The Wonders of Brittany Part 2

Though it is situated in the north west corner of France, Brittany offers a culture, unique unto itself. It also benefits from being surrounded by sea on three sides offering residents, and visitors alike, a mild temperate climate and a glorious coastline. For me, many of its wonders lie embedded within its unique culture, stunning landscape and layered history.

You might be surprised to learn that Brittany has a strong historical link to Scotland through the Stewart/Stuart kings.

During the reign of Henry 1 of England, there were ongoing wars between England and France. A request had been made for Henry and his army to come to the aid of the Breton Dukes to put down an uprising of their enemies. When Henry later returned to England, he recruited some of the loyal Breton nobles to act as mercenaries in return for generous land grants.

It was from a noble Breton family, primarily that of the Seneschal of Dol from NE Brittany, and his descendants, who went on to became hereditary Stewards of the Scottish kings. A later descendant founded Paisley Abbey in Scotland and the family’s name gradually morphed into Stewart. These Stewarts developed a considerable power base associated with their role in supporting Scottish royalty, and their tendency to marry strategically into the Scottish nobility consolidated their high status role.

In the twelfth century, a strategic marriage was brokered for a royal princess, sister of two Scottish kings, Malcolm (iv) and William 1; Princess Margaret became the wife of Conan (iv), Duke of Brittany. Subsequently, her second husband Humphrey de Bohun became a Constable of England, and progenitor of the ‘de Bohun’ family, whose members were active during the Wars of Independence between England and Scotland.

Here our story shifts to Duchess Margaret’s daughter, Constance, who played a key role in the intrafamilial tensions between Henry 11and his wife Eleanor of Acquitaine, and their sons. Henry arranged for Constance’s marriage to his fourth son, Geoffrey. When the latter was trampled to death in a tourney accident, Constance became sole ruler of Brittany. She was the mother of Arthur, named as heir to Henry’s throne. At the age of 16, Arthur disappeared in captivity. Though his fate was unknown, many believed King Richard, of Lionheart fame, had facilitated his murder – especially when Arthur’s sister, Eleanor, was similarly imprisoned to prevent her succession. Sometime later in 1241 she died during her imprisonment in England.

Later in Scotland, in the 14th century, King Robert the Bruce forged an even stronger alliance with the Stewart family, when a notable son, Sir Walter, married the king’s daughter, Princess Marjorie Bruce.

Their descendants went onto to found the Stuart dynasty which ruled Britain for many centuries.

The Breton links with Scotland were consolidated by other marital alliances when the daughters of the Scottish royal house were married to Breton Dukes. One such daughter was Isabella Stewart (born 1426) – the second daughter of King James 1 of Scotland and Joan Beaufort – who was married to Duke Francois 1, the good-hearted, of Brittany.

After her husband’s death, Isabella remained in Brittany despite her father’s attempts to marry her off to another royal suitor.  Royal women were frequently used as pawns to shore up alliances and wealthy connections between countries. Isabella died in Vannes, an important seat of political power, in 1494.

Vannes is an imposing walled city in southern Brittany. Its turreted walls, formal gardens and medieval buildings offer the visitor intriguing nooks and crannies to explore. With its range of shops, cafes and restaurants and delicious food, there is plenty to entice the visitor. And when you’ve exhausted these delights, not far away lie the extrordinary fields of standing stones at Carnac.

So many wonders! Perhaps I’ll see you there?

The Wonders Of Brittany (Part One)

In north western France, on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by sea, lies Brittany – a region with a most curious past. One of the wonders for me is Brittany’s little-known link to Scotland. But first, here’s a snapshot of the area’s history…

During the fifth and sixth centuries, Celtic settlers emigrated from Britain across the Channel, presumably to escape invaders from northern Europe. The settlers’ language was similar to that spoken in Wales and Cornwall.

By the ninth century, their culture was flourishing and intermarriage occurred between the royal houses of Brittany, England and Scotland. But we’ll explore more of this in a later blog.

Amidst a landscape of misty moors, lush forest and a rugged coastline, legends abound, offering a history rich with the folk lore of spirits and goblins.

Stemming from a Celtic Druidic heritage, the central forests hold a repository of medieval Arthurian tales. It was believed the ancient King Arthur of Britain ruled over the territories of Grande Bretagne (the England of today) and Petit Bretagne (Little Britain – todays’ Brittany). Deep within the Forest of Broceliande, Arthur and his knights experienced heroic adventures and early French bards spread their fame. What was Arthur’s fate? He is believed to be trapped in a cave at a megalithic site called Merlin’s tomb.

Going back even further, the standing stones of Carnac, numbering in their thousands, are an intriguing reminder of this unique period in time, especially since they are believed to predate the pyramids of Egypt

Though the site of these stones is now fenced from the public, don’t be put off by that. To view the extraordinary quantity of stones and their unique placement across three fields is a breathtaking experience which makes you wonder why, and how, this mysterious alignment came about. Located on the south coast of Brittany, the nearby rugged bays and inlets were rich with food, and industries such as fishing and oyster farming would have supported a large community and still flourish today. Though mysterious to our modern view, Carnac repesents a hugely spiritual dimension of life which is beyond our comprehension but worthy of our investigation.

For those seeking more information, the Museum of Pre-History is worth visiting for its displays of found objects.

This part of Brittany was once part of the Roman Empire until the centurions departed for Rome to stave off the pagan hordes whose arrival wrought the decline of powerful empire.

Over the centuries, many thousands of visitors have passed this way – Celtic adventurers, Roman soldiers, Scottish, French and English royalty, WW2 Nazi Germany invaders, and their armies. Many have sought to control this beautiful region with its riches but none have succeeded in wiping out Brittany’s unique culture.

One wonders what those visitors, in times of war and peace, made of the standing stones. Even today, for lovers of history, they continue to amaze and delight.

And the surrounding towns and villages offer todays’ visitors, medieval buildings aplenty to explore as well as the relaxing pleasures of the seaside with a multitude of cafes and restaurants serving up delectable seafood.

Till next time…

It’s been a while!

Covid-19 hit us in 2020, and here we are a year or so later still dealing with it. But to survive, we need to adapt, to adjust, to thrive. So, it’s time to get off the couch and start the cogs of the mind jogging over again; the break, such as it was, is over. It’s time to get back to work….

My first blog in 2021 is about one of my favourite places in Scotland, a small town roughly about 25 miles east of Edinburgh on the coast where the Firth of Forth greets the North Sea. North Berwick is a picturesque village, popular with golfers and sightseers and a place I’ve been fortunate to visit quite a few times. It’s easy to get there for a day trip – either by car or you can take the train from Edinburgh.

It is known as a centre of excellence for bird watching. At the Seabird Centre, you can view the inhabitants of a huge gannetry on the volcanic plug, Bass Rock. Behind the North Berwick community sits another impressive volcanic plug, a conical hill called North Berwick Law. A rich midden was found in the vicinity so I imagine the early hunter gathers who lived here harvested the resources of land and sea many thousands of years ago.

Fast forward to medieval times, and it is here that you find some of the Scottish nobility – families like the MacDuffs, the Lauders and the Stewarts held sway here at the early motte and bailey, and later castle, strategically built overlooking the sea. The village was well known for its ferry which served the many pilgrims enroute from the abbeys of Lindisfarne in Northumbria to St Andrews in Fife, site of the great cathedral and Scotttish ecclesiastical centre. The harbour was key to this movement. Now it is happily filled with pleasure craft.

My goodness it’s a pretty town and well worth visiting with its cafes and galleries and coastal walks. I love the history though for its links with Robert The Bruce and the lead up to the Battle of Bannockburn. Prior to this the castle was in the hands of the English – the earl of Pembroke and his army. But when Edward 11 escaped after the rout of his forces he rode post haste to Dunbar – the next harbour on, where he could be rescued by boat and transported to South Berwick, now known as Berwick upon Tweed. Hot on his heels rode Sir James Douglas. Somehow, Edward was able to escape. Pembroke and his forces departed North Berwick and rode to Dunbar in support.

Over the next few hundred years the castle changed ownership a number of times until it either fell into disuse or was slighted. The Lauder family moved its power to Bass Rock when a castle was built there. Later, this was used as a prison for political prisoners, and then a quarry. Now it is the site of lighthouse. Visitors can take a boat trip over there to see it up close,

Another hugely interesting aspect of North Berwick’s history relates to the famous Witches’ Trials. During the reign of King James VI (son of Mary Queen of Scots), the king travelled to Denmark in 1589 by ship to collect his bride, Anne of Denmark. A severe storm caused him to turn back. With such an inbuilt hatred and obsession with witches, he blamed them for the storm. Prior to this he had written a book, exploring areas of witchcraft and demonic magic. Hundreds of people, mainly women were convicted and tortured to extract confessions; some were merely guilty of possessing red hair, birthmarks or even for being left handed; many of whom were subsequently executed by strangulation and being burnt at the stake. These executions often took place near the site of the medieval St Andrews Old Kirk.

But for the sightseer, its not all doom and gloom. There are lots of areas to explore with the ancient streetscapes and lovely old buildings. Families can have a relaxed, happy time entertaining their children and pets on the sandy beaches where dog walkers are welcomed, or learning something new about the local birdlife at the Seabird Centre. Festivals also take place here, often linked to broader Scottish festivals, allowing a rich cultural life for locals and visitors alike.

North Berwick is known for having a climate with more sun and less rain than the rest of Scotland, so you should certainly be able to enjoy a lovely day out in the summer, capped off by a glass of wine and a delicious fish supper in one of the atmospheric cafes.

I look forward to Covid travel restrictions being lessened, particularly here in Australia, enough at least to allow international travel; as well, with the hope offered by the vaccinations… then maybe – just maybe – we might be able to revisit our favourite places in beautiful Scotland. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

A Magical Time of Year

Christmas 2019 is now just a fond memory. But if, like me, you like shiny things then you are in for a treat. During a recent trip to Europe, we travelled by train from Frankfurt in Germany, to Salzburg and Vienna in Austria, and lastly to Budapest in Hungary…. to see the Christmas markets. These are bucket-list destinations and easily accessible, given how close the cities are to each other. There are so many markets available… some cities have twenty or more scattered around various plazas. We managed to take in just a few but some cover many acres, Surprisingly, each one was different. Be prepared to have all your senses working full time with the sights, sounds, aromas and tastes.

On this trip, we were in search, specifically, of snow and struck it lucky in Salzburg. Coming from years of excessive heat and drought in Australia, the sight of a very cute miniature snowman in a park; crisp, white snow settling on Christmas market stalls; and snow-dusted mountains seen in the distance from Salzburg castle, added so much to our experience.

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I had thought the crowds might be too great but they were manageable especially if you went late afternoon before revellers had hit the glühwein stalls and in time for an early dinner of tantalising street food. In winter time, it gets dark early. Usually by about 4pm, the twinkling lights beckon.IMG_0202 (2)

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You might be wondering how this topic fits into a medieval theme but these markets, and others like them, have an historical pedigree: some, going back to 1294 as in the case of Vienna. Medieval life was often dominated by death, disease, war and famine. Frequently, life was hard and short. People sought solace and structure in religion and aspects of the religious calendar were celebrated with gusto.

It is fascinating that countries in modern times are now in the throes of the Corona Virus and the threat of disease, as in medieval times, reminds us lives can be brutally cut short and lifestyles which we accept as a given may also change beyond recognition. Another serious threat has been terrorism which has seen events, where vulnerable crowds gather, cancelled.  I wonder how the years ahead will pan out and how lovely family festivals such as these will be affected. I am certain though, despite overt commercialism and these significant threats, the Christmas message of peace, love and hope will continue to resonate.

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Now the festivals are a place where artisans sell their wares and food sellers work extra hard to summon up huge supplies of grilled sausages and meats, stews, traditional sweet treats such as stollen and gingerbread, and if you fancy rooster testicles (??) then you are in for a treat!

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We found the markets to be uplifting and fun, also great places to buy unique Christmas gifts.

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In the towns, streets are lit up and many stores remain open to entice meandering family groups. Everywhere, people are laughing and sharing, casually strolling along taking in the lights above and around them. Nearby in the commercial streets of Budapest, we saw these enterprising Christmas decorations reflecting local wares.

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One of my favourite things is to visit covered market halls and the one in Budapest was exceptional. Christmas decorations light up the cavernous spaces above as you explore the food stalls below. Stall holders entice you try their local produce and a favourite memory was trying freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, just the thing to fight off winter sniffles.

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This experience offered so many distinct memories to savour: the unique quality of these regional Christmas markets and the opportunity to experience a joyous European wonderland, and yes, lots of shiny things!

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Festival Time in Edinburgh

It’s a real treat to wander the streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival in August. Normally I would prefer a quieter time but the crowds and the casual street performances electrify the medieval atmosphere.  There’s so much to see and if you have the time to check out the well organised, full programme of comedy shows; you certainly won’t be disappointed.

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I was fascinated by these amazing actors, who appeared to be suspended  in mid air.

But the playful nature of these characters changes as you wander up Castle Hill. On your right, you will find a poignant memorial to the Scottish witches who were murdered on this site. Now it is a bustling place during the day, and at night, the Tattoo works its magic on the crowded stands of temporary seating. For many people, the spectacular military and musical display of the Tattoo holds a ‘bucket list’ significance.

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After being singled out for their healing or heretical differences, hundreds of generally innocent women, and men, were condemned to horrific deaths by strangulation, burning and drowning down in front of the castle – during a period when fear and persecution reigned supreme. This happened in many parts of the world but the anti-witch fervour seemed to take root, fueled no doubt by the written works of King James VI of Scotland who believed himself a victim of witchcraft.

So beneath all the light-hearted frivolity of the festival,  it pays to remember the dark past of this glorious city. For it is here, right before the great castle, you are literally walking  in the footsteps of the dead… and, I expect, the very angry dead!

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Newbattle Abbey

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DSC01344Not far from Edinburgh, there are ghouls and ghosties galore at an ancient Cistercian monastery. Now the ruins have been incorporated into an educational college, but there are reports of a Grey Lady and spectral monks wandering the grounds – 125 acres of parkland with swathes of ancient forest, the remains of a prehistoric settlement and a bridge thought to be of Roman origin.

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In 2000, sewer workers discovered 135 medieval skeletons. Once the archaeologists had left, these were reburied. Perhaps one of those long-departed souls was the Grey Lady – thought to be the spirit of a young girl who was killed when she fell in love with one of the monks.

The Abbey had a long association with the kings and noble families of Scotland. King David 1st established the abbey, having brought Cistercian monks from France as part of his attempt to improve life with religious enrichment, economic development, hostelries to protect the traveller and infirmaries for the sick and dying. The royal association did not end with visits from Alexander 2nd and his Queen Consort, Marie de Coucy, who was subsequently buried there, and in 1296, King Edward 1st, Longshanks, visited as well.

Despite success at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert the Bruce found the anticipated rewards and recognition of Scottish independence not forthcoming. There were still many opponents to his crown, and at a wider level, neither the Pope nor King Edward 2nd recognized him as king. In fact, the Holy Father had called for a truce between Scotland and England, hoping they would unite and support another crusade to the Holy Land, providing necessary funds and manpower. To offset these developments, Robert summoned a council of nobles to Newbattle Abbey. And it was here three letters were drafted – from the king, the church and the nobles respectively, to be sent to the Pope in Avignon. One of these documents, known famously as the Declaration of Arbroath, was subsequently formalized by Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, and signed by a large number of barons: it upheld the legal and philosophical case for Scottish independence with an explanation of Scotland’s foundation and ancient past.

Another royal link came about through Robert the Bruce’s son – King David 2nd and Catherine Mortimer, his mistress who died a violent death, when an assassin stabbed her, probably at the behest of some dissatisfied nobles in the royal court. She is said to have been buried upright in one of the abbey’s walls.

Sometime during the 14th century, the abbey was attacked by English forces and burnt. It took some forty years to repair the damage.

Around 1520, the Abbey was de-established; and when one of the lay abbots, Mark Kerr, rejected Catholicism and became a Protestant, the abbey then passed into private hands, remaining with the Kerr family, the Earls of Lothian, for many generations.

An interesting story refers to another of the Kerr family: the second earl of Lothian, Robert Kerr, who was said to have consulted witches and magicians.  Apparently overcome by his accrual of great debts, he barred himself in one of the chambers, and stabbed himself several times, before slitting his own throat. This unhappy chap, along with some of the famous Douglas family, were buried in the grounds.

Eventually the abbey ruins were incorporated into the Kerr family home. In the 1930s, it was gifted to the nation – an educational training facility for the disadvantaged – and was also registered as a Scheduled Monument.

Today, the house holds treasured items such as the baptismal font of Mary Queen of Scots and the grand entrance retains one of Scotland’s only water-powered organs but it is the original abbey which ignites my imagination.

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For the monks of Newbattle were granted the right to mine coal nearby, which possibly makes them the first formal coal miners in Scotland. They also had numerous granges where sheep were reared, and a lucrative income obtained from local saltpans. Road building and the development of ports to export wool, hides, timber and salt would have fallen within their mandate.

The abbey offered a guest complex for visitors, lodging for the abbot, and a substantial infirmary with a medicinal and kitchen garden. Around the monastery, a small village would have housed lay personnel, as well as all the shepherds, masons, wrights and artisan builders who contributed to the upkeep of the abbey.

Because it was used for royal councils, there would be an expectation of finery, ample good food and wine, with appropriate security. In its heyday, Newbattle Abbey was a wealthy and influential institution.

Today, Newbattle Abbey remains a purposeful environment offering facilities for educational purposes such as conferences as well as community events.

Some years back, we attended a concert there by The Battlefield Band. This raging Celtic group of fiddlers and bagpipers certainly would have woken any slumbering ghost and ghoulies. Down in the shadowy vaulted under croft during the interval, volunteers served warming soup from tureens.

Even now, I recall that strange tingling sense that we were not alone.

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One of My Favourite Inns

Today we’re in the pretty village of South Queensferry which has ancient royal connections. Back in the eleventh century, it provided a ferry service at the request of Queen Margaret Canmore to transport the faithful to her chapel at Dunfermline. Many of the early medieval Scottish kings and their royal parties would have made the crossing from this point in all weathers.

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Nestling beneath a famous Scottish landmark – the Forth Railway bridge, Hawes Inn has played its part assisting the travelling public since its inception as a coaching inn. In 1886, one of its renowned guests, Robert Louis Stevenson, is reported to have begun writing his novel, “Kidnapped”, and the inn features in the story’s plot.

Sir Walter Scott also found inspiration and possibly libation, there.

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Nowadays, visitors can still enjoy the views across the Forth whilst partaking of the traditional fare. Relaxing beside the fire in the dining room, we have enjoyed the roasts and sumptuous fish pies on offer here.

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As a small waterside village, South Queensferry has many features notwithstanding its accessibility to Edinburgh and various points north, as well as the stone buildings lining its main thoroughfare. These reflect its ancient heritage as well as its unique history.

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Archaeologists discovered the remains of a previous dwelling, lived in some 10,000 years ago. From the food samples, they believed it was only used on a temporary basis so perhaps a Mesolithic holiday home to fit in with changing seasons.

On the High St, one building was owned by a sea captain. After he was lost at sea, his maid was accused of paying a beggar woman to cast a spell leading to his ultimate demise.  Both women were subsequently burned as witches.DSC02023

In more current times, ferries take tourists out, past the seals, to Inchcolm Island with its ghostly ruined monastery. Some of these visitors might also come for the festivals and to witness the strange annual procession of the Burry Man. With perhaps a nod to Pagan times, his outfit, complete with eyeholes, consists of the hooked fruits of the burdock plant attached to completely cover his bodily undergarments. It’s such a treat to see his mysterious figure, complete with  a sash and a cute floral hat. On our last visit, his two attendants led him along the High St, offering him, from time to time, whisky supped through a straw. Excited children followed collecting money for a local charity.

But some of the sadder residents lie in the local cemetery where a large number of Royal Navy graves lie, holding the casualties from the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

Perhaps if you were to visit South Queensferry on New Year’s Day, you might be surprised to see folks tentatively jumping into the freezing Forth as part of the ‘Loony Dook’. Originally designed as a hangover cure, it has become a great favourite with tourists and residents alike and is another way to raise much-needed money for charity.

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I’m sure you’ll agree this tiny village offers so much. With the characterful Hawes Inn, its cafes and old pubs set beside the gently lapping waters of the Forth and the imposing bulk of the railway bridge, it would make a great base for your next visit to Scotland.

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Here’s a Question…

What’s older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Ireland?

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Set in the Boyne Valley in County Meath – close to the site of an important medieval battle, the formidable stone passage tomb of Newgrange presents a mystery.

Built by ancient Stone Age farmers, this monument has impressive dimensions. Its  circular mound is ringed by ninety seven kerbstones, engraved with Neolithic art.

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Within its centre, an internal passage leads into a stone chamber with three alcoves.

And it is at its core, that its meaning becomes clear…

For on the longest night of the year – the Winter Solstice to be precise, the morning sun illuminates this inner chamber through a portal cut into the stone cavern.

Was it an ancient temple – a repository of ceremonial, astrological or religious significance?

How was it constructed? The amount of time and labour involved suggests that the stone age people who built it, and the thirty five surrounding smaller mounds, must have lived and worked in a complex, well organized society where specialized groups were responsible for specific tasks…

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All these stones brought to this site. What a phenominal effort! And not to be outdone, the Victorians built even more structures close by.

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To visit Newgrange is a breath-taking experience for any traveller. But for those who enter the dark chamber on the morning of the Winter Solstice, it must be a spiritual, life-enhancing event.

No doubt, many people would relish such an experience, and hundreds do arrive on the day just to stand in awe outside the imposing bulk but if you wish to participate in the inner chamber, there is a free annual lottery. From the many thousands who enter, only sixty are picked.

All of this would be wonderful, providing the weather gods cooperate and the sun shines.

If you are lucky enough to be visiting Ireland, a trip to Newgrange requires some planning for there is no direct public access. You can only attend via a two hour guided tour which begins at the Visitor Centre, and involves a walk over a nearby stream and a shuttle bus to the tomb.

But on our recent trip, we jagged a last minute booking for a tour, which took us into the inner chamber to recreate the Winter Solstice experience. You stand shoulder to shoulder in the dark for some minutes with a group of strangers, an eerie experience in itself, then a light from the portal streams into the cavern… a spark of the supernatural, a sense of rebirth within an ancient womb.

There’s a collective gasp, hands reach for the damp solidity and certainty of the cold stones behind us. Breath expelled, we tramp out through the narrow passage, ducking under the low lintel, to return to the murk of an Irish day and our lives, which seem a little ordinary by comparison

For me, it was a highlight…. a fanciful forging of a link back to the ancient ones – a gentle touch, perhaps even a comforting hand on the shoulder – a visceral shrinking of time… a memory which will not be forgotten.

And afterwards…well there’s the Visitor Centre with its delicious Irish specialties.

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What a Corker!

County Cork in Ireland holds many treasures.

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At Ardmore on the coast, you can walk in the footsteps of medieval monks. A cylindrical stone tower – a much-needed sanctuary – stands guard over the site of an old monastery.

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The Viking raiders are long gone, but when the wind moans through the ruins of the old cathedral, perhaps St Declan himself still wanders amongst the graves.

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In need of some nourishment? Then you’re in luck, for nearby is the home of one of Ireland’s most celebrated cooks.

356A pioneer of the Slow Food movement, Darina Allen is the creative force behind  the Ballymaloe Cookery School which is based on the foundation of a sustainable food programme. You’ll love discovering the organic farm and gardens which stretch across forty hectares.

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The kitchen potager, and herb and fruit gardens – my favourites – were inspired by the magnificent Villandry garden in the Loire valley.

 

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And there are plenty of fresh eggs on hand and a happy home for those hard working chooks…

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The gardens provide the freshest produce for the cooking programmes, whilst the Celtic maze and pleasure garden offer tranquil spaces to explore.

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There’s a folly too…a tiny gothic house tucked away near the herbaceous borders, decorated with the shells from the mussels and scallops consumed in the kitchens on site. It seems nothing is wasted in this productive wonderland.

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Maybe, like me, you won’t have time to participate in one of the daily cooking classes but there’s always time for coffee and a delicious slice of lemon tart from the café.

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Given its strong principles, you might be fooled into thinking Ballmaloe is a serious place  – their 12 week cookery course is of course – but I can asssue you this lovely part of Ireland is seriously quirky and a great boon for all the senses.

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I’d love to go back one day… maybe I’ll see you there?

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A Walk Through Time

If you have a spare day in London, a walk through the British Museum will not disappoint.

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I always make a bee line for the medieval and Iron Age sections where ancient shields that have lain at the bottom of the Thames and other rivers, now see  the light of day.  Some were purely for decorative or ceremonial purposes – offerings to Gods perhaps – for they were not strong enough to survive the ravages of battle.

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The Iron Age forts’ early thatched roundhouses look quite sound and sturdy – able to hold off the damp english weather – but not invading armies.

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You can imagine traders burying their treasure – gold hoards, decorative arm and neck torcs and the like, in the event of an impending attack.

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House hold items like this decorated bronze mirror (50BC -200AD) might have been left behind  by a fleeing family for it was found in an isolated pit by a the side of a Roman villa.

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This gleaming gold horned helmet from 150 to 50 BC languished beneath Waterloo Bridge and is the only Iron Age helmet found in Europe.  The Victorians imagined the Vikings wore them and the idea took hold – especially in Wagnerian opera, but most  historians would disute their use except for ceremonial purposes.

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When Anglo-Saxon England split its land. with the Vikings taking Daneland in East Anglia,  many items were imported from Scandinavia so tortoise shell brooches and arm and finger rings became common finds. Imagine digging in a field or weeding your vegie patch to unearth something like this!

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I particularly like this relinquary head thought to represent St Eustace, all the way from a Cathedral in Basel in Switzerland. Love the jewelled headband!

And there’s more… inside its wooden core were found the relics of saintly bones.

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Engraved pillars once told tales of the life and times of the people.

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Moving into the early medieval period, this glorious french wine jug with its decorative bird motif is a favourite of mine. I wonder who used it? How on earth did it survive all these centuries? Wouldn’t last too long in my house!

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And this gorgeous sculpture… can you guess what it is or what it was used for?IMG_0603

When the English kings inherited the wealth of Aquitaine, it’s no wonder they fought so hard to hold onto the wine-rich lands. In1308, 5 million gallons were imported to England in a single year. And here we are still enjoying a similar tipple today.

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I’ve always loved medieval tiles and this one’s a beauty. Imagine all the people who have walked upon it…perhaps even St Bernard!IMG_0597

These items are just a tiny snippet of what you might find. So I’m sure you’ll agree the British Museum is the perfect place to lose yourself midst the treasures of the past…

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