Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Historic Sites - Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, UK


Whenever anyone tells me they have been on a tour of the UK it seems that London, the Cotswolds, the Lake District or Edinburgh are the most common destinations on their itinerary. Some might venture into Wales, Cornwall or the Scottish Highlands, but it's rare to hear of the northeast of England being included. Which is a shame, because it offers magnificent scenery and a wealth of history that rivals other more popular tourist areas.

Take Bamburgh Castle for example. One of the largest still-inhabited castles in the country, it is impressive not only for its size but also for its location on a rocky outcrop right beside the sea. I've been to visit it several times but had never appreciated the extent of its history.

the view on approach to the village of Bamburgh 

The castle was originally home to the Kings of Northumbria, at a time when Northumbria was the most powerful of the seven kingdoms of Anglo Saxon England. Bamburgh was known as 'the very foundation stone of England'.  Between AD 700 and AD 1000  attacks by rival kingdoms and the subsequent invasion by the Vikings led to the eventual dissolution of the Northumbrian Kingdom and the castle fell into disrepair.


view from the village

With the arrival of William the Conqueror the Normans used the castle as a base for invading Scotland and it was rebuilt. A Great Tower constructed  in 1164 still stands today. Over the years the castle was extended and fortified until the War of the Roses in 1464 when the castle garnered the distinction of becoming the first English castle to be defeated by gunpowder artillery.







By 1610 the castle was abandoned by James I and gifted to Claudius Forster, the castle's royal keeper whose family had held that post for generations.

In 1894 it was purchased by Lord William Armstrong, a wealthy industrialist who was also an inventor and philanthropist. He oversaw the restoration of the castle with the intention that it should be used as a home for retired gentlemen, but he passed away before it was complete. His great nephew inherited the title and the castle and completed the work, but decided to make it a family residence. Today it is still the family's private home but parts of the castle are now open to visitors.

The castle has been used in several movies including Macbeth (1971 and 2015 versions) and Elizabeth (1998). Scenes from The BFG were filmed on the beach and more recently 'Transformers: The Last Knight',which will be released later this year, was on location at the castle.

view to the south

view to the north


The day we visited was cold and windy so we almost had the beach to ourselves, but even in good weather you never have to worry about crowds.










There are miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches along the northeast coast, mostly undeveloped thanks to the changeable climate which has deterred tourism, but this one with the castle looming over the dunes and sand is one of my favorites.


The village of Bamburgh is small but has plenty of places to eat and drink, including The Copper Kettle Tea Rooms which offers a wonderful cream tea.


Mel Parish writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense.

Her latest novel Trust No One  is currently entered into the Kindle Scout competition which lets readers check out the first few chapters of an unpublished novel and decide whether it is worthy of nomination for an Amazon publishing contract. If a book is selected all those who nominated the book get a free copy when it’s published!
You can check out the campaign page at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3F2P5G8A4YVW3.

Please take a look  and, if you like what you see, nominate Trust No One before 10 March 2017

Friday, February 24, 2017

Historic Cities - Salisbury, England

Ask someone to name a few cities in the UK and the chances are Salisbury will not be one of them, but at one time this town in Wiltshire was the seventh largest in England. Originally called New Sarum, it came into existence when the Bishops of the cathedral at Old Sarum decided to build a new cathedral several miles away from the Iron-age Hill Fort. The foundation was laid in 1220 and the cathedral was consecrated in 1258. In the meantime a thriving community built up around it eventually leading to the abandonment of Old Sarum.

While the terms city and town tend to be used interchangeably, in the UK official city status is granted by a royal charter and was historically given to those towns with a cathedral. Salisbury was recognized as a city in 1227, long before many of the more well known cities of today!

Not surprisingly, the highlight of Salisbury is the cathedral.


The spire, at 404 feet, is now the tallest in Britain as it has out-lasted the spires at St Paul's, London, and Lincoln which were taller but made of timber and lead. 

The carvings on the facade are phenomenal. Imagine the work that must have gone into creating this. Think of the pride of the master craftsmen in their work. 

 

The cathedral has another claim to fame. It is home to the best-preserved original manuscript of the Magna Carta. The permanent display in the Chapter House offers a chance to view one of the most important documents in English history. Drawn up in 1215 as a charter of liberties after barons caused a political crisis by their rebellion against King John's rule, it introduced the principle that everyone, including the king, was subject to law. It became the foundation of the English legal system and, while many of its clauses have been repealed, the core idea of the right to justice and a fair trial have been incorporated into many other constitutions and documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Founding Fathers also used the charter as precedent in claiming freedom from the crown for the American colonies. 


The architecture of the city reflects its long history. Medieval remains mix with Tudor, Victorian and more modern developments to create a charming town center. Every Tuesday and Saturday a market is held in Salisbury, a tradition dating back to the 13th century. Although today's markets are considerably smaller, street names such as Fish Row or Poultry Cross indicate where particular products were sold in those ancient markets.   










The Old Mill at Harnham, a few minutes walk from the cathedral, also dates back to the 12th century.



hard to believe this was in December!



The mill is now a hotel and restaurant and provides a perfect spot to stop and admire the view of the River Nadder on a pleasant day.


shame about the modern buildings in the foreground

Over the centuries there have been some changes to cope with the increasing demands on infrastructure as indicated by this sign on a bridge near the mill:


Verdict: A delightful city to visit and, with both Stonehenge and Old Sarum only a few miles away, an ideal base for those wishing to explore historic sites of England. 


Mel Parish writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense.

Her latest novel Trust No One  is currently entered into the Kindle Scout competition which lets readers check out the first few chapters of an unpublished novel and decide whether it is worthy of nomination for an Amazon publishing contract. If a book is selected all those who nominated the book get a free copy when it’s published!
You can check out the campaign page at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3F2P5G8A4YVW3.

Please take a look  and, if you like what you see, nominate Trust No One before 10 March 2017




Thursday, February 16, 2017

Walking in the City - Inwood Hill Park, NY

A planned walk in Inwood Hill Park on Saturday with Shorewalkers turned out to be more of a treat than expected following last Thursday's snowfall which blanketed the park. While the snowy conditions made walking harder work than normal, the additional exercise was more than compensated for by the wintry views.

Looking across the Hudson River towards the Palisades.

Part of the trails on the  Palisades - only visible due to the bare trees and snow

St Michael's Villa sits grandly on the cliffs - regional center and home for Sisters of St Joseph of Peace.

Looking south we had a good view of the Cloisters which is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. In other seasons the lower part of the building is hidden by tree foliage. The Cloisters was built in the early 20th century using stones from numerous French abbeys. The stones were shipped to New York and reconstructed



The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park




Most of the trails were snow covered for the first time this winter so the relatively mild day proved perfect not only for walkers but for cross-country skiers and families with toboggans.












And yes, this really is a part of New York City. And while areas on the edge of the park have been developed to include playgrounds and sporting facilities, much of it has been preserved in its original state. Evidence of Native American life has been found and the park is believed to be the place where Dutchman Peter Minuit bought the island of Manhattan from the Lenape Indians in 1626 for trinkets worth about 60 guilders!

A stone marker memorializes the event:





Apparently, the park is one of the best places in the city to spot a bald eagle. We were not so lucky, but a cardinal graced us with his presence.


For less observant bird-watchers there was a park sign to help them spot some of nature's creatures!



All in all, a wonderful way to compensate for being stuck indoors during the snowstorm.


Mel Parish writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense.

Her latest novel Trust No One  is currently entered into the Kindle Scout competition which lets readers check out the first few chapters of an unpublished novel and decide whether it is worthy of nomination for an Amazon publishing contract. If a book is selected all those who nominated the book get a free copy when it’s published!
You can check out the campaign page at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3F2P5G8A4YVW3.

Please take a look  and, if you like what you see, nominate Trust No One before 10 March 2017


Friday, February 10, 2017

Kindle Scout Campaign - Trust No One

I have some exciting news and I’m hoping you might be able to help me out. My latest novel Trust No One has been accepted into Amazon’s Kindle Scout competition and my campaign page is now live at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3F2P5G8A4YVW3.

The competition lets readers check out the first few chapters of an unpublished novel and decide whether it is worthy of nomination for an Amazon publishing contract. If a book is selected all those who nominated the book get a free copy when it’s published!

While the number of nominations is not the only factor determining whether an author gets a contract, building up buzz for the title can only help so I’d be grateful if you would take a look at my page and, if you like what you see, nominate me before 10th March, 2017.


And if you could also share this with your reader friends, family, beer buddies, workmates, social media pals or anyone else you can think of that would be awesome! 


Thanks!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Historic Sites - Old Sarum, Wiltshire, UK

When I travel I like to visit historic sites. The opportunity to get a glimpse of the history of a place or a building and imagine what it must have been like in its heyday is one I find hard to ignore whether it is fifty years old or centuries ago. On a recent trip to the UK I was fortunate enough to fit in several such visits, including one to Old Sarum in Wiltshire.



Old Sarum is one of the oldest historic sites in the UK.  Around 400 BC ramparts were built to create an Iron Age Hill Fort to protect residents and animals.








The site was later occupied by the Romans (during which time it was renamed Sorviodunum) and then the Saxons, but it was after the arrival of William the Conqueror that a castle was built on raised earthwork (known as a motte) in the center of the settlement. It is assumed that the original buildings in the castle were made of timber.

As a sign of how important William believed the settlement to be, in 1086 a ceremony was held at the castle where the men of England swore an oath of loyalty to him. 



The stone structures within the castle are believed to have been built during the reign of Henry I and Henry II. The latter's wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, was held at Old Sarum under house arrest for treason (apparently she encouraged her sons to rebel against their father) from 1173 to 1189 until her husband's death.








Later additions included the Royal Privy. Of course, they didn't flush. The waste dropped into a pit of straw and chippings and when the king was not around someone would be lowered into the pit to clear out the contents. (Makes me wonder whether that is where the expression "it's the pits" comes from!)



the royal privy



the foundations of the cathedral
William had also built a small cathedral on the grounds surrounding the motte. Over the years the cathedral had been substantially extended but by 1220 problems with the site, and the garrison based at the castle, led to the start of construction on a new cathedral a few miles away in New Sarum (Salisbury). This led to a decline in importance of Old Sarum. First, stones from the old cathedral were used in the building of the new cathedral and by the 1500's Henry VIII allowed all the stones from the castle site to be potentially used as building material.




Fortunately for us, I guess all of them were not needed otherwise Old Sarum may well have disappeared completely from view. Instead new information about the site is coming to light. In 2014 archaeologists used ground-penetrating x-rays in an attempt to map the old city around the motte and discovered the buried foundations of numerous houses and what they think is likely to be the largest medieval Royal Palace ever found.

Astonishing fact - In 1295 Old Sarum was granted the right to send two members to parliament, a right which continued until the 1832 Reform Act abolished rotten boroughs, i.e. those with a minimal or non-existent population, a situation which Old Sarum had been in for centuries!





Overall, it was a fascinating visit. The views from the castle grounds show why Old Sarum was such an important location - on a clear day you can see for miles including, nowadays, the spire of the 'new' cathedral in Salisbury.














Thursday, January 19, 2017

Walking in the City - Edinburgh

Looking out towards the Firth of Forth




Apparently, on average, Edinburgh gets 192 days of rain per year. Which means you take your chances with the weather if you go for the day. I'm not sure how many windy days the city averages, but unfortunately the day we visited it was both wet and windy. So wet and windy that we decided to head straight for the Castle in the hope we'd find some shelter. The Castle dominates the city skyline meaning even on an overcast day you can see for miles from the battlements.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Walking in the City - Christmas Lights in London

A recent early evening walk from Gloucester Road to the South Bank in Central London gave me the opportunity to take in some of the city’s Christmas Lights.
Outside the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum the trees were decked with lights and a small ice-skating rink had been set up in the grounds adding a festive spirit to the grand buildings.