Stones, henges…

Stones of Stenness

Although some stones are missing and others broken, this ring of massive stones was perhaps the earliest constructed in the British Isles. The henge (encircling ditch/ring made from that soil) is mostly plowed away, but we could see the remains of it. These are BIG stones.

In sum, the Stones of Stenness is an old feature, has nearby alignment stones, and is not a particularly large henge.

Ring of Brodgar

In contrast, the Ring of Brodgar, just over a kilometer away, is huge, one of the largest henge/stone circles in the British Isles, although the individual stones aren’t as broad/tall. The henge is on a slope such that from this perspective I couldn’t see all of them, although the size of the circle is evident…. That’s a large bus-load of high-schoolers to the right.

Ring of Brodgar closerup

The rain started when we were half-way to the henge, but by the time we turned back, it had stopped (thank you, Odin or whatever forces smiled upon us). You can get a sense of the slope that this circle/henge is on, and see a cairn to the right, next to and outside the henge.

The Ring of Brodgar was created much later than the Stenness circle. Around these features are single and paired standing stones, larger and smaller cairns, cist graves, and even a village…today called Barnhouse—at least these are ancient features that have been recognized so far….

This was an elaborate ritual landscape, a rival to the Stonehenge area, and in use for a millennium at least. These two stone circles were on two narrow spits of land that point at each other and today are connected by a causeway; they used to be connected by stepping stones, perhaps even in ancient times. They are inland from the open sea, but connected to it by water. In addition, there are some pottery types found here and in southern Britain and Ireland; at minimum, the peoples who made/used these features had some long-distance contact.

This is a special area…. There’s another henge farther north, but no obvious public access. I could see it in the fields; it has a somewhat shallow but very wide ditch, and has been altered by generations of plowmen.

Window view

And now for something completely different…this is the view from our room under the eaves (several of our rooms have been under the eaves…). Love the fisher-dude getting out of his wetsuit to hop in his Honda sports car and resume his life on land…. Also, sheep-dots in the distance…. Many people walk their dogs out this road/trail, which seems to go to several WWII gun emplacements(?). BTW, we went to a town the other day that had a plaque that said the British military temporarily emptied the town to use the area to practice for the Normandy invasion….

IYLHYBHN (aka land…and sea)

If you lived here, you’d be home now.

Needs work.

House out abandoned House sod roof House abandoned

Ready to occupy.

House simple many out House simple many out 2 House ell out House long ok House 2 story House almost castle

We also took a ferry. Not too much open water….

Ferry land view Me on ferry

I was expecting the horn to blow at any moment. I’m in the corner because it was rather cool and windy.

The crew loaded those large trucks first. They had to back on, and did it like they’d done it dozens of times before. The crew cinched the trucks down with big chains. No chance they’d shift during passage! For most of the trip, we were serenaded by several car-alarm horns; clearly they had not been calibrated for sea-worthiness….

From violence-bracing to violence

RoughCastle Roman fort

This may be the last about Roman occupation on this trip. This is a turf fort on the Antonine Wall, called Rough Castle. The Romans took twelve years to build this wall, and after eight more years they abandoned it (the forces of political economy…). To the right is the land of the barbarians, with a ditch and rampart in the mid-ground, facing the threats…to the far left is the fort, and I am standing on a gate (I assume; one sign on the whole fort…). This is the second-smallest fort along this wall, and the best preserved. It’s rough, humpy ground surrounded by a ditch, and would be a royal pain to sketch-map with a compass by pacing.

FalkirkWheel drone

By the time we got to the other side of the hill (roughly speaking), the sun was out, and we found two guys and a drone watching the Falkirk Wheel. This is some major industrial engineering to bring boats up/down between two canals at very different heights. The drone is left of center near the top and the boat is at the bottom ready to enter the lower basin. The arm takes the boat and water on side, with a counterbalance on the other. This lift replaces eleven (I think) locks that used to be used to span the 79–foot elevation change.

Sun plantationtrees

As we climbed, we saw many plantations, including bits of Tay Forest. Some of Tay Forest is old(er) growth…. And rivers, some with rocky beds and rushing water. Elevation….

Balds snow

As we climbed higher, we got above the treeline (or at least where trees have not returned since the last glaciation), into glacier-rounded peaks and valleys, with some snowpack remaining. The dark brown landcover is heather. The lambs up here are much younger than at lower/warmer elevations, and most were hunkered down napping, not gamboling about, as we have seen everywhere else.

Highlands distillery

We have driven past several whisky distilleries, but have yet to stop. Crazy, eh?

Culloden marker

Many men died on this relatively flat moor, properly called Drumossie Muir/Moor, including Scotsmen fighting on both sides. This is where the Blàr Chùil Lodair, or Battle of Culloden, happened beginning about one in the afternoon of 16 April 1746. The Jacobites, who sought to restore their beloved Stewarts to the throne, opened with cannon fire, and English forces answered with their own cannon. As the National Trust for Scotland puts it:

Bombarded by cannon shot and mortar bombs, the Jacobite clans held back, waiting for the order to attack. At last they moved forwards, through hail, smoke, murderous gunfire and grapeshot. Around eighty paces from their enemy they started to fire their muskets and charged. Some fought ferociously. Others never reached their goal. The government troops had finally worked out bayonet tactics to challenge the dreaded Highland charge and broadsword. The Jacobites lost momentum, wavered, then fled.
Hardly an hour had passed between the first shots and the final flight of the Prince’s army. Although a short battle by European standards, it was an exceptionally bloody one.

Culloden was the last pitched battle on the British mainland, and the ramifications for the Scottish people have been immense. The English subsequently sought to suppress ethnic Scottish behaviors, including kilt-wearing, the Scottish Gaelic language, and the clan social structure. The effect of these changes was a depopulation of hinterlands, and disruption of pretty much everything Highland.

This and other rough stone markers were installed in the 19th-C. Archaeologists have used non-destructive, remote sensing techniques to define the areas where bodies were buried in mass graves.

Culloden marsh

Another problem for the Jacobite troops was that the part of the battlefield they sought to cross was even wetter than today, slowing the advance of a major portion of the line. Indeed, this was a little marsh we found that would have been difficult to slog through.

Managers of the battlefield are encouraging the plant species that were here on the day of the battle, and the moor is turning from pasture into…gorse and grasses, along with wildflowers and other woody plants. One type of feature that was here in 1746, but is mostly gone now, are stone field enclosures…. The powers-that-be are also trying to convince landowners in the preservation area to refrain from tree plantations.

Such are the cycles of land management.


Parapet view

The preferred castle location: defensible, lofty, fortress position. From this massive castle hill, Edinburgh is laid out below, with occupation stretching to the Firth of Forth, where the River Forth melds with an arm of the North Sea. I loved this parapet, and the views.

Cannon view

Of course, the cannons also have a great view. BTW, that mass of people to the right of the barrel and far below, sweating in the sun…that’s the line to buy tickets. It’s a holiday weekend…plus for a while, three of the six windows were closed. Sheeesh.

StMargarets chapel

You can see a bit of the volcanic whatever that makes this feature extend far above the surrounding landscape. All the cannonballs and castle-terraforming have not eradicated or covered it. This building is the oldest one standing up here, a chapel dedicated to St. Margaret of Scotland (~1045–1093). It was built by her son, David I, previously mentioned in this space…. One of the fine things Margaret did was establish a ferry across the Firth of Forth. [Now there’s both a railroad and a road bridge.]

Honours sword

The most moving exhibit for me was our visit to the stronghold within the castle, where the Honours of Scotland are kept. These are the most symbolic objects in the nation. No photos/film allowed, so outside are bronze…not-quite-replicas. This is the claymore/sword (replica), which has a 4.5 foot blade. The real one is a bit more battered, and a bit sharper. Also in the room with the Honours is the Stone of Scone (I’ve seen pronunciation suggestions both as “soon” and to rhyme with done; haven’t heard anyone say it). I wanted to be more excited about this stone, for its history, but I couldn’t get there. The Stone has been used in coronations for something like eight centuries, customarily stored in the chair in which the sovereign sits when the coronation happens. It has a checkered history, and many doubt that this is the original. No matter; it remains very meaningful today. It was in England for recent centuries, and used in coronations there, and finally returned to Scotland in 1996. It’s not pretty, just rough, pitted sandstone, and suffers in comparison to the shiny and glittering sword, scepter, and crown in the same display.

Marys ceiling

This is the ceiling of the bedchamber of Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s a small room, with nice wood paneling. And a window. And paintings on the walls just below the ceiling. I have no idea what furniture was in this room; there’s just a chair now.

I kept trying to visualize the pre-Scottish fort that was here, and the earlier castle-layout(s). This castle is still in active use, for official activities, for rental, and of course for tourism. Outside the gate, they’re installing a huge seating gallery, using giant cranes to lift large steel I-beams into position. I didn’t catch what it’s for….

Seating underway

Food, v. 54S*

No, I haven’t tried cullen skink yet. Or haggis. They’re on my to-do (or to-eat) list…. I’m told cullen skink is a haddock and potato soup. I’d call it a chowder variant…. I’m assuming you’ve heard of haggis….

Fish cakes NMS

I have tried fish cakes. Three times. They’re small bits of fish mixed into mashed potatoes, then made into cakes that are then deep fried. At least, all three versions I’ve had were done that way. Maybe at home sometimes they’d be pan-fried.

This version is made with cod, and has sorrel bits added for even more flavor. These cakes are served on a bed of asparagus with a wee salad. Yum; meat and potatoes in one dish!

Full scottish bfast

The full Scottish breakfast (toast, tea/coffee not shown) is very similar to the English version. (In fact, shhhh!, I can’t tell them apart.) Some skip the beans. Some have different fried bread options. Some include potatoes in a fried patty, often triangular. Probably, many people have an eew factor over the black pudding (sausage of pig-blood, grain, not sure what else, sliced and I think fried)—but we only had this item offered in northern north-England—not in London.

What I find curious about these breakfasts is the mixture of items…. The broiler-singed tomatoes, for example…they’d be available in pre-hot-house days just in the fall, and not over a long period then. And I think of blood sausage as also harvest food…. And what was the seasonality of mushrooms traditionally? Anyway, when you’re upscale these days, you get all sorts of proteins for breakfast, and a lot of fried on top of that…all together, not super nutritionally. I understand the preferred breakfast used to be kippers. Stinky/strong fish at breakfast time, yum.

Scotch pie

This is a Scotch pie. It’s pie crust artfully wrapped around a sausage patty, then baked. It’s about 3 inches across…I guess a variant on the pastie idea.

That’s enough for now; I’m making me hungry!

* S for Scotland.

Scotland border

Today was designated Abbey Day in our itinerary. It was not wrong. What we really did that was most important was get to…Scotland! (And, yes, mostly we had a rainy day.)

Historically, as today, there’s a sociopolitical core to the north and south on this great island, and somewhere on the lands between has been a border zone. Today, the border’s an agreed-upon line across the landscape. For generations, it was a wide swath of contention. The border was generally porous, often dangerous, and yet had economic potential in an agrarian economy. And, land, after all, is land, and land is territory.

Roxburgh castle

From the 1100s–1400s, a castle on this hill, between two rivers, was a political and economic center. Kings lived here, and both the northern and southern sides held it in repeated succession cycles. This was Roxburgh Castle, founded in the mid-1100s by David I, King of the Scots from 1124 until his death in 1153. Now, at the foot of this rough double-hill, there’s a small layby with room for maybe four vehicles, and no signage.

King Henry I (coronated 1100, died 1135; fourth son of William the Conqueror, King of Normandy) held sway in England, but suffered from pressures brought by rulers on the continent, in Normandy and elsewhere on the northern rim.

Jedburgh abbey

The economic and political elite of the time included both nobility and the guys who controlled large abbeys-and-churches. They were two sides of the leadership coin. Yet, the petty kingdoms of the time rarely could dominate the peripheries for long. Accordingly, cagey religious leaders were happy to build and run Jedburgh (above) and several other abbeys not far from the Roxburgh core that for centuries held sway in the borderlands—and to feed off and accept the wealth of the nobility as donations to fund repeated monk-prayers (see how well it worked, the buildings of…almost…all are now in ruins). The leadership of some of these abbeys came from afar, others from Lindisfarne….

Monybrach Ancrum church ruin

Into this general pattern of upheaval over the centuries, the place I found most interesting that we visited relates to my family history…. Traced through my mother’s father’s mother’s ancestors, we get back, after something like a dozen generations, to the Livingstons of Ancrum, post-Reformation (them, post-Dissolution) men of god here. The original Christian outpost here was established by David I, and it became a parish church after the Reformation in 1560. John Livingston became the minister here in 1648. Some of his relations migrated to the New World in the later 1600s, including signer of the Declaration of Independence for New York Philip Livingston (1716–1778). Anyway, (somewhat tenuous) family ties to the village of Ancrum (pop. ~300). In older times, the town center was west of the modern town center, near the ruined church, now surrounded by (mostly) 19th- and 20th-C headstones, and across the river from the ruins of a flax mill….

Ancrum bridge mill IAfort

The icing on the cake…across that bridge by the church-cemetery, and up on the hill that has yellow blooms on the woody shrubs, are the remains of an Iron Age ring fort!

ONC!! and Knag Burn

Rolling rowcrops

We saw the landscape change today, first as we drove north, eventually through the Pennines, and then as we drove east, descending the Tyne drainage. We saw more critters than people throughout most of it, I daresay.

Pasture stonewalls

We watched the row crops yield to pasture, with fields defined almost exclusively by stone walls.

We did this in Our New Car!! Yes, new to us, but ALSO it had 40-some miles on it when The Guru received the keys! New car smell! Shiny white!

Sheep dots stonewalls

The rolling countryside became treeless….

Pasture notrees

And we were on the open range, driving between the snow-sticks, and watching for “LAMBSONROAD.”

Housesteads Hadrians wall

Even more exhilarating, we visited a Roman fort…. That’s the land of the barbarians on the left, and down at the bottom of the hill…the creek…that’s Knag Burn. Burns are creeks. Other things, too…. Many of the trees in this area were pine plantations, and some were newly logged, but not these “forests.”

Northsea night

Our east leg took us to the end of the wall/road, and we watched the afterglow on a North Sea seawall.

Technical report: we’ve been using Goog__Maps to do our navigation, with Miss Voice turned on. She mentions nearly every roundabout, even the ones that are just a big white dot in the middle of a circle of pavement. Keeping us on our toes. Every once in a while she skips one, but our route is obvious. Sometimes she over-narrates curves and turns. Today she totally skipped one, and we had to backtrack. I think it was a new subdivision that wasn’t there in her world, although it was on the map. Still, using technology makes the whole process quite smooth compared to scrutinizing printed maps…without the magic blue dot of self-ness (as in, I am here, right HERE, therefore I exist…).

Trevithick’s legacy

Brit Rail lion wheel crown

I’m not sure how this…crest…was used, but I find the dragon-lion claw-displaying the spoked wheel just plain odd. Anyway, today we saw many locomotives, train cars, and railroad artifacts. Room after room of them. Fix-it areas. Curation zones with rack after rack of…everything from porcelain dinner sets to chairs to uniform insignia to station signs and model engines and cars of all sizes, plus we found an outdoor viewing platform for real trains on real tracks headed to local and distant destinations. This is the short version of what you can see at the National Railway Museum in York….

Turntable time

Two huge warehouse-display areas featured polished, clean “locos” and carriages. And one had a turntable, and we saw the demo, done by knowledgeable young women wearing “Explainers” on their uniform backs. We discovered that as we walked around the turntable that the reverb from the sound system varied. This was a good spot, but the man fondling his lady could have been distracting.

Liverpool traveler

This was an early carriage. It was a clever merging of three horse-carriage units into one train-carriage. These were low-roofed and made for seating. There was no dining area, and precious little space for baggage. The driver sat on that ledge on the outside left. Think stagecoaches in the Westerns you have seen….

Red white wheel power

I will spare you the many closeups I took, but being able to see the mechanical parts that move the energy from up-down to around-and-around…I found it humbling in a strange I-grew-up-near-Detroit way.

Search Engine NRM

Jokesters take the reins every once in a while around here…. This is the sign for the library. The library was closed, but the fire extinguisher was getting its annual checkup.

Richard Trevithick adapted steam engines to use high-pressure, and thus be more powerful. Some were built to be stationary. Others were used for railways. He is credited with the first steam rail transport in 1804. If I have it right….

(Not new) York

York city wall

The whole city wall thing seems like it’s from another age. And that is true of this one…it’s the current incarnation of York’s Medieval wall. This view is west, toward Micklegate Bar. Gatehouses are called bars here. And –gate in Micklegate is from the Norse for main as in Main Street. This version of the wall dates to about 15 decades ago, when the parapet wall was added to make strollers feel safer. Notes Simon Mattam for The Friends of York Walls (p12 of the 24.04.2014 version of “On the Walls—A Guide to York’s City Walls Trail”):

The Romans started York around 71 AD. They built walls around their fort and then around the city that grew up on the other side of the River Ouse. Big bits of the walls of the Roman fort can still be seen and up to half of the rest are in the ramparts under the present walls. [Four hundred] years later there were new invasions: Anglian York developed, then Viking York in the 9th century, then Norman York in the 11th century; over this time the Roman walls fell but ramparts grew.
About 900 years ago, the times we call “the Middle Ages” began—these were when the present Walls were built—mainly to protect York against the Scots. Around 500 years ago the Middle Ages ended and cannon were making military walls less useful; in spite of this the Walls were strengthened in the 1640s for the English Civil War. The Walls were seriously attacked and damaged in this war of King against parliament—but luckily a conditional surrender of the city stopped the damage and the parliamentarian victors arranged their speedy repair.
About 200 years ago there was another sort of battle being fought in York—over whether the Walls should be knocked down to open up the city to traffic and fresh air. During Victorian times a compromise developed: small bits of wall were demolished and new arches were built through the Walls but most of the Walls were repaired and opened as a footpath.

Thick stone defensive walls make me think of castles, at least in this part of the world. And there’s one that survives here, not large at all, crowning a human-made, steep-sided hill. It’s called Clifford’s Tower. Actually, this surviving architecture became the keep of York Castle.

The first castle of York dates to the time of William the Conquerer, in 1068. King John of the Magna Carta stayed here…. Later, in the mid-13th-C Henry III had this version built, in a style that resembles French castles of the time. Its quatrefoil plan is very unusual in Britain. The castle was surrounded by a moat that is long gone. Its land connection was via another moated, walled area, that housed many support functions for the keep.

CliffordsTower interior

In those days, the interior was roofed over, with two floors. The squarish holes are where the ends of the beams that held the upper floor were seated. Contained in the wall above the entrance gate is a room that’s beneath the small roof that peeks above the wall in this view. When the portcullis was raised, it went into that room.

CliffordsTower chapel

The other function of that room in those days was as a chapel. The room was repurposed multiple times, but the fancy carvings that framed the old window openings remain, battered and mute.

Belgian chocolate cake

Okay. Food. I often get requests for food pictures. Brit-food isn’t…or usually isn’t…terribly well regarded. I have many photos of Full English Breakfasts, which is the most British “dish” we normally eat. Both of us are getting tired of tomato-y beans (called Beanz by Heinz in the canned version). Also, fish and chips (had this once, in Hastings) isn’t particularly pretty.

So, instead: dessert! We found this Belgian chocolate cake, lightly heated, with vanilla ice cream from a local creamery, divine. And I spooned away with a view of the sunlit façade of York Minster…really special. We are very lucky.

London tales

London view BM courtyard vert

Above is our view from a room that used to be part of the B&B’s family’s compound. When we were here last many years ago, they had gotten a new but short-term lease to continue with the property, but the handwriting was on the wall that they were not going to be able to continue. I think the B&B is now managed by a face-less company, and all the staff we’ve seen are immigrants (which is fine). I’m guessing the property owner (the Duke of I forget what) has upped his income significantly. It’s all impersonal now, no one to share a cup of tea with, and no one to ask if you slept well.

This is the way of the world. I hope that family is okay; they were very nice people.

Anyway, our room is in the basement, but in the back of the building, and so facing the back garden. We hear the birds. Also using our airshaft are windows from the kitchen. This morning we heard the chatter of the young Eastern-European? women who do breakfast, starting shortly after 6am. Since we’re jet-lagged, we fell back asleep. However, after the cleanup after breakfast service, the airshaft is ours again, and this is the view. We try to avoid flashing our neighbors when we’re changing.

We had two big missions today, beyond having fun, and that’s on the list everyday! The first mission was to the BBC building, and that’s someone else’s story.

Brit Mus street view Brit Mus guybutt

The second was to the British Museum. It’s free and busy busy on Sundays. We joined the crowds coming in the gate, through the photo-zone, and up the stairs into the building. Then, we discovered that the interior courtyard now has a glass roof, which we thought must have been a move inspired by the IM Pei Pyramide du Louvre. I loved noticing this woman (above right), who set up her cane-chair right at the shadow junction to settle in and enjoy her ice-cream cone. I could not decide if it was a deliberate siting…. I also love this courtyard!

As a result of our crowd-avoidance strategy, we didn’t visit the treasured pieces in the collection that are on display and most discussed. No Parthenon sculptures. No Rosetta Stone.

We did look at the Etruscan room. We saw some Greek and Roman sculptures…. Cute butt, eh?

Portland vase sq

This is a close-up of one of the scenes on the side of the Portland Vase. I never would have sought out this piece, but I enjoyed “finding” it. It’s made like a cameo, in that the vase was made with two layers of glass, the inner dark one and the outer white one. Somehow, craftsmen or a craftsperson carved away much of the white, leaving this scene. I don’t know how someone carves glass successfully, but apparently it involves a gem-cutter’s skills, and modern craftsmen have found it quite a challenge. The Wedgwood company and others made copies or “inspired by” vases.

Apparently this vessel was bought by the British Museum after it was slightly damaged (fire sale price?). Then, in its care, the vase suffered mightily and was broken into many pieces. The restoration was…lacking, and in the late 1980s it was taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled using modern adhesives. Big story on the Museum website.