Today was my last day in Lithuania, and thanks to a late flight home I was able to fulfil one last wish before leaving.
The Ninth Fort might not be on everyone’s list of places to see, but one of my passions, if that’s the right word, is to try and understand what caused the turmoil in Europe during the 20th century. I have always had an interest in the two World Wars as well as the Cold War: The Ninth Fort is one of those places that is uncomfortable to visit, but one that has left a profound effect on me ever since.
I don’t know if things have changed, but at the time I was here there was very little information about the fort and how to get there – certainly not in English.
Even though it’s located on the outskirts of Kaunas at Sargenai, and quite a long bus ride to get there, it wasn’t as difficult to find as I thought it was going to be.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire, and as relations deteriorated with Germany, it was decided to build Kaunas Fortress to protect its western border.
The Ninth Fort was part of this huge complex that surrounded the city covering an area of 25 square miles.
To learn more about the history of the fort there’s a museum housed in a soviet concrete monstrosity, which if they leave it as it is, could become part of the fort’s history itself in years to come.
The First World War Battlefields of France and Belgium - A short video of Remembrance
Here’s a short video I cobbled together several years ago of some pictures I took around the Somme Battlefields (France) and Ypres (Belgium). It’s just as relevant today as it was back then. I deliberately blurred picture No 2 by the way, in case you were wondering.
I’ve often found travelling to places that I’ve always wanted to go a risky business because my imagination, and the real time experience, doesn’t always match up, but my first visit to the magical Isle of Skye in 1983 was the complete opposite – and one of the reasons why the island exceeded my expectations was the wonderful Trotternish Peninsula.
That first journey to Skye involved a 600-mile journey from the West Country in a rusty old Fiat Mirafiore: There were no cheap flights then, and there was no Skye Bridge either – it was ‘Over the Sea to Skye’ by ferry from the Kyle of Lochalsh. The toll-free bridge has made the island far more accessible now, not just for me, but for everyone else too, so it makes sense to come out of season if possible when there are fewer people around and the only difference in the weather is that the rain is a bit colder.
Of all the history and tales about Greyfriars, there’s probably one that captures the public imagination more than any other – that of Greyfriars Bobby.
During the 1850s, a man by the name of John Gray, walked the streets of Edinburgh as a night watchman for the local police, and with him, went his trusty Skye Terrier Bobby. They trudged the cobbled streets together but in 1858 John died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The story goes that Bobby refused to leave his master’s graveside, no matter what the weather. Several times the gardener of the Kirkyard tried to move Bobby on, but he always returned, and in the end the gardener relented and made up a shelter next to his master’s grave.
Bobby became a bit of a celebrity and was well looked after, but he never left the graveside. For 14 years he kept vigil until he himself died in 1872 aged 16.
In 1981 an unconsecrated grave was made for Bobby near to where John Gray is buried. It has become a shrine for the thousands of visitors who leave flowers, toys and twigs to keep him company.
If you would like to know what he looked like there’s a nice little statue of him on top of a drinking fountain near to the Greyfriars Bobby pub – and if you want to really engross yourself in the story there’s a Walt Disney film based on a children’s book by Eleanor Atkinson.
In 1638 the National Covenant, one of the most significant documents in Scottish history, was signed in Greyfriars Kirk.
This document was the Scottish Presbyterian’s answer to Charles I’s religious policy which had been causing a lot of anger. Copies of the Covenant were distributed throughout Scotland and the Covenanters became the catalyst for the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 and 1640. This ultimately led to the English Civil War in 1642 and the execution of the King in 1649.
After the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, the Covenanters found themselves on the back foot and after the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679 over a thousand of them found themselves in a prison in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Although some of them switched allegiance and others escaped, there were many who died or were executed here. The area where the prison stood is still here and there’s a Martyr’s Memorial in the bottom right hand corner of the Kirkyard.
Anyone who knows the story about Grace Darling will no doubt want to allow a bit of time after visiting Bamburgh Castle to come and see the Grace Darling Museum.
The location is easy to find as it’s at the top of the village directly opposite St. Aidan’s Church.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Grace Darling I’ll attempt to put into words what this remarkable young woman did to achieve the fame that she so richly deserved.
Grace was born in her grandfather’s cottage (a few doors up from the museum) on 24th November 1815, but after a few weeks was taken to Brownsman Island, one of the Outer Farne Islands, where her father was the lighthouse keeper.