Dundee & Scone

Heading north from Edinburgh I drove to Dundee where there is a brand new (January 2019) branch of the V&A (Victoria & Albert) … unfortunately it was much overhyped. A biggish modern building but it seemed to be mostly empty space. One free exhibit on the second floor about Scottish design that would have fit into one of the medium sized rooms of the real V&A back in London was OK, but rather underwhelming.

There was also a paid for exhibit on Video Games … maybe that took up the remaining 50% of the space, but I suspect not (no, I wasn’t that interested and didn’t fork out the money).

On to Perth (well, Scone Castle, rather) and the Stone of Scone – the little mausoleum Chapel where the original was held before the damned Sassenachs stole it … and where many Scottish Kings were crowned, married or buried. Tiny little place in the grounds of Scone Castle

This is a early 18th century (with later additions) Gothic style baronial mansion rather than a castle, though it has castle-like features (which is what this gothic style is all about anyway) and looks the part. The original Lord, when what was the first stage was finished, decided that the village of Scone (about 100 meters down the road, on his land) was too close, or the villages were not tugging their forelocks sufficiently or sufficiently frequently, so he had a new village built several miles down the road and then had the old one levelled … except for the Mercat (Market) Cross and the Old Graveyard.

Nice work if you can get it, being Lord of the Manor, hey?!?!

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Edinburgh – Monday and Tuesday

I headed north from Carlisle to Edinburgh and arrived early enough to leave my car at a Park & Ride and take the Bus into town, where I spent a leisurely afternoon strolling down the Royal Mile and doing a tour (self guided audio) of Holyrood House/Palace including the room where the bloodstains from the murder of Mary I’s Italian secretary took place (her husband, Lord Darnley, was a real piece of work – a drunken bastard who got into his head that the secretary was a threat somehow, so he and a whole bunch of drunken friends burst into Mary’s private chambers and stabbed him to death with dozens of blows).

Holyrood was originally a Monastery but was much more comfortable than the nominal Royal Palace at the top of the volcanic outcrop incorporated in Edinburgh Castle and so always had rooms (comfortable ones, of course) for Royal guests … and gradually developed into a very nice (and quite comfortable, for the period) Palace … and has been the Royal’s Official Residence in Scotland since, I think, Vickie’s day.

The next day I headed back and headed up the Royal Mile – visiting the National Museum of Scotland which is quite large, perhaps not as large as the British Museum, but pretty darn close. Even confining myself mainly to the North Wing and its examination of Scottish History since the earliest times meant I could only do a survey.

Lots of things. For example, a complete Newcomen Steam engine of the same type as the one in the Powerhouse (and they actually mentioned that!), weapons from the medieval era, relics from Robert the Bruce and William Wallace’s struggle against the bloody Sassenachs, even relics of the Witch hunting craze (somehow RCs were behind it all, in an attempt to undermine the Kirk … these days they’d blame it on the ALP!)

Then off to Edinburgh Castle which was horrendously crowded … and this isn’t even the beginning of the peak tourist season. Cold, windy and exposed – you can easily see why Holyrood House was the preferred residence. Most of it is post-medieval, dating to after the ’45 or even later, but it still feels cold and medieval.

Beamish

Nope, not a quote from Lewis Carrol – not a Snark or Jabberwocky anywhere in sight.

Beamish (Saturday 16th June) is The Living Museum of the North just outside of Durham. Think something like an oversized Old Sydney Town done with a heck of a lot of money and time (it was evidently open when I was last through here in 1988 but it can’t have been fully registered on thr tourist trail … or at least it didn’t register with me).

Set on a massive site there are several themed areas – a 19th Century Pit Village (showing the working conditions down Mine … and there’s a section of an old drift mine [i.e. one driven into the side of a hill rather than down a shaft … it gets down to 4’8″ and I can tell you that as 6’1.5″ that was bloody uncomfortable. Some of the mine faces (not there, but in the same coalfields) got down to 18″

Mine owners were, of course, complete utter bastards … all piecework rates, and they didn’t pay for travel time from the mine head to the coalface which could be a two miles or more. So that nominal 8 hour shift might be closer to 10 hours with travel time. Miners had to buy their own tools, even!

Then there’s a 1940’s Farm showing the joys of working on the land in wartime with rationing etc.

A 1900’s Town and Railway Station with shops chock full of actual 1900’s brand goods (not for sale) plus the usual touristy repro stuff … Co-Op stores for Groceries, Clothes, Hardware … a fully equipped Garage with a fair chunk of era appropriate Motorcycles on display.

A 1820’s Manor House with a Tramway using a very early steam train. The Manor House was dark and gloomy on the ground floor (not or little artificial light) as were the servant’s quarters squeezed in at the rear of the 1st Floor … but the family rooms were both spacious and well lit with large windows. Furnishings were sparse – this being just at the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution when ‘things’ hadn’t quite yet become so widely available and cheap that you could fill a room with them.

There were parts of some of these where expansion work was going on and a large central portion is a 1950’s Town under construction.

I only wish I could come back and see it all in several years time. <sigh>

Yorkist or Lancastrian?

On Friday I headed off to York and arrived at the Park & Ride where I left the car and took a bus into town …

First stop, the Minster … the Minster itself is pretty ho-hum. It’s nice enough as far as late Medieval churches go, and well enough preserved, but its real selling point is access to the Undercroft.

In the 1970s they had a real problem, there was a real danger that the central spire would collapse because the foundations for the Minster were built on foundations of earlier, smaller, iterations and were a mix of too small and not strong enough to support the weight.

Engineers were called in and they basically excavated down underneath and poured concrete collars around the pillars supporting the tower, running thick steel reinforcing bars through them secured by giant bolts.

In doing so they uncovered a lot of unexpected things … bits and bobs from the earlier (smaller) iterations of the Minster and even the corner of the old Praetorium (HQ Building) of Eboracum, the Roman Fortress that was the centrepiece of Roman York … the Undercroft lets you see a lot of the foundations in situ as well as presenting some of the more interesting remains also found, such as bits of wall paintings, the usual broken pottery, coins, bits of ornamental stone carvings etc. It’s a fascinating walk back through history (well, to me it is!).

Then I headed off to the Jorvik Viking Centre which was full of animatronic whizz-bangery depicting reconstructions of some of the buildings found on the site 40-50 years ago. Very Disney-ish.

The attached museum was much better in some ways as it had a large chunk of the finds made at the site and tied them in to Jorvik’s place in England and the wider Viking (and Western) world.

Finally, to round the day off, I headed over to the British National Rail Museum which had expanded markedly since I was there in 1988 – several Royal Trains (well, the Carriages, at least, the Rail companies provided locomotives as needed) from Queen Victoria through to the one inherited (and at least in the past) used by Lizzie II. Oh, to travel in style!

The Flying Scotsman, two different replicas of The Rocket (one cutaway, one actually used in re-enactments). Lots of other historic (well known and otherwise) locomotives … a WW1 Ambulance Train display, one of the engineering vehicles used in the construction of the Chunnel, one of the Eurostar trains, a Shinkansen … and much more/

King’s Lynn (Porthaven)

Wednesday 12th and I head off for King’s Lynn, the medieval port town on which Porthaven (from the Ithura & Porthaven book, the third of the Orbis Mundi2 Kickstarter rewards) was modelled.

Not a lot of the medieval town survives … only one of the churches (St. Mary’s), all the others were associated with various Monasteries and were destroyed in/during/after the Dissolution.

Still, I saw the old Hanseatic League HQ building and one of the (repurposed as a Wine Bar and Function centre) other Warehouse Buildings and spent an interesting 45 minutes in their Civic Museum … pride of place in which is Woodhenge a circle of wooden posts ringing a massive tree stump all erected for an unknown purpose ~4000 years ago, covered over by climate change in the intervening period and uncovered by climate change more recently.

Then on to Leicester – and, bloody hell, along the way a stone must have been thrown up at the windscreen of the rental car and cracked it on the offside, around 12″ across, so I had to head into Leicester proper (traffic as bad or worse as a Sydney rush hour) and have it swapped over … so now I have to wait to find out what the cost will be so I can claim the excess back from my insurance (I didn’t go with the Avis insurance, which would have been easier, but about 30-40% more expensive).

Anyway, I have some gaming related business to do tomorrow and then on to York where I will spend two nights and at least one full day!

Phil

Colchester

Headed off to Colchester today – the site of the Temple of Claudius erected by the Romans to commemorate the invasion under that Emperor’s auspices, destroyed during the Boudiccan revolt and then rebuilt by the Romans to last until it fell into ruin as their control of Britannia waned.

Completely ruinous by the time the Normans came along, they built one of the largest castles (of the time) on the remnant foundations.

The Castle itself has formed the basis of a well regarded archaeological collection of local iron age, Roman, Saxon, Norman and more recent finds and the Curators have been involved in authoring or co-authoring a number of important archaeological works on the region.

Lots of broken pottery and, indeed, broken bits and bobs in general. A fair chunk of coin and jewellery from hoards, some dating back to the Iron Age, some to the Boudiccan revolt, and even one to the Civil War.

Then on to Norwich.

London to Duxford

I hired a minicab to take me to the Airport (no way I was using even the Heathrow Express … and the Minicab was only 23 pounds more than that!) and pick up my rental – a VW Golf (which I just noticed a while ago is a Diesel, rather than, theoretically, the petrol vehicle ‘or similar’ I paid for).

GPS is a wonderful thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, You may not know exactly where you are, but you’re never actually lost.

It allowed me to navigate more or less painlessly from Heathrow to Duxford, the Imperial War Museum’s Aircraft (and now ground vehicle) collection … and the weather was quite sunny for the whole day.

Duxford has also changed a lot (quelle surprise) and the collection expanded … with several new large hangars for their collection as well as workshops where privately owned historic aircraft are on display/being worked on.

I believe their claim that on some days when they run air shows there are more Spitfires on the ground and in the air there than in the rest of the world combined!

In fact there was one of them, seemed to be a dual seat trainer conversion, that did regular circuits of the airfield in conjunction with a Dragon Rapide that was running joyflights/

One flyable B-17 on the flight line, the Memphis Belle (or done up to look like her) and another in the new American Aircraft display area … as well as a B-24, B-25, B-29 (but no B-36, I think there’s only one or two of the latter left … and I saw one of them/it in Omaha in 2010), a B-52, Warthog, Huey, ground launcher for a Cruise Missile and more.

The British aircraft included a Lysander, many many Spitfires, a Hurricane, Jaguar, Harrier, P1127 and others … including (IIRC) the only complete example of the TSR-2 left in existence (if you’re old enough to remember the controversy when it was cancelled), the Concorde Testbed aircraft and more.

They have a flyable Me-108 done in the colours used to pretend it was an Me-109 in The Battle of Britain movie as well as one of the post-war Spanish airforce 109’s which was re-engined and looks quite different from the ‘real’ thing.

They also have a He-162 (not flyable) restored from parts of two which the Brits salvaged after the war …

The previous armour collection (I only remember a single T-34 back in the day, but there may have been a couple more, has expanded dramatically – Hetzer, Tiger I, JagdTiger, Stug III, Hanomag Halftack (command, I think), T-34, JS-10, T-55, BMP, 8 Wheeled APC, FV432, assorted WW2 and post-war British (or British variant) Armoured Cars and lots of softskinned stuff. Out the back, mostly hidden under tarps, were several other armoured vehicles waiting restoration, including an easily recognisable ZSU-23-4.

Off to Cambridge tomorrow.

Phil

National Maritime & London Transport Museums

After some eye problems (nothing serious, just old age exacerbated by cataract surgery) which took two visits to St Thomas’s Hospital (one from around 00:15 to 03:30 on Friday morning and a second from 09:15 to around 12:00 later that day) to sort out I was buggered and spent the rest of the day catching up on missed sleep and then doing some laundry.

So it wasn’t until Saturday that I was off to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich … and the joys of the London Transport version of ‘trackwork’ which meant I had to pay more and take more time to get there than I would normally have had to.

The weather was sunny/cloudy/gloomy in turns but since I was expecting to spend several hours inside that was moot … the whole place has changed (31 years!) inside and the collections (or those parts on display, are now much more thematic … one area, for example, covered the development of early modern trade (including the slave trade) in the Atlantic, another looked at European colonialism in the Pacific (and was extremely politically correct) and, likewise, the section on Antarctica was so flavoured.

Nothing really outstanding … a steam engine from a Thames Harbour tug and a British water speed record holder from the 1930’s were the biggest items.

After several hours I headed (again by a circuitous route) to Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum. I am not sure whether it was even on the same exact spot as it was back in 1988 … as it is now several times the size it was then spread over several levels (in 88 it was all on the one level, more or less). Everything from the earliest Horse Drawn carriages and trams through steam jobbies, river transport and some early(ish) motor buses and trains as well as more recent buses … the trains are obviously too big to fit in the space, even expanded as it is.

Then a fight with moderately horrid crowds on the Tube to get back to the Hotel and repack everything that needed to be packed as Sunday is the day I check out and head to Heathrow to pick up my car rental and head … anywhere out of London!

Phil

St Paul’s & The Tower

St Paul’s Cathedral

I’m not entirely sure, but I think the last time I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral was in the early 1980’s rather than my last trip to the UK, which was in 1988. I know I saw Wellington’s Tomb (he’s shown mounted on his favourite horse, but they turned the statue around so that he faces the front of the church rather than his horse’s arse … true story!).

It’s in the Baroque style, but toned down for English, and English protestant, sensibilities and think Wren did a pretty good job of it … and the additional elements which have been added over the last 300 odd years are also overwhelmingly good … though the recently mounted weird modern crosses made to resemble agglomerations of trench elements on either side of the nave are, in my opinion, a bit meh! But I’m definitely not an art or architecture critic, so what do I know?

Lots of military men, mostly generals until (I think) the Crimean War when the memorial actually acknowledged everyone, not just the Officers, but the NCOs and even the Private Soldiers (not individually, mind, but as a mass … wouldn’t want the lower orders to take on airs!).

The Tower of London

This was also much changed … had to be, obviously, to handle the increased number of tourists since 1988 … a completely new ticketing and entry area for a start.

Inside there are major changes as well. The riverside towers (the original ones, not the later additions) have been set up to show how they would have been when they were actually one of the Royal Palaces … the first ones show the internal wall and roof structures, then the wall coverings used, and, finally, several rooms have been partly set up to show what a Royal Bedchamber would have been like back in the 13th century as well as a Royal reception area with modest throne and a Private Chapel.

The Crown Jewels are impressively gaudy as usual … and I dunno whether I was just lucky or not, there was effectively no queue while I was there and it was just a steady walking pace all the way through (I guess I must have been lucky as there were winding crowd control barriers on one side of the entry, they just weren’t being used).

I didn’t see the White Tower as there are several hundred steps and my knee has been on the verge of acting up as it sometimes does when stressed … so all that climbing was a no-no.

Anyway, I had a good look at all the highlights.

Off to the V&A and other Kensington Museums tomorrow!

The British Museum

Tuesday (4th June) was dull, dark and gloomy and rained (drizzled) intermittently … so I picked somewhere to go where I could reasonably expect to spend a whole day indoors.

The British Museum.

Apart from the completely remodelled central Atrium, now a mix of open space and a temple to commerce, the museum itself doesn’t seem to have changed all that much.

Lots of antiquities. I hit the Graeco-Roman classical section first … I always find the Attic Black Figure pottery outstanding as a perfect example of the effective mix of form, decoration and function … all done largely by hand and around 2400 years ago.

The Elgin Marbles (from the Parthenon) are still impressive, especially in the large hall (purpose built) they’re displayed in … regardless of the pseudo-controversy of who owns them (how far back in time does ownership go? And, of course, despite the preference of the current occupants of the Greek peninsula, they are largely of slavic or non-hellenic blood and have been for around 1500 years, so claims of ‘prior ownership’ are arguably specious … but don’t try and befuddle a Greek with the facts!).

Anyway, the Rosetta stone was next, much more impressive in actuality to the replica on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (and here again politics vs reality rears its ugly head … how far back does ownership go, especially if the current population is far less than 100% ethnically identical with the one that created the thing … the Greeks, if push comes to shove).

The massive Assyrian lamassu of the Balawat gate are impressive as well, sadly more so since the ISIS nutjobs deliberately blew up pretty much all of Nimrud.

Then on to the Roman Britain and Medieval Europe galleries … the Roman Britain ones had several very impressive treasure hoards that had only been discovered after my last visit in 1988 … almost all dating back to the late 300’s or early 400’s when the Empire’s control of the western provinces was slipping away. Some of the plate and tableware are very impressive … obviously belonging to late Romano-British aristocracy, real works of art which have only survived being melted down because they were hidden and never recovered.

The Sutton Hoo treasures were also impressive, and better displayed than last time I was there … and the famous Helmet (a copy of a Late Imperial Roman pattern) was supplemented by a modern reproduction. The original had been crushed and shattered when the superstructure of the ship grave it was buried in collapsed and, though painstakingly reassembled and impressive in its own sad way, the reproduction lets you see exactly what it could have looked like ‘back in the day’.

And that was most of the day … it’s a big place.

The one thing that was quite annoying was the number of bloody tourists … no selfie-sticks (maybe they’re banned?) who, of course, congregated at all the important spots in hordes. Still, not as bad as the Louvre where the staff forcibly closed it recently because they were overwhelmed by the crowding. Even the IWM wasn’t anywhere near as bad (and not was St Paul’s Cathedral, which I’ll try and post about in a couple of days). So not a lot of photos to post, even if WordPress made it easy to do so.

Anyway, that’s all for now …

Phil