Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown – Classics Club, Back to the Classics

The Rose Garden cover

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown was first published in the UK way back in 1971 but the copy I read, in a very tightly bound and therefore difficult to read paperback edition was published in 1975 which is when Jack bought it, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since then, so I put it on my Classics Club list, to encourage me to get on with it. I also read it for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge.

What can I say other than I’m really glad that I read this book, but it was so depressing. The American politicians of the day were so duplicitous, cruel and greedy and the First Nation Indians were so trusting, honest, dignified and forgiving – it was only ever going to end in tears for them.

Hunted like animals all over the country, by men who were no better than gangsters, whether in uniform or not and who conveniently didn’t even see the Indians as human beings. It was the Europeans who originally started scalping people, but the Indians who got blamed for it.

With settlers, gold rushers, corrupt government land agents and soldiers seeking glory it was only a matter of time before the First Nation people were either killed fairly quickly, or slowly by starvation as they were corralled in reservations (concentration camps) which had such poor land they couldn’t grow crops and all the animals had been frightened off or killed by hunters for their skins.

I must admit that after reading this book I’ll never see American settlers in quite the same light again, although to be fair they were also at times the victims of corrupt land agents. They must have known that they were usurping the original inhabitants of the land though.

It’s very true to say that history is written by the victors, which is why so many people believe that the American War of Independence was about a tax on tea. It wasn’t, it was about the fact that the British government had promised the First Nation people that they wouldn’t expand westward into their territory. That was something that the American politicians and businessmen were desperate to do – for profit of course. So they had to get rid of the British to get on with their expansion plans. A people with not much more than bows and arrows plus a strong tradition of caring for their land in what we nowadays see as a conservationist fashion just didn’t fit in to the American way.

This is an absolutely heartbreaking read with entire tribes being wiped out, ethnic cleansing is the euphemism now, but I’m very glad that I got around to it at last.

A Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland

After we visited the Roman fort at Chesters we drove on to see the remains of a Mithraic temple which is in the middle of a field. I have to say though that the temple itself isn’t very well signposted, so we ended up yomping over a field full of indignant sheep towards what was definitely a ruin in the distance, but that turned out to be the ruin of a farm building. Oh well, it was all good exercise and we gave the sheep something else to think about other than grass!

We eventually got on the right track, the signpost was on a small fencepost just the width of the wood, so about 3 inches square.

This is the road by the car park at Carrawburgh, Northumberland, as you can see the road is very straight so presumably this was originally the Roman road.

The temple is quite small but as the god Mithras was popular with soldiers it was probably quite well used by the men at Chesters Fort.

Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland, Roman ruin

Temple Information Board, Mithraic temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland

Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland

Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland, Roman ruin

The middle column of the altar has a stone offerings dish and visitors have been leaving coins, sweets and a big piece of wood as worshippers would have done. I was a really big spender and offered up 2 pence!

Votive Offerings, Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland

Chesters Roman Fort part 2

The ruins that you can see in the distance below are what remains of the camp commandant’s house. As you can see the area that the fort is set in is scenic but I imagine it would have looked a bit different in Roman times, nearly 2,000 years ago, however the land here was very fertile even back then it seems and was able to provide enough in the way of crops for humans and horses. The fort was known to the Romans as Cilurnum.

Commandant's house from distance

Closer up you can imagine that it must have been a lot more comfortable than any of the other accommodation, and at least he had central heating, I think the bricks are part of that system.

Commandant's House , Chesters fort, Cilurnum, Northumberland, Roman ruin

By Commandant's House, Chesters fort, Northumberland

The floor below would have had a mosaic pattern on it I’m sure, but what can be seen in the photo are the supports of the floor.

Commandant's House, Roman floor, Northumberland

Annoyingly I don’t seem to have an info board photo for the commandant’s house, but the HQ info board below is quite interesting.

HQ Building info board, Chesters Roman fort

But as you can see there isn’t much left of it nowadays.

HQ building, Chesters Roman fort, ruins

You need a good imagination!

HQ Building Chesters Roman fort, Northumberland

The info board below gives you an idea of how grand and imposing this area would have been – all to keep those barbarians from the north out!

Main East Gate Board, Chesters Roman fort, Northumberland

Chesters Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall

Last week we travelled down to the north-east of England again, just for a few nights, and it’s just typical that when we had only been down there half a day or so the weather changed from what had been days and days of hot dry weather – to heavy rain – such is life, and I suppose the gardens needed it!

Before the heavens opened we did manage to fit in a visit to Chesters Roman Fort. I was surprised at how busy it was but the English school holidays had just begun and I think the English Heritage site had just been allowed to open up again after the Covid lockdown.

The fort was only discovered in the 1840s by John Clayton the landowner, who had a lot of his men uncovering the Roman remains, the work was continued by his nephew who inherited the estate, although the Claytons were very wealthy and had a lot of men digging up the area there are still lots of parts to be excavated, presumably when English Heritage can afford to do it. Below is a photo of the fort HQ.

HQ Building, Chester's fort, Roman remains, Cumbria

The photo below is the base of what was an interval tower.

Interval Tower , Chester's Roman Fort, Cumbria

The whole fort was obviously part of Hadrian’s Wall but there are only a few bits of the actual wall uncovered at the moment, presumably a dig would find more of it although I expect that a lot of the stones have been re-used over the years by farmers needing houses and farm walls.

Part of  Hadrian's wall, Chesters Roman Fort, Cumbria

Below is a photo of the remains of some of the stables.

Stables , Chester's Roman Fort, Cumbria

As there were lots of horses and men housed at this fort a good source of water was obviously imperative, the North River Tyne is right on the edge of the camp and if you look across the river in the middle of the photo you’ll see some of the remains of the bridge abutment.

Bridge Abutment , North Tyne River, Cumbria

Chester's fort Bridge Info board stitch

It’s an interesting place to visit if you find yourself in that area, there seem to be Roman remains all over. This fort is in a particularly scenic location but I can’t help feeling sorry for the 500 or so Spanish cavalry soldiers who inhabited this camp, they must have been frozen to the bone in winter – or maybe even in summer!

A walk in Balbirnie, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Path, Fife, Scotland

Just for a change – and a bit more exercise – one morning last week we walked the long way back home after picking up The Guardian from the shop. It was a quieter walk than usual. Join me for a wee ‘daunder’.

Balbirnie Path, Fife, Scotland

I think the photo below is of a Russian Vine or ‘mile a minute’ which is its common name, it does grow incredibly fast.
Russian vine, Balbirnie Park, FifePlant 1

We chose the path that leads past the old stable block which has been converted into flats, the building looks quite smart at the moment I think – both halves of it.

Balbirnie Stable block ,Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Stable block , Fife, Scotland

Taking a steep path we could look down on some of the trees, it was a really hot day – by our standards, so it wasn’t a comfy climb.

Balbirnie trees, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Trees, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Trees, Fife, Scotland

As we drew closer to Balbirnie House Hotel we could hear a piper doing his thing, but surprisingly there was no red carpet so presumably there was no wedding, maybe he was just practising.

Balbirnie House piper, Fife, Scotland

Today we heard a piper and Jack spotted him standing underneath trees at the back of the hotel, sort of surreptitiously. I had to laugh as there’s just no way you can play the bagpipes by stealth!

Armchair travelling – St Monans, Fife

One hot afternoon last week we went for a drive along to the East Neuk of Fife, starting at the village of St Monans. Below is a photo of St Monans kirk with some beach explorers in the foreground. If you look closely you should be able to see the ancient sea worn steps that lead up to the church. Presumably in years past some people did sail there to the church service. For many it would have been a lot easier than tackling roads which would have amounted to little more than tracks.

St Monans Kirk, Fife, Scotland

The teazles and geraniums right above the beach were looking great. It’s surprising how much salty atmosphere some plants can put up with.

St Monans flowers , Fife, East Neuk

St Monans flowers , East Neuk, Fife

It was a sparkling day, too hot for us at around 70F, but I still didn’t fancy my chances in the Firth of Forth/North Sea, far too cold without a wet suit on.

St Monans, coast, Firth of Forth, Fife

Further along the coastal path you reach a windmill which was used in the salt making industry which went on by the edge of the water, there are only indentations left in the grass now, all the buildings having been washed away by the sea years ago I suppose.

St Monans Windmill, Fife, East Neuk

There is a rather primitive outdoor swimming pool in the photo below. It has been cleared out recently by some local people as the council had stopped maintaining it, so I was pleased to see that it was actually being used by a brave soul. The straight edge is the swimming pool edge, it’s much longer than the usual length of a swimming pool. I would drown before I reached the far end of it as I’m not a great swimmer!

St Monans rocks and pool , Fife

The rocks above the beach are interesting looking, to me anyway. I need a geologist.

St Monans rocks, Firth of Forth, Fife

St Monans rocks, Fife

As the school holidays have already begun in Scotland there were lots of people about so I didn’t take any photos of the old fishing village of St Monans but if you want to see some images look here.

The only photo I took at the nearby village of Elie was of the ancient doorway below. It’s a pity that the stonework is so worn as I think the carving would have been interesting.

Doorway Elie, Fife

Firth of Forth at Aberdour, Fife

Earlier in the week we drove to the very historic wee coastal village of Aberdour, just for a change of scenery. If you look carefully at the photo below you’ll see there are stone steps which have been cut into the rock years ago, but they have almost been worn away by the daily batterings from the Firth of Forth on its way to the North Sea.

Aberdour Rocks, Fife

I was standing on the beach at Aberdour when I took these photos and if you click to enlarge you will be able to see Arthur’s Seat, the Salisbury Crags and the smaller lump of rock to the right is Edinburgh Castle. In reality you can see it fairly clearly from the Fife side of the Forth.

Firth of Forth, Edinburgh

The large building at the far end of the photo below is a hotel, well it used to be but it may not be now. There were actually a couple of women swimming in the sea, I think they must have had wet suits on though as it’s absolutely freezing and it wouldn’t take long for hypothermia to set in. There weren’t many people around though so it all felt very safe.

Firth of Forth, Aberdour beach, Fife

I should have taken a photo of the houses at the edge of the beach but I didn’t, however you can see them in the background of the photo below of Jack and our friend who had never been to Aberdour before. There are some lovely houses there but they would be very expensive as Aberdour is an easy train journey from Edinburgh.

Maureen & Jack

But Maureen thought that this quaint wee house below on the town’s High Street would just do her fine! Do you ever pick out a favourite house when you visit a new place?

Quaint house, Aberdour, Fife

There are lots of images of Aberdour here.

Seals at Seafield, Firth of Forth, Kirkcaldy, Fife

One lovely afternoon last week we drove to the beach at Seafield, part of the Fife Coastal Walk. This cormorant was drying its wings in the sun. The concrete blocks are the remains of some of the World War 2 defences which thankfully were never tested, but you can understand that people would be worried about a Nazi invasion back then.

cormorant , Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Firth of Forth, Fife

red rocks, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Firth of Forth

red rocks, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Firth of Forth

If you click on the photo below you should be able to see the seals that were basking on the rocks. They blend in very well and I didn’t even realise they were there until I heard them mooing.

seals, Firth of Forth, Kirkcaldy, Seafield

There are lots of them on the rocks in the photo below. When we walked past them about ten minutes later some of them were still sticking to their little patch of rock, despite it almost being covered by the rising tide.

seals , Firth of Forth, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Fife

I don’t know how people walking on the coastal path could disturb seals, anyway obviously it isn’t a good thing to do as it uses up a lot of their energy if they are frightened off their rocks before they’re ready to swim again.

Do not disturb seals, Seafield, Kirkcaldy

Seals, Seafield, Firth of Forth, Fife

Seals, Firth of Forth, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Fife

It seems that you’re never very far from a ruin of some sort in Scotland and the one in the photo below is what is left of Seafield Tower which has been ravaged by the North Sea over the years. It’s in a very poor state now, it was built around 1542.

Seafield Tower, Kirkcaldy, Fife

After our wee walk we were too hot to do anything else, such as go to the shops or around the park, but it was nice to have a change of scenery.

Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston

Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston which has a foreword by Bernard Cornwell is a really good read if you’re interested in the history of Britain. About half of the book is about the run up to the Battle of Brunanburh which according to history was a horrendous 10th century battle which left thousands dead in a battle which lasted a very long time, possibly all day. Most well known battles were over and done with in a very short time. With an alliance of Irish, Scots and Vikings intent on fighting the English, and putting an end to English power, it’s easy to see what the outcome was as the English still hold that power. It was King Athelstan, King Alfred’s grandson who won the battle, but it was a close run thing.

Strangely the actual site of the battle had been lost and apparently there has been lots of speculation over the years, there’s been very little written about the battle, just some poems and accounts by unreliable sources written long after the battle took place. Michael Livingston’s research seems very reasonable to me and the upshot is that the most likely location of Brunanburh is the Wirral. If you drive on the motorway towards Birkenhead then look to your left between Exits Four and Three – that’s the lost battlefield of Brunanburh. However, the author has obviously incensed people who are equally sure that the battle was fought in several other locations.

This was a really good read, not at all dry as some history books can be, it was published by Osprey and I was sent a digital copy of the book via NetGalley. For some reason all of the numbers in the text only appeared as hieroglyphics, which is a bit of a drawback for a history book and I presume that this will eventually be rectified.

About Britain by Tim Cole

About Britain cover

About Britain by Tim Cole is subtitled A Journey of 70 Years and 1,345 miles. This book is based on the About Britain travel guides which were published in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain Exhibition. There are thirteen books in the travel series and Tim Cole decided to replicate the journeys from each book to see how the modern journeys compared with the original ones.

The Festival of Britain was all about celebrating modern Britain’s initiative, discovery and industry, so the journeys concentrated on roads which passed by factories and workplaces. Almost all of the industries mentioned in the original guides are long gone, so the author was driving through areas which had been dominated by mines, coal-fired power stations, hovercraft factories, a small airport (mentioned in Biggles according to my husband) and such, but had been swept away and often replaced by houses. Really it’s just as well that those heavy industries have disappeared as they were so damaging to the environment, it’s just such a pity that subsequent governments didn’t manage to replace them with anything that was as well paid.

After the end of World War 2 with sugar still being rationed years later, a lot of orchards were abandoned because to make cider you need lots of sugar and it just wasn’t obtainable in the quantites required, that’s not something that I had realised before.

There’s lots of information in this book such as the afforestation of the UK post war with the Forestry Commission and National Parks being set up, these entities were hailed as forces for good, but in my opinion they have both turned out to be too concerned with making profits rather than doing what they were set up to do, the same can be said for the National Trust which also features in this book.

Astonishingly the original Festival of Britain travel guide made little mention of Jane Austen’s home at Chawton, and seemed to think that readers would be more interested to know that Gilbert White lived in Selborne. I suspect many people were perplexed by that, even back in 1951.

As with many things the pandemic scuppered Tim Cole’s plans for this book as he obviously wasn’t able to travel during lockdown. This was particularly annoying for me as the one book that he wasn’t able to revisit happens to feature the area that I live in – Fife. He ended up doing it on his computer via Google Earth/Street. Travelling across the new Queensferry Crossing high above the River Forth that way was just not ever going to come anywhere close to the real thing.

Festival of Britain Books

I only have four of the original travel books that the author was following (see above) but at some point in the future I’d like to visit some of the places mentioned in the books. In recent years we’ve gone on quite a few UK roadtrips, but usually we don’t plan them out too much, it might be interesting to follow some of the routes in the books although the idea behind the Festival of Britain was to show how forward looking the country was after the war, so the focus was on industrial areas, rather than the scenic places that we usually frequent.

This was a really interesting read, with some humour. I was lucky to be sent a digital copy of the book by Bloomsbury Publishing via NetGalley for review. About Britain is scheduled to be published on the 10th of June 2021.