moved here we’ve visited all of the coastal castles, except that is the ruins of the castle at Dunstanburgh. It’s a spectacular ruin standing alone on the coast on an isolated headland between Embleton and Craster, looking out over the North Sea.

Last Tuesday we decided it was time for us to go there. It was a lovely hot, sunny day and we walked from the car park down the road to the little village and harbour at Craster, well known for its kippers.

Craster P1020067

From there it’s about a mile and a half walk northwards along the coast to the castle, which is owned by the National Trust (NH) and managed by English Heritage(EH). But we never actually got to the castle, because the heat defeated us and my knee, which has been a problem for a few months now, became painful so we only walked about halfway there, then turned back. I took a few photos zooming in as close as I could:

Dunstanburgh Castle P1020072

Thomas, Earl of Lancaster began building Dunstanburgh Castle in 1313. He was the wealthiest nobleman in England at the time and later took part in the barons’ rebellion against Edward II, resulting in his execution in 1322. John of Gaunt modernised it in the 1380s and later during the Wars of the Roses it became a Lancastrian stronghold, finally falling into ruin in the 16th century.

We will go there again to see more. At least we enjoyed the coastal walk and the view of the castle, despite the heat. And as always I was trying to visualise what it must have been like when it was new and how it had changed over the centuries, thinking of the battles that it had seen, of all the people who had lived and died there.

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


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?

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.

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!

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 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 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: 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 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

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 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.

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.

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’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

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.


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 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

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


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.)

A Walk Along The River Till

The other day D and I went for a walk by the River Till. From where we parked the car the path ascends above the river along a tree-lined path. 

The remains of an old chapel, St Mary’s Chapel are just below the path – only the outline of the chapel and a cross can be seen.

D recorded the route on his iPhone – this extract below shows the position of the chapel.

The path gradually descends to the river side.


Then we spied a heron motionless on the opposite bank.

It saw us too and flew away. Then I spotted it in the river.

Again we were seen and it flew away. I just pointed the camera and hoped to capture it flying – you can just see it over the water

 and landing on the bank further upstream.

We continued our walk along the riverbank, meeting a group of cyclists struggling to ride on the stony surface (the route is Sustrans 68).

After a rest on this seat we turned round and walked back.

Sunday Salon – Today’s Books

This morning I’ve been reading The Border Line by Eric Robson, of interest because we live near the border – the one between England and Scotland. This is the account of Robson’s walk following the border line from the Solway Firth to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It’s also interesting because Robson includes anecdotes, snippets of history and personal memories as well. For all the disputes over the border and the reivers’ raids there is a similarity between English and Scottish Borderers:

For more than four centuries the Borderlands were seen as the scrag end of their respective countries, the frayed edges of monarchy. English borderers and Scottish borderers at least had that much in common. The Border was a remote battleground where national ambitions could be fought over. Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland were excluded from the Domesday Book. They were regarded as a military buffer zone. They became a bearpit. (page 51)

The Reivers were romanticised by Sir Walter Scott,  who gave them ‘the spit-and -polish treatment’ and a ‘romantic bearing and heroic stature.’ Robson also sheds light on the derivation of words, such as ‘reiver’: a ‘reef” in Old English meant a line, a Shire Reeve was a man who protected boundaries, thus the reiver raided across the Border Line. ‘Blackmail’ has two possible derivations – greenmail was agricultural rent and blackmail was money taken at night, or protection money. Alternatively it could be that it came from the fact that the reivers blacked their armour to ride as shadows in the moonlight (page 49).  I prefer the alternative derivation.

Then I moved north of the Border Line into Scotland with my reading and finished Ian Rankin’s book The Falls, a book I first read a couple of years ago. I wrote about it at the time and I haven’t much to add to that post. The Falls combines so much of what I like to read – a puzzling mystery, convincing characters, well described locations, historical connections and a strong plot full of tension and pace. Rebus has morphed in my mind into a combination of the actors who’ve played him – John Hannah and Ken Stott – and his creator Ian Rankin. But there is no doubt that the books are far superior to the TV productions. The next Rebus book I’ll be reading is Resurrection Men.

St George’s Day

Today is St George’s Day.

Very little is known about St George. He is thought to have been a Roman soldier who was martyred in 303 during the Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians near Lydda. In around 1277 the cross of St George – a red cross on a white background – was established as the national flag.

The legend of St George and the Dragon dates from the 12th century. The legend goes that a dragon was terrorising a town. To appease it the townsfolk fed it with sheep and when the supply of sheep ran out they drew lots for one of the children to be fed to the dragon. St George was riding by when it was the fate of a princess to be fed to the dragon. He fought and killed the dragon thus rescuing the princess. It’s a story of good triumphing over evil.

Details about St George in the first Chambers Book of Days published in 1864 state that

… after the Conquest his festival was celebrated after the approved fashion of Englishmen … In the first year of the reign of Henry V, a council held in London decreed, at the instance of the king himself, that henceforth the feast of St George should be observed by a double service; and for many years the festival was kept with great splendour at Windsor and other towns.

For more information on St George’s Day see here. One of the events to celebrate St George’s Day is being held tomorrow at Twickenham – the St George’s Day rugby match between London Wasps and Bath in aid of Help for Heroes, an organisation that supports service personnel injured in combat.

Today is also Shakespeare Day, it being the anniversary both of his birth in 1564 and his death in 1616.

Just a Glimpse of the Orient

On Monday D and I went for a walk with a friend alongside the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we enjoyed these views. This is the start of our walk.

The Wendover Arm was first constructed in 1797, but as sections of it leaked it was “de-watered”. From 1989 onwards it has been restored and this is what it looks like today.

Kingfishers can be seen along the canal, but we didn’t see any on Monday. There were lots of other birds though, ducks, moorhens, coots and dabchicks (otherwise known as little grebes), busy diving and collecting nest material.

The ducks were in fine form, taking off a high speed and then landing with legs flailing before splash-down.

Further along the canal we saw a swan sitting on a large nest over on the other side.


The canal opens up into an area known as the Wides, with areas of grass and shrubs with a tiny island on the far side. Trees have invaded what was once open water and without management the canal would disappear in a few years.

Then came a surprise – a pair of mandarin ducks. I’d never seen these before; they looked very different from the other birds on the canal, but just so beautiful. The male has very distinctive chestnut brown and orange fan wings sticking up above his body, whilst the female is a duller brown with white spots. They were swimming together in and out of the trees. When I came home I looked them up in our bird books. Originally from China these ducks like streams and overgrown lakesides in broad leaved woodland and they nest in tree cavities. The canal is the perfect place for them.


Winchester, Jane Austen and Books

This is God Begot House in Winchester where D and I had coffee. The front is a modern restoration but the rest of the house, now a restaurant and coffee shop, is 16th century – a wonderful ceiling in the restaurant upstairs. There is so much to see in Winchester, spanning several centuries. Opposite God Begot House is the Old Guildhall(now a bank) largely rebuilt in 1713 and further down the High Street is the 15th century Buttercross.
We went in the City Museum on Minster Street, which is free entry and tells the history of Winchester from the Roman times onwards. As we wanted to spend much of our day in the Cathedral we didn’t do the Museum justice and would like to go back to look at it properly some time.
From the Musuem it’s just a short walk to the Cathedral and we were ages in there looking round. One of the guides was just starting a tour which we joined and I’m sure we got so much more information from him than if we had just gone round on our own using the Cathedral brochure. It’s so difficult trying to read and look at the same time.

For more information go to

Jane Austen is buried in the Cathedral and we walked round to see the house where she lived for the last six weeks of her life and where she died on 18 July 1817. I have read most of her books and Pride and Prejudice has been my favourite since I was about 12 after seeing a BBC production then and reading my mother’s copy of the book.

There is an excellent bookshop just down the road from Jane Austen’s house and I just had to go in and browse.
I was really pleased to find copies of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, Margaret Forster’s Daphne Du Maurier, both of which I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. As I said I’ve read most of Jane Austen and this was one I didn’t know about until I read of it on A Work in Progress and both Margaret Forster and Du Maurier are also favourite authors. D found Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin which we’ll both read. I first read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings years ago when I was at Library School in Manchester when it was the book to read. The films just haven’t lived up to my expectations, apart from Gandalf that is, but I think films are always a let down if I’ve read the book first.