Liverpool and the U-Boat Story

Liverpudlians are very proud of their musical heritage. And rightly so, Liverpool has been coined ‘City of Pop’ by the Guinness Book of Records as its residents are responsible for producing the largest amount of number one records globally. This is even more remarkable considering Liverpool’s population is only under half a million (compared to, for example London’s 8 million inhabitants). Of course, the most famous of these residents are The Beatles and if you’re a fan you’ll revel in the number of touristy Beatles-related activities to do in Liverpool! I went full tourist-mode when I was there last autumn and did a fair bunch of them. More on that in my next post, first some general history:


Liverpool was not more than a small fishing town until the rapidly developing trade of enslaved people made the city a key harbour in the trade triangle: ships would first sail from European ports to the west coast of Africa. Here, people were purchased in exchange for goods. These people were then sailed to the Americas, where those who had survived the journey were put to work. Finally, the ships would take goods, produced by enslaved people, from the Americas back to Europe. After abolition, the port was still much used, especially as many ships full of emigrants to the US and Australia left from its docks in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 70s and 80s, the city fell into decline as was the case in many post-industrial cities in the UK. However, in recent years there has been much redevelopment, especially in the waterfront area, which was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. Albert Dock was built in the 19th century and has now been completely refurbished, containing its very own Tate gallery, a Beatles museum, shops and restaurants.


Albert Dock

My eye was immediately caught by the Three Graces that dominate the Liverpool skyline – the Port of Liverpool building, the Cunard Building, and the Royal Liver Building (see below), all constructed in the early 20th century. The cormorants on top of the Liver Building (the Liver birds) have turned into the city’s symbol, and it is said that if they ever fly away, Liverpool would cease to exist!


Royal Liver Building

The river Mersey flows by Liverpool, and there are many ferries that can take you to the other side, a peninsula called The Wirral, while offering brilliant views of the Liverpool skyline. There are several interesting museums to visit on The Wirral. The impressive U-Boat Story is an exhibition centering on the left-overs of a German WWII U-boat.


The Germans very effectively used U-Boats (the ‘U’ stands for Untersee as in Unterseeboot), as they were the ideal platform to launch torpedos from. They used these submarines to block Allied shipments and obliterate as many ships as possible. The idea was that if enough shipments towards the UK could be stopped this way, Great Britain would have to surrender for lack of supplies. The U-Boat in Liverpool is called U-534, become active in 1942 and sailed around Norway, Greenland, the Azores, and France. It was mostly responsible for weather reporting, which sounds unimportant, but is in fact essential to planning military strategy. Towards the end of the war, most U-Boats were sent to Norway where they were ordered to surrender on May 4th, 1945. The U-534 was the last U-Boat to leave Germany. It most likely got this message, but continued onwards until it was shot down by an aircraft in the Kattegat. The wreck wasn’t discovered until 1986, and raised to the surface in 1993 (by a Dutch salvage company, Smit Tak, fyi), and brought to the UK in 1996. In 2008 it was transferred to Liverpool and exhibited there.

The wreck of the U-534 has raised some questions that are unlikely to ever be answered. For example, the U-534 had 3 of the fanciest new torpedoes on board, the Zaunkönig T-XI, of which only 38 were made. These torpedoes didn’t just find their target by aiming for the loudest or closest sound around, they could recognise specific sounds and target those. In other words, they could specifically target only merchant ships by recognising the sound of their propellers. Why would a weather reporting submarine have advanced weaponry like that? Furthermore, the fact that this was the last U-Boat to leave Germany has led some to believe it may have been used to smuggle precious cargo out of the country, such as treasure or a Nazi leader.


Parts of an Enigma machine found in the U-534 wreck


Some of the crew’s possessions found in the U-534 wreck


The U-534 wreck, cut into four pieces.


The U-534 from the inside.


The hole that sank the U-534.

In my next post, I will finally get to my time in Liverpool as the worst of tourists: I did all The Beatles stuff. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.


More Scottish treasures

On last year’s trip to Scotland, we also visited Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, a lighthouse all the way on the northeastern tip of the Scottish mainland in Fraserburgh, built in 1787. This lighthouse operated for 200 years. A museum explaining the work of the Northern Lighthouse Board, the institution operating lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man for over two centuries, accompanies the lighthouse. The board was founded after a bad year of storms and shipwrecks on the Northern Scottish coast in 1782 demanded a system of lighthouses be set up. Kinnaird Head Lighthouse was the first lighthouse constructed by the board. The board used to operate all the lighthouses manually, but now all of them are operated automatically through solar power and GPS. The museum contains many old lighthouse lanterns: complex structures of prisms and lenses were arranged in specific ways to maximise the distance the light would travel and to vary the way in which each lantern would flash. Each lighthouse would have a distinct flashing pattern, such that ships could tell them apart. You can see a few examples below. The museum also tells the story of the Stevenson family, who were hugely important in the design and construction of the Northern lighthouses for generations. (Robert Louis Stevenson, writer of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was one of the only non-engineers in his family!)


Corran Ferry light



Kinnaird Head Lighthouse


Inside the lighthouse

As you can see in one of the pictures above, Kinnaird Head Lighthouse was built on top of a castle-like structure. This is Kinnaird Head Castle, built in the 16th century by the Frasers (yes, Outlander fans: Jamie’s ancestors). The town in which the lighthouse stands, Fraserburgh, is also named after the family. In 1786, the family sold the castle to the Northern Lighthouse Board and they modified it and turned it into the lighthouse you can still visit today.

On our way back to Lossiemouth, where we were staying, we drove past the narrowest town in Scotland, Crovie. It is literally a row of houses wedged between the cliffs and the sea. The only road in the town is a footpath, as it is physically impossible to fit a car down it. Crovie dates from the late 18th century, when families were exiled from the Highlands in the aftermath of the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745 (read more in my previous post here) and started fishing instead, making them settle by the sea. Crovie is considered the best preserved small fishing village in Europe of its kind. The same storm in 1953 that caused the North Sea Flood in The Netherlands (de Watersnoodramp), damaged the village substantially, which caused many of the fishing families to leave. The buildings are now mostly used as holiday homes.



On our way to Inverness, we visited Duff House, an impressive country home in Banff from the Georgian era. You wouldn’t be able to tell now, but Duff House was actually meant to be a much larger building, with east and west wings that were never completed. It remains unfinished, as its commissioner, William Duff, and its architect, William Adam, had a conflict over finances that lead to a court case.


Duff House


William Adam, architect of Duff house


The original design for Duff House by William Adam

The Duff family have long been art collectors, and parts of their art collection can be admired inside the house, including some Van Dycks and El Grecos. The house also owns a bust of Queen Victoria, sculpted by Sir John Steell, possibly the most famous Scottish sculptor of all time (you may know him from the massive statue of Sir William Scott in Edinburgh!).


Portrait of Lord and Lady Belhaven by Anthony van Dyck


St Jerome in Penitence by El Greco


Queen Victoria by Sir John Steell

The house contains a Jacobite room, so called because almost all portraits in it depict fervent supporters of the House of Stewart. Many Scottish families joined Bonnie Prince Charlie‘s cause of restoring his father to the throne and so did some members of the Duff family. In fact, it created much conflict within the family as William Duff’s, the 1st Earl of Fife (the one who had Duff House built), eldest son joined the Jacobite cause while the 1st Earl himself was a strong supporter of King George III. He even stopped his son from joining the 1745 uprising.


The Jacobite Room at Duff House (a bust of Mary, Queen of Scots in the corner)

I will finish off this post with a beautiful view of Loch Ness from a cruise we took from Inverness on our last day in Scotland last year! Next post will be on Liverpool, which I visited last Fall. So get ready for The Beatles, a U-boat and some Antony Gormley!


Loch Ness



Jacobites and some Scottish masonry

Those that know me, know that I can never get enough of Scotland. I try to visit at least once a year, but there are still so many bits of it I want to see! Last summer my father and I visited the area around Inverness, and one of the sights that has been on my bucket list for a while: Culloden Battlefield.

This is the site of the final battle between the Jacobites and the English in 1746. It was a total massacre: it’s been estimated 1,500 men died in less than an hour. While on first sight there’s not much evidence of this historically influential event having occurred here – it just looks like a field -, the accompanying museum is excellent and many clans have placed gravestones on the field which some still visit to place flowers. (Those of you who watch Outlander will appreciate the fact that the Clan Fraser stone is completely covered in fresh flowers put there by fans of the show.)


Culloden Battlefield



Clan Fraser gravestone at Culloden Battlefield

The Jacobites‘ goal was to restore the Stuarts to the British throne, led by Charles Stuart, who was also known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. His grandfather had been king from 1685-1688 after which he was deposed by Parliament in favour of William III (who by Dutchies will be better known as William of Orange, the Dutch Stadthouder). Charles Stuart as a consequence had grown up in exile, and gathered troops in France and Scotland to restore his father to the throne. The Battle at Culloden was the final battle of this conflict where the Duke of Cumberland’s troops were victorious over the Jacobites.

I don’t know what it is about the Jacobites that makes me so interested and invested in their story. I think there’s something about lost causes in history that captures people’s imagination. Just imagine the devastating losses that must have been experienced by all the Clans involved causing members to still come back to honour the dead today.

Not too far away from the battlefield lies Elgin, a town containing some impressive ruins of a medieval cathedral. Its construction started in 1224: today only its ruins are left, but it used to be the centre of a huge religious community. It was the seat of the Bishop of Moray, one of the medieval Scottish bishoprics. At least eighteen bishops of Moray are buried here.


West front of Elgin Cathedral

The towers now host a very informative and interactive exhibition displaying excavations from the cathedral, such as medieval tombstones, coats of arms of the bishops that presided here, and effigies.

For example, the tombstone in the picture below is a beautifully preserved tombstone from the 14th century that probably covered the grave of some knight: in the centre a cavalry cross is displayed. The steps at the bottom represent the hill on which Jesus was crucified, and the sword and book indicate the person in this grave was of high status.


14th-century tombstone at Elgin Cathedral

The coat of arms below was of Bishop Innes, the bishop for 7 years from 1406 who rebuilt a lot of the cathedral. It would have been brightly painted when the cathedral was still in use. The staff in the middle refers to this position as a bishop,


Coat of arms of Bishop Innes at Elgin Cathedral

Another interesting coat of arms that was excavated is the one in the two pictures below which is thought to be that of Bishop Columba Dunbar, bishop from 1422-1435. It looks like any other coat of arms until you notice the little hands that appear to be holding it by the sides. Behind the coat of arms a small figure is hidden who is naked below the waist! This coat of arms was embedded in the cathedral’s ceiling, so it’s unlikely anybody ever saw this figure while the cathedral was intact. This might have been a joke by the masons who constructed it.


Coat of arms at Elgin Cathedral (looks normal from the front)


There’s a hidden sculpture behind the coat of arms!

The exhibition also contained an effigy of Bishop Archibald, Bishop of Moray from 1253-1298. The way it is displayed at the cathedral is incredibly cool, the colours in which the effigy was originally painted are projected onto it to show visitors what it must have looked like.


Bishop Archibald’s effigy with its original colours projected onto it



What’s left of the nave of Elgin Cathedral

In the Middle Ages, expressing emotion through facial expressions was not acceptable, as this was seen as sinful. As such, most statues of saints and angels you will see in Christian buildings from those times will have a blank expression on their faces. Many incredibly expressive sculptures of faces from the 15th century have been dug up at Elgin Cathedral, they were probably meant as a warning to visitors to avoid sinful behaviour.

Depictions of women in churches changed a lot throughout the ages. During the dark ages, women were considered instruments of the Devil, and as such women were often depicted as despicable monsters. However, from the 12th century onwards, romance and courtly love became increasingly popular and women were instead seen as beautiful, delicate and innocent. The stone head of the ‘Elgin lady’ found at the cathedral shows the latter development perfectly.


The Elgin lady

In my next post, I will discuss some more Scottish treasures I visited last year, such as Duff House and Loch Ness!


Mixed Bag

As the title suggests, this post will be a very miscellaneous set of pictures that I still wanted to share, but aren’t enough material to fill a post on their own! Continuing where I left off two posts ago, here are some photos from our days in Sydney, at the end of our Australia trip last year.


The Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour has a fascinating set of vessels you can board, often under guidance of enthusiastic volunteers.


HMAS Vampire

The HMAS Vampire is a gun ship built between 1948-1958 and was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1959. It was used in exercises during the Indonesian Confrontation with Malaysia in 1965 and for troop escort runs to Vietnam in 1965-67 and 1969.


HMAS Onslow

The museum also owns an Oberon-class submarine, the HMAS Onslow, which was commissioned into the Navy in 1968. Its purpose was to collect information without being detected during the Cold War. It was involved in operations tracking Soviet vessels all over the world.


HM Bark Endeavour Replica

But my absolute favourite of the three vessels at the museum, has to be the HM Bark Endeavour Replica, a replica of James Cook‘s famous ship the HMS Endeavour, which he used on his first journey to Australia in 1769-1771. This replica was finished in 1994 and actually works: it has sailed over 20,573 nautical miles (~ 38,000km) since 2005.

Even though James Cook is often considered the discoverer of Australia, landing in 1770, Dutch explorers actually came across it more than a century before him! Willem Janszoon and his small Dutch jacht Duyfken sailed along the northern Australian coast as early as 1606. In fact, Australia was named New Holland until the term ‘Australia’ was coined in the early 19th century.


HMAS Bark Endeavour Replica

And now for some more animals, as promised in my last post! Below are a few pictures I’ve taken at random spots in the city as well as at Taronga Zoo.






That’s all of the Australia pictures I wanted to share with you! Onto a completely different topic: this summer, I visited Brighton for the first time.


The Royal Pavilion

My main reason for visiting was to see The Royal Pavilion, King George IV‘s totally bizarre pleasure palace built 200 years ago. Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed inside, so I don’t have much to show you. The palace was designed by John Nash, the architect famed for many iconic designs from the Regency Era (named after George IV’s reign as Prince Regent), such as Regent Street in London. It is the only Royal British Palace that isn’t owned by the state or the crown, as the town bought the palace in 1850.

I think this palace can be seen as a major example of cultural appropriation in history. In decorating the exterior and interior of the building, no consideration was given to any sort of consistency: the exterior uses both Indian and Arabic symbolism and patterns, while the interior is mostly inspired by Chinese designs. George IV never even visited India or China and must have had a very limited understanding of their respective cultures. Sadly, sometimes I find not much has changed today, and people still use symbolism or traditions from other cultures without understanding them to appear ‘exotic’ or fashionable.

Last July I went on a short trip to Bournemouth. I had a wonderful time there: the weather was marvellous and there is much to see and do in the area.


One of the most impressive places I visited was Corfe Castle, the romantic ruins of a stronghold destroyed by Parliamentarians after a 6-week siege in 1646. This castle is 1000 years old: building began under William the Conqueror in the 11th century for his son Henry I. It’s height was 21 metres and it was one of the first stone Keeps to be built.  There is much evidence suggesting people already lived here much earlier than when the castle was built. For example, remains of Roman pottery have been found here.  It is thought to be the place where King Edward the Martyr was murdered by his stepmother in 978, who wanted her own son to be king! Corfe Castle was owned by English monarchs for 500 years until it was sold by Elizabeth I to one of her favorite courtiers and dance teacher Sir Christopher Hatton. The village next to the castle was formed as a result of the many workers and resources needed to build the castle over 8 to 9 years: essentially it is a construction camp that developed into a small town.


View of Corfe Castle from the adjacent village


Corfe Castle


The great view from the castle!




I also visited the New Forest, a National Park famous for its ponies which supposedly are descendants of the horses of the Armada. There are a bunch of really nice hop-on hop-off open-top buses to get around the park. They enabled me to see as much of it as possible while still enjoying the magnificent weather!


Typical view of the park’s heathland from the bus


Ponies could be seen everywhere across the park!


And pigs!

Confusingly, the New Forest is actually very old! In the Middle Ages, the term ‘forest’ was used to describe hunting grounds. William the Conqueror had declared the New Forest a royal hunting ground in the 11th century. Today still much of the territory belongs to the Queen, but some of the people living here – called ‘commoners’ – have acquired the rights to use its resources. They also own the ponies and cattle in the park.

Finally, the most phenomenal sights I’ve seen during this trip were undoubtedly those at the Jurassic Coast, part of the south coast of England and a World Heritage Site. I was most eager to see the famous Durdle Door, an impressive limestone arch formed through millions of years of erosion. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as great as it had been on the other days: it was so foggy I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to see Durdle Door at all!



Durdle Door





Petworth House


I visited Petworth House this summer, a 17th-century mansion with an impressive art collection (including works by van Dyck, Turner and Titian) and a beautiful deer park. The estate came into possession of the Percy family in the 12th century when King Henry I‘s widow Adeliza of Louvain gifted it to her brother Joscelin who married Agnes de Percy. Back then, it was a medieval mansion, but it was rebuilt in its current baroque style after 1682. The family owned multiple estates, but Elizabeth I restricted the 8th Earl of Northumberland‘s access to them as she feared an alliance between him and Mary, Queen of Scots if he was allowed to travel any farther north. As such, Petworth became the family’s main home.


The Grand Staircase was rebuilt after a fire destroyed it in 1714. The most striking part of it are its trompe l’oeil murals painted by Louis Laguerre. They depict the Greek myth of Prometheus and Pandora. At this time, this style of decoration would have already been deemed old-fashioned, possible due to the fact that the 6th Duke of Somerset who lived here at the time was already in his late 50s when he commissioned this.


The Grand Staircase at Petworth House


Ceiling of the Grand Staircase


The Carved Room at Petworth House

I’ve highlighted some nice examples of the art collection at Petworth House below. This portrait of an unknown man by Titian: A Man in a Black Plumed Hat, was probably painted between 1515-1520. It appears in the Petworth records from 1671 onwards and was most likely bought by Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland, the first member of the family living at Petworth to collect art on a large scale. The painting was restored in the 1950s, at which point it became apparent that the man’s hand is placed on some stone, which may mean he was a sculptor. Apparently at this early stage of Titian’s career, he painted multiple portraits of young men, possibly his friends, like this in a similar style.


A Man in a Black Plumed Hat by Titian (c. 1487-1576)

Algernon Percy’s father, Henry Percy the 9th Earl of Northumberland is depicted in a portrait by Van Dyck below. He was nicknamed ‘The Wizard Earl’ due to his enthusiasm for scientific experimentation.  He also had one of the largest libraries in England. Furthermore, he was a prisoner at the Tower of London for 17 years as it was suspected that he had been involved in the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to bomb Parliament and overthrow King James I.

Interesting sidenote: Henry Percy is an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales through his eldest daughter Dorothy Percy!


Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

The Little Dining Room used to be nicknamed the ‘Vandyke Room’ as it contained eight van Dycks! An example is this portrait of Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle, the second daughter of Henry Percy, the 9th Earl. From what I can gather she was pretty bad-ass: she exerted huge political influence through all sorts of schemes and scandals. She passed on secret information about King Charles I to members of parliament. Most famously, she informed her Parliamentarian cousin Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex of the impending arrest of 5 members of parliament in 1642, which gave them time to escape. It seems, however, that she helped and betrayed Parliamentarians and Royalists equally, which makes her story Game of Thrones-worthy material, in my opinion. During the Civil War, she helped the royal cause by pawning a pearl necklace for a considerable sum, communicating with the exiled Prince Charles, and facilitating communication between royalists and the Queen. Because of this, she was imprisoned in the Tower in 1649. Quite an interesting character indeed! It is said that ‘Milady de Winter’ in Alexandre Dumas‘ The Three Musketeers was inspired by her.


Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

In the same room stands one of only three existing sculptures of Emperor Nero (the others are in the Italian National Museum of Antiquities in Parma and in The Louvre). What makes this one even more special is that it’s a statue of him as a child. The reason that so few statues remain of him is that after he was overthrown in a military coup he was declared an enemy of the state. As a consequence, most depictions of him were ordered to be demolished.


The Little Dining Room with the statue of Emperor Nero as a boy in the corner

The Carved Room also contains many interesting works of art. There are four paintings of Petworth’s deer park by William Turner on the east wall, opposite the windows. They were commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Egremont specifically for these spaces in the carved wall. The idea behind this was that when dining in this room, guests with their backs to the windows could still admire the view!


By William Turner

The room also contains this impressive repetition of the famous depiction of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger. The original was a fresco in Whitehall Palace that was lost in a fire in 1698. The 3rd Earl must have had an interesting sense of humour, as he placed a portrait of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife who was executed by him, just below his!


Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger

And for the sake of national pride, here’s a painting inspired by the region around Nijmegen by Aelbert Cuyp. It was acquired by the 3rd Earl between 1829-1834.


Imaginary Landscape with Cattle, Huntsmen and a Horseman by Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91)

I am still working on some posts with left-over pics from Sydney, as well as on trips I took to Brighton, Bournemouth, Corfe Castle, the New Forest, the Jurassic Coast, Scotland, Liverpool, Blackpool, Manchester, Chester, and Lancaster (I’ve had a busy summer 🙂 ). I hope to finish and publish them soon so keep an eye out for those!



I come from a land down under.

I’ve finally made the time to post some pictures of my travels in Australia with my Dad last November. Enjoy!


Driving down the coast from Sydney

Our first stop after arriving in Sydney was Jervis Bay, a bay along the east coast of Australia said to have the whitest sand in the world!


Jervis Bay


One of the best things to do in this region is whale watching, especially during the time we were there. In summer, whales and their calves travel from the South Pacific down to Antarctica to feed. As we were in the area in November, this was the perfect time to spot some whale mothers with babies coming down along the coast of Australia!


Whale with calf in Jervis Bay

In the area around Jervis Bay boat and ship building has been a major activity for thousands of years. The local Aboriginals used to make boats out of bark from old trees and Western immigrants continued this boatbuilding tradition by establishing shipbuilding companies in this area. There is a nice little museum in Huskisson (named after British politician and the first person to ever die in a railway incident William Huskisson) which houses an entire ferry inside, The Lady Denman, which was built in Huskisson but used at Sydney Harbour for 67 years (1912-1979)!


The Lady Denman at Huskisson

The Lady Denman could transport up to 500 passengers, which meant that for a Sydney ferry it was actually quite small. The biggest ferries could take as much as 2250 passengers.


Inside the Lady Denman

The museum also displays some interesting objects related to the 19th-century whaling industry in the area. Sperm whales were mostly hunted for their oil, which could be used for lamps or in soaps and make-up. Furthermore, baleen whales were hunted for their bones which were used to make corsets. Whaling was phased out once petroleum was available, making whale oil worthless.


Reconstruction of a 19th-century Montague whaler


Harpoon gun


Mangrove forest at Huskisson

Of course, one of the coolest parts of travelling through Australia is the amazing wildlife! Kangaroos are probably the first animal that comes to mind, but Australia has many more fascinating animal species on offer! Everywhere we went we saw many beautiful parrots, such as the rainbow lorikeets below.


Rainbow lorikeets


Rainbow lorikeets at our B&B




Fur seal



And of course lots…


and lots…


and lots of kangaroos!

Besides all the animals we saw in the wild, we also visited two zoos. The first was Mogo Zoo, which we passed on our way from Jervis Bay down to Narooma. It was a lovely stop on our long drive, with their large number of primate species as well as red pandas (my favourite animal)!


lil’ Bolivian squirrel monkey, totes adorbz


Red pandas so sleepy.

Our main reason for driving to Narooma is the fact that you can take cruises from there to nearby Montague Island with its large colony of little penguins! Access to the island is restricted as it is a wildlife sanctuary. You can only access it for a limited amount of time on one of the daily cruises. The cruises leave from Narooma in the late afternoon, and arrive at the island just in time to see the penguins come back after sunset from a day of foraging in the water. For this reason, it was unfortunately impossible to take any pictures of them as it was too dark (and it would of course not be nice to the little guys to blind them with flashlights).




Montague Island

The island was originally named Barunguba by the local Aboriginal people. It is mythologically linked to two other islands: Gulaga and Najanuga. The traditional Aboriginal story is as follows:

‘Gulaga (Mount Dromedary) had two sons who left her to travel east. When they got to the sea she called to the younger son: ‘Come back, come back, my boy. You’re too young.’ The older son went on into the sea. He is Barunguba (Montague Island) while the younger son is Najanuga (Little Dromedary).’ (from Gulaga – A Report on the Cultural Significance of Mt Dromedary to Aboriginal People)


Montague Island

Our next stop was the Blue Mountains, a mountainous area west of Sydney. It is called the Blue Mountains, as due to the large density of eucalyptus trees in this area, eucalyptus oil evaporates into the air, causing the blue spectrum of the sunlight to propagate more. This gives the area a slightly blue-ish hue, as you can see on the pictures below. Its highest peaks are over 1km above sea level.


The Blue Mountains


The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters is the most iconic rock formation of the Blue Mountains. According to Aboriginal mythology, these rocks are three sisters (Meehni, Wilma, and Gunnedoo) that were turned to stone. They had fallen in love with three brothers from another tribe, but were forbidden to marry them. The brothers decided to kidnap the sisters, which caused a tribal war. A local witch doctor turned the sisters into stone to keep them from harm, but was himself killed before getting the chance to undo the spell. Busloads of tourists come from Sydney every day to see the sisters. As such, we didn’t hang about this area for very long, instead opting to explore the rest of this vast mountain range, as this was much quieter and less touristy, while just as beautiful!







Before we went back to Sydney where my Dad had to teach a course, we spent a few days in a houseboat on the Hawkesbury River, which was very relaxing. There weren’t many people on the river, so we often had entire beaches to ourselves. My Dad entertained himself by fishing a lot as you can see below.


Dad being very excited about having caught a fish

In my next post I will share some photos from Sydney, our final stop. Highlights include the amazing maritime museum (where they had a replica of James Cook’s ship the Endeavour!) and Taronga Zoo.



West Highland Way

About a year after I actually went, I’m finally posting some photos from the West Highland Way, which I walked with Merel last summer. In fact, I’m going to Scotland again today! This time to Inverness and its surrounding region. The West Highland Way in its entirety runs from Glasgow to Fort William, a whopping 96 miles (or 154km)! We didn’t hike the entire path, however, we started from Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Great Britain. On our first day, we had to take a ferry across Loch Lomond to our starting point, offering some atmospheric foggy views of the Loch!


Loch Lomond


First day on the West Highland Way

Along the way we passed by the remains of St. Fillan’s Priory. St. Fillan is believed to have been an Irish Christian missionary in the 8th century, travelling on foot between Tyndrum and Killin. The priory that was named after him was built in the 13th century and endowed by Robert the Bruce, King of Scots from 1306-1329. The remains may look somewhat pathetic in the picture below, but the building is estimated to have been over 50m long! It is said Robert the Bruce carried the arm-bone of St. Fillan with him as a relic, and attributed his victory over the English King Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn to it.


Remains of St. Fillan’s Priory


We also passed the site of the Battle of Dalrigh, a battle that took place between Robert the Bruce, and Clan MacDougall in 1306. During the Wars of Scottish Independence in 1296, Clan MacDougall had been an ally of Robert. But in 1306, Robert the Bruce murdered the Clan Chief’s nephew John Comyn (who was in line to the Scottish Throne), after which they became sworn enemies and Clan MacDougall switched allegiance to the English King, Edward II. When Robert the Bruce and his army were retreating from a lost battle near Perth, he was attacked by Clan MacDougall at Dalrigh (Dalrigh means ‘King’s Field’ in Scottish Gaelic). Robert had not expected this attack at all, so the battle was brief and killed the last of his horsemen and some important allies. After this, Robert was in hiding for two years, but finally defeated Clan MacDougall at the Battle of the Pass of Brander.


Site of the Battle of Dalrigh

Our hike also took us to Glen Coe, a glen (valley) shaped by ancient volcanoes. You may recognise this landscape, as it has been featured in many films, such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Skyfall and Braveheart. The area is truly astonishing, as it is surrounded by bare rocks a thousand metres high. The highest mountains of Glen Coe have been formed by magma flows that came up from deep inside the earth through faults, deep fractures created by the movement of the Earth’s crust. Glencoe was the first site where cauldron subsidence was studied, a phenomenon where rocks collapse under their own weight to form big oval-shaped fractures named ring-faults, causing rocks inside this ring to drop even further. All of this happened approximately 400 million years ago. In the last two million years, the mountains were further shaped by glaciers and ice sheets during the Ice Age.

In reference to the story about Robert the Bruce above: this area used to belong to the MacDougalls. However, after Robert defeated them in 1309, he gave the MacDougall lands to the clan leaders that supported him. Glencoe was given to Angus Og, the chief of Clan Donald. Angus Og’s son Iain Fraoch founded the MacDonald clan which held the lands for centuries.

Glencoe was also the site of a dramatic historic event, the Massacre of Glencoe. In 1692, after the revolution of 1688 in which King James II was overthrown in favour of William III, Prince of Orange, and the subsequent Jacobite rising of 1689, 38 clan members of Clan MacDonald were brutally murdered by the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot, who had been received by the Clan as guests, after missing the deadline by which they were meant to declare their allegiance to William III.


Glen Coe




When we were near Fort William, the end of our hike, we hiked up the site of Dun Deardail, a fort built 2,000 years ago and occupied many times throughout history by Celts and Picts. The fort was on top of a very steep hill, making it a strategic location with easy views in all directions (and very windy!).



Me illustrating that it was indeed very windy on Dun Deardail (with excellent views of Fort William)

We spent an additional day at our end point Fort William to see a very special local attraction: The Jacobite Steam Train – which you may know as the Hogwarts Express from those epic panoramic shots in the Harry Potter movies (in particular from that viaduct shot below).


The train runs from Fort William to Mallaig, a lovely seaside town where we had some spectacular seafood.



My sad attempt at photographing Glenfinnan viaduct between all the other Potterheads.


Tonight I am taking the bus from London to Inverness and I couldn’t be more excited to visit Scotland again! I’m particularly excited to finally see Culloden battlefield, the site where the Jacobite uprising dramatically ended in 1745. In my next post I will finally share some photos of my trip to Australia that I took last november.


West End

Even though I still have some pictures and stories to share from trips I took to Scotland and Australia last year, today I felt more like talking about some history of London’s West End, and specifically of its famous theatres. I took an interesting audio tour by Ian McKellen on an app called VoiceMap. I wanted to share some history about the most interesting buildings I came across during this walk.

The tour started on Leicester Square, where there is a statue of William Shakespeare: a great start to this theatre-themed tour!


William Shakespeare fountain at Leicester Square

If you’ve been to London, you’ve probably walked past the Hippodrome Casino. It being quite a tacky-looking casino, I never took much notice of this building. Little did I now that The Hippodrome was first opened in 1900 and was, as the name would suggest, and actual hippodrome: a stadium for horse racing! Apparently some very spectacular shows were staged here: including full-on naval battles using a great water tank, acrobatic spectacles and circus acts including elephants and polar bears!


The Hippodrome

The Mousetrap, a play by Agatha Christie, is the longest-running play in the West End, having opened in 1952 and running continuously ever since! There is a memorial to Agatha Christie near Leicester Square, and if you look carefully you can see a little mousetrap engraved just above Christie’s head! I haven’t been to see The Mousetrap yet, but I’m not sure now whether I should as Ian McKellen subtly suggested in his tour that it’s… pretty shit? (and when Gandalf gives you theatre advice, you listen.)


Agatha Christie memorial


St Martin’s Theatre where The Mousetrap is currently playing

Many times have I walked past the Palace Theatre longingly, as this is the theatre where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently being performed (and it’s been impossible to get tickets 😦 )! However, you may also recognize this building as the home of Les Misérables, which played here for 19 years from 1985 onwards!


The Palace Theatre where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently playing

Seven Dials is a junction of 7 roads in the middle of the West End. The origin of what looks like an odd bit of city planning is fascinating: Thomas Neale designed this area to maximize profit. He abused the fact that rent in those days was charged by the length of the front of buildings, not by square footage of the area! The column at the centre of the junction only has 6 sundials due to the fact that the junction was only meant to join 6 roads, which was changed to 7 last-minute. This area was known as a slum by the 19th century and frequently formed an inspiration for Charles Dickens’ novels. The original sundial was removed in the 18th century, but a replacement was erected in 1989 and was revealed by none other than Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands! Apparently she was visiting at the time to commemorate the reign of William III and Queen Mary II. Queen Beatrix is a direct descendant of William III’s first cousin John William Friso, who became stadhouder after William died.


Seven Dials


Seven Dials

The Royal Ballet School and Royal Opera House are right next to each other and connected by a little bridge called the Bridge of Aspiration, referring to the ballet students’ dreams to one day be a performer at the opera house. The Royal Opera House currently standing is the third theatre in this spot, after fires in 1808 and 1856 destroyed the previous ones.


Bridge of Aspirations


Royal Opera House

Across from the Royal Opera house, stands the infamous Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, which is an important institution in British crime history. The bars in front of the windows remind passers-by of its 266-year long history as a court. Many high-profile cases appeared here; Oscar Wilde was tried here for ‘gross indecency’ (being a homosexual) and sentenced to two years in prison. 😦


Bow Street Magistrates’ Court

The site on which Theatre Royal, Drury Lane stands is the oldest theatre site still in use; the earliest theatre that stood here was built in 1663. From the restoration of the monarchy in the 17th century onwards, theatres endorsed by the sovereign were named ‘Theatre Royal’. King Charles II loved the theatre and even had a famous actress for a mistress: Nell Gwyn. You come across her name a lot when walking through the West End: a few pubs are named after her, for example.


Pub across from Theatre Royal, Drury Lane


Another pub named after Charles II’ (in)famous mistress

Famous Irish playwright Richard Sheridan owned the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane for a long time and renovated it in 1794. 15 years later, the theatre burned down (theatres burning down was definitely a theme in this audio tour). Sheridan supposedly watched the fire from the pub across the street, saying: “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”


Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Henry Irving is another name from London theatre you come across a lot when exploring the West End. What is so special about him is that he really changed people’s perception of the theatre. Before him, being an actor was not a respectable profession at all. Irving was the first actor to be knighted, in 1895, indicating a real shift in how actors were viewed.

Henry Irving managed the Lyceum Theatre, where The Lion King is now playing. Bram Stoker, another famous name, was Irving’s acting manager and wrote Dracula while employed at the theatre. It is said Irving formed the inspiration for its main character…


The Lyceum Theatre


Statue of Henry Irving near Leicester Square

In my next post I hope to share some pictures of last year’s holiday to Scotland I took with Merel (long overdue). I am going to Scotland again this summer, with my father, to Inverness and surroundings. Should be interesting!


St Bride’s & more

I had some photos left on my phone from short visits to monuments and museums across the UK, which I thought would be a waste not to discuss! As such, here’s a rather unusual blog post discussing several things at once.

Christopher Wren‘s masterpiece is of course St Paul’s Cathedral in London. However, there are many more churches in the City of London by his hand. One of them is St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street, which was reconstructed by Wren after the Great Fire of 1666.


St Bride’s Church

This church is a hidden gem: you’d hardly notice it walking on Fleet Street as it’s tucked away between other buildings at the end of an alley. Still, St Bride’s is the second tallest of all Wren’s buildings at 69m. It’s said that the church’s tower inspired the tiered wedding cake. It is not the first church built here. In fact, St Bride’s is the eighth church built here over 1500 years! It’s thought this site was home to a Celtic Christian community during the time of the Romans.


Inside St Bride’s

Being in the City of London, the oldest part of London, the church (and its predecessors) has witnessed many historic events and hosted many famous historic figures. King John is said to have held meetings here. Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, was baptised here. Charles Dickens is likely to have attended mass here as he lived nearby. Fleet Street has historically been known as the center of publishing, as a lot of printing was done here from the 16th century onwards. The first official English Bible was printed here in 1539 for Henry VIII, an important moment in the history of the Church of England. Up until the 20th century, Fleet Street was the preferred location for most British national newspapers. Now, however, it’s become a prime location for banking. St Bride’s is still sometimes referred to as the “Printer’s Cathedral” or the “Journalists’ Church”. This is also due to the fact that the first printing press with moveable type was brought here in 1500.

In rebuilding the church in the 17th century, Christopher Wren mostly used the original outline of the medieval church that had burnt down. The current tower was built over the ruins of the medieval tower. In 1940 the church was bombed, revealing Crypts containing some Roman pavement! Here you can now find an interesting exhibition about the history of the church and Fleet Street.

On a completely unrelated note, after the trip me and my father took in Cumbria and Northumberland, I needed to take a train back from Newcastle. I had some time to spare and visited the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art there. This museum is housed in an old flour mill. This massive building can house 3000sqm of art divided over 6 floors.


BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle

The staircase at this museum itself is a work of art! Two mirrors facing each other have been placed at the bottom and top of the staircase, which makes it appear as though the staircase goes on endlessly. Looking down from the stairs here made me afraid of heights for the first time in my life! This is a work by Mark Wallinger, and with this work he points out how a fear of heights is ultimately a fear of death.


Heaven and Hell by Mark Wallinger

I also visited an exhibition of Caroline Achaintre‘s work, which made a big impression on me. Her work shows how humans are primed to recognize faces in almost anything. Using paper, textiles and ceramics, she makes masks with minimal facial features. It’s almost as if she’s trying to find the bare minimum by which she can make people see a face. Her work is much inspired by Primitivism and Expressionism. You can see some pieces from the exhibition below.


A work by Caroline Achaintre


Frank by Caroline Achaintre


A work by Caroline Achaintre


A work by Caroline Achaintre

Finally, in a recent visit to the British Museum I saw some interesting archeological finds I wanted to share with you. Firstly, the British Museum displays some of the Vindolanda tablets I discussed when I visited Hadrian’s Wall (see post here).


A selection of the Vindolanda tablets at the British Museum

The Corbridge Lanx (‘lanx’ means ‘tray’ in Latin) is an incredibly well-preserved silver serving plate found near Hadrian’s wall in Corbridge by a 9-year old girl named Isabel Cutler in 1735 by the River Tyne, which was then owned by the dukes of Northumberland until 1993, when the British Museum bought it. It is estimated to have been created in the 4th century AD. It is unclear what the meaning of the engraving is exactly. A shrine of Apollo is depicted and the god himself can be seen on the far right with his lyre positioned by his feet. Further to the left, the goddess Minerva can be seen wearing a helmet and raising her arm.


Corbridge Lanx

The last Roman archeological find from The British Museum I want to briefly discuss is the Hinton St Mary Mosaic, a section of 4th-century mosaic floor found at a villa at Hinton St Mary in Dorset. It is a very early example of a Christian decoration in the Roman Empire. Commonly, the centre of a main floor in Roman times was occupied by the depiction of a pagan god or goddess, but this figure is most likely Christ as evidenced by the Greek letters X (chi) and P (rho) behind the figure’s head. The pomegranates by Christ’s head are a symbol of immortality.


The Hinton St Mary Mosaic

Sorry for the hodgepodge of topics in this blog! In my next blog I will start reporting the epic hiking trip on the West Highland Way I took last summer!



Even though I have only just moved to London, this week I have accepted an offer of a studentship with the Doctoral Training Programme in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford! So I’ll be moving again around mid-September 2017. Get ready for more posts about college history!

This summer I did some interesting sight-seeing in Northumberland and Cumbria with my father. Among other things, we visited Cragside, a Victorian estate in Northumberland, built by extraordinary water engineer William Armstrong.

William George Armstrong was born in Newcastle in 1810. As a child he was often very ill, and started making many small machines during the days he was sick at home. From an early age, he had a fascination with water. He would spend most of his holidays fishing in the river in Rothbury, while at his father’s friend Armorer Donkin’s country house. His father wanted William to become a lawyer, and so he started working for Donkin’s law firm in Newcastle. But he still spent much of his free time inventing and building things.

In 1845, Armstrong became secretary of the Whittle Dene Water Company, which supplied Newcastle with drinking water. He was working on ideas to use water to derive power. He developed a hydraulic crane that was used at the Newcastle Quayside to unload ships and was very fast, cheap and effective. At this point he decided he wanted to solely focus on engineering. He quit his work as a lawyer, and started up his own company, which became very successful.

In 1863, he visited Rothbury again, where he had spent many holidays in his childhood. He liked it so much, he decided to buy some land there so he could build a house to visit more frequently: Cragside. But Armstrong wouldn’t be Armstrong if he didn’t use this opportunity to use new technologies to improve ways of living in his new house. On the site he built a hydraulic pumping engine that would supply the house with drinking water. He also built a power house that provided electric lights to the house. The house was the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity!

Now, the house itself is just plain WEIRD. It looks like an attempt was made to combine many different architectural styles used through the ages in a single building, making the whole thing look very much thrown together. Some of the upper part of the back of the house is very clearly in the Tudor Revival style from the 19th century, but then the bottom looks more castle-y. You can also see some Neo-Gothic arches, and A LOT of turrets. Opinions are very divided about whether this design by Richard Norman Shaw is inventive and beautiful, or flamboyant and over-the-top.



Below you see the house’s living room and the first room in the world that was lit with incandescent light bulbs, invented by Joseph Swan. The electricity for these lights came from the nearby power house, which contained a water-powered Siemens dynamo.


First room in the world with light bulbs!



The gallery contains some interesting paintings, sculpture and taxidermy

In 1884 the Prince and Princess of Wales (who would later become King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) visited Cragside for five days. It is thought that they chose to visit this house, rather than Alnwick Castle where they would usually reside when visiting the area, because it had many modern comforts, like running (hot!) water and central heating. To impress the royal couple on their visit, Armstrong had a whole new section added to the building. This included rooms especially built for their occupation, among which is the Owl Suite. I want to highlight this room, because it contains a beautiful wooden canopied bed with two bedposts in which owls are carved (giving the room its name). The bed is made from American black walnut and was designed by Shaw (who designed the rest of the house as well).


American black walnut canopied bed by Richard Norman Shaw (this is actually really really pretty 🙂 )

The absolute elephant in the room when visiting Cragside is the monstrosity of a fireplace you can see below, which is in the drawing room at the end of the gallery and was also added right before the royal visit of 1884. This room was used as a banquet hall, because the dining room did not fit the number of people that were invited to have dinner with the Prince and Princess. The fireplace was designed by W.R. Lethaby, weighs a whopping 10 tons and is made completely out of Italian marble (what a waste). Now, this fireplace was designed and built to impress the royal couple, but I can only imagine how horrified they must have been at the sight of this… thing! Besides being, just, horrible, the fireplace is also completely useless. As this room is built against a rock, all the fireplace does is heat up the cold rock behind it, rather than the room itself.


Why, Mr. Armstrong, why???


A more close-up look of the ‘fireplace’.

The estate is still an important place for hydroelectricity. Recently, an Archimedes screw has been built to gather power to light the house. Archimedes screws are traditionally used to move water from a low-lying place upwards, but in this screw water goes the other way and as such power can be generated. All the light bulbs have been replaced with LEDs to make the house even more energy-efficient.



View of the house from the grounds

So, even though I didn’t 100% agree with all of the architectural design choices made in the building of this house :P, it was a really cool place to visit, because of its history in relation to hydroelectricity and the interesting stories about Armstrong and his family.

Next time will be a bit of a mash-up of topics as I’d like to talk about some interesting art I saw in Newcastle this summer as well as some really cool archeological finds I saw in the British Museum in London more recently.