The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter

 The Spanish Letters cover

The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1964 but my copy is a Puffin book dating from 1972.

The setting is Edinburgh and the year is 1589, the end of January. Young Jamie Morton is a caddie in the city – that means he earns his living by doing messages for people, whatever is needed, maybe delivering a note to someone, a sort of odd job person who has to know the city inside out. He has been trained up by ‘the Cleek’ a much older caddie. There are a few hundred such males of all ages in Edinburgh, it might be a bit of a precarious living but Jamie likes it because he’s his own boss. He isn’t so keen on being starving half the time though.

When a young well known musician goes missing Jamie is asked to help track him down and so begins a tale of adventure, murder and kidnap with the Earl of Huntly – a favourite with King James involved.

There’s a ship from the Netherlands docked at Leith, Edinburgh’s port, and there’s a suspicion that it has Spaniards on board. Is there a Spanish plot afoot? A second Armada attempting to topple Queen Elizabeth. For once the Scots and the English are on the same side, well most of the Scots are.

This was a really enjoyable read, my first by the author but I’ve recently bought a couple of others. Her writing reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett’s adventures which is high praise indeed, but obviously not as convoluted (or long) as Hunter’s writing is aimed at youngsters. Her books are apparently all well researched so it seems like a painless way of learning history.

For anyone who has already read this book you might be interested in this blogpost that I wrote earlier, when I visited Huntly Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Inverkeithing, Fife

Way back in February 2020 when there was talk on the news of an imminent lockdown we drove to Inverkeithing for a bit of a rake around at an antiques/secondhand shop which is housed in an old cinema.

After that we decided to have a bit of a walk around the historic parts of the town, knowing that it would be quite some time before we were able to stray from home again, mind you I never thought it would be more than a year! You can read about the history of the town here.

The two photos below are of Fordell’s Lodging.

Old Building Inverkeithing

Old Building, Inverkeithing

It’s thought that the town dates from as far back as Roman times in AD 83, but the first church was built around AD 400. There was a Franciscan friary which would have been used as an overnight stopping off place for pilgrims on their way to St Andrews. There are quite a lot of ancient buildings still standing in the town. Sadly one very interesting looking building is standing empty and unused, but another one has been converted into flats which should stop it from deteriorating.

The photo below is of St Peter’s Kirk.

Inverkeithing Church

Marriage lintels are a tradition in Scotland, especially in the east, with the initials of the bride and groom being carved into the lintel with the date of the wedding in the middle. This one is on Thomsoun’s House, 1617, it’s a bit fancier than most of them.

A Marriage Lintel, Inverkeithing

St Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth, Tyne and Wear, England

In January 2020 we had our last UK road trip, just before Covid arrived, the weather was mild so we went to the north of England to visit friends there. Maureen took us to St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth which we would never have found on our own. I do love old churches, despite not being at all religious. It’s the links to the past that I love. This area was home to the Venerable Bede and Saint Benedict, there was a large monastery on the site in the 7th century.

Monkwearmouth St Peter's Church

While we were there we met a very old lady who had been married in the church over 70 years previously, she was very pleased to see that it didn’t seem to have changed at all. As it happens our friend Maureen had had her husband’s funeral in the church 50 years previously, he died very young, but we didn’t mention that to the old ‘bride’ in case it spoiled her day.

We got a tour of the place with a knowledgable guide who mentioned that the Scots had set fire to the church. I don’t think he held it against us! It was King Malcolm Canmore who did that. He was born in 1031. The original church was built around 674, parts of it date from the 13th century but as usually happend with these old churches the Victorians extended it. If you want to see more photos hop over to Jack’s blogpost.

Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex

I was about to start doing my ironing the other day so I had to decide which DVD to watch whilst doing it as I absolutely must have something to distract me from the task, yes the ironing does suffer and I often end up ironing in even more creases but it keeps me semi-sane! Anyway, I plumped for the Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson which I’ve watched several times before but more than anything I just wanted to re-visit the lovely wee town of Rye in the only way that I can at the moment. Lots of Rye locations were used in the filming of the series and they’re all very recognisable. It occurred to me that I had never shown any of the photos of the garden before, not that they’re all that exciting, I hope it was better when the house was owned by E.F. Benson and before him by the American author Henry James, or the several other authors who seem to have lived there in the past. I can see why people love the place despite it being a bit of a tourist Mecca, it was a well known haunt of smugglers in the past, as well as French invaders and the whole place is very atmospheric – and it has a secondhand bookshop!

Garden, Lamb House, Rye

Lamb House, Rye, Garden

Rye, Garden of Lamb House

Jack’s posts about Lamb House and Rye are here. You can read more about Rye here.

Aldborough, Yorkshire, England

We planned to visit the Roman parts of the small village of Aldborough on our way back home to Scotland after visiting Bletchley Park recently, and even although the rain was chucking it down we decided to stop off there anyway for a rest and to stretch our legs a wee bit. We did find the ‘Roman town’ but there was a locked gate across the entrance. Due to Covid the English Heritage site was shut. You can have a look at the Aldborough Roman site here. Fingers crossed we’ll actually be able to visit again in the future.

The visit wasn’t a dead loss though as the village itself is lovely even in the rain, and has some interesting old buildings. Apparently the Roman town originally covered the whole of the ‘modern’ town. You can read about it here. The famous Ninth Legion had a base here, until they disappeared!

Aldborough houses, Yorkshire

It was obviously a very important military settlement and I think if I lived there I would be spending a lot of time in the garden digging as a lot of Roman artefacts have been discovered in this area. We only spent about fifteen minutes looking around, due to the weather but I’m looking forward to going back there one day, when/if things ever get back to normal. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister has asked us not to travel out of our own area in these pandemic times.

Aldborough house, Yorkshire

I can’t see any mention of the very prominent Maypole anywhere on the internet which is strange as I’m fairly sure there aren’t that many around. I ‘discovered’ this village when reading my copy of the AA Book of British Villages (1980) and it states that the maypole is used in the second week of May every year for maypole dancing. It sounds like the village has a good community spirit anyway. There are some lovely Georgian houses, they always make me think of Jane Austen.

Maypole, Aldborough, Yorkshire

Maypole, Aldborough, Yorkshire

There’s something so English about a village green and obviously it should have an oak tree.

Oak Tree, village green, Aldborough, Yorkshire

This village green boasts a set of stocks too, I imagine that in May and at summer fetes they will be used with local worthies being put in them while people pay and queue up to throw wet sponges at them!

Aldborough Stocks, Yorkshire

We squelched around the churchyard, St Andrews Church dates from 1330 and replaced the Norman church which had been destroyed by Scottish raiders (ahem) it’s not all that far from the Scottish Border really. It looks like the church has been extended over the years.

Aldborough Church, Yorkshire

I think the wall which surrounds it dates from Roman times but has obviously also been extended. This is definitely a place that we’ll have to visit again.

St Andrew's Church, Aldborough, Yorkshire

Bletchley Park – part 3

Here we are back at Bletchley Park, inside the mansion this time, as you can see from the hallway it’s very Victorian.

Bletchley Park Mansion entrance

There’s a lot of oak panelling in the library below, in fact there’s a lot of oak panelling all over the house.

Bletchley Park Mansion Library 1

I have no idea what happened to the original books, possibly they were sold off in the 1930s when the house became government property. The shelves have been filled with book club books and a lot of what I suppose can be called domestic fiction. No doubt it’s very down market compared with what was originally on the shelves but if these books had been for sale, I would have been very happy to give some of them a new home!

Mansion Library, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

Mansion Library  books, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

Bletchley Park Mansion Library 4

I think the room below is the brightest and prettiest room in the house, from what we were able to see anyway. It’s done out as an office but must have been a sitting room or drawing room when the house was a home.

Bletchley Park Mansion room & ceiling

There are quite a few very ornate ceilings in the Victorian style.

Bletchley Park, Mansion ornate ceiling

Including the lovely glass ceiling below in what must have been a garden room or consevatory.

Bletchley Park, Mansion glass ceiling

If I’m remembering correctly the room below was the ballroom with its linenfold panelling, not as large as I expected it to be, I calculated that you might be able to fit in four sets of Scottish country dancers for reels, with six people in each set, but it would be plenty big enough if dancers were just waltzing. Rather worryingly this room smelled of damp, I didn’t notice that anywhere else. I noticed in the news last night that Bletchley Park had been awarded over a million pounds, I know where some of it should be spent!

Bletchley Park, Mansion wood Panelling

Bletchley Park was a great day out.

Bletchley Park – part 2

Here we are back at Bletchley Park, the World War 2 codebreaking centre. The photo below is of a sentry box which would have been manned or maybe womanned I suppose (or maybe not) by some one asking you for your papers before you could get past the gate.

Bletchley Park Sentry Box

Below is a corner of Alan Turing’s office, all of the offices are very dark, I don’t think they had any windows which would make sense when you’re keeping things secret but must have made working there even more claustraphobic.

Alen Turing's Office, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

As ever, click the photos if you want to see them enlarged. I find it so sad that Alan Turing was so badly treated by the powers that be – after the war. He certainly didn’t get any thanks for his efforts at winning the war.

Alan Turing's Office, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

Below is a fairly recently made statute of Alan Turing, it seems to have been constructed using pieces of slate piled on top of each other, it’s quite effective though.

Alan Turing Statue, Bletchey Park

The main codebreakers seem to have lived in estate cottages close to the huts and the mansion house, you can’t see inside them but they look very cute from the outside.

Bletchley Park Cottages

Bletchley Park Cottages,

Bletchley Park Cottages

I like the design of the leaded glass windows, presumably this was the bathroom.

Bletchley Park Cottages window

At least they didn’t have to travel far after a long shift of calculations and code wrangling.

Bletchley Park Cottages

Bletchley Park

When we drove down south last week for our first time away from home since Covid appeared our first day was entirely taken up by a visit to Bletchley Park, the World War 2 codebreaking centre, it’s close to the new town of Milton Keynes. There was a lot to see. Below is a stitched photo of the country house the building of which began in 1883, originally owned by a financier and politician, by the time he died in the 1930s nobody in his family wanted the house and it was eventually acquired by the government and so became a centre for secret war work. The location was ideal as it has great transport links for London and there was plenty of space in the sprawling estate to accommodate the 8 or 9,000 people who ended up working there. The workers were mainly farmed out to any local people who had a spare bedroom – whether they wanted a lodger or not. The stars of the show though were given estate cottages to live in. At one point there was a queue of people at the right hand door, waiting to go in for their afternoon tea, sadly that had to be booked so we couldn’t partake. We made do with soup and bread from the cafe.

Bletchley Mansion Stitch

There are still lovely trees and a lake on the estate although obviously lots of the land was built on.

Bletchley  Park Lake

There are ‘huts’ and buildings all over the place, but there are loads more waiting to be refurbished. That’s not going to be cheap going by the amount of ‘danger asbestos’ signs we saw!

Bletchley Park Building

Inside the huts are spartan, I don’t think they would have been very comfortable to work in, I felt quite claustrophobic just walking through them for a short time.

Bletchley Park Hut Corridor, WW2 codebreaking

Bletchley Park Hut Poster , WW2, codebreaking

Of course they not only had to break codes but also had to translate them from numerous languages such as Japanese as well as German.

Index Cards Japanese, Bletchley Park, codebreaking ,WW2

They managed to do that using the enigma machines such as the one below, it’s smaller than an old typewriter, there are lots of machines on display.

enigma machine, WW2, Bletchley Park, codebreaking

enigma machines, Bletchley Park, WW2 ,codebreaking

We took lots of photos but I’ll keep those for future posts. Almost more amazing than the work that went on in this area is the fact that the Germans never had an inkling of its existence which is incredible when you think of the thousands of people who worked here and all the people who lived nearby. It was all ‘hush hush’ and it stayed that way until someone wrote a book about it in 1974. There must have been no spies at the local electricity plant as the amount of power used here to work all the machinery must have been enormous. I can’t imagine people keeping ‘mum’ in that way nowadays.

Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England

Last week I scheduled a couple of blogposts prior to going down to England for four days. It was a delayed trip that we had planned to take way back at Easter but of course we were in strict lockdown then and only allowed to travel to get food. We swithered about leaving our area of Scotland which had had very low Coronavirus rates, journeying south seemed chancy. On the other hand the Peterborough area that we were travelling to also had fairly low infection rates so we decided to go, armed with masks and plenty of sanitiser.

We went to the big (mainly outdoor) antiques fair at Peterborough, but it was a bit of a disappointment as so many of the stallholders weren’t there, actually I was surprised that it hadn’t been cancelled. On the plus side I did manage to get some Christmas/birthday presents for Jack that I couldn’t have got elsewhere. My Christmas shopping is mainly finished!

This time around we made sure that we had plenty of time to visit Peterborough Cathedral. I wanted to visit where Katharine of Aragon was buried and the spot where Mary Queen of Scots had been buried, before her son the Scottish King James VI or James I (England) had her disinterred and reburied at Westminster Abbey in the Lady Chapel.

Peterborough Cathedral is interesting, has some wonderful ceilings and floors and has quite a warm and friendly atmosphere which you can’t say for all of these places. As ever I compared it with my favourite Saint Magnus Cathedral on Orkney – it’s still my favourite.

When Katharine of Aragon died she was at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. King Henry VIII had her buried at Peterborough Cathedral because it was closest and presumably the cheapest way of doing it, he was obviously glad to be rid of his first wife and was only interested in marrying Anne Boleyn as fast as possible.

Katharine's Tomb

Katharine’s personal emblem was a pomegranate which signified fertility, sadly she didn’t have much luck with her pregnancies, but I’m sure the fault lay with her husband. It’s quite touching that someone has laid a couple of pomegranates on her tomb.

Katharine of Aragon's Tomb

Mary, Queen of Scots was originally buried not far from Katharine but now there is just a stone memorial where she lay.

Above Mary's Former Tomb

Mary's Former Tomb

There’s also a much more modern memorial to the World War 1 nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by the Germans, they claimed she was a spy.

Edith Cavell, Peterborough Cathedral

The cathedral has lovely mosaic marble floors.

Patterned mosaic floor, Peterborough Cathedral

Below is the stained glass in a side chapel.

Stained Glass , side chapel, Peterborough Cathedral

Beautiful ceilings.

Stone Vaulting, Peterborough Cathedral

The main ceiling is painted wood which is very unusual I think.

Wood vaulting, Peterborough Cathedral

Stone altar, Peterborough Cathedral

Stone altar,Peterborough Cathedral

The photo below was taken two years ago when we first visited Peterborough, but that time we didn’t manage to see inside the cathedral as it was shut, as you can see though – it was a golden evening.

Peterborough Cathedral

Prior to going Peterborough we visted Bletchley Park, the WW2 codebreaking establishment which was strictly ‘hush hush’ until the 1970s when someone published a book on it which horrified so many who had worked there during the war as they were sworn to secrecy. But that’ll be another post – soonish.

St Giles’ Parish Church, Wrexham, Wales

St Giles Parish Church, Wrexham, Wales

When we were in Wales, about a year ago now we were drawn to what we thought must be a cathedral, you can see it for miles around, but it turned out to be St Giles’ Parish Church. Apparently it’s known as the ‘Wonder of Wales’ and I’m not surprised at that, we didn’t actually get inside it as there seemed to be something going on which we didn’t want to gatecrash, however you can see some fantastic internal photos of it here.

St Giles  Parish Church, Wrexham, Wales

You can read about St Giles’ history here. The tower dates from the 16th century which by comparison with my nearest church in Fife is actually quite modern as St Drostan’s tower dates from the 12th century, but St Giles is much more impressive although both churches were originally founded by the Celtic church, before Catholicism took over.

I am of course not the least bit religious but I’m interested in the buildings and the locations of old churches which are generally located on what had been places of worship for the Druids previously. I find their worship of nature more appealing, minus any human sacrifices, but that might just have been the Romans maligning a local religion!

The gates to St Giles’ from the town are fairly elaborate.

St Giles Parish Church Wrexham  gates, Wales