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!

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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!

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Jervis Bay

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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!

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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)!

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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.

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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.

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Reconstruction of a 19th-century Montague whaler

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Harpoon gun

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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.

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Rainbow lorikeets

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Rainbow lorikeets at our B&B

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Cockatoo

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Fur seal

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And of course lots…

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and lots…

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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)!

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lil’ Bolivian squirrel monkey, totes adorbz

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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).

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Narooma

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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)

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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.

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The Blue Mountains

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Loch Lomond

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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.

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Remains of St. Fillan’s Priory

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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.

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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.

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Glen Coe

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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!).

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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).

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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.)

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Agatha Christie memorial

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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!

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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.

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Seven Dials

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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.

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Bridge of Aspirations

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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. 😦

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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.

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Pub across from Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

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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.”

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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…

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The Lyceum Theatre

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A work by Caroline Achaintre

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Frank by Caroline Achaintre

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A work by Caroline Achaintre

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

Cragside

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.

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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.

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First room in the world with light bulbs!

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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).

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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.

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Why, Mr. Armstrong, why???

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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.

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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.

 

Paris

Now for a completely different country! Yes, I do occasionally visit landmarks in other places than Holland and the UK. In fact, in February I visited Disneyland with Merel, which was of course fabulous (how could it not be). We had some spare time to take a day trip to Paris.

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Notre-Dame de Paris

To keep within the Disney theme, we firstly visited the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. You can go up to the cathedral’s towers for an astonishing view of the city, and to get a close-up look at the gargoyles that were the inspiration for Disney’s Victor, Hugo, and Laverne. These gargoyles used to be brightly coloured, as well as the rest of the building, but the paint has washed off long ago. The cathedral’s construction began in 1163, replacing an older church that had been demolished to make way for the Notre-Dame, and was finished in 1345. The fact that many different architects worked on the cathedral over many decades, can be seen from the different styles employed at each level of the facades.

The rose window at the north end of the cathedral is a beautiful example of the Rayonnant style: characterised by its ‘[repetitive] decorative motifs at different scales’ (wikipedia). This was a big contrast with the previous High Gothic style, which was mostly concerned with large, high spaces.

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The Notre-Dame’s rose window (photo from therosewindow.com)

In line with previous posts, some interesting events took place in the Notre-Dame. In 1431, Henry VI (the ‘Mad King’)  of England was crowned King of France here. In 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots was married to the Dauphin Francis in the Notre-Dame (Mary and Francis were only 16 and 14 at the time!). And in 1804, the cathedral was the site of Napoleon‘s coronation. So the cathedral continued to be a very significant place throughout the centuries!

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View to the East from between the Notre-Dame’s two towers

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View to the West from the Notre-Dame

Later the same day, we visited Versailles. For somebody as obsessed with European royal history as me, it’s quite unusual I hadn’t been there before!

Most French monarchs resided in Paris. Louis XIII had a hunting lodge built at Versailles in 1623, which Louis XIV enlarged to a magnificent royal residence during his reign. Louis XIV distrusted Paris, as many anti-monarchical movements originated here. Furthermore, Versailles offered many opportunities for further construction. Architect Louis Le Vau was responsible for the building of the palace and André Le Notre designed its famous gardens. From 1682, Louis’ court and government were officially located here. Versailles became the center of festivities and events organised by the King. Many of the famous plays by writer Moliere and composer Jean-Baptiste Lully originated here. After the French revolution, the palace was turned into a museum.

The palace has too many astounding rooms to discuss here, but I will attempt to talk a bit about what the highlights were for me. Unfortunately, I did not manage to take too many pictures at Versailles, as it was incredibly busy.

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Versailles

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The Royal Chapel at Versailles

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Hercules Room at Versailles

The Hercules Room, which you can see above, was used as a ballroom in the 18th century. It is the first room of the King’s Grand Apartment, but was created the last. A chapel used to be here, but the Hercules Room was built when the Royal Chapel was constructed instead. The large painting decorating the room is The Meal at the House of Simon, painted by Veronese in 1570 and offered by the Republic of Venice to Louis XIV in 1664.

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Ceiling of the Venus Room in the King’s Grand Apartment at Versailles: Venus Crowned by the Graces by René-Antoine Houasse (1672).

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Marble bust of Louis XIV by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1665) in the Diana room in the King’s Grand Apartment in Versailles.

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The Mercury Salon of the King’s Grand Apartment at Versailles.

The Mercury salon (above) was the King’s Grand Apartment’s bedchamber. This chamber used to be completely decorated in silver furniture, until Louis XIV was forced to have them melted down to pay for the Nine Years’ War.

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The magnificent Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

Above you can see The Hall of Mirrors, by far the most impressive sight at Versailles. This Hall functioned as a hallway and meeting place in the days of Louis XIV when there were about 4,000 people at court! The hall is 73 metres long and is aptly named as it contains 357 mirrors. Note that mirrors were a luxury product at the time; as such this hall was a a very impressive testimony to the prosperity of France. The arch contains paintings by Le Brun which depict Louis XIV many political victories. For you Dutchies reading my blog: the Treaties of Nijmegen are included in the elaborate painted ceiling! Many important events took place in this hall, not only in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was used as a royal residence. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War was signed in this room.

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View of the Gardens of Versailles from the Hall of Mirrors.

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One of Louis XIV’s great achievements: making peace with Holland.

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The King’s Bedroom at Versailles, facing the rising Sun in the East

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The Bull’s Eye Room; named after its oval windows. Visitors waited here to be admitted to the King’s Bedchamber.

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The crowning of the Empress Josephine by Napoleon in Notre-Dame of Paris on 2 December 1804 by Jacques-Louis David (1808-1822); copy of the original, which hangs in the Louvre.

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The Battles Gallery at Versailles.

The Battles Gallery was built in 1833-1837 when Versailles became a museum. The gallery shows the biggest victories of France from history through 33 paintings lined along the wall. The gallery also features busts of famous French officers who died in combat.

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Louis XIV Storming Valenciennes, 17 March 1677. This painting honours the Sun King, who built Versailles, and his victory over the Dutch at Valenciennes.

That was my very short summary of all the magnificent sights at Versailles. To finish, here is a view of Versailles’ gardens.

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Stirling Castle

A short holiday I haven’t talked about yet, was a trip to Scotland with some friends in November 2015. I was inspired to post something about this due to a recent trip to Edinburgh. Merel and I visited Stirling, as I was desperate to see Stirling Castle, often coined the most impressive of the Scottish castles.

 

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My sad attempt at photographing Stirling Castle by night (it was foggy)

Stirling Castle is built on Castle Hill. Its location is incredibly strategic, as the hill it is on is very steep on three sides. There are many myths and legends about Stirling Castle’s ancient history, such as that King Arthur’s court sat here. However, the first actual record of it comes from the 11th century, when King Alexander I built a chapel on the hill. Alexander’s successor, David I, turned Stirling into a royal burgh. The castle was a popular royal home for centuries.

The castle also played a big part in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 13th & 14th century (the cause of which is described in a previous post on Carlisle Castle). The castle was occupied by the English and the Scots intermittently for decades, until it was retaken by Robert Stewart in 1342, who would become the first Stewart king of the Scots. The early Stewart kings built parts of the castle that can still be admired today.

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The North Gate is probably the oldest surviving part of the castle and was built by the early Stewart kings of Scotland in the 14th century (photo from Wikipedia as my own pictures are shit, because fog)

The rest of the castle that survives has mostly been built in the 15th and 16th centuries. In these centuries, Stirling was a royal residence to the Scottish kings. Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned at Stirling Castle in 1543 and visited frequently thereafter (another flashback to a previous post). When the English and Scottish crown were united in 1603, the castle stopped being used as a royal residence. Instead, it was increasingly used by the military.

King James V built a Royal Palace inside the castle walls in the 1530s; the first Renaissance palace built in the British isles! The palace facade includes some very interesting stone statues of important figures such as the king himself, the devil, saints, Venus and other deities.

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Facade of the Royal Palace at Stirling Castle

Visiting Stirling Castle is unlike any other visit to historical monuments: at Stirling many of the castle’s interiors have been decorated to mimic what they must have looked like during the Renaissance. This gives the visitor a unique view of the post, which can be very surprising! We’re so used to seeing ‘old junk’ at museums and worn exteriors of buildings, we forget what these objects might have looked like when brand-new. Specifically, the bright colour of the restored Great Hall is very unusual-looking to our eyes as we’re used to seeing old buildings with worn and stained exteriors.

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Restored Great Hall: its exuberant colour is especially dashing when compared to the dirty, worn non-restored exterior of the Royal Palace next to it.

The Great Hall’s interior is equally mesmerising. Its hammerbeam roof is a replication of what it was like up to 1800, when it was removed and the space was divided into two floors. This hall is the largest of its kind in the entirety of Scotland! You can imagine what an impressive sight it must have been for the King to have been sat in his throne at the very end of the room when receiving visitors.

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Awesome hammerbeam roof inside Great Hall at Stirling Castle

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Thrones at the Great Hall at Stirling Castle

The Chapel Royal also has been completely restored. This is the place Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned in 1543. However, the current chapel is one that was rebuilt after this coronation in order to be used for James’, Mary’s son, christening.

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Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle (note the beautiful Italianate arched windows)

The King’s and Queen’s apartments inside the Royal Palace have also been restored to their former glory. Each apartment consists of a hall, a presence chamber and a bedroom, as well as some smaller rooms. Most larger rooms have big stone fireplaces, dating from the time in which the castle was used as a military centre. The King’s Presence Chamber’s ceiling has been beautifully recreated, as it used to be covered by the famous Stirling Heads: carved oak portraits now displayed inside the Castle behind glass.

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Shitty picture of the King’s Presence Chamber (it was really dark and foggy outside so apparently my camera needed time to recover while inside). Note the reconstructed Stirling Heads at the top of the picture.

One of the most impressive sights was the reconstruction of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, hung in the Queen’s Inner Hall. These tapestries were commissioned for this room to give an idea of what type of decoration the room might have been decorated with in the 16th century. The originals can be found in The Cloisters in New York. The Hunt of the Unicorn was a much used theme in the Renaissance. It can be seen as a symbolic depiction of the Passion of Christ. However, the story also has some pagan connotations, as in pagan myths the unicorn was believed to be an animal that could only be tamed by a virgin.

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The magnificent replicas of The Hunt of the Unicorn in the Queen’s Inner Hall

That’s all about Stirling Castle: I can definitely recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. Stirling is actually quite easy to reach by train from Edinburgh! To finish this post, I’ll show you some lovely photos we took on a day trip to Callander, right by the Trossachs.

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Samson’s putting stone: according to folklore this boulder was thrown onto Bochastle Hill by a Fingalian giant named Samson in a competition to prove himself the strongest giant of all.

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Whipple Museum

 

I’ve recently moved to London, but I still have one more post left on one of Cambridge’s wonderful museums, so I couldn’t resist…

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science at Cambridge, is pretty much a massive collection of antique scientific instruments. I will highlight a few that interested me: you probably won’t have heard of some of them before! The museum is named after Robert Stewart Whipple who donated his collection to the University of Cambridge in 1944.

When entering the museum, your attention is immediately drawn to the massive astronomical clock in the center of the room. This is a replica of a 14th-century clock, a fourth as small as the original! Richard of Wallingford, the abbot of St Albans Abbey, built this clock between 1327-1336. Supposedly, King Edward III was angry with Richard for spending all his time on this clock, while letting his church go to ruin. But Richard insisted this clock be a very important project. Richard died in 1336, but the clock seems to have been finished by other monks. However, in 1536-1541, Henry VIII shut down many of the monasteries, while founding the Church of England, and the clock seems to have been destroyed along with it. Luckily, Richard of Wallingford had left detailed manuscripts of how the clock had been built. The clock has two parts: one part tracks the time, the other the movements of the Moon.

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Replica of a 14th-century astronomical clock

The museum also has a brilliant collection of astrolabes. Astrolabes are ancient calculators that were used from antiquity up to the Renaissance. They had many uses among which were predicting the locations of planets, and computing the local time. The word ‘astrolabe’ comes from the Greek ‘astron’, ‘star’, and ‘lambanein’, ‘to take’. Here you can find a TED talk on how to use astrolabes.

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Armillary spheres are models of the solar system. In 1543, Copernicus stated the Sun was in the centre of the universe instead of the Earth (as had been believed until then). This view slowly became accepted over the next two centuries. However, to accommodate everybody’s beliefs, these armillary spheres were usually sold in pairs, showing both ideas about the universe, up to the eighteenth century! The sphere usually consists of rings around a centre (the Sun or the Earth). The Greek Eratosthenes has been credited with the sphere’s invention. Its name derives from the Latin ‘armilla’, meaning circle.

Also, doing some Google searching on armillary spheres made me stumble upon some amazing modern ones that I’m now supertempted to buy for my new place in London. 😛

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Early 18th-century Copernican armillary sphere

Dip circles were instruments used to measure the dip angle: the angle between the horizon and the Earth’s magnetic field. They were used for navigation, mining, and for mapping the Earth’s magnetic field. In 1831, British explorer James Clark Ross used such a dip circle to locate the North Magnetic Pole in Canada.

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Early 19th-century dip circle

A chronometer is an extremely precise time piece. They were taken on voyages on sea to measure longitude. The chronometer would be set to indicate the time it was at the place of departure. On board, you could then measure the local time using the Sun. Computing the difference between the two times, would give you the longitude change during the journey.

In 1714, the British government issued a competition with a £20,000 reward for anybody who could invent a way of tracking longitude while at sea. John Harrison’s solution was the chronometer. The museum holds a beautiful replica of one of Harrison’s clocks.

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Replica of 18th-century chronometer by John Harrison

The following item I find particularly interesting: the museum holds a part of Charles Babbage‘s ‘Difference Engine No. 1’, the world’s first computer! It transforms multiplication into addition.

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Fragment of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1

In the early twentieth century, science become more popular, and companies started producing more scientific instruments for household use. For example, many chemistry sets (always targeted at boys, grrr) became available, which the museum has some nice examples of.

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Twentieth-century chemistry set (FOR BOYS…)

Phrenology was the study of bumps and dents in the skull relating to personality traits, which became very popular in the 19th-century. To be clear: we know now that that is a severe extrapolation of brain function localization. So please do not attempt to draw conclusions from bumps on your head, it’s silly. Below you can see a phrenology head of convicted murderer Pierre-Francois Lacenaire. This head was made for phrenologists to examine after Lacenaire’s execution in France in 1836. They claimed protrusions above the right ear and some other areas indicated ‘destructiveness’, ‘acquisitiveness’, and ‘vanity’.

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Phrenology head of Pierre-Francois Lacenaire

In the early 19th-century, there was a huge shortage of bodies for medical students to dissect. The French Dr. Auzoux started making papier-mache models for students to examine, which became a huge success.The museum has some wonderful examples of these models.

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19th-century papier-mache model by Dr. Auzoux

And here are some further items that caught my attention:

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A 19th-century string model used to create representations of three-dimensional functions

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The Whipple museum holds about 100 of these glass models of fungi made by Dr. William Weston between 1936-1953

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19th-century replica of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope

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Charles Darwin’s microscope

The museum also holds some more modern items, that are important for the collection’s continuity. Below you can see the first globe ever produced of the planet Mercury, in 2014. NASA’s Messenger finally collected enough data in 2011-2013 (18,000 pictures) about the planet for this globe to be made. It used to be very hard to examine this planet as it is so small and close to the Sun.

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First globe of Mercury

I hope you enjoyed this little history of science lesson! In my next blog I will chat about a trip Merel and I took to Stirling, which was a while ago, like everything on this blog (oops).

Carlisle Castle

This post I will be talking about my trip to Carlisle Castle, which I can recommend to everybody, because it’s fascinating. Carlisle Castle is a red sandstone fortress near the Anglo-Scottish border, which was continuously occupied for nearly 900 years (!!!).

King William II Rufus conquered Carlisle and Cumberland from the Scots and built a castle in 1092 to protect the new border. His brother, Henry I, then fortified it in stone. The St Bees’ red sandstone that you can now see was used in later alterations. In 1136 the region was taken back by King of Scots David I. The future Henry II of England promised to David he would leave his land alone, but later broke this promise.

In 1190, Scotland had no ruler, after their Queen Margaret died, who left no heirs as she was only a child. Edward I of England got to pick a new ruler for Scotland and chose John Balliol. However, the Scots were not happy with their new king, as they suspected that he was heavily manipulated by Edward and got rid of him. Subsequently, they invaded England and conquered Carlisle. Edward invaded Scotland, and there was a great war between the two kingdoms for years, during which Carlisle was an important base. Edward I’s wife Queen Margaret of France lived at Carlisle Castle during these years. Carlisle would continue to be an important location as England and Scotland continued to have wars very frequently. The job of warden of the West March was thus a hard and important one. The wardens lived at Carlisle Castle; the most famous one was probably Richard, who would later become Richard III.

During the English Civil War, Carlisle endured the longest siege of a town in English history! Carlisle was loyal to the crown and was thus besieged by Parliamentarians and Covenanters (Scots who had joined the Parliamentarians against the English crown) for nine months, after which the city surrendered. After some decades of peace, Carlisle was again besieged during the Jacobite uprising of 1745 (anybody who has been watching Outlander: all the feels) by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). After failing to get support in England, the Jacobite army returned to Carlisle and were captured there by the English.

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Outer Gatehouse of Carlisle Castle

The first thing you see when approaching the castle is its gatehouse. The oldest parts of this gatehouse are from around 1160, but it has been much altered over the centuries, as you can imagine.

Via the gate, you enter the outer ward of the fortress. In the Middle Ages, this was open ground. In the 19th century, accommodations were built here for soldiers, which are still used today. The Border Regiment was stationed here between 1873 and 1959. The buildings are named after significant battles in which the Border Regiment was involved. One of them is called Arnhem, depicted below for all the Dutchies out there.

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Arnhem building at Carlisle Castle

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View of Carlisle Castle from the outer ward with the Captain’s Tower on the left

The Captain’s Tower, as seen above, was where the head officer lived. It was built in the 12th century, and again, changed much through the ages.

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Hinges of the Captain’s Tower’s gate

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View of the Captain’s Tower from the inner ward (note the beautiful 14th century tracery above the gate)

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View from the inner ward of three 16th century storage spaces

Now on to the part that gets me properly excited: Mary, Queen of Scots was held captive here in 1568 and the tower she occupied is aptly named Queen Mary’s Tower. The tower was demolished in 1835, as it was too old to be restored, and all that can be seen now is a few foundations. She grew up in France, while Scotland was ruled by regents in her place. Back in Scotland, an uprising took place against Mary and her husband and the throne went to her one-year old son. Mary fled to England, seeking her cousin Queen Elizabeth I‘s protection. However, Elizabeth wasn’t too friendly towards Mary, as Mary had previously claimed the throne of England and many English Catholics perceived Mary to be the true Queen of England. As such, Elizabeth kept Mary captive for 18 years, after which Mary was executed, having been found guilty of plotting to assassinate the Queen.

The Castle Keep is 21 metres high. Originally it was higher, but the roof was rebuilt to allow for better gun placement.

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16th-century entrance to Carlisle Castle Keep. The remains of foundations along the sides of the entrance suggests that in the original building plans, the Keep was meant to have a more impressive entrance.

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Great Hall at the Keep

The absolute highlight to be found at the Castle Keep is a small section of wall on the second floor that is completely filled with doodles. These are called the Prisoners’ Carvings, because the drawings used to be attributed to prisoners. However, it is more likely that they were actually made by guards on duty, considering they only appear in this small doorway. They are dated to about 1480, when Richard (who would later become King Richard III) was the Warden here. The carvings can be divided into two categories: crude drawings of animals and more refined carvings of many different subjects.

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Part of the Prisoner’s Carvings at the castle keep; here you can see a drawing of a boar, the symbol of Richard

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The Prisoner’s Carvings at the castle keep; here you can see the drawing of a leopard, part of the coat of arms of England

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Part of the Prisoner’s Carvings at Carlisle Castle Keep; here you can see a carving of a white rose, the family symbol of the House of York (Richard’s house)

Again, I can definitely recommend visiting this fascinating place. Next time, I’ll be blogging about something closer to home: the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, right here in Cambridge. I’ll be leaving Cambridge very soon, so it may be my last post about Cambridge in a long time!

 

Birdoswald Fort & Carlisle Cathedral

Another fort we visited is Birdoswald Fort (Banna), the excavations of which are much smaller than those at Vindolanda. Interestingly, it is the only fort along Hadrian’s Wall that has been proven to have been occupied after the collapse of the Roman Empire, possibly by local warriors. It was occupied by Roman soldiers between 112-400AD. Again, as is the case with many Roman forts, first a fort of turf and timber was built before it was erected in stone.

In Roman times the fort was called ‘Banna’, but later it became known as ‘Birdoswald’. The latter name probably comes from the Anglo-Saxons. The Celtic word ‘buarth’ means enclosure, and this was likely combined with the Anglo-Saxon name ‘Oswald’.

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View of Western gateway of Birdoswald Fort

The outer wall of the fort was about 4.5m tall, about as tall as the Wall was. The Military Way, the main road connecting all the forts, passed right through Birdoswald fort, which made this a very busy place.

In the 1840s, this estate was bought by Henry Norman, who was very interested in the fort’s history. He was the first to hire archaeologists to study it. The building below was built by Norman. It looks much older than it is, because it was fashionable at the time to build Medieval-looking houses. Norman named his son Oswald, after the site, but his son auctioned the place off and sold many of the artefacts found to the Tullie Museum in Carlisle.

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Tower and porch at Birdoswald built by Henry Norman

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Henry Norman’s initials above the doorway

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East Gate of Birdoswald Fort

On our last hiking day, we walked to Carlisle, our final stop. Carlisle (then called Luguvalium) was established by the Romans as a settlement to supply the forts along the Wall. It was a strategic location, as Carlisle overlooks a crossing-point of the River Eden. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Carlisle soon became an important military centre, as it is so close to Scotland. This is evidenced by Carlisle Castle, a magnificent fortress overlooking the city, which I will talk about in a next post.

Firstly, we visited Carlisle Cathedral, a beautiful 800 year-old Medieval church.

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Carlisle Cathedral

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Carlisle Cathedral

The church was established in 1122. The Diocese of Carlisle was founded 1133, by King Henry I, in an attempt to stabilise the border region between England and Scotland. Until 1540, a group of Augustinian canons lived here and served the cathedral. During the time of its construction, a lot of Augustinian churches were built in England, as the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, William de Corbeil, was a member of the Augustinian order.

The church was initially built in the Norman style using local red sandstone, this style is still very visible in the south transept, with its round arches and typical Norman decorations (see picture below). In the 13th century part of the church was rebuilt in the Gothic style, which is a much lighter, expansive style. The 14th-century wooden roof of the choir is absolutely stunning and was repainted in 1856.

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South transept of Carlisle Cathedral; typical Norman decorations can be seen over the arches and on the columns (zigzags and scallop shapes)

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14th-century wooden roof of Carlisle Cathedral

Also notable is the Cathedral’s window: an excellent example of the Flowing Decorated Gothic style in which the window is divided into many subparts of many different shapes at the arched top of the window, which branch out. It is the largest and most complex window of its type in England. This style became possible due to big advances in engineering in 14th-century England.

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East Window of Carlisle Cathedral

The cathedral also has a marvellous set of 15th-century black oak misericords. Misericords are little seats, at the bottom of the actual seat. Whenever people have to stand up during mass, the misericord can be leaned on for some support. This is particularly useful for elderly monks, who have difficulty standing for large amounts of time. Misericords were often elaborately decorated, and are easy to miss when visiting a church. I always like to peak under a few seats, and often find some remarkable works of art depicting biblical or mythical scenes.

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Example of a beautifully crafted misericord at Carlisle Cathedral

The Cathedral’s organ was built in 1856 by Henry Willis.In 1875 it was enlarged to include the large 32 foot pipes.

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Organ at Carlisle Cathedral

The Romans brought christianity to England, and by the time the Roman Empire fell, it was firmly rooted here. The Cathedral’s Treasury holds some fascinating examples of this Post-Roman time.

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Anglian cross fragment, 700AD

Next time, I will discuss my trip to Carlisle Castle in detail, because it was AWESOME. Here is a sneak peek:

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