Hunting For Castles in Ardnamurchan

When we travelled north in August on our mammoth camping expedition, our first stop in Scotland was at Resipole, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

First, one incy-wincy rant: what on earth are drivers doing on those single track roads? If we’d encountered one or maybe two idiots speeding into blind bends on single track roads, we’d have shrugged it off, but no, there were positively hoards of idiots – is it a new pass-time, playing chicken, seeing who can drive the most people off the road?

Anyway, apart from that very small detail – what a marvellous place. I’d been there before when I was a young girl, and I could remember so much. We didn’t want to do a lot of driving, so instead, we got walking.

You'd love the view from Beinn Resipol - if only you could see it!

We walked up Beinn Resipol – the highest mountain in that area.

There were frogs everywhere – well, almost. But as it was also incredibly wet, I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised. Superb views as we went up, but cloud and rain spoiled the descent. At least the showers at the campsite were good and the laundry facilities meant that we could get our clothes dry too.

A prince perhaps?

Now I really don’t want to tell you how good the campsite at Resipole is, but in all conscience, I have to say that it is BRILLIANT – well, we loved it. But you probably wouldn’t like it, no honestly…

The girls were also treated to a walk to the Singing Sands, near Acharacle. This is a bit of a trek – about three miles each way, but the path goes along the edge of a bay and then through a pine forest that smells divine, so really it’s just part of the fun. And when you get there – what a delight. Glorious white sands. This is one of the gems of the Highlands. (Minor detail – no toilets, no cafe etc – naturally this is why it’s so gorgeous, but if you’re planning to go, it’s better to be forewarned – take you own refreshments and prepare yourself for a behind-the-bushes experience).

If you time it well, you can also enjoy fish and chips from the little chippie at Acharacle. Chips and a mug of tea after a long walk and playing on the beach – what more could you want.

One of the things I remembered doing as a child, was paddling in a loch, just in front of a ruined castle that sat in the water. I could remember the approach being along a very narrow road (even narrower than the usual single track efforts), and I thought it was on a road out of Strontian. So it was, that we all took off on the road to Pollock, but after mile of incredible views, you guessed it – no castle.

I’m now desperately trying to work out where it was. Do you know? I can remember walking in the water, picking up shells, whilst pine trees were being felled on the hillside above us, the trees would appear as if by magic, on top of the hill and then be dragged down on chains – very dramatic. But I don’t know where. The castle as I recall it was pretty decrepit, (I don’t think it was Tioram – that’s too well preserved), but I don’t think it could have disappeared in thirty years.

Still, we had a consolation prize – as we were leaving Pollock, two enormous and very beautiful deer popped out into the road and ran along it for a few yards, before detouring into the trees and instantly becoming invisible. It was verging on a mystical moment.

That wasn’t our only contact with elusive nature either – one evening, as the girls were getting into bed in their tent, we heard frantic movement. It turned out that a small lizard had taken up residence between the inner and the outer tent. As the girls weren’t too keen to share their tent, there followed a period of hilarious slap dash activity, culminating in said small lizard crawling up husband’s jumper sleeve – much laughter. All ended well, and small lizard was re-homed on a nearby wall.

Pub entertainment at The Salen Hotel

It was a fabulous few days, despite the lack of castles in the water. Ardnamurchan remains a relatively remote part of Scotland, but I’m glad we’ve introduced our children to the area, and I very much hope that we’ll be back again before too long. (I might fit bull bars to the front of the car though).

PS: Midges – LOADS, but you’re a sissy if you let that put you off.

Lanercost Priory Pilgrimage.

Lanercost Priory: Burtholme, Nr Brampton, Cumbria – CA8 2HQ

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One of the unexpected pleasures of our recent holiday, was finding that we were camping not far from a place I’d heard about, but never visited – Lanercost Priory.

Why I should want to go there, apart from the usual enjoyment of all things ruined, is because it has a link with Edward I. Now I know he’s not everybody’s favourite king. If your only knowledge of him comes from watching Braveheart, then I’d understand, and a nickname like The Hammer of the Scots, isn’t likely to endear him to anyone of Scottish descent, I accept. And then there are the castles in Wales that he had built as a tangible means of domination – OK, so there’s a bit of a theme running here.

But this is also the king, who was loyal and faithful to his wife, Eleanor of Castile for over thirty years, and when she died, had monumental crosses erected at all the places where her coffin rested on the journey to London. His second marriage was also a success, despite an enormous age difference – so whatever his other characteristics, he seems to have been a good husband.

Well, anyway, this complicated and fascinating king, stayed at Lanercost Priory for five months in 1306-7, during the Anglo-Scottish wars. His stay was prolonged due to his ill-health – he was getting on a bit by this time – and in fact he died not long after at Burgh Sands.

But I have always been enthralled by the idea of standing in the same place as historic characters. I just love to look out at the view and imagine what was going through the mind of the man or woman who stood in the same spot, hundreds of years earlier. I’ve visited most of his Welsh castles and was keen to see the place he’d spent so much time in at the end of his life.

So we headed off to Lanercost Priory, so I could have my little Edward pilgrimage.

It was a desperately wet day, but the lovely lady at the ticket office made us very welcome. She gave us a very interesting briefing from the safety and warmth of the ticket office, and told us all the things that we should look out for – even the daughters were interested and managed to find the things she’d told us about, including Roman stonework and medieval board games.

She also talked to us about the Border Reivers  – not something I knew much about, but how fascinating. She stirred my historical juices, so I’m currently reading a book all about them, The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser. It made our visit to the area richer and I’m very grateful to her for opening up another aspect of history for me to get my teeth into – what a horrible collection of similes and metaphors – sorry.

We had a really good look around, even though it was tipping down the whole time and felt more like November than August, but eventually we retreated to the cafe next door, peeled off our waterproofs and indulged in excellent cake and coffee.

I’d like to go again sometime, but preferably when the sun is out.

Yoga Or The Pub?

Now it has to be said that although I like walking, I am not one of life’s natural fitness fanatics. I did have a brief love affair with rowing when I was at university, but I think it all went pear-shaped when I realised that I’d rather be lazily sculling myself across the river on a hot summer afternoon, than participating in synchronised torture on a near frozen river in December.

So nobody could have been more surprised than me, to discover that I actually like yoga. I think it was my mother, who took up yoga at the age of 72 – and who could still touch her toes two weeks before she died aged 82 – who first suggested I might try it, but of course I ignored her – deliberately.

Then a few years back, I somehow agreed to accompany a friend who wanted to give yoga a go. We went to a class run by what we had better describe as a ‘mildly eccentric’ instructor.

I’m not sure how much yoga I learned, but I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to crystals, tarot, goddesses, aromatherapy, and a myriad of other ‘new-age’ ideas. Well, to be honest I didn’t ask for the introduction, I thought I was going to practise yoga, but there you are, sometimes you don’t get what you expect in life.

Nevertheless, something was stirred inside and when our instructor somewhat mysteriously decided to give up teaching a year later, I discovered that I actually missed going.

Spool forward another year or so and a different friend mentioned that she had heard about a good yoga class and was thinking about going, and so obviously I ended up going along too.

Well this time we’ve hit gold – I’m pretty sure that our current instructor doesn’t sample the pleasures of illicit substances – or at least if she does, it’s not on Wednesdays. No, on Wednesdays, she runs an excellent yoga class at which we do real yoga and at which I manage to feel enormously invigorated, despite the fact that we barely move. (If you do yoga, you’ll probably understand this. I can’t begin to explain why it works, in fact I’m not even sure that I want to know, I’m happy enough to find that it makes me feel good).

But old habits and attitudes die hard, so despite the fact that I know I love yoga, I know that I always come home feeling energised and raving about how good it is, and I always wave off my friend with a cheery ‘see you next week’, for some reason, on Wednesday afternoons, it’s the devil’s own job to get me into the mood to go.

Last night was the first lesson of the new term. My friend was expecting me, my husband was ready to cook the dinner so I could get away nice and early – everything in place. So naturally I came up with a list of reasons why I wasn’t going to go; I have a bad cough, I have to pay for six lessons, but I can only make four, I can’t afford the petrol… In the end, the husband practically pushed me into the car, with the parting words, ‘Go and if you feel ill, go to the pub instead’.

Well, put it like that – what’s a girl to do. Of course I went (to yoga, not the pub), and yes it is fabulous – I feel wonderful, I’m sitting here with substantially better posture than yesterday and even the cough is a bit better. So that’s last night’s demon well and truly bashed on the head.

And next week? Let’s not go there just yet.



Exploring Hadrian’s Wall

It’s confession time. Although I’ve been a history geek for as long as I can remember, I’d never been to Hadrian’s Wall until last month. We’d decided to head up to Scotland for a couple of weeks camping and thought it would get us off nicely if we started with a few days exploring Hadrian’s Wall.

Not being much of a Roman history aficionado, I’d rather assumed that exploring the Wall would be a bit like searching in fields for the odd piece of stone or curious shaped ditches. Also, having left our holiday plans to THE VERY LAST MOMENT – are we the only ones? – I hadn’t had time to do any research.

Incredible views from Housesteads

So imagine my surprise on day one of our expedition, to arrive at Housesteads Roman Fort and discover – A MASSIVE ROMAN FORT. Sorry, I’ll stop with the capitals now, but you’ll understand that I was really very surprised. It wasn’t at all what I’d had in mind.

My previous experience of Roman ruins hadn’t prepared me for the sheer scale of the remains. And having walked up the hill to the Fort itself, from the Visitor Centre, I was

Under floor heating Roman style

even more amazed to find that you can still see great sections of the Wall.

We spent ages there. There’s so much still intact, it fires up your imagination – and the landscape in that part of the Wall is truly dramatic.

Eventually pulling ourselves away, we went on to Chesters Roman Fort. Having learned all about fort layouts at Housesteads, we were beginning to get the hang of it by the time we started exploring Chesters.

Riverside Chesters

This one has a different character. More bucolic. A little more manicured? But still fascinating, with a quirky museum and a grand river on site. It also has a cafe, which did good ice-creams, although I doubt they were Italian.

Spent the evening sheltering from the rain in The Black Bull in Haltwhistle. A cosy pub, with excellent beer and 277 horse brasses on the walls and beams (well that’s what the daughters counted – might not be entirely accurate). We had steamed sponge pudding and custard – who could ask for more.

The weather decided to celebrate our arrival in the area by showing us just how bad it could be. The tents stayed up – miracle, but we were pretty constantly worried about them. The gale force winds were accompanied by a lot of rain which meant that day two was spent almost entirely dressed in full waterproofs.

Nevertheless, we visited Birdoswald Fort – we were getting very good at working out the various buildings by now – it was very wet underfoot, makes you wonder what the poor Roman soldiers made of the place. Different again from the character of the other forts, it felt a bit dour to me, but in that weather even Disney would have had a difficult job. It does have a good exhibition which helps you get your bearings.

As the weather was so atrocious, the husband suggested we go to the Roman Army Museum, which is indoors to get out of the rain. We bought tickets which also give you entry to Vindolanda – a few miles further along the road.

I had been fairly unenthusiastic about the Roman Army Museum, but once we got inside, I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s been put together with lots of thought, and is a very good way to help children of all ages, understand more about the Wall and the people who lived in the area. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone visiting the Wall because it’s a very visual way to get your bearings.

A reconstructed wooden tower at Vindolanda

Eventually we went on to Vindolanda, which was also fantastic. The excavations are interesting, but the museum is fantastic, and of course you get to read the Vindolanda tablets. I fell in love with a little piece of Roman glass with a Gladiator on it.

After two full days immersed in Roman history, we felt very much better informed than we had been at the beginning of the week. We didn’t have time to get to know the rest of the area, it’s definitely a place I’d like to go back to. Hadrian’s Wall could probably keep you entertained for weeks – it would be wonderful to walk the length, but I’d hope for much better weather, and my heart goes out to the few brave souls we saw who were doing just that.


A Visit To The Dark Mountain

Most mornings, once the daily round has circled, I sit at the computer with a mug of steaming hot coffee, and I go visiting. I travel curtesy of the internet, to the blog homes of the people who, for whatever reason (and there are many) I have bookmarked.

Every visit is tinged with excitement – will they be in? (by which I mean, have they posted something new). I’m coming to know the rhythms by which they’re drawn to post. I feel disappointed when some aren’t in, occasionally I even worry about them, especially if they’re missing for longer than seems normal. I know none ‘in person’, but nevertheless, feel closely connected.

New posts are devoured.

But perhaps the greatest excitement, and still the one which gives me the biggest thrill, is the post that leads me to pastures new, places which, until that moment, were entirely unknown to me, and would have stayed that way, had it not been for the generosity of the blogger.

Today, I’ve had one of those immense thrills, thanks to Rima at The Hermitage. From her Dark Mountain post, I’ve been introduced to a group of people who have put into eloquent words, ideas that were nothing more than prickly, smoky wafts in my mind, but which, having read them here, I’ve found resonate strongly with me.

I won’t attempt to summarise the Dark Mountain approach here, – please do go and have a look yourself, when you’ve free time – I’ll simply say that the concept of continual progress has worried me more and more as I’ve grown older, and finding that I’m not alone, has both relieved me and provoked in me a need to clarify my thoughts.

I know that what interests and inspires one person, will cause others to weep with boredom, but what happiness to have open and welcome access to so many views.

Once again, I find myself vaguely star-struck and enormously grateful for the daily weaving of connections.

New to me music finds

One of the things that I love about the blogging community, is the way in which the discoveries of one person can inspire another. In one such vein, this week I am enormously indebted to Moonlight and Hares. If you go and visit Karen’s website, in addition to her lovely posts, you’ll also notice some very subtle, gentle and lulling music, drifting along while you read.

Intrigued by this, today I spent a little time investigating more about the artists Karen has featured on her site. Well, it was just like opening a huge box of Christmas goodies. The thing is, I’d never come across Trevor Morris, Zbigniew Preisner or Loreena McKennit until today, nor would I ever likely have done, had it not been for Karen’s blog.

The music they create is very appealing to me, and exactly right for me when I’m at home, trying to concentrate on my work or latest project.

I’ve already spent an hour or so this morning, listening on iTunes to some of these artists work and I’m sure I’ll be back again to try out some more. But the most delightful thing, is knowing that without the blogosphere, I’d never have found this. Perhaps I should even remember that before the internet, even if I had heard about a particular artist, it could have taken weeks to track down LPs or CDs, now I simply look them up on iTunes and within minutes I can have the pleasure of listening to them.

As someone born before all this became second nature, I’m still entranced by the amazing possibilities that the internet opens for us, and I’m especially grateful for the blogging community who introduce me to a vast array of experiences that I’d otherwise never know about. And today, a special thanks to Karen.

The Deep Blue Yonder

A light in the darkness.

I started off feeling a bit miserable this morning – I don’t know why, I’m beginning to think it might be those naughty little wotsits they call HORMONES, but I’ve decided I’m not going to give in to them. I like the line from Emma Thompson’s character in Love Actually

No one loves a sissy

Well at least I think it’s something like that. Anyway, I was sitting here thinking blue thoughts – that’s miserable thoughts, not the other kind of blue, thank-you very much – and browsing around on the internet, when look what I found in my inbox from iStockphoto. This is this week’s free image (it’s the one above). Well, I have to say, seeing that, I just couldn’t feel blue any more.

What a lovely peaceful, tranquil image, almost something you could meditate on. So thank you to the powers that be at iStockphoto, you’ve made at least one person very happy.

Feeling smug sort of morning.

Well I’m sitting here at the Mac feeling very pleased with myself. This morning I have already managed to make the beds, tidy the house – including the girls’ rooms, take the children and their assorted bags, instruments and other paraphernalia to school and iron a not insubstantial mountain of clothes – oh, which I also put away – then I hoovered downstairs, emptied the paper bins and cleaned the kitchen. So that’s me done for the day on the domestic front – well apart from cooking a meal later. The rest of the day is ‘mine all mine’ (feel free to imagine me wringing my hands in glee at this moment).

What has bought about this transformation, after all, it’s not so long ago that I thought housework was the biggest drudge of them all, a constant flow of tediousness that bought no recognition and was never surmountable?

The truth is, that I have come to realise – very late I know – that once I have the house half way acceptably clean, tidy and presentable, I get a warm, calm feeling, from which I find myself better able to launch myself into other work. It’s a bit like the effect you get when you clear your desk before starting a new project and instantly feel more focused – well for me, I’ve learned that being on top of the housework gives me the same serene starting place.

Now I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression here. I am no paragon of virtues on the household front. I’m talking pretty much the minimum you can realistically get away with; don’t attempt to run your fingers along the tops of the doors unless you’re prepared for a nasty shock, and definitely avoid looking under the sofa, but you probably can safely sit on the sofa without having to worry about what’s lurking between the cushions.

So what am I going to do with the luscious hours of freedom today? Good question. Probably going to sew some more tapestry (canvas-work really) and listen to the rest of How to Get Rich, then again, I might just come up with something a tad more interesting, but I certainly won’t be doing any more domestic chores. Deep contented sigh.

The Wisdom of Pigs

One Happy Pig

Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

I love that quote. Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been fascinated by pigs. I wonder if in some previous life I was one. There’s something so knowing about their faces, so intelligent, so wise. I’ve always felt that the best person to talk to in a crisis would undoubtedly be a pig. You can really imagine sitting on the wall of their sty and discussing matters of great philosophical import.

I’m sure they have the answers to all the essential questions in life.

I also quite like the idea of eating and sleeping all day – seems good to me.

Am I marginally mad? Well possibly, but I’m not bothered – and I’m not alone. Many of the nicest people I know are pig admirers too, and I’d always be slightly distrustful of anyone who wasn’t at least a little bit pig friendly.