Category Archives: Featured UK

Torridon and Loch Maree

Loch Maree from the Beinn Eighe NNR Trails Car Park

Torridon and Loch Maree

Sandwiched between Loch Torridon and Loch Maree is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Scotland.

The Torridon Hills may not make it onto the list of the world’s highest mountains, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they rise up virtually from sea level to over 3,000ft, and as far as I’m concerned that makes them mountains rather than hills.

Overlooking the tiny village of Torridon are three mountains that form the bulk of the high landscape – Beinn Alligin (3,230ft), Liathach (3,456ft), and Beinn Eighe (3,310ft), all of which are a magnet for climbers. Not being a climber myself, I can only imagine what the views must be like for those that are.

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Glen Coe

Glen Coe

Hemmed in by the Anoach Eagach ridge and Bidean Nam Bian, Glen Coe is a spectacular mountain pass that rises up from the shores of Loch Leven through the ‘Weeping Glen’ where mountain tops are often covered in snow and shrouded in mist, and up to wild Rannoch Moor whose dark brooding skies drop copious amounts of rainfall onto an already waterlogged, desolate plateau: In winter this precipitation can fall as snow, and the bogs and lakes turn the terrain into a cold and icy landscape.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the stark beauty and grandeur of the scenery, and my words and photographs can’t possibly do it justice, but it’s not just the skies that can give a bleak picture, it’s the glen’s history too – most notably, that of the Glencoe Massacre.

Lying under the Pap of Glencoe and near to the shores of Loch Leven is the tiny village of Glencoe, where you can find a monument to the massacre, which was not as straightforward as some would have us believe, but it was an unwarranted massacre nonetheless.

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The Changing Face of the South Wales Valleys Pt 1 – The Demand for Iron and Coal

The Changing Face of the South Wales Valleys Pt 1 - The Demand for Iron and Coal

This post covers a time period from around 1750 to 1983 when the valleys of South Wales changed from an idyllic rural setting to an industrial powerhouse, and then into an industrial wasteland.

Many of the pictures and videos therefore are from archive material gathered from various different sources.

  

I’ve often tried to imagine what the unspoilt South Wales Valleys might have looked like before the days of the Industrial Revolution: I can imagine water trickling down from the hilltops above, forming babbling brooks and streams that cascade over a series of waterfalls into the valley below: On the valley floor I can imagine the crystal-clear water tumbling over rocks onto a riverbed where trout and salmon come to spawn: I can imagine the valley slopes of oak, beech, and ash, providing a rich habitat for a variety of flora and fauna, and I can also imagine sheep grazing the upland fields to provide wool and food for the sparse population that lived here: What I, or anybody else, couldn’t have imagined though, is how dramatically this landscape was going to change forever.

Nature not only provided the raw materials to create a beautiful landscape, it also provided the raw materials for an industrial one too. Iron ore and coal were two of the most important ingredients that fuelled the Industrial Revolution, and along with the great minds of British inventors, the 18th and 19th centuries saw the country becoming one of the most powerful nations in the world. Advanced weapons of war, ships, railways, and industrial machinery were all possible because of iron and coal, and the South Wales Valleys was blessed, if that’s the right word, with an abundance of both.

To begin with, the pace of change was slow. Iron ore was easily extracted from rocks found at the top of the valleys, and the other ingredients needed to make iron were also readily available – limestone, water, and timber. In 1750, Merthyr Tydfil was just a small rural village and Blaenavon never even existed, but by 1850 Merthyr Tydfil was the largest town in Wales with the largest ironworks in the world.

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The Fabulous Farnes

The Fabulous Farnes

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I absolutely adore islands. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t necessarily have to include coconut palms swaying in a warm tropical breeze over a white sandy beach – which is probably just as well really because the Farne Islands are nothing like that.

There are no palm trees here; in fact, there aren’t any trees at all, and if it weren’t for the wardens who monitor the islands, there would be no humans either.

The only bodies you’ll find lying around in the sun (if it’s out) are Atlantic Seals, who are joined by thousands of sea birds who also call these islands home.

Lying just two miles off the Northumberland coast at its nearest point, the Farnes consist of fifteen islands when the tide’s in, and 28 when it’s not. Separated by the mile-wide Staple Sound, the small archipelago consists of two main groups – the Inner Farnes, and the Outer Farnes, with Crumstone lying east of the main group, and Megstone to the west.

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Tynemouth Priory and Castle

Tynemouth Priory and Castle

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the rocky headland overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne would have been a natural place for the Romans to build a fort to guard the main sea route to Hadrian’s Wall, but they didn’t: Instead, they chose to build one on the opposite side of the river at South Shields which they called Arbeia. What their reasons were I’m not sure, but although remains of an Iron Age settlement have been found on Pen Bal Crag, the first written records didn’t appear until the 8th century when monks established a community here on the north side of the river.

The precise date when this first monastery was built isn’t known for sure, but history detectives have pinned it down to around the mid-700s. It seems as though Tynemouth was one of four monasteries in this part of the country at the time, the other three being Wearmouth, Lindisfarne and Jarrow, which was located just across the river.

One of Jarrow’s monks was the Venerable Bede (c673-735) who, in around 731, wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, considered by most experts to be the first ever historical account of the people who lived in the land we now call England. Those in the know will tell you that he never mentioned a monastery at Tynemouth, so it’s assumed that there wasn’t one here during his lifetime. By 792, there was definitely a monastery here because this became King Osred II of Northumbria’s final resting place.

The 9th and 10th centuries saw the Vikings being attracted to the riches of the monasteries of the North-East, and Tynemouth’s monastery was on their list of targets. Around 875 they raided and destroyed the (wooden) buildings, after which it seems, they were content to stay put for a while.

The picture below shows the remains of Jarrow’s monastery which was rebuilt during medieval times. Part of the old Anglo-Saxon monastery still survives in the chancel of the adjacent St. Paul’s church.

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St. Augustine of Canterbury

St. Augustine's Abbey

St. Augustine of Canterbury

I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve never made a confession in my life – well, not in a church at least, and that’s because I’m not a religious person; but I do have to confess that some time ago I converted from a devout atheist to an agnostic, and by that I mean that I can understand why other people are religious even if I’m not.

One of my passions in life is to try and piece together how life on our planet has evolved. Notice that I didn’t say how life began. I’ll leave that to scientists and theologians to fight over: I would rather concentrate on what we know to have happened in the past, rather than what we think may have happened: I have enough trouble finding out where the pieces fit into this jigsaw as it is without delving any further.

The good news though is that I don’t need a degree in theology or quantum physics to be able to admire buildings like Canterbury Cathedral: It’s not just the magnificent architecture that grabs my attention, it’s the history behind it too, and the reason why I’ve chosen to start my blogs on Canterbury with St. Augustine – the ‘Apostle to the English’.

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