It’s a couple of weeks since we were down in County Durham for a few days, one of the places we visited was the town Barnard Castle but we didn’t manage to get into the actual castle because strangely English Heritage had a strict booking policy so despite the fact that we are members of Historic Scotland and would have got free entry – we didn’t manage to get in at all. It’s particularly weird as there were hardly any other visitors and as the castle itself is a ruin it’s all in the open air – hopefully we’ll get in there one day. At least we got some photos and had a walk by the river and around the town.
The castle looms high above the town as you would expect. Of course it has been in the news recently as the place that Dominic Cummings visited to ‘test his eyesight’ when the rest of us were adhering to a strict lockdown and staying very local!
The castle was founded in the 12th century and is in a lovely position high above the River Tees as you can see below. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen the Tees, I love rivers and this one is very scenic in this area anyway and looks unpolluted as far as the naked eye is concerned.
You get a good view of the river when standing on the old stone bridge – as you can see.
The town itself is a nice place to visit with interesting looking independent shops – if you’re that way inclined. I only bought a book (surprise surprise) which I got from the Oxfam charity shop.
Last week we decided to visit some friends down in the north-east of England, now that we’re allowed to travel outside our immediate area again. Cramlington Village was one of the places we wanted to visit down there as Jack has a very old book with his great-grandfather’s name written in it – in copperplate – Armstrong Besford, Cramlington. Sadly he didn’t write his whole address. Anyway, we made for Cramlington which seems to have expanded a lot in recent years, but we reached the old village, parked the car and had a walk around the St Nicholas Church graveyard, in the hope that we might find a family gravestone there, and Jack found it! The church dates from 1868 but many of the gravestones were older than that, obviously the original older church had been built onto in Victorian times, as often happened.
I must admit I thought it might be a bit unlikely as Armstrong moved to Scotland, I thought maybe the whole family had.
Anyway, the gravestone tells the story of what happened to John Besford. He was run over by a train on Stannington viaduct!! The mind boggles. You can imagine how devastating that must have been for the family though, and his wee daughter followed him just a year later. Annie was obviously a bad luck name for that family as the Annie in the following generation also died very young, that was Jack’s granny’s older sister.
It drives me mad that gravestones in England only have a woman’s married surname on it. In Scotland we traditionally put the woman’s maiden name on the inscription. An old English friend of mine had assumed that none of the women were actually married to the ‘husbands’ in the inscriptions. As if – in Presbyterian Scotland! Having the woman’s maiden name there makes it so much more interesting and easier for people tracing family trees.
Anyway, it was interesting to know a bit more about family history, it’s a shame we couldn’t get into the church though.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Jack’s posts about Lamb House and Rye are here. You can read more about Rye here.
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!
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.
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.
There’s something so English about a village green and obviously it should have an oak tree.
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!
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.
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.
Here we are back at Bletchley Park, inside the mansion this time, as you can see from the hallway it’s very Victorian.
There’s a lot of oak panelling in the library below, in fact there’s a lot of oak panelling all over the house.
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!
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.
There are quite a few very ornate ceilings in the Victorian style.
Including the lovely glass ceiling below in what must have been a garden room or consevatory.
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 was a great day out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I like the design of the leaded glass windows, presumably this was the bathroom.
At least they didn’t have to travel far after a long shift of calculations and code wrangling.
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.
There are still lovely trees and a lake on the estate although obviously lots of the land was built on.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.