Age of Innocence – 1967, Che Guevara, Torrey Canyon and Francis Chichester

I suppose that one of the biggest news events of the year occurred in Peru, South America, when in October a 1960s icon died at the hands of a firing squad.  Che Guevara was born in 1928 in Argentina and as a medical student in the 1940s became a committed Marxist revolutionary when he became convinced that capitalism created the poverty that he witnessed as he travelled on his motorbike on a journey through South America.

Read the full story…

Scotland – Edinburgh Castle and Scotland The Brave

Edinburgh Statue

July 2015 broke all weather records by being the wettest UK July on record with Scotland being the wettest place of all, so it was a surprise when we woke in the morning and were greeted by clear blue skies and a blazing sun.

This was too good to miss so we hurried back to Calton Hill to get some blue sky pictures of Edinburgh and to see the monuments early before  coach loads of visitors started swarming all over them.  The walk gave us an appetite and back at the Waverley we tucked into a full Scottish breakfast including haggis.  I ate it but I made a mental note to myself not to repeat the mistake of putting it on my plate the following day.

After breakfast we went our separate ways, Kim was drawn to the department stores of Princess Street and I returned to the castle stopping now and then in the tourist gift shops to see if I could find that illusive tartan polo shirt, alas without any luck!

Even at ten o’clock there was a long queue at the ticket office, sensible people buy their tickets on line and get through quicker but I had failed in this instance to think ahead so I waited in line and shuffled slowly to the ticket office.  I was cheered up however when I got there and noticed that I qualified for a 20% over 60s concession – there are some benefits to getting older.

I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

Inside the castle I took a quick look at the battlements and the splendid views over Edinburgh but they were swarming with people so I moved on and went to the Scottish National War Museum.

Edinburgh Castle

The Scots like military history and the museum sets out the story of the last four hundred years of wars and battles.  It conveniently starts after the wars of Scottish independence and a succession of English victories but at least that spares the English visitor from the tedious stories of Bannockburn and William Wallace!

It was a good museum and I enjoyed it but what I wanted to see most of all was the museum of the regiment The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – The Greys.  Being a fan of the Richard Sharp novels and the TV series there was one exhibit that I really wanted to see, the Imperial Eagle of the French 45th Regiment of the Line captured at the Battle of Waterloo by Sergeant Charles Ewart*.

I made my way through the museum stopping regularly to look at the show cases of swords and guns and uniforms and followed the time line to 1815.  I wanted to see the painting of the famous cavalry charge Scotland Forever which I assumed would be here but found out that the original is actually in an art gallery in Leeds so I had to make do with a reproduction.

I was getting closer now to Sergeant Charles Ewart’s Imperial Eagle and then I came upon the display case I was looking for.  It was empty but for a note saying that it had been loaned to the Scotland National Museum to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the Waterloo.  What a disappointment, I so wanted to see that Eagle and there wasn’t going to be time now to visit its temporary place of display.

So I visited a couple more regimental museums and then the dungeons and prisons of the old castle before making my way to the very top past Mons Meg, which with a twenty inch calibre is one of the biggest cannons ever made and then past a long line of people shuffling slowly forward to visit a dog cemetery.  A dog cemetery!  There are so many interesting things to see in the castle but hundreds of visitors queue up for the bizarre reason of seeing where army officers’ pet dogs are buried.

Scotlan Highland Soldiers The Thin Red Line

At the top I joined another long line of people waiting in turn to see the Honours of Scotland, The Scottish Crown Jewels, the crown, the sceptre and the sword of state together with the stone of Scone, the Coronation Stone.  It took longer than I expected to make my way through a four hundred time line of history which charted every significant event in the history of the honours which seemed to dwell rather a lot on the repeated attempts of the English to steal them and as a consequence hundreds of years hidden under floor boards and locked up in a secret casket.

Eventually the journey through time came to an end and I was in the strong room which houses the valuable artefacts, so valuable it seems that photography is strictly forbidden and there are far more people on duty than really necessary to make sure no one sneaks a picture – even more than at Lenin’s tomb in Moscow.

It was time to leave the castle now so I walked through the Esplanade being prepared for the 2015 Tattoo back along the Royal Mile and getting familiar with the city now a couple of short cuts through unpromising narrow alleys, past Waverley station and back to the hotel where Kim was waiting for me.

Sergeant Charles Ewart

* I think it is important not to have regrets in life but I do often wonder why I spent nearly £2,000 collecting model lead soldiers.  I cannot even explain it away as a moment of madness because it took nearly four years to build a collection of two hundred Napoleonic soldiers which are now stored in a box and destined to remain there forever.  One of the figures in the collection is Sergeant Charles Ewart.

Scotland – Edinburgh, Old and New

Edinburgh Castle

Take a look at a map of Edinburgh and you will see that it is conveniently divided into three separate areas.  To the south is the old town, to the west is West End and to the north is the New Town.  Our hotel was on Princess Street so we started with the neoclassical New Town where the roads are broad and grand and symmetrical and we looked for somewhere for lunch.

Edinburgh can be expensive which is explained by the fact that it enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the UK, after Bristol it is voted the happiest city in the country, unemployment is low and it often appears in lists of the best places to live.  Earlier this year, it was said to be the happiest city in the UK in a survey by the Office for National Statistics.  These facts seem to have conspired to drive up prices in this, the commercial centre of the city so we looked for a Weatherspoons* pub where we could be certain of prices more consistent with our holiday budget.

Edinburgh Map

After a quick lunch we made our way out of the New Town to the Old and made towards the castle by what looked to be the most direct route along a path up Castle Rock, ignoring signs along the way that there was no access along this route on account of preparations for the Edinburgh Tattoo in a few days time.

This was a foolish thing to do because after an energy sapping climb there was indeed no access on this route and we had to turn around and go back to the road.  The most annoying thing about this was that lots of people had made the same mistake and not one of these tipped us off as they walked back down the hill as we were going up.

Anyway, we eventually made it to the road and entered the sinuous labyrinth of the Old Town which in layout is in total contrast to the orderly New Town with a general appearance and character that remains firmly medieval.  Here are tortuous alleys, twisting steps that knock the breath out of the unfit and tightly packed streets. We climbed a particularly steep set of steps through a narrow alley with overhanging buildings so tight we had to breath in to pass through and finally emerged at the Castle Esplanade.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

Now we had a decision to make – to visit the castle or not?  Kim wasn’t keen, she has been before quite recently, it was rather expensive (£16.50), there was an almighty long line of people queuing for tickets and it was starting to rain.

So Kim won this particular debate and we made our way out of the castle and back to the top of the Royal Mile, a tourist trap street with whisky stores, wailing bagpipes and street entertainers on every street corner and a succession of shops selling everything tartan.

Well, everything tartan is not strictly true.  Later this year I am going back to Scotland to play golf with a group of pals and I had set my heart on a loud tartan polo shirt for making a fashion statement on the links.  Do you think I could find one? Absolutely not! There was tartan everything from baggy underpants to kinky suspender belts, from socks to bobble hats, from sporrans to contraceptives but never a polo shirt so I had to make do with a golf cap and a nylon kagool that I spotted on a sale rack at the back of a shop.  Now I hope that it rains so that I can wear it.

My shopping over and done with and Kim in a state of shock we continued to walk down the Royal Mile but the rain suddenly got heavier so we dashed for cover and a visit to St Giles’ Cathedral which is called a cathedral but really isn’t because Edinburgh falls within the Diocese of St Andrew’s a few miles away.  The interior is quite interesting with some stained glass windows and memorials but once again photography was forbidden and so our visit only lasted as long as the rain shower outside.

And so we left the old town and back on Princess Street the lure of the department stores was too much for Kim to resist so while she went off to the shops I walked east to Calton Hill.

There is a lot to see at Calton Hill because based at St Andrew’s House it is the headquarters of the Scottish Government with the Scottish Parliament and other notable buildings including Holyrood Palace near the foot of the hill.  The hill is also the location of several iconic monuments and buildings – the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument (which is almost always used in photographs and postcards of the city), the old Royal High School, the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs’ Monument and the City Observatory.  That is a lot of sightseeing!

On the way back down I visited the graveyard to see the tomb of the philosopher David Hume and a memorial to American Scottish soldiers and then returned to the hotel where we just sat in the window of our hotel room and enjoyed the views along Princess Street and across the road all the way along to the castle.

Well, believe it or believe it not, Kim had spotted a small restaurant that she thought looked promising for evening meal and so, not being inclined to argue with her on the matter of restaurant selection we later made our way back into the New Town and enjoyed wonderful food and a great bistro atmosphere at the Café Marlayne that was good enough to make us make the instant decision that we would be returning there for our second meal tomorrow.

Edinburgh from Calton Hill

*Weatherspoons is a UK chain of pub/restaurants which champions cask ale, low prices, long opening hours, and no music. It has become famous for converting large, unconventional premises into pubs. This one used to be a bank.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inspiration

This challenge is so easy!

Ivan Petcher (1932-2003)

When I was a boy I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my Dad used to tell me. He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography. The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me. Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.

Read the full story…

Scotland – Edinburgh, First Impressions

Edinburgh Scotland

We caught the train to Edinburgh from Newcastle Central and I just knew that there was going to be a problem when a group of misbehaving middle aged women joined us in our carriage with tee shirts announcing that they were celebrating ‘Marie’s 50th Birthday’.

There were signs in the carriage saying keep the noise down but I don’t think any of them could read so they cracked the cans and topped the bottles and made an almighty racket all the way to Edinburgh. I actually prayed to God that they weren’t staying in our hotel.

We found a seat at the other end of the carriage and ignored them as best we could and enjoyed the ride. Trains used to chatter but now they hum and the journey took us along the Northumbrian coast past Alnwick and Lindisfarne, Holy Island and Berwick and then followed the Firth of Forth towards our destination.  It was like a vivid reminder of our two day mini bus excursion in Turkey  with the Dagenham Womens’ Darts Team.

There is surely no finer city to arrive by train than Edinburgh! If there is, then please let me know?

In most cities the railway terminus is out of town, somewhere in the scruffy district with the graffiti and the dirt, somewhere well past its best but not so in Edinburgh because Waverley Station (the only station in the world named after a novel) is right in the beating heart of the city and once ascended from the subterranean platforms a visitor is deposited immediately into Edinburgh’s principal thoroughfare – Princess Street. The A1, the road that links Edinburgh to London, four hundred miles away and a road on which Scottish Nationalists would construct a border crossing at Berwick upon Tweed if they had their way.

And so it was that we emerged from the underground chambers of the railway station and arrived blinking and unsure into the centre of the capital city of Scotland, the seventh largest city in the UK, but only the second in Scotland after Glasgow. The largest UK city is of course London with a population over seven million and the smallest is St David’s in Wales with a tiny population of only two thousand.

Immediately we were met by the unpleasant reception of dozens of beggars hanging around the station concourse and we picked our careful way though the dirty sleeping bags and on to the wailing siren of bagpipes on every street corner. There was no mistaking that we were in Scotland!

Adjacent to the station there are a number of fine old hotels, The Caledonian, The Scotsman, The Royal British and the Old Waverley where we were staying. It was only a five minute walk from the station and we presented ourselves at reception and were booked in and handed our key and we made our way to the fifth floor. Edinburgh hotels are expensive and I was not expecting anything special but when we opened the door we were delighted to have a suite at the front of the hotel directly opposite the Scott monument and with a fine view of the castle.

From the tall windows there was a grandstand view of the city. There were soaring towers of granite with green copper domes standing straight backed and proud like soldiers of a Highland regiment, high pitched roofs to deal with winter snow, salt and pepper coloured buildings with symmetrical windows that would please a mathematician, terracotta chimney pots in orderly rows and flagpoles with waving Saltires but also quite surprisingly an equal number of Union flags. The 2015 vote on independence split the country down the middle and the evidence was here to see.

The buildings here rise imperiously above a narrow gorge where railway lines squeeze themselves into the city in between gardens of rain soaked velvet green and above it all stands the castle, a magnificent structure rising from the ground as though announcing the beginning of a volcanic eruption.

And opposite, almost within touching distance was the soaring Gothic memorial to the novelist and poet Walter Scott. Some people don’t like the memorial but I think it looks just fine.

On account of the view I could have stayed in the room all afternoon but that wouldn’t have got a lot of sightseeing done so as soon as we had unpacked and could tear ourselves away we went back to Princess Street with a plan to see the city.

Scott Monument Edinburgh

Weekly Photo Challenge: Close Up

Sunflower Head

Sunflowers – Van Gogh rather liked them!

I don’t know what it is about sunflowers but they do seem to excite visitors from Northern Europe, it is probably the spectacle of thousands of happy waving heads in contrast to the solitary one or two that we grow in our own gardens usually with disappointing weedy results.  This is because as their name suggests they need the sun and that is something that is not too plentiful or reliable in England.

I defy anyone (even Van Gogh) or anything but nature to produce such a wonderful work of art!

Journey to the North – Newcastle

Tynemouth Priory

After a relaxing, but rather expensive, night in the County Hotel and a hearty breakfast we left Durham in the early morning and made our way towards Newcastle and the North East coast.

It was rather overcast when we emerged from the northern exit of the Tyne Tunnel and paid our £1.60 toll and disappointed by this we made our way to the small town/village of Tynemouth.

At Kim’s insistence we parked the car in a residential area and I worried about being clamped and then walked along the promenade to the ruins of a Priory on a craggy and windswept headland where by all accounts the queens of Edward I (Eleanor of Castile) and Edward II (Isabella (the She Wolf) of France) stayed in  while their husbands were away campaigning in Scotland. King Edward III considered it to be one of the strongest castles in the Northern Marches but not much of it remains today following its abandonment during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

It remains in an imposing location however set on a headland separating two magnificent sandy beaches, to the north King Edward’s bay and to the south Longsands, an expanse of fine sand which in 2013 was voted one of the best beaches in the country by users of TripAdvisor who voted the beach the UK’s fourth favourite beach beaten only by Rhossili Bay in Wales, Woolacombe Beach in North Devon and Porthminster Beach at St Ives, Cornwall. The beach was also voted the twelfth best in Europe.

Collingwood Monument

Beyond the Priory and commanding the attention of all shipping on the Tyne is the giant memorial to Lord Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson’s second-in-command at Trafalgar, who completed the victory after Nelson was killed on board HMS Victory.  Collingwood is largely forgotten in the wake of Nelson’s tsunami of hero worship but his column in Tynemouth stands as tall and as proud as that of his boss in Trafalgar Square.

Travelling north the next village is Cullercoats where a crescent of sand shaped like a Saracen’s sword was once a fishing village and a home to impressionist artists but is now a rather run down day trippers magnet for people from the city.

Everywhere I go seems to have a story to tell.  The most interesting fact about the place is its association with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) because following disasters in the mid nineteenth century and loss of life at Cullercoats the Duke of Northumberland financed a competition for a standard design of a lifeboat. The winner was a large self-righting boat that had a narrow beam and was much longer with higher end-boxes containing air-cases designed to self-right when capsized.

The sea was calm today and we sat on the sand outside the lifeboat station but no one was called into action in the hour or so that we spent there.

Whitley Bay

Further along the coast was Whitley Bay which has a fine beach and a funfair and entertainment centre called Spanish City which was popularised in the Dire Straits song Tunnel of Love but which is closed now and undergoing extensive renovation.  We stopped for a while at St Mary’s Island where there is a redundant lighthouse and rock pools where children fish for crabs with small nets just as I used to fifty years ago give or take a year 0r so.

I Spy At The Seaside

Our next destination was Edinburgh in Scotland and we were travelling there by train so we left the car in Whitley Bay and made our way to the city of Newcastle on the metro.  I had never been to Newcastle and a short stop of about an hour is not enough time to make a valid or considered judgement so I think I need a return trip to fully appreciate it.

The only thing that I really wanted to see was the Earl Grey Monument in the centre of the city.  Earl Grey is mostly remembered for the Great Reform Act of 1832 which began the franchise reform process which led ultimately to universal suffrage and an improvement in democratic representation but whilst I appreciate that of course I like Earl Grey best for his tea.

Earl Grey is my favourite tea, a tea that according to tradition was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot  to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it as a brand

The tea is blended with citrus bergamot which is commercially farmed in Calabria in southern Italy, where more than 80% of the world’s product is grown.  And this is a precious commodity because it takes one hundred bergamot oranges to yield about three ounces (85 grams) of bergamot oil which means that maintaining a supply is challenging.

It is important to only choose Twinings Earl Grey because many other varieties use substitute cheaper ingredients.  You can’t trust anyone these days it seems!

After paying respects to Earl Grey we made our way to the train station…

greys monument