Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Steen and Lange Wapper

The Steen and Lange Wapper

The Steen is all that remains of a much bigger castle that was built over the site of a 6th c fortress in Oude Werf, the oldest part of Antwerp.

The castle was built around 1200 and was the first building to be built of stone (steen in Dutch) and was the home of the Burgrave of Antwerp. The complex included a church, courthouse and several other buildings, all of which were protected by a defensive wall surrounding it.

Around 1520 the castle was thoroughly renovated by Charles V and you don’t need to have gone to Specsavers to see where the old and newer stone joins up.

Up unto the 1820s it was used as a prison, but later that century a decision was made to demolish most of the castle and Oude Werf district to prevent the Scheldt silting up. The port was vital to Antwerp, and so the river was widened and new quays built. It must have been a difficult decision to make as it involved knocking down over five hundred historic buildings, and even the Steen was only saved from the chop by a single vote.

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The Grote Markt

The Grote Markt

If someone was to ask me what Belgium is famous for, I would have to include Moules et Frites, beer, and maybe chocolate, but I would also have to add town squares to the list. It may sound a bit odd to lump a town square with food and drink, but they go together like Laurel and Hardy or Starsky and Hutch. In fact, I can’t think of anything better than to sit in a Grand Square with a plate of Moules et Frites and a Belgian beer.

The Grand Place in Brussels is probably the best-known square, but Antwerp has a pretty good one too, but as we’re in Flanders we’d better call it the Grote Markt.

The square is triangular in shape, if that makes any sense, and is dominated by its wonderful 16thc City Hall. In front of it is the Brabo Fountain, a famous Antwerp symbol, which requires further explanation.

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Marienviertel

Marienkirche and the Neptune Fountain

Marienviertel

The area on the north-east side of the Spree around Nikolaiviertel and Spandauer Str was the oldest part of Berlin. I say was because the events of the Second World War virtually wiped the whole area off the face of the map. Very little remained intact, and although the Nikolaiviertel district was put back together in a way that only the communist authorities could have thought looked good, the wasteland that was once known as Marienviertel, has been left more or less as an open concrete space between the river and the TV Tower.

Marienviertel is no longer known by that name, but literally speaking it means St. Mary’s Quarter, which pays homage to Marienkirche or St. Mary’s Church.

The church was the only building to be re-constructed in the quarter after the bombing and is worth visiting if only for its historical connection. The original church was built in the 13th century and now stands isolated on the edge of an unnamed square and adjacent to Karl-Liebknecht Str.

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Shieldaig

Shieldaig

Tucked away on Loch Shieldaig between Loch Torridon and Upper Loch Torridon is the picturesque village of Shieldaig.

Situated just off of the A896 Kinlochewe to Lochcarron road, it could easily be missed, but shouldn’t be.

The village was conceived in the early years of the 19th century when the Admiralty enticed families here with grants for housing and boat building. The idea was to build up a reserve force of able bodied seamen to help the Royal Navy out against Napoleon should the need arise, but fortunately for the men of Shieldaig it didn’t.

The name of Shieldaig seems to originate from Viking days and means Herring Bay, and the silver darlings gave fisher folk a source of income for many years. These days, the boats are more likely to return with prawns and mussels, rather than herring.

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Inverness

Inverness Castle and the River Ness

Inverness - Capital of The Highlands

Inverness is the self-proclaimed, and undisputed capital of The Highlands.

Its strategic position at the end of the Great Glen where the River Ness flows into the Moray Firth, has meant that it’s always been at the historical heart of The Highlands, even if it isn’t geographically.

In 2000 it became Scotland’s 5th city, therefore making it the UK’s most northerly city, and one of the fastest growing. The city’s population in 2012 was 46,870, and 59,910 for the Greater Inverness area, which means that a quarter of the Highland population live in, or around, Inverness.

For somewhere that holds such a key position in the affairs of the Highlands there’s surprisingly little of note to see in the city itself. The river, which flows for just seven miles between Loch Ness and the Moray Firth is crossed by the rather non-descript Ness bridge, but even so, a riverside walk is worth contemplating if you’ve found yourself here with time to spare.

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

To conclude my tour of Edinburgh Castle it seems appropriate somehow to finish with the magnificent Military Tattoo.

As its name suggests, the event is based around the Scottish armed forces, but don’t let that put you off because it’s more to do with kilts and bagpipes than warfare. That said, there is also a solemn side to the proceedings, especially towards the end when recognition of those who have lost their lives in combat are remembered.

For the most part though, it’s an extravaganza of music and dancing, and not just from Scotland either. In fact, it involves more international participants than you might have imagined.

The first Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle took place in 1950 and has grown from strength to strength ever since. The spectacle has become extremely popular and consequently in order to get a good seat, or even any seat, it’s best to book well in advance. This also applies to hotels as well at this time of the year, as it coincides with the Edinburgh Festival.

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Edinburgh Castle Pt 5 – The Military Prison and Prisons of War

Edinburgh Castle Pt 5 - The Military Prison and Prisons of War

I’ve been inside many prisons over the years – as a tourist I hasten to add – and there are another two here in Edinburgh Castle near Dury’s Battery.

Firstly, there’s the small Military Prison and then the larger Prisons of War, which I found to be the more interesting of the two.

The Military Prison was built in 1842 for the incarceration of soldiers from the local garrison who would be held in solitary confinement in one of the dozen cells. Later this was extended to sixteen with separate ablution facilities.

In reality this prison was like a cut-down version of civilian prisons elsewhere.

The Prisons of War are somewhat different in as much as that they housed foreign prisoners from a series of different conflicts during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

These large vaults are situated under the Great Hall and Queen Anne Building and had been used for various purposes from stores, military supplies, barracks and even kitchens and a bakery.

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Edinburgh Castle Pt 4 – The Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle Pt 4 - The Great Hall

After the Royal Palace and the Honours of Scotland, the next must-see part of the castle is the Great Hall which is located next to the Palace in Crown Square.

This grand ceremonial hall was completed in 1512 for James IV and used for entertaining dignitaries with great banquets, but all this fine dining and drinking came to an abrupt end when Oliver Cromwell took over at the helm in 1650 and converted it into barracks.

When the New Barracks were opened in 1799 the hall was converted into a military hospital, and then in 1886 it was restored to something like its former glory.

The one thing that isn’t Victorian though is the hammerbeam roof which has been here from the beginning and one of the most important in Britain. Another original feature is the Laird’s Lug (Lord’s Ear) which is a grilled opening above the right-hand side of the fireplace. It was used for eavesdropping and when Mikhail Gorbachev came to the castle in 1984 his security team insisted that it was bricked up.

Around the perimeter is an impressive collection of weapons and armour on loan from the Royal Armouries.

 

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Edinburgh Castle Pt 3 – The Royal Palace and Scottish Crown Jewels

The Laich Hall

Edinburgh Castle Pt 3 - The Royal Palace and Scottish Crown Jewels

If there’s one part of the castle that shouldn’t be missed it has to be the Royal Palace and the Scottish Crown Jewels.

The Palace was at the heart of the royal castle from the 11th to the early 17th centuries and probably an extension to David’s Tower.

On the ground floor, the most important event to take place at the Palace occurred on 19th June 1566 when Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to a son who became King James VI of Scotland after her abdication thirteen months later.

Mary and her husband Lord Darnley were living at Holyrood when rumours circulated that the father of her unborn child was David Rizzio, her Private Secretary. Shortly afterwards Rizzio was murdered at Holyrood and Darnley was the chief suspect. To make matters worse Mary was catholic and the country was now protestant and so she came to the safe haven of the castle to give birth to the future King James VI and I of England. The birth took place in a small room next to her own chamber.

James became King of England in 1603 and left Edinburgh for London. The Palace became neglected, but for a solitary return in 1617 to celebrate 50 years on the Scottish throne, the place had a facelift. The birth chamber was re-decorated (which still shows the same decorations today) and new rooms were added including the Laich Hall.

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Edinburgh Castle Pt 2 – A General Tour

The View across Edinburgh from the Castle

Edinburgh Castle Pt 2 - A General Tour

On entering the castle you’ll be given a map which follows the easiest route up to the top, which is not only wheelchair and pushchair friendly, but also follows a numerical sequence.

Passing through the Castle Gates will bring you to the Argyle Battery where everyone stops for a view out across he city. It’s a natural thing to do, but there are even better views higher up, so it’s not essential to stop here if there are too many people milling around, and you can always stop here on the way back.

Next to it is the One ‘o clock gun and the Redcoat Café which is a convenient place to have a quick coffee and make some plans on what you want to try and see while you’re here, because as I said in my Introduction you may not have time to see everything.

The One ‘o clock gun is fired everyday at one ‘o clock except Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. The spectacle is similar to what happens at Greenwich, but with a twist.

Over on Calton Hill, at the top of Nelson’s Monument, is a time-ball, which just like its London counterpart, was introduced to help ships (in the Firth of Forth) to calibrate the time with the sun in order to aid navigation. This, of course, was when timekeeping wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today. The ball was dropped at precisely 1 o’clock and as long as the weather was clear enough then everything was ok – but the weather in Edinburgh isn’t always clear enough – and so a gun was used to compliment the visual aid.

Apparently, due to the speed of sound, it takes 10 seconds for the signal to reach Leith, and the ships took this into account when setting their timepieces. You may want to do the same because for the gun to be heard out in the Firth of Forth it means that you may not want to stand right next to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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