Tag Archives: Scotland

Scottish Borders, Jedburgh and Mary Queen of Scots

Jedburgh Abbey

It took about half an hour to drive to Jedburgh and I liked it immediately, free parking and complimentary wifi – what a wonderful example to every other town in the UK who choose instead to fleece the casual visitor at every opportunity.

The weather was improving rapidly now and I went first to the Tourist Information Centre and arranged a speed sightseeing visit of the Abbey, Mary Queen of Scots House and the Castle Museum.

First the Abbey, an eleventh century Augustinian Church with much later additions in response to natural disasters and the consequences of border warfare, a magnificent soaring structure with both a bloody and peaceful history in almost equal measures.  Augustinians were priests who lived a secluded and contemplative life, but who went out into the countryside from their cloister to minister to the people and Jedburgh eventually possessed about twenty parish churches.

Jedburgh Abbey

Monastic life was mostly routine, boring probably, but the abbey’s location close to the border with England inevitably brought it into the conflict between the two countries that blighted the later Middle Ages. During the Wars of Independence in the fourteenth century, the canons had to evacuate the premises several times and watch the place being sacked and plundered. Further attacks in the 1400s were followed by major raids in the sixteenth century. These and the Protestant Reformation of 1560 led to Jedburgh’s demise as a monastic institution.

I liked the Abbey, so much so that my strict timetable was beginning to slip like fine sand through my fingers so I hurried through the final stages, skipped the visitor shop and made my way to the house where Mary Queen of Scots lived for a month in 1566.  She may or may not have stopped there of course, both England and Scotland are littered with houses that claim a royal visit but as I approached I got a feeling that this claim might just be genuine.

Mary Queen of Scots House Jedburgh

The day was getting better and better – free admission!  A house/museum on three levels that told the story of one of history’s tragic victims of circumstance, Mary Stuart, and in my opinion one that was well worth an admission charge so when I had finished I left a generous £5 donation.

The attendant at the museum told me that it was just a ten minute walk to the castle museum but what she didn’t tell me was that it was up a massive energy sapping hill so after just a few yards I gave up, went back to the car park to get the car and drove to the top instead.

Jedburgh Mary Queen of Scots

This was another free museum. Brilliant.  It wasn’t a real castle however because sometime during the wars of independence the Scots pulled it down and destroyed it so that invading English armies couldn’t use it anymore which was a solution that seemed a bit extreme to me.

Today the castle is a prison museum experience with a history of imprisonment and hopeless incarceration and an explanation of life in a Victorian correction establishment.  It was good, I liked it, but not as much as Mary Queen of Scots House so I only left a £2 donation this time.  Actually I was running out of coins.

Reluctantly I left Jedburgh, I would have liked to have played golf today but I wasn’t disappointed that I had been sightseeing instead.  I drove back to Galashiels but on the way stopped off at Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott.

To be honest I had imagined this to be a simple place, a crofters cottage and a small garden but it turned out to be a magnificent stately home with acres of grounds that would have taken far more time to look around than I had available today.  So I have been to Abbotsford House but I haven’t visited Abbotsford House and that will have to wait until the golfing holiday next year.

Abbotsford House Scotland

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Scottish Borders, Galashiels, Walter Scott and William Wallace

Neidpath Castle Peebles Scotland

Every year thirty or so members of my golf club go for a week away golfing in Scotland and after three years on the reserve list I finally got an invite.

Unfortunately the week prior to departure I entertained my three grandchildren and one of them left me a parting gift of a very heavy cold so when I set off one Sunday morning I was sniffing and sneezing and relying on cold relief capsules to help me through the journey north.

Actually I think it was probably ‘man flu’ and  I digress here for a moment to explain that this is a condition that this is a strain of flu so powerful and so deadly that it can only be matched by the Bubonic Plague.  It is an incurable virus, which has adapted to only effect the “XY” gene found in men. The virus attacks the immune system ten thousand times more seriously than an average flu and causes excruciating pain and discomfort for the victim.

For all of the week I felt awful but I played golf for four days but on Friday I woke to grey skies and persistent rain so on account of the fact that I was due to go on holiday to Wales a couple of days later and I didn’t want to get worse and spoil that I decided against putting on the leaking waterproofs and dragging myself around the fifth course of the week and thought that I might do a little bit of sightseeing instead.

I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders  which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.

This is Walter Scott country where the great man of Scottish literature chose to live and receive his literary inspiration and the land of William Wallace and the marcher lands that separated England from Scotland and was the scene of much medieval warfare and fighting.

Galashiels Raid Stane Englishman's Syke

And so it was in Galashiels where I came across memorial called “The Raid Stane” the site of an incident in 1337 when a raiding party of English soldiers were picking wild plums close to the town and and were caught by angry Scots who came across them by chance and slaughtered them all.  It seems that they were picking and eating sour fruit and they were so unwell that they were unable to fight back.

Today the town’s coat of arms shows two foxes reaching up to eat plums from a tree, and the motto is Sour Plums pronounced in Scots as soor plooms.  Every year in June there is an event in the town called the Galashiels Braw Lads Gathering which celebrates the event and by all accounts if you are English you really don’t want to be in town that particular night.

Angry Scots

I spent a half an hour or so in the granite town of Galashiels and with the rain getting heavier returned to the car and with the stubborn grey skies refusing to clear away planned a route south towards the town of Jedburgh and followed a route through sweeping hills, purple with heather and decorated with the ragged stumps of the ruins of castles and derelict lookout towers, testimony to its turbulent history.

I passed through the town of Melrose with its ruined Abbey which is said to be the secret  burial site of the heart of Robert the Bruce but I didn’t stop there because I calculated that I only had time for one ruined abbey and that was going to be Jedburgh.

I did however make detour into a valley of the River Tweed and stopped for a while at Scott’s view which is a place where allegedly he liked to stop by and reflect on life.  I am not disputing this but it this rather remote place is about ten miles or so from where he lived so in days before automobiles this would not be something that the average person, or even the great Sir Walter Scott, would be able to do on impulse.  It was a nice view all the same and apparently his funeral cortege stopped off here for a short while on his way to his burial spot in the grounds of nearby Dryburgh Abbey.

One of my favourite Scott stories is how he saved the Scottish bank note.  In 1826 there was a proposal to abandon Scottish notes and adopt the English notes instead.  Under the pseudonym Malachi Malagrowther Scott campaigned hard against the proposal and was eventually successful.  In recognition of this a picture of Scott even today appears on every Bank of Scotland note.

Walter Scott bank note

Instead of visiting the Abbey I sought out a massive stone statue of William Wallace standing solitary and magnificent in half armour and kilt, a massive claymore hanging menacingly from his belt and leaning on a giant sword fully fifteen feet tall.

Thanks to the hopelessly historically inaccurate Mel Gibson film ‘Braveheart’, quite possibly the most aggressively Anglophobe and historically inaccurate film ever made, William Wallace remains a burning symbol of Scottish nationalism but the truth is that his fame is based on one lucky victory against the English and a conveniently overlooked string of subsequent defeats.

I thought he looked rather sad and forlorn stuck out here abandoned on a ridge overlooking the river wondering what might have been and with nothing to detain me here for more than a few minutes I swiftly moved on towards my intended destination.

William Wallace

Northumberland, Dunstanburgh and Wallington

Northumberland Countryside View

The scenery was wonderful, sweeping and serene as we left the fringes of the Northumberland National Park and the Cheviot Hills and headed east back towards the coast.

Out of curiosity, I checked later just how far north we were and I was surprised to find that although we were still in England we were further north than the Scottish border at the Solway Firth in the west.  In fact the Scottish border there somewhere north of Carlisle is almost seventy-five miles south of the border in the east at Berwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly town in England (the most southerly town in Scotland is Gretna).

That is why despite being in England, Berwick Rangers play in the Scottish Football League and Carlisle United play in the English Football League. If Berwick Rangers played in England (and assuming they were in the same division) than a match for the team at England’s southernmost and westernmost league team, Plymouth Argyle, would result in a round-trip of almost one thousand miles.

By contrast Gretna FC (2008) play in the Scottish Lowland League and not in England.

As it turned out we were even further North than Scotland in our caravan park at Whitley Bay, just outside of Newcastle.

Hadrians Wall

We were also some way north of Hadrian’s famous wall and although a lot of people think that the Roman Emperor’s Wall marks the border between England and Scotland it never has and never will because it runs a conveniently short distance between Wallsend near the River Tyne in Newcastle and the Solway Firth in Cumbria. When it came down to military expediency the Romans didn’t concern themselves too much about geography.

So we carried on now to Dunstanburgh Castle stopping briefly on the way at the pleasant but unremarkable little town of Alnwick where it was market day and which by all accounts has a very fine castle but is not National Trust and with our membership cards burning a hole in our pockets we drove straight by and on to the village of Dunstan, determined to get our money’s worth from the membership fee that we had forked out earlier.

As we drove some previous life memories came back to me and I remembered how in the 1990s I worked for an incompetent waste management company called Cory Environmental (I wrote some stories about them some time back) who had purchased some seriously unprofitable contracts in the North-East at Wansbeck and Castle Morpeth Councils and I chuckled to myself now as we drove through these two council districts and the towns of Morpeth and Blyth where the company had their depots and recalled just how disastrous the privatisation of public services had been at that time and continues to be even today.

Eventually we arrived at the coast at the fishing village of Craster with a sheltered harbour, with the tide out fishing boats resting up on the mud banks and lobster pots stacked on the quay ready to be taken out to sea later.

Lobster Pots Cranston Northumberland

Do lobsters like bright colours I wondered?

From Craster there was a long walk to Dunstanburgh Castle, almost two miles as it turned out, but the weather was exceptionally fine and we made our way north along the coastal walk. A grassy stroll across a windswept headland and on the way we passed through flocks of sheep and herds of cows and as we stopped now and then to look out to sea over the salt stained black rocks decorated with vivid green seaweed and water polished barnacles I imagined the intrepid Vikings bearing down from the North Sea and sweeping westward across the land.

Viking Ship

Dunstunburgh turned out to be a very fine Medieval Castle, ruined of course, collapsed into the sea in some parts and pillaged over the centuries for building stone for nearby Craster but I liked it, it has a nobleness and a sense of the ‘Wars of the Roses’. I forgot about the Vikings now and imagined a Baron’s army laying siege to the castle or a great Lord of the realm leading his men out to defend against Scottish invaders from the North or possibly from the South depending upon which direction they came from.

So we climbed the towers and the battlements and walked through the courtyards which are no longer there and then we took the two mile walk back to the car park and began our journey back to Whitley Bay and the caravan park. Still determined to get full value from our recent National trust membership we stopped en-route at the stately home at Wallington.

I was pleased that we hadn’t driven too far out of our way because although it made for a convenient stop and there was a fine house and extensive grounds to explore it wasn’t especially thrilling but at least we were closing in now on break-even on the cost of our National Trust annual membership.

It was Father’s Day and everywhere was rather busy but we didn’t expect to see long untidy line of people queuing up outside a pastry shop in the small town of Seaton Delaval. We were intrigued by that and although we didn’t have the patience to investigate right now we made a note to return possibly the next day.

(We did that and it turned out to be an Italian bakery with the most delicious vanilla ice cream made from a secret recipe from Tuscany, which apparently draws people in from miles around).

Rather unimaginatively we ended the day at St Mary’s Lighthouse where we just sat with the local people who regularly turn up here at high tide and watch and see if any unsuspecting tourists get cut off and have to either swim for it or spend the night on the island.

Watching the Tide at St Mary's Island Northumberland

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

Empúries Greek StatueEdinburgh Street Art

Postcards From Scotland

William WallaceScott Monument EdinburghAbbotsford House Galashiels ScotlandMary Queen of Scots House JedburghEdinburgh Military Tattoo

 

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    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.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Postcards of 2015

Warsaw

February 2015 – Warsaw

I had never really thought seriously about going to Warsaw before and I put this down to the fact that when I was younger I always associated it with two things.  Firstly, word association and the town of Walsall, which is a dreary unattractive, industrial town in the Black Country in the United Kingdom which is a place that few people would visit by choice.  Secondly the term Warsaw Pact, which was the name of the Soviet military alliance in Eastern Europe which during my early years seemed to be the sinister organisation responsible for plotting to wipe us of the face of the map in a messy nuclear strike.

Buses of Malta postcard

April 2015 – Malta

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days!  A bargain not to be missed.

During the gloomy winter months I continued to try and convince Kim that she was going to really, really enjoy Malta but as the departure date grew closer I began to worry that she might not be so blown away with the place as I had been previously…

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

June 2015 – Northern Ireland

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they cleverly mislead visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

Durham Postcard

August 2015 – Durham

For eight hundred years Durham was the most important city in Northern England with a castle and a cathedral built within the natural defensive position of a loop in the river Wear which gave protection on three sides and the city became the first line of defence against any invasions from Scotland and the North.

Abbotsford House Scotland

August 2015 – Scottish Borders

I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders  which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.

Castell y Bere Wales

August 2015 – Wales

It was quite a difficult drive to the castle and there was a bit of moaning from my passengers and I began to worry that it might be a disappointment but we arrived eventually and made our way to the top of a rocky crag and the extensive ruins of the castle.  It had once belonged to Edward I but in 1294 it was captured by Welsh forces and burnt to the ground.  Edward never rebuilt it, maybe he hadn’t renewed his home insurance policy and he abandoned this once strategic position to concentrate instead on his new defensive ring of castles that he was busy building all along the coast.

Dinard, Brittany, France

September 2015 – Brittany, France

It has been called the Cannes of the north, apparently Joan Collins is a frequent visitor but we didn’t spot here tonight, Winston Churchill enjoyed holidaying on the River Rance and it is claimed that Alfred Hitchcock visited Dinard and based the house used in his most famous movie Psycho on a villa standing over the Plage de l’Écluse, there is even a statue of the man to endorse the claim.  Long before his adventures Lawrence of Arabia lived in Dinard as a small child and Picasso painted here in the 1920s, Claude Debussy is supposed to have had the idea for “La Mer” during a visit to Saint-Énogat in 1902 and Oscar Wilde also visited the place and mentions it in his De Profundis.

Valle de Luna Sardinia

October 2015 – Sardinia

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.