Tuesday, 3 January 2012

End of the road in Argyll

This blog has been sitting half written for a couple of months and for some reason I've never posted it. Now, while I look like being stuck at sea for a few extra days, seems a good time for a drive in the country. These pictures were taken one Sunday morning on my monthly trip to Dunoon. In all the time I lived there, I never followed the coast road all the way round to see where it went. It runs along the Clyde a little and then turns up Loch Striven. You may remember in this blog that I found two standing stones at the other end of the loch on an earlier outing.

It's not long before the road narrows quite considerably.

This is the end of the road. To the right is a private estate and though the gate on the left is the loch. I wonder if BT know they've left one of the old phone boxes down here.

I passed the little parish church at Inverchaolain (it's name comes from the gaelic inbhir chaolain which means at the mouth of a narrow stream). Having only a small population near by the church only has two regular services a year - a Summer songs of praise and a Christmas Carol service. Both are well attended and it's peaceful setting means that the church is often in demand for weddings and christenings.

It has two attractive and quite modern stained glass windows

I hadn't expected to find a naval boat lumbering in the sea loch. Had I known there was an Nato refueling point there I would have been less surprised. This is the USNS Kanawha.

I spotted a strange flag on the ship which at first glance looked like a stars and stripes without the stars.

A wee surf tells me that it is an American naval jack and it should have a snake on it. I zoomed in a bit and so it does! Read about it on Wikipedia here.

On the way back I popped down to see the Toward lighthouse which sits on the Clyde.

Just across the road from the lighthouse is this Victorian curiosity. It's the Foghorn house. It's now privately owned but you can still see the foghorn sitting on to of the turret.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Stirling castle

On  a blustery and damp day in October, we drove up to Stirling with the main intention of seeing the castle. We did have a couple of stops on the way, one for tea at a service station and also at Bannockburn just outside Stirling. There is quite some debate as to where exactly the battle took place but in a field set aside to commemorate it sits a large statue of Robert the Bruce on his horse.

Had our navigation been better, we would never have found the museum in Stirling. We saw this recent bust by Andrew Stoddart of Blind Harry there. Blind Harry, or Henry the Minstral, wrote a long poem on the life of William Wallace and there is some pretty good evidence that he was a minstral in the court of James IV, though there seems to some debate as to whether he was blind or not.

I've snaffled this picture from elsewhere on the net as I didn't actually take one myself. As we approached the castle from the town, I don't think we actually had a clear view of it from the outside at any point.

The Queen Anne Garden. Thought to have been turned into a garden in the 1400s, it was converted into a bowling green in the 1620s

A wee look over the wall seems to be a good time to tell the tale of John Damien, who was an alchemist at the court of James IV. When his experiments to make gold weren't going as he wanted he declared that he would fly to france in a chicken suit, in order the retain favour at court. In 1507, he leapt from these walls in the suit - he managed to survive and sustained only a broken leg (not counting injuries to his pride). A court rival William Dunbar seemed all to happy with his lack of success and wrote these words.

He Schewre his feddreme that was shene,
And slippit out of it full clene
And in a myre up to the ene
Among the glar did glyd

Or, to paraphrase, he slipped out of his shiney feathery coat and landed in a midden up to his eyes.

It is thought that James V may have kept a lion in this courtyard. Lions were often diplomatic gifts in those days. His father James IV had 3.

A great deal of reseach and effort has gone into restoring the Palace of James V in the castle to  what it would have been like in around 1545. I was most impressed, it wasn't at all what I would have expected of the time.

The tapestries are being woven over a number of years in another building in the castle (which we visited - taking pictures of the tapestry makers wasn't allowed). Tapestry making is time consuming and very expensive as it would have been 500 years ago. They were more for display of wealth and status rather than hanging in front of windows to keep out the drafts.

One of the staff looking quite at home - I can tell you, he was very knowledgable on the history of the castle.

The ceiling of the Kings Presence Chamber, below was decorated with an estimated 56 carved, oak roundels, known as the Stirling Heads, featuring with all sorts of things; royalty, members of the court including the jester, worthy characters from history and roman emperors. In 1777 following a collapse the ceiling was taken down. Between 34 and 38 of the roundels still exist, depending on who you read and they may have come from more than one ceiling in the castle. Most are excellently displayed elsewhere in the castle but there are 3 in the museum in Edinburgh and a couple on display elsewhere in Stirling. Replicas have been crafted and painted (as they would have been back in the 16th century) and remounted on the ceiling. The effect is quite stunning.

Here are a few of the new roundels and their originals - long since lost their paint though some traces have been found on them.

Hercules and the lion.

This little chap is a Putti. Go on, read about them yourself here though historic Scotland describes them as Renaissance imps (there are two on the ceiling.)

This one has a worrying likeness to a certain 20th century British prime minister.

If there's one advantage of rain it's rainbows.

Just outside the town, a view of the Wallace monument from the ramparts.

Painted yellow, the great hall of the castle stands out from miles away. To the modern eye it looks rather strange, jarring even, but it is pretty much how it would have looked when it was built in 1503. It is the largest medieval banqueting hall built in Scotland. In 1594 at the Baptism feast of James VI 's first son , Prince Henry, the fish course was brought in on a ship 5 meters long and 12 meters high which fired a salvo from 36 brass guns on board.

After our trip to the castle we popped into town for a cuppa and a bite to eat where we saw this statue of William Wallace (does he look like he would have half his face painted blue???) It seems appropriate to bookend this blog with the two heroes of Scottish Independence after visiting the castle where the history of Scotland pivoted in 1314.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Filling the gaps in 2011

Well here at the start of 2012 it seems like a good time to be looking back at the last year and, jings!, what a busy one it's been (again). Parts of the year have been well documented here, my trips to Amsterdam and The Hague and later in the year to Krakow. This years music seems amply covered and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park gets a couple of mentions. But on the whole when I look at this years files of photos (there are 10771 pictures in total), I'm quite amazed by what there is still to mention. So hopefully in the next few days I'll get a chance to post a few of the year's missing sights.

When I got the car back in Spring, one of the first things I did was to organise a little tour down south to visit friends that I hadn't seen for a long time. I went punting on the Cam if you remember, but I didn't catch a bus to Cambridge to make do with a half hour tour up and down the river. For a great many of these pictures, I'm not terribly sure of the exact building you can see but I hope they give an idea of some of the wonderfully ornate architecture of the town.

Many of the colleges have these impressive gates.

When I was there it was exam  time and most of the colleges were closed to visitors. I did manage to snaffle this picture of the courtyard of one of them.

The cafe in the Michaelhouse centre gets top marks for multitasking - in front of the glass screen they seemed to have a service going on and a toddler group of some description and behind the screen they had a great wee cafe going.

The glass screen in the middle of the church produced a strange effect of reflecting the stained glass from one end of the church while being able to see the stained glass at the other through it.

Public toilets don't often make appearances on this blog but when they have ancient painted pillars in them, they're certainly worth a look.

This clock tower was spotted through a locked gate.

Zooming in a bit you can see that the face is made of mosaic.

An ornate plaster ceiling in Little St Mary's

Much of my afternoon was spent in the Fitzwilliam museum and art gallery - I zoomed round with shameful haste and could easily have spent an entire day, probably more, in there. This dome is somewhere up above you as you enter.

I would liked to have taken lots of pictures in the Fitzwilliam but it wasn't allowed. That's not to say I didn't manage a few. Most sculptures by Jacob Epstein I've seen have been a bit creepy, to be perfectly  honest, you really wouldn't want to wake up to one, but his bust of Einstein has a distinctly kindly look about it.

This statue is outside the Scott Polar Research Institutue. Considering this, he's a touch under equipped.

Here's Captain Scott himself

Of course, when travelling around the country, refueling stops are essential.

When I was talking about modern stained glass in Chester cathedral here, I mentioned that I would be coming back to the subject of St Oswald again and until now, I haven't. I shall rectify that now. Here in an older window in Chester cathedral is St Cuthbert pictured with an otter. This is because, an old story tells us, that St Cuthbert went into the sea to pray and two otters came to warm his feet.

St Oswald came to a rather sticky end at the Battle of Maserfield and he ended up in bits. His head is buried in the same box as St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral. His arms ended up in Bamburgh Abbey but the right one  was stolen by monks from Peterborough Abbey (now a cathedral). Four other places in Europe also claim to have his head. On the coat of arms of Kirkcudbright (most often claimed to mean the church of Cuthbert and his body spent a short wile in the town) St Cuthbert can be seen on a boat holding the head of St Oswald, as in this lamp which is just a stones throw from my house.

Back in Chester Cathedral,  in the stained glass around the cloisters, is this delightful little bee.

In the middle of the cloisters is this statue called The Water of Life by Stephen Broadbent.

A very Happy new year to you all