Monday, July 30, 2007

Wreay church and Cockermouth & Maryport briefly

We set off in the car yesterday following our noses (or rather my random decision-making).

So we ended up first wandering to Wreay (pronounced "Rear"), which is only about 3 minutes from junction 42 of the M6. I'd been before - the church here is famous - but last time I came I didn't even get out of the car, no idea why (I'm daft like that).

I'd heard some of the story of the church - that it was designed and built by a Victorian woman (Sarah Losh) and is a favourite of people who are generally known to have respectable architectural opinions. It's often mentioned in the same breath as the famous Rosslyn Chapel, for instance, as being a building full of great craftsmanship and delights.

So this time we got out of the car. As soon as I focussed my eyes on the carvings around the door, I knew I was in love!

After exploring the carvings outside, we tried the doors (complete with arrow insets) and yay! it was open... The first things that greet you are two marble pinecones either side of the aisle. To the right is a fabulously-carved marble font with a mirrored pool (supposedly carved by Sarah herself). There is the usual church visitor paraphernalia, plus postcards and leaflets outlining the history. The pews are a bit boring but the windows were fab, with little interesting bits of glass.

The design of the church is apparently based on places Sarah saw on her visits to Italy during her Grand Tour. The layout is similar to a Roman basilica, ie a rectangular building with an apse (round bit). The numbers of columns and windows are significant, there are lots of references to nature including passion flowers, lillies and fossil stencils in the eastern apse windows. The lectern is made to look like a tree, while the birds sitting either side of the apse are sitting on real bog oak stumps. Outside, there are some lovely gravestones with oyster shells and pine branches, and a large cross based on the Bewcastle Cross.

Sarah built the church in memory of her sister, which was nice. The thing to bear in mind here is that she showed incredible talent and foresight, building what is really an Arts & Crafts-syle building about 20-40 years before everyone else.

Carvings of pinecones and palms are to be seen everywhere, as a reference to a family friend who sent seeds home from abroad just before he died - but there is also an overall theme of resurrection and growth.

We spent ages taking photographs, being briefly interrupted by some people who had been for Sunday lunch at the pub nearby and decided to stop. They too were locals who didn't even know this place was here! We signed the book on the way out, after reading it of course (full of comments from people visiting it after seeing it on telly)

For more information about the church, see the links at the bottom of the page. Otherwise, enjoy the photographs...

We then headed for Cockermouth, intending to revisit the great little cafe we'd been to a few weeks ago only to find it shut. In fact today, Cockermouth was shut. (Note to self - go on a Saturday)

So Maryport was next, to visit the Senhouse Museum as it holds some prehistoric rock art carvings as well as having Roman stuff. We were disappointed here too, because the small portable stones we were looking for were hidden behind screens, nailed in place to display information about (ironically) the spread of the empire ... typical!

There were some paragliders flying above the cliffs here, looking very relaxed floating about on the soundwaves sent upwards from the jazz festival going on below. It was a very clear day, and when I climbed the reconstructed watchtower I could see much of the Solway Firth, and over to the Isle of Man.

B's Wreay photos on Flickr

B's Paragliding photos on Flickr

St Mary's, Wreay on

St Mary's official website

Songs of Praise

Birds eye view on googlemaps

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mayburgh Bats

We took a short trip to Mayburgh Henge the other evening to try to get some sunset photos of the central stone.

After a while the swallows turned into bats. Honest! They were roosting in the trees and making those wonderful squeaking, clicking noises, and scooting past our ears.

I stood for a while, large flash on my camera, pointing it up into a small tree on the "wall" and got this shot:

PS - yeah I know I haven't finished my Lewis thing yet blah blah blah but hey I've been busy and away a lot, so I'll just have to catch up at my own pace, OK?!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Western Isles Holiday ... Part one - Getting there

We've been on holiday!

We'd been talking about going up to Lewis and Harris for ages; for stone-hunting reasons of course but also because of my good memories from the very brief trip I took up there with work a few years ago. I had to go back - And this time I had a new camera to play with, and someone to show it all to!

We flew up from Glasgow to Stornoway on my birthday, to stay for three nights at Leumadair Guest House.

I have to comment on the travelling bit, I'm afraid, because it's as much an enjoyable part of the holiday for me as the getting-there.

We were flying out mid afternoon so had lunch in the Food Village upstairs, in a little place that does freshly-squeezed orange juice and real healthy meals, not your usual airport fare - nice! (Just go past all the tartan toys, over the bridge and it's on your right in the far corner.)

The plane was a little Saab number with a beast under the bonnet. Unfortunately it was cloudy for most of the 1-hour journey, but when we descended we were travelling low over the sea so I entertained myself trying to spot dorsal fins or interesting birds. I'd been to Lewis once before and travelled by ferry from Ullapool and there were loads of twitchers on the upper deck with their binocks trying to spot - I dunno, an albatross or something.

The airport in Stornoway is fantastic! At first, we taxied past a large green hangar which I was joking was the terminal building - well the real one wasn't much bigger! It was all so personal. I love these little places. As soon as we were off so were the bags and it wasn't long before we were seeking out the car hire woman. A Clio! Perfect! Just like home.

Somehow, the hire-car woman left without giving us the folder containing maps, leaflets, emergency contact details etc. I've no idea how this happened - one minute she was talking us through it, the next she was driving off and we were sitting there in the drizzle wondering which way to Callanish!

Luckily, the roads aren't that complicated. I guessed a road and guessed it right. I recognised it from last time - turn left before the hospital. Easy!

Soon we were driving onto the moors of Lewis. Lush! I love this countryside; the peaty, heather landscape feels so homely and familiar. As we drove onwards it wasn't long before we saw signs for Callanish - or actually Callanais in big letters with Callanish underneath. Driving through the Western Isles is like driving through Wales in many ways. There were times when I felt like this was a foreign country, but then I'd remember that this is Scotland, isn't it?

A vivid memory I have of this part of the trip was the music playing on the radio - it was Stuart Maconie talking about Laurie Anderson's reissue of Big Science and he played bits from Walk the Dog, O Superman and Let X=X. Brilliant! I had a smile on my face the whole time, fantastic! :D

It took three drive-bys to get the right gate for Leumadair guest house - first impressions were slightly Deliverencesque, but we got a fine welcome from both humans and cats and the room couldn't have been nicer - gobsmacking view from the window over to the standing stones of Callanish - and my first photo!

(It was to be the first of many...)

We quickly got changed and visited Those Stones (how could we resist it any longer?), then on to Dun Carloway before stopping at the Doune Braes Hotel, to have a warming plateful of lamb hotpot.

Did I mention that the weather was officially "bloody freezing"? I shouldn't complain too loudly - the rest of the UK to our south was experiencing all that horrible rain and flooding - the rain stayed away from us thanks to the northerly winds blasting down; but this meant that the two fleeces, two hats, waterproof and glove ensemble I donned for most of the trip wasn't really cutting it!

Oh yeah and did I also mention that our room had no TV? I mean - shock horror, how would we cope?! Well we did; we stayed out late, and read maps and tourist leaflets until we flaked.

The Stones, from our window


Gratuitous but inevitable use of the colour-fiddling setting!

Testing the macro - a Callanish orchid

Dun Carloway.
With this camera I can take wide-screen format pics without having to edit them afterwards... Fantastic, saves lots of time.

The steps inside the Dun's walls

One of the stones inside the Dun - the Lewisian Gneiss looks like gorgeous marbled cake.

The Dun has grown straight out of the bedrock.

Part two coming soon...

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