Category Archives: United Kingdom

Kirkby Lonsdale and the Devil’s Bridge

It was a bitterly cold morning when we left the hotel and talk a short walk around the village before setting off for the short drive to the nearby town of Kirkby Lonsdale. Someone told us that there had been a frost overnight but I am not too sure about that.

The journey took us out of the county of Yorkshire and through a small wedge of Lancashire and into Cumbria and to Kirkby Lonsdale which is only a part of Cumbria by a whisker, just a mile or two over the county boundary.

It is indeed a very charming town, the sort of place that when visiting I decide that it would be rather nice to live there but after a look in the Estate Agent’s window the asking prices confirm that I am happy enough to stay where I am.

There is not a great deal to do in Kirkby Lonsdale it seems except to walk around the picturesque streets and public footpaths. We visited the Thursday market which consisted mostly of artisan craft stalls which didn’t interest me greatly and then followed a walking route that took us along the side of the very attractive and free running River Lune as far as the fourteenth century Devil’s Bridge.

According to the legend the original bridge was built by the Devil because it was too difficult for mere mortals to achieve this feat of engineering.  Probably because of the weather the Devil had never been to Cumbria before but sometime around the eleventh century he dropped by.  As he wandered about admiring the scenery (no one has satisfactorily explained why he didn’t go somewhere even more scenic, such as Lake Windermere for example) he came across an old lady who seemed rather upset.

 ”What’s the matter? he asked (or possibly roared).

“Oh, I’m in such a terrible muddle and I don’t know what to do! My cow has wandered across the river and I can’t get her back”.

Ah!” said the Devil “What you need is a bridge and I am just the man to build you one. Why don’t you go home, and in the morning there will be a bridge waiting for you. All I ask in return is to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge”

That night she wondered about this stranger who would build her a bridge. ‘What a strange request!  Why should I cross the bridge to get my cow back if he gets to keep me in exchange? Mind you it is very tempting offer”

The next day she got up and called for her faithful dog. Together they went down to the river. 

“I told you that I would build you a bridge” said the Devil. “Now it’s your turn to keep your side of the bargain”.

She started to walk towards the bridge. But just when she got there she stopped, took out bone from her apron pocket and hurled it across the bridge and the dog chased after it.  Dogs are hopelessly stupid creatures that will do  dumb things like that.  A cat wouldn’t. 

“FFS”  exclaimed the Devil.  I don’t believe it! Your dog has become the first living thing to cross my bridge. It’s no good to me” he screamed and then vanished and I can understand that because I am not what you call a dog lover myself. 

After this the Devil was apparently never seen in Cumbria again – some say it was because he was so embarrassed at being outwitted by the old lady but I suspect that it more likely had something to do with the wet weather!

Actually, it turns out that Satan is quite a prolific bridge builder and Wikipedia lists at least a hundred Devil’s Bridges, mostly in Europe and almost always with the same story.

We returned now to Clapham and on a gloriously sunny Autumnal afternoon took a long countryside walk alongside the River Wenning which led to Ingleborough Cave which claims to be the finest show cave in all of England and had a £9.50 admission charge and no discount for seniors.

Reminding ourselves that all such places make these sort of extravagant claims we decided against going underground today and besides we have been down caves before elsewhere and one is much like any other.

On the way down we passed by an effervescent waterfall so congratulated ourselves on not paying for the Ingleby trail the previous day. Like true Yorkshire folk we were saving money every day. We were practically honorary Tykes.

 

A Skinflint in The Yorkshire Dales

We planned a few days away in the Yorkshire Dales but the trip began rather badly when we woke on day of departure to grey leaden skies that hung like a wet army blanket and heavy persistent rain that stubbornly refused to move on.

The weather was quite simply appalling and the first part of the journey north on the A1 was spoilt by continuous stair-rod rain that meant any plans that we might have had just had to be abandoned. I don’t mind getting wet but I draw the line at getting drenched.  These days I won’t even play golf in the rain.

As we approached the elegant town of Harrogate there were some breaks in the weather so with a little optimism we diverted from our planned route and made our way to the Brimham Rocks which is a geological feature left over from three hundred and twenty five million years ago (that is an awfully long time, even older than Mick Jagger) and with subsequent erosion have assumed twisted and contorted surreal sculptures with grotesque and unusual shapes.

The Brimham Rocks is a National Trust Site and the National Trust sure know how to charge. The minimum rate in the car park was £6 which is completely outrageous. It isn’t even a proper car park, no tarmac, just a muddy puddled field. My blogging pal John Knifton has this to say about the National Trust…

“It’s quite amazing how much they dare charge. The last time we went to Godrevy in Cornwall, it was £7 to park in a field and that was nine years ago. Again, very little to maintain. The cars kept the grass down.”

I was once a member of the National Trust but in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic and the  national lock-down when nothing was open to visit they invited me to renew my membership for the full price without any discount. Without any discount.  I turned down their obscenely less than generous offer.  Thanks to Covid I have now saved two years membership fees.

There are car parking charges everywhere now, it is a giant rip off, I read recently that after Council Tax the biggest revenue streams for English councils is car parking charges. The National Trust slavishly follows their example.

There was no way in the world that I was going to pay £6 especially as the weather was looking rather dodgy again so we took a risk that the car park warden was on lunch break  and walked a short way into the rocks for twenty minutes or so which was enough really and then we returned to the car, satisfied ourselves that there was no parking offence ticket attached to the windscreen and  continued our journey.

The Brimham Rocks was almost like being in Jurassic Park and reminded me in a way of Arches National Park in Utah USA which I visited in 1995.  Clearly there is no need to fly four thousand miles to see rock sculptures.

I will go back again when the weather is better.

This wasn’t at all difficult but there was some considerable weather improvement as we drove further west but because of the change of plans we arrived far too early in the village of Clapham where we were staying at The New Inn so we drove a few miles further to the town of Ingleton.

Ingleton has a very fine railway viaduct which is now disused but continues to dominate the landscape and a circular walk which features a number of waterfalls.

I was shocked to find that there was a charge to take the walk of £8 each and there was no way that I was going to pay that especially as the weather continued to look decidedly unreliable so we abandoned that idea and with the savings that we had made today we bought a bottle of wine and some beer from the local Co-op and then made our way to Clapham.

In a complete transformation from earlier in the day the sun was shining now so after checking in and approving our accommodation we took a short stroll through the impeccable village which was perfect in an Emmerdale Farm sort of way.

More about waterfalls…

This is Hawdraw Force in Yorkshire that I visited in 2001, claimed to be the highest unbroken single drop waterfall in England.  I don’t know how much it cost to visit in 2001 but it is £4 now.

This is Aysgarth Falls near Leyburn in Yorkshire where car parking charges are £2.30 for two hours.

This is a the Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland that I visited in 2007 and has no charge but there was a long drive to get there…

So, let me tell you,  I didn’t feel as though I had badly missed out by not seeing the Ingleby Waterfalls.

Carrickfergus Castle and Halloween

I have mentioned before what seems to be my exceptional good luck with the weather in Ireland. Except for a whole day washout in Galway in 2017 and the ten minute squall at the Gobbins Coastal Walk this year I have always enjoyed good weather.

Today was no exception so after an excellent full Irish breakfast (in a stack) we left the Titanic Quarter, crossed the river and made our way to the railway station because today we were visiting nearby Carrickfergus (what a great Irish name that is) to see its mighty castle.

On the way we passed the Belfast Big Fish. There is a sign saying no climbing but William missed that and clambered onto its back regardless. William is good at jumping and climbing.

The train journey alongside the western shore of Belfast Lough took just about twenty minutes and we arrived at about midday in a curiously subdued (for a Saturday morning in a fair sizes market town) Carrickfergus town centre. With nothing to distract us such as a market for example we made our way directly to the harbour and the castle.

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle, the oldest , biggest and best preserved medieval building in all of Northern Ireland built on the north shore of the Lough to manage and protect the entrance to the emerging port of Belfast and the navigable River Lagan.

It was here that King William III landed in 1690 on his way to the Battle of the Boyne, a decisive battle in the struggle for supremacy in Ireland in which William was victorious and secured Protestant domination in Ireland for over a subsequent two hundred years. Carrickfergus remains even to this day a staunch Unionist/Protestant town.

There is a statue of King Billy with his massive hat close to the harbour.

We were looking forward to visiting the castle but the door was firmly closed. I told William to go and knock and he pounded so hard that anyone inside might have imagined it was under siege. A young man emerged and told us that the castle was closed today on account of this being Halloween weekend and an unofficial public holiday. This seemed odd to me, why would you close a tourist attraction on a bank holiday when you might expect higher than normal visitor numbers.

The man said ‘come back on Monday’, I said ‘We are going home tomorrow (Sunday)’ and he helpfully suggested ‘Come back next time you are in Northern Ireland’.

I was intrigued by this but it seems that Halloween is rather important in Ireland and people here tell you that Halloween traditions were begun and influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, the beginning of Winter, the dark months, which are believed to have pagan roots. Some go further and suggest that Samhain may have been Christianized as All Hallow’s Day, along with its eve, by the early Christian Church.

Anyway, whatever, The Irish claim ownership of the Halloween tradition. Apparently they used to carve turnips and light a candle inside to represent the souls of the recently and dearly departed. Carving a woody turnip I can only imagine to be extremely hard work so the Irish must have been glad to find that when the emigrated to America that there were no turnips and pumpkins were abundant and much easier to work with.

We all know what happened next, over the years the USA hijacked the Halloween tradition and turned it into a commercial bonanza which has spread across the World. In the process the historical and cultural significance has sadly been swept away in a tsunami of tacky consumerism, much like Christmas and Easter.

We all do it…

In the UK I personally lament the fact that Halloween has completely eclipsed Bonfire Night and the ‘Penny for the Guy’ tradition but I suppose the environmentalists will applaud the fact that we no longer light thousands of polluting bonfires on November 5th.

With the castle closed and nothing to detain us longer in Carrickfergus we took the train directly back to Belfast.

Where we did some more sightseeing…

The Titanic Experience in Belfast

“Certainly there was no sailor who ever sailed salt water but who smiled – and still smiles – at the idea of the unsinkable ship” –  Charles Lightoller (Surviving Officer) in ‘Titanic and Other Ships’

Two weeks after returning from Northern Ireland I went there again, this time to take my grandson who has a great interest in the story of the Titanic.

The Titanic Museum and Experience has been built on the site of the previous Harland and Wolff workshops  right in front of the slipways that were built for the construction of the Titanic and the sister ship Olympic.  This area which has become the Titanic Quarter was previously called Queen’s Island but twenty years ago it was a no hope area of rotting buildings, dereliction and silted up docks and the transformation is truly remarkable.

Inside the building was equally as impressive as the exterior and after collecting our pre booked tickets (10% saving) we made our way through to the exhibition which started with a history of nineteenth century boom town Belfast before taking us to the top floor for a shipyard ride with various displays of the construction process and then descending through various galleries that dealt with the launch, the fitting out, the maiden voyage, the passengers and the sinking.

The exhibition has a good mix of exhibits, interactive displays, full size reconstructions and plenty of information and facts.  My favourite was the story of the riveters who worked in a five man team and were expected to fix six hundred white hot metal rivets in a day.  One man heated it in a furnace before throwing it to a second man called the catcher who collected it in a bucket before passing it to the three man finishing team who hammered it into place.  All of those jobs sound dangerous to me but I imagine the catchers to be the most so.

By the time that we left the final gallery about the search for the ship we were all happy to declare this to be among the best experience museums that we had ever visited and what good value at only £12.50 and I would certainly be happy to recommend anyone to visit this place.

There are many theories about the reason for the sinking.  The Captain has been blamed for being reckless, the White Star Board for trying to set a speed record despite the danger but currently the most popular is the rivets.  Apparently those used at the bow and the stern were made of iron rather than steel and contained high levels of impurities.  They only had a 5 mm tolerance and as a consequence of the collision they shattered and popped their heads and the steel plates of the hull undid like a giant zipper.

From the very day that she was designed she was almost doomed…this (the use of iron rivets) was the Achilles heel of the Titanic.” – Paul Louden-Brown, White Star Line Archivist.

So, everyone knows that the Titanic sank but as we came to the end of the visit I began to think about what if it hadn’t?  To begin with the three millionaire U.S. businessmen who died that night, John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Strauss might have gone on to be even more successful and who knows what they might have achieved.  Thomas Andrews, the designer of the ship might have built something even bigger and better and Captain Edward Smith could have carried on crashing into other ships.

For sure I wouldn’t have met the American visitor who was looking at a list of the victims and comparing pictures with a faded photograph that she was holding.  She told me that it was her great uncle who was one who drowned that night.

Just maybe someone on board emigrating to the New World might have gone on to be the U.S. President and this isn’t as unlikely as it sounds because fifteen of forty-six  Presidents (30%) claim ancestral heritage from Ulster (Andrew Jackson, James Knox Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S Grant, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the current President Joe Biden).

We certainly wouldn’t have had that awful film ‘Titanic’ with Leonardo DiCaprio and we would never have had to endure Celine Dion singing ‘My heart will go on’.  As a point of interest there have been twenty-two films that are directly or indirectly based on the story of the Titanic and if you want my opinion (you are going to get it anyway)  the best of all was ‘A Night to Remember’ made in 1958 and starring Kenneth More playing Second Officer Charles Lightholler (see quote above).

Before leaving the exhibition we had a good value Titanic themed lunch in the ground floor restaurant and then after visiting the slipway overshadowed by Samson and Goliath in the Harland and Wolff shipyard which are claimed to be the two largest free standing cranes in the World and have become a canary yellow symbol of the city.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

 

A to Z of Windows – D is for Dinan in France

 

We visited the charming town of Dinan in 2015.  I liked this window and flower display.  The red, white and blue capture the colours of the French Tricolor.

Read The Full Story Here…

A Walking Tour of Belfast

After completing the Antrim Coast Drive and a visit to the Gobbins Coastal walk we arrived late afternoon in Belfast.  I have been there before and written a post about it previously…

… lazy I know but…

… Read The Full Story Here

The Gobbins Coastal Path

Before driving into Belfast we had an appointment at another Northern Ireland tourist hotspot – The Gobbins Coastal walk Experience. An odd name for a tourist attraction you might think but the explanation is that it comes from the Irish word Gobán meaning headland.

The Gobbins is a cliff face walk up and down difficult and uneven steps, across iron bridges and through a tunnel that at one point runs below sea level. It all sounded rather exciting.

So we arrived at the visitor centre at the appointed time and after being booted and suited were given the first of a series of health and safety lectures followed by a bus ride from the centre to the east coast and the starting off point for the adventure.

The Gobbins was created by an Irish railway engineer called Berkeley Deane Wise. He designed and built the path as a tourist attraction for the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company and it first opened to the public in 1902 with visitors paying 6d to enjoy a ‘perfect marvel of engineering’.

Almost immediately the Gobbins drew worldwide acclaim, with one newspaper review extravagantly declaring that the varied beauty of this cliff path baffles all description’.

Because of its proximity to Belfast with convenient railway links for a while the Gobbins Path was even more popular as a tourist destination in Northern Ireland than The Giant’s Causeway.

Thousands visited The Gobbins in the first few decades of the twentieth century advertisements of the time declared ‘the new cliff path along The Gobbins Cliffs, with its ravines, bore caves, natural aquariums … has no parallel in Europe as a marine cliff walk’. High Praise indeed.  However, the railway company got into financial difficulties during the 1930s, essential maintenance slipped and the path was closed in 1936 and gradually fell into serious disrepair.

There was a restoration project between 2011 and 2016 which restored a part of the pathway. The cost was almost £8m with over half of the funding coming from the European Union. Who says Brexit was a good idea? Where is the money going to come from for these sort of projects in the future?

There was a long steep path down to the entrance and then the walk began. It was interesting but not nearly as exciting or dramatic as I had imagined it would be with long stops for explanations from the tour guide which were impossible to hear because of the wind and the pounding of the waves and these frequent stops made it rather tedious at times.

And then there was an unexpected rain shower, more of a nasty squall than a shower as it happened that lasted for ten minutes or so and being exposed as we were on the cliff face managed to soak us all right through. I enjoyed most of it except for the part where we walked through a tunnel of roosting pigeons and lots of bird shit to try and avoid.

An interesting experience but I wouldn’t do it again. The best bit was when Kim spotted a pod of dolphins swimming close to the land. There is something special about seeing dolphins.

From the visitor centre we drove directly to Belfast and to the Premier Inn Hotel. I like the Premier Inn hotels, they are reasonably priced and you know exactly what you are going to get – a quiet room, a comfortable bed and no nasty surprises.

Later we walked into the City in search of somewhere to eat but is was rater busy which shouldn’t really have surprised us because measured by population it is the twelfth largest city in the United Kingdom. We struggled to find somewhere that could accommodate us and without success finished up at a Wetherspoons bar where the food is cheap and includes a free drink but it is not what you would call by any stretch of the imagination a fine dining experience.

The Dark Hedges and Something Unpleasant Underfoot

It seemed that we were staying ahead of the weather forecast which had predicted storms and heavy rain and after completing a strenuous walk at the Giant’s Causeway we returned to the unofficial and much cheaper car park and set of back along the Causeway Coast

First stop was the ruins of Dunseverick Castle which Kim and Margaret declared not worth getting out of the car for and then swiftly on to Whitepark Bay Beach where we stopped for barely five minutes because the girls were of the opinion that it was rapidly approaching coffee and cake time so we continued on to Ballintoy.

Here there was a charming harbour and an old limestone quarry and information boards that told us that the crushed limestone was shipped to England to pave the roads of Manchester and Liverpool.  Another told us that inevitably this was a location setting used in the TV programme “Game of Thrones”.

Ballintoy in September was rather sedate but it seems that it can get rather overcrowded in the Summer.  I read a newspaper report that on one day in July the local council dealt with so much illegal and dangerous parking that they ran out of car parking violation tickets.

Except for a rather nasty smell in the harbour it was all rather lovely but it really was time for coffee and cake now so we made our way from the harbour to the village and stopped off at a suitable establishment.  I rarely join in this mid morning coffee break because I resent paying £3 for a cup of coffee or £2.50 for a mug of tea when down the road in a pub I can get a pint of Guinness for £4.  It simply makes no economic sense.

From Ballintoy we drove south to the Dark Hedges.

The dark hedges is an avenue of beech trees that were planted in the 1750s in the grounds of Gracehill House a Georgian mansion built by the Stuart family, descendants of a cousin of King James who had been granted the land but who had died in a shipwreck. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion.  The Manor House is still there but a private residence and the Stuart legacy is this fascinating avenue of spooky interlinking tree boughs.

I say spooky because of course, such an ancient stretch of road is bound to have horror stories linked to it and visitors are warned to watch out for the ‘Grey Lady’. Local legend has it that she haunts the thin ribbon of road that winds beneath the ancient gnarled beech trees. She is said to glide silently along the roadside, and vanish as she reaches the last tree.  I couldn’t help thinking that I wished some of the tourists might disappear so that I might get a decent picture, but I suppose this stubborn couple do help provide a sense of perspective.

It was a fascinating place and maybe we were lucky to see it because Beech trees reach maturity at no more than two hundred years and those making up the Dark Hedges are well past that.  The Dark Hedges came under threat a few years ago when highway authorities proposed to fell many trees for safety reasons but the avenue was taken over by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust – and is now the subject of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to protect the popular landmark but I suspect that there is only so long that they can remain on an environmental life support machine.

From the Dark Hedges we returned to the coast at Ballycastle where we walked on the beach and had a pleasant hour or so until I had an unfortunate incident with a pile of dog poo which required fifteen minutes or so of boot cleaning.  I might have mentioned this before but I completely detest dogs and their inconsiderate owners and I am in complete agreement with Bill Bryson on his matter…

“It wouldn’t bother me in the least…if all the dogs in the world were placed in a sack and taken to some distant island… where they could romp around and sniff each other’s anuses to their hearts’ content and never bother or terrorise me again.”  –  Bill Bryson

The weather was deteriorating now and the promised rain was beginning to threaten so we called an end to the day of beaches and beeches and headed back to Bushmills where we arrived back in pouring rain.

Tonight’s dining was no more successful than the previous.  We booked a table at a nearby hotel but when we got there the prices were way beyond our skinflint budget so we declined to order and went instead to a Chinese takeaway, took it back to the guest house and sat and enjoyed a well prepared meal and a glass of two of red wine.  Very satisfying.

The Causeway Coast, Derry to Bushmills

After negotiating our way out of the city we headed east and started our coastal drive at Magilligan point, a nothing sort of place really at the edge of an army practice firing range and close to a high security prison.  We stopped for coffee and watched the ferry as it crossed Lake Foyle on its way to the Republic and visited a restored Martello Tower, built during the Napoleonic Wars as protection against invasion.

There wasn’t a great deal to detain as at Milligan Point so we began the one hundred and thirty mile road trip along the coastal scenic drive which clings to the coastline like velcro alongside a ribbon of continuous sandy beach.

Enjoying the sunshine we stopped frequently at the empty beaches stretching expansively both east and west to watch the Atlantic breakers raging in on a strong wind that tousled our hair and tugged at our coats, walked along the crisp firm sand and filled our willing lungs with salty sea air.

We left the coast briefly to visit the ruins of Downhill House, a stately mansion built in the late eighteenth century by Frederick 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry, an exceptionally wealthy man who imagined a classic mansion in a scenic location and lavishly filled with fabulous art and a well stocked library.

It didn’t turn out to be a very good spot and it suffered from salt corrosion, Atlantic storms and a major fire which did extensive damage in 1851.  It was restored but during World War Two it was used as a billet for the RAF and the men living there had little regard for history or culture and left it in a desperate condition. 

Sadly this is a familiar story about misbehaving troops in requisitioned big houses and country estates and many suffered the same fate. No need for the Luftwaffe to get involved.  Apparently owners in general didn’t mind their properties being borrowed for schools or hospitals but dreaded the armed forces being moved in because this guaranteed damage and expense.

After the war the place was dismantled for its stone for alternative construction work nearby.

After Castlerock we were obliged to leave the coast and drive towards the town of Coleraine so that we were able to cross the inconvenient River Bann, at one hundred miles long the longest river in Northern Ireland and then back to the coast at Port Stewart which was surprisingly busy and we struggled to find a car parking space close to the town.

After a lunch time stop for refreshment we bypassed nearby Portrush and continued to follow the coast until we reached Dunluce Castle. The road is rather precarious at this point, it reminded me of the Amalfi Drive in Italy and we  approached the castle along a twisting route that dropped dramatically down to the cliffs and showed it off to its best advantage.

Even though it was late afternoon and close to closing time it was still rather busy and the car park was full and there were a couple of tour buses out of Belfast disgorging their passengers.  Dunluce Castle was used in the TV show ‘Game of Thrones‘ and for reasons that I don’t understand these filming locations attract thousands of visitors.  On account of this it was rather overcrowded so with natural skinflint tendencies kicking in we declined the opportunity to take the internal tour of the ruins and satisfied ourselves instead with a wander around the exterior.

Actually I am not sure that the £5 entrance fee was really worth it because without doubt the best views were from the surrounding cliffs and that is what I always tell myself when I have been too mean to pay the admission fee.

From there to the small town of Bushmills and our overnight accommodation and after a good day things started to unravel.  While Kim and Margaret settled into the accommodation, Mike and I were entrusted with finding somewhere to eat later.  This proved more difficult than we had imagined and all that we could find was a hotel restaurant but not until half past nine.  We booked it but I knew this would be too late and would meet with disapproval. 

It was too late and it did meet with disapproval so we rang to cancel  and walked out instead for a fish and chip supper.  On the positive side, once forgiven we got to go to the pub.

Derry/Londonderry – A Walk Along the Bogside

We have visited Ireland, North and South, five times and never once have we experienced bad weather.  Kim refuses to believe the stories about how wet it can be.

It was a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  As I mentioned before we were staying in the Nationalist Bogside area of the city which has a controversial and unhappy past.  It was peaceful enough this fine morning  but has had a recent bloody and violent contribution to the Troubles.  Indeed some historians identify Londonderry/Derry/Stroke City as being the very crucible of the bloody civil war.

In the 1960s Catholic Derry considered itself to be suffering religious and political persecution (quite rightly as it turns out) and the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional discrimination. Despite having a nationalist majority the city was permanently controlled by unionists due to the partisan drawing of electoral boundaries. In addition the city had very high unemployment levels and very poor housing. Overcrowding in nationalist areas was widely blamed on the political agenda of the Unionist government, who wanted to confine Catholics to a small number of electoral wards to effectively restrict their influence.

In August 1969 following the annual Protestant Apprentice Boys Parade Nationalists clashed with police in an incident remembered now as ‘The Battle of the Bogside’ which directly led to widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and the intervention of the British Army.

Worse was to come on Sunday January 30th 1972 when during a Catholic civil rights march thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers, another thirteen were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

This incident remains an open wound between the two factions and the British Army but the current official verdict was delivered by the Saville Commission which was published in June 2010.

The report concluded, “The firing by soldiers on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” Saville stated that British paratroopers “lost control” fatally shooting fleeing civilians.  The report states, contrary to the previously established belief that no stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them and that the civilians were not posing any threat.”  Not the British Army’s finest hour!

Just outside the city walls and only a short walk from our guest house was the very place where the Bloody Sunday confrontation took place so walked down the hill from the fortress walls and saw three famous monuments, ‘You Are Entering Free Derry’, a message painted on the gable end of a row of terraced houses, long since demolished, the Bloody Sunday memorial itself and a third monument remembering the Maze prison notorious now for internment without trial, hunger strikes and the death place of the most famous hunger striker of all, Bobby Sands.

There are guided tours of the Bogside but we chose to do this by ourselves and although it felt quite safe on the busy main road I do admit to  becoming uneasy whenever we strayed into the side streets where signs invited the British to ‘Get Out Now’ and others encouraged local people to join the IRA.

We weren’t put off by this however because we wanted to see the murals, works of urban art really.  These were less political statements but a visual telling of the story of the Bogside troubles.  The political statements were there too but these were smaller information boards which told a sectarian and I have ro say a very one sided story.

I am glad that I walked down to see this but after thirty minutes or so I was happy to leave and walk back now to our car, pack our bags and head east for a drive along the Causeway Coast.