Sunday, September 24, 2006

Muncaster Castle

Afer sitting around all morning we decided to go somewhere - and we had some vouchers to use up which were running out!

So we chose Muncaster Castle - in south west Cumbria. It's about 2 hours' drive from here and we got there at about 3pm.

I was last here when I was about 10-15 years old, and all I could remember was the huge bamboo "trees" in the gardens, they were so tall and it was the first time I had seen bamboo growing and not just the sticks (I was expecting to see pandas, because they eat it right, but sadly none that day). So I was pleased to find that in fact the plants really are that tall! And there really is quite a bit of it at Muncaster!

We continued down to the duck pond and spoke to the fowl.

The main house was next; what a fantastic view from the front of the house! Sadly the inside failed to impress as much, although the audio tour was very good, read out by the family that lives there (although I couldn't imagine anyone actually living there, surely?)
Most memorable was the gold-leaf and leather wallcovering, and the reeds used to cover the walls in a corridor. Of course, Muncaster is known by ghosthunters and there was an emphasis on this aspect; enough to creep me out occasionally!

The Heron Happy Hour was due at 4.30 and we dutifully went outside to observe. What a backdrop! What a day! This was a lovely spectacle; herons nest in the trees here, the tops of which are in line with the level of courtyard out in front of the house. They come every day to get fed; there's also a family of buzzards which have caught on - so it can be quite entertaining!

After this, we went round to the Owl Centre - the doors were closed! But thankfully that was just the exhibition bit... we could still visit all the "inmates" in the aviaries behind. And what a fantastic variety of owls! I took some lovleyphotos, unfortunately I didn't take note of all their identities / species. We also took some lovely video, including a chick getting swallowed for tea.

After a quick visit to the gift shop we were getting kicked out so we headed to Keswick for chiops on the way home - and had to endure the loudest most gobby southerners discussing who's room had the worst facilities (yawn) ... But the chips were lovely!


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bureaucratic buggers!

This is a rant to attempt to make me feel in some miniscule bit better about things after having to deal with a branch of public SERVICE (hahahaha that's hilarious) who deliberately have not got any humans on their 0870-number because they know that people are just going to phone to rant at them. I have several problems with this -

1. 0870 numbers have hidden costs and I have no idea what I was paying for the call, now this is normal and accepted in the business community but IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN IT SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED - they should be made to use a 0845 number or even (god forbid) 0800. They then say that discussions cannot be entered into. I eventually found a human to speak to ( I was very calm), they said they would put me through to the right number and promptly cut me off (felt deliberate to me). Then the second person I talked to gave me the 0870 number again. I JUST WANT TO TALK TO A HUMAN !!!!!!

2. The letter I received made me feel like I was a criminal - I AM NOT A CRIMINAL!!!!!!!!! It is deliberately worded at every opportunity to make you feel like complete scum, who they shouldn't be wasting ink on. NEVER FORGET I PAY YOUR WAGES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

3. I shall type more when I have more time - this has wasted enough of my energy this morning.

In summary - *$%£!'#!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

North-East Scotland Stonehunt 2006

On our NE Scotland adventure, we planned to take in some Recumbent Stone Circles, a feature particular to this area. When we set off on Thursday, it was still reasonably early enough to get a few sites bagged, but the weather was not on our side. When we arrived in Crieff (and after visiting the crystal coffee shop), we stuck to visiting the Ferntower stones on the golfcourse rather than venture further off the road (this one's a "normal" SC).

We just went straight to Dundee instead, and after checking into the town centre Travelodge, we ventured out for a curry but didn't make it as far as the cinema. The rain was extremely buckety when we got back to our room.

Next morning we were out bright and early and first stop was Tealing Dovecot and Earth-house, just north of Dundee. Oddly, the gates were shut, but we found out why when some young bullocks came storming up the lane!

The Dovecot was cute, and so was the Earth-house, complete with two pieces of nice rock art. On the way out, we got chatting to the farmer and he showed us a carved face on one of the farm buildings- he said it was "ice-age" but I think he maybe had his wires crossed, reminded me more of some of the faces I've seen carved onto 18th Century gravestones.

Our first RSC within Aberdeenshire was Mulloch, set inside a wooded area near Banchory. I'm not sure if it was the weather or what, but I found this place a bit lifeless. Some nice toadstools, though.

Luckily just around the corner was Esslie the Greater - we didn't know its name until we looked it up but it suited it - lots going on here, it feels quite undisturbed.

Next was Sunhoney - a place I've wanted to visit ever since I heard the name (shallow, I know). We parked at the farmhouse where a small B&W cat came to greet us...the path to the stones is well-marked and the route along the fields has recently been fenced off to protect the crops. The circle is set in a small area of trees, and as it was very cloudy today I was struggling to see this overgrown place in its original spendour. Just before we left, the sun came out briefly and the pink colour of the upright granite stones shone out. There were some lovely pointy ones which looked just like canine teeth.

Midmar Kirk was an odd place - a church has been built alongside the circle and when we were there it was busy with visitors to the graves nearby, and a stonemason working on one of the headstones.

The gravestones were all quite modern so I didn't see any interesting old epitaphs, however there was one that stood out - a rough-hewn granite block with a brass, copper and glass fronticepiece. A name was picked out in the design, and names (of children?) where engraved into the glass leaves, and it had a spider, a lizard, a fish and a mouse climbing on it. Very nice.

I've just discovered that it is mentioned here.

In the trees next to the parking area for Midmar is this stone, I don't think I've seen one more phallic for a long time!!

We then went to Cullerlie - the last time I visited it I had this to say. It hadn't changed much, although this time we were entertained by a visiting Border Collie, who performed some "fetches" for us. I presume he belongs to the farm (or.... does he?)

Time for one more site, Blacktop rock art. There was a new house which wasn't on the map, but the bloke called from the window and directed us into a rocky area opposite which housed five very friendly horses. They helped us clean up the stone ready for photographing!

Then into Aberdeen and considering it was rush hour on a Friday night, it was easy to make our way into town and we found the Holiday Inn Express easily. Later, we had tapas & paella, and an early night.

Then up bright and early the next morning; and by 10am we had been up to Tyrebagger and back down! The weather was still very murky, and the airport view came and went depending on the depth of murk. Got some very atmospheric photos though.

Then, on to one of my favourite places, East Aquhorthies, which must have about five different names / spellings...

B hadn't been before and due to the dull weather unfortunately didn't see it at its best. The main character of this site for me is the high quality of the rock used, especially the main recumbent, the grey one to the side, and a lovely pink quartz stone. But, this pic of Sammy just about sums up our visit:

Balquhain circle has a large white-quartz outlier, which is nice. This site had a depressing feel to it though, as the weeds appeared to have just been burnt away with a blow-torch or similar, and it felt a bit bleurgh. I think in a few weeks' time it would be better.

I found a stone nearby which looked a bit like a stone axe but now I think is maybe not hard enough.

Loanhead of Daviot was OK, but by now we were getting a wee bit outcircled. We made this our last RSC and headed south.

Castleton rock art is about 5 miles from my workplace but I'd never managed to organise a trip before. When we arrived at the farmhouse we were greeted by the second performing collie of the day, with bonus labrador. It was getting dark and hadn't been very bright all day, however after a bit of fighting with the gorsebushes we found one good panel and will go back another time to see if we can find some others.

Some rather nice fungi nearby

Then a quick sandwich and home!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blawearie and Old Bewick - Bliss and Bounty

This is one of my favourite places in the entire world.

I've been several times, it's about 10 minutes from where I used to live. It can be a haul up the hill, it's inaccessible enough to be exclusive but it's also on a public bridleway so although I'd love to think I'm the only person who knows about it, there are lots of people walk here everyday! But I bet most of them don't stop.

We parked at the farm at Old Bewick (inside the little square, not on the road) and headed up the left-hand path, passing the old walled reservoir on the right.

The weather was glorious! In fact, we hadn't banked on it being so glorious, and soon we were boiling hot walking with fleeces wrapped around our waists, and there was only a very slight breeze. But the views back towards the Cheviot were wonderful.

Up through the gate and keeping left, it levelled out and after a while we saw the first target - Blawearie Cairn . This was excavated by Stan Beckensall in the 1980's, and he writes about it in great detail in his book "Northumberland The Power of Place". (This moor is also one of Stan's favourite places )

In the background of this photo lies the ruined house of Blawearie, also mentioned in Stan's book, and this is where I was looking forward to going most. When viewed from across the valley, it stands out as an oasis of green grass and large trees in a landscape of heather and bracken - today it was purple and browns as the season was starting to change. (see video)
It was last inhabited during WWII.

The grass is kept short by various grazers; we saw a few with big ears running to hide in the bracken.

There are two fantastically gnarled fruit trees at the side of the house, it looked like one tree but this times of year you can tell them apart because one has yellow fruit, the other red! I think they are a small type of plum, perhaps gages? About the size of large cherry tomatoes. Whatever, they were perfectly ripe and sweet, a few had dropped and were providing a feast for insects below, including a few Red Admiral butterflies. We picked a few and we'll have some nice stewed fruit & crumbles out of them!

There is also a gorgeous horse chestnut tree, cheggies not ripe yet. Behind all this, there are large natural rock outcrops and the original occupants made it into a garden, with terracing, steps, rockeries and walls. This must have looked fantastic when it was all in bloom but actually it looks just as fabulous now.

Inside the walls of the main house, there are about 15 bee hives! These weren't here last time I was here. The honey bees will be harvesting from the surrounding heather moorland. I got close enough to investigate them, and can confirm that they were indeed very busy. (see video)

We then crossed the moor to the Rock Art - it was one of my first places to see rock art, and historically it was where RA was first recognised as being ancient.

For more pictures, visit the links set inside the text.

There's also pillboxes and a Hill Fort here but we skipped them this time, because it was starting to get misty and cooler, the sun was going down and it was time to go home. We'd spent about 4 hours here!

See, if I won the lottery......

Walking Route

Another link about Old Bewick Rock Art

Keys to the Past

Shotton Lad's notes

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Barbies Ye Be Warned!

What does it mean????

Found outside a graveyard near Eskdalemuir, with a second head found fallen near the roots.

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