Decorate Your Castle The Lindisfarne Way

Twice each day, for several hours at a time, the island of Lindisfarne is cut off from the English mainland by the tides of the North Sea.

That was music to the ears of a group of seventh-century monks from the Scottish island of Iona, when King Oswald of Northumbria invited them to establish a monastery there. The monks’ Irish-born leader, Aidan, accompanied Oswald on his missionary journeys throughout Northumbria, preaching to encourage the spread of Christianity.

An 11-feet-high sculpture of St. Aidan stands in the churchyard of the medieval parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, overlooking the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. The statue was made by local sculptor Kathleen Parbury and was unveiled in the presence of Elizabeth II in 1958.

An 11-feet-high sculpture of St. Aidan stands in the churchyard of the medieval parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, overlooking the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. The statue was made by local sculptor Kathleen Parbury and was unveiled in the presence of Elizabeth II in 1958.

The monastery that the future St. Aidan and his fellow monks founded in 635 was abandoned in the 9th century as a result of Viking harassment, but its ruins remain significant for two reasons. First, it was the home of two saints. Second, it was the place where the Lindisfarne Gospels, the oldest surviving English version of the gospels and the finest surviving illuminated English manuscript of the Middle Ages, were created. No wonder the monks christened Lindisfarne Insula Sacra, or “Holy Island.”

In 685, Aidan was succeeded by a monk named Cuthbert, who traded a reclusive life on Inner Farne, an island south of Lindisfarne, not only to lead the monastic community, but also to minister to the Northumbrians. His intense faith and powerful prayers earned him a reputation as a miracle-worker  and led to his canonization after his death.  Cuthbert is said to have tamed the island’s resident eider ducks by feeding barley to them; now, they are known locally as “Cuddy’s ducks” because of their association with Cuthbert. Otters swam around Cuthbert as he prayed while standing in the sea, so he is often portrayed with an otter curled around his leg to keep it warm.

Kathleen Parbury also designed a needlepoint carpet in the sanctuary of St. Mary the Virgin that is an exact copy of the illuminated carpet page placed at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke in the Lindisfarne Gospels. Eighteen Lindisfarne seamstresses worked on the canvas for two years; it was completed in 1970.

Kathleen Parbury also designed a needlepoint carpet in the sanctuary of St. Mary the Virgin that is an exact copy of the illuminated carpet page placed at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke in the Lindisfarne Gospels. Eighteen Lindisfarne seamstresses worked on the canvas for two years; it was completed in 1970.

After Cuthbert died in 687, a Lindisfarne monk named Eadfrith created a magnificent illuminated manuscript in his honor. He carefully wrote the text of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Latin, skillfully embellishing it with intricate plait and knot work and fret and key patterns. Interlaced birds with elongated bodies, legs and tails are said to have been inspired by the many birds that flock to Lindisfarne, particularly cormorants. Elaborate spiral patterns are thought to have inspired Anglo-Saxon ornamental pieces like the Tara Brooch and the Ardagh Chalice, now at the National Museum of Ireland. In some places, the manuscript remains partially unfinished, suggesting Eadfrith’s work was ended prematurely by his death in 721. Around 970, a priest named Aldred added an Anglo-Saxon translation in red ink beneath the original Latin. On the last leaf of the colophon, he wrote that Ethelwald, bishop of Lindisfarne, created the cover, while a hermit named Billfrith adorned the cover with gold, gems and silver-gilt ornaments.

In the years that followed, pilgrims walked a simply marked route over the sandy, muddy stretch between the island and the mainland to see this historic priory. We continued that tradition, but relied on the Mountain Goat Mercedes to safely see us across before sitting down to the fish and chips lunch I’d been dreaming about at The Barn at Beal.

Lindisfarne CastleOur first stop was the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, an 11th-century Benedictine church, which Sir Walter Scott described in his Marmion.  Its zigzag-ornamented arches and chevron-carved pillars bear a very strong resemblance to Durham Cathedral.

But our second stop — a place dramatically perched high atop a crag — was the real reason I had come to Lindisfarne.

Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life magazine, bought Lindisfarne’s 16th-century castle in 1902 for a holiday home and asked his favorite architect, Edwin Landseer Lutyens, to restore it. Best known for designing the Cenotaph in Whitehall and Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House at Windsor Castle, Lutyens was known for his simple, elegant designs, his attention to detail, and his imaginative use of strong colors and contrasting textures.

Lutyens preserved the castle’s exterior, but completely transformed its interior. Inspired by the simplicity of 17th-century Dutch interiors, Lutyens converted vaulted chambers and old gunpowder magazines into austere, but beautifully designed, living rooms linked by dramatic arched corridors and spiraling stairways. He whitewashed the walls and laid herringbone-patterned brick floors. He expressed his love of strong colors by painting some surfaces with a vibrant Prussian blue or the greenish-blue hue of a duck’s egg.

Lindisfarne Castle

Throughout his career, Lutyens designed the furniture and fittings that went into his creations. At Lindisfarne Castle, Lutyens selected 17th-century English and Flemish oak pieces and commissioned Arts and Crafts artisans to make decorative pieces to complement them. He designed distinctive wooden door latches…

Lindisfarne Castle

…as well as the refectory table in the kitchen and the oak dresser and table in the dining room.Lindisfarne Castle

He created Gothic-style recessed casement windows with hinged rods, so that a curtain could swing away from the window and not block the light. He even designed a backpack to carry the firewood that would heat the castle’s cold stone rooms.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lutyens also built a gallery in part of the castle’s upper battery. Hudson invited noted musicians to play there for his guests and opened the windows during concerts so that island residents sitting at the base of the castle crag could listen to the music. 64-year-old Hudson was so taken by one of those musicians, a 33-year-old Portuguese cellist named Madame Guilhermina Suggia, that he proposed to her in 1918 and bought her a 1717 Stradivarius cello as an engagement gift. Although the wedding never happened, she continued to visit Hudson at the castle for several years, and he remembered her in his will.

Famous people who visited Hudson at Lindisfarne Castle include authors J.M. Barrie, Sigfried Sassoon and Lytton Strachey, as well as the future King George V and Queen Mary. When the royal couple visited, Mary couldn’t bear walking on the steep, herringbone-patterned cobbled walks leading up to the castle because they hurt her feet. When the tide started to rise, George became anxious to leave, in spite of his background as a sailor.

In 1911, Gertrude Jekyll, the renowned English garden designer who collaborated with Lutyens on projects for 30 years, transformed an old sheep pen at the castle into a walled flower and vegetable garden. The National Trust used Jekyll’s original planting plans to recreate a garden with beds of gladiolas, roses, hollyhocks, sweet peas, fuchsias, sunflowers, anemones, espalier fruit trees, spinach, lettuce, carrots, peas, beans and potatoes.Lindisfarne Castle

Lutyens and Hudson were so charmed by their creation that they chose the castle for the setting of a series of photographs of Lutyens’ children that were taken by Charles Latham, who often took the photographs published in Country Life. Latham posed the children in the manner of 17th-century Dutch interiors painted by Johannes Vermeer.

Lindisfarne Castle

For more on Lindisfarne, see A Naturalist on Lindisfarne, by Richard Perry; Lindisfarne: The Cradle Island, by Magnus Magnusson; and English Heritage Book of Lindisfarne Holy Island, by Deirdre O’ Sullivan and Robert Young.

The Lindisfarne Gospels are now in the collection of the British Museum. To discover more about them, read The Lindisfarne Gospels, by Janet Backhouse, and From Holy Island to Durham: The Contexts and Meanings of the Lindisfarne Gospels, by Richard Gameson, which was published to accompany the Durham University Palace Green Library’s 2013 exhibition, Lindisfarne Gospels Durham: One Amazing Book, One Incredible Journey. There is a special feature in the British Library’s Online Gallery on the world of the Lindisfarne Gospels.  The library has also created a digital version of the book.  Reading the British Library’s “Treasures in Focus” series of books includes one on the Lindisfarne Gospels, I discovered that there are thousands of dots on some pages of the manuscript; each one represents a prayer.  Lindisfarne Priory and Castle

To discover more about Lindisfarne Castle, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, see “Country Homes & Gardens Old & New: Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland, A Residence of Mr. Edward Hudson,” an article on pages 830 to 842 of the June 7, 1913 issue of Country Life; Lindisfarne Castle, a guidebook published by the National Trust; Sir Edwin Lutyens: Designing in the English Tradition, by Elizabeth Wilhide; The Architect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens, by Jane Ridley; Gardens of a Golden Afternoon: The Story of a Partnership: Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, by Jane Brown; Gertrude Jekyll, by Sally Festing; and Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood, by Judith B. Tankard and Martin A. Wood. Jenny Uglow also mentions them in her A Little History of British Gardening.  Lindisfarne Castle also made an appearance in Roman Polanski’s film, Macbeth.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Birds, Churches, Gardens, History, Museums, Needlework, Northumberland, Travel | Leave a comment

What Color Socks Would You Wear With Carbatinas?

One of my favorite lines in the 1956 movie High Society is when Grace Kelly says to Frank Sinatra, “South Bend. It sounds like dancing, doesn’t it?”

Toward the end of our two-week sojourn in northern England, we arrived at another place with a name that sounded like dancing to me: Vindolanda.

VindolandaRepeating “Vindolanda” to myself as we filed out of the Mountain Goat Mercedes, I wondered just what was at this place that could possibly merit a three-hour visit. I got my first clue when an archaeologist showed us a roof tile embedded with a dog’s paw print.  She told us it had been recently excavated steps away from where we were standing.  We were at the site of a Roman fort that predates Hadrian’s Wall by about 40 years.

After the Emperor Claudius invaded England in 43 AD, Roman armies slowly worked their way to the northern part of the country.  They arrived in the area around 72 AD, building forts and roads linking towns on the major thoroughfares to Scotland. Around 79 AD, as the Emperor Agricola worked to complete the conquest of northern Britain, the Romans built a fort on a secluded plateau a couple of miles north of the river South Tyne, and about a mile north of where Hadrian’s Wall would later be constructed. They christened it Vindolanda, Latin for “white meadows,” in honor of how the frost gave a white cast to the fields that were shielded by the slopes of a nearby heather-covered hill.Model of Vindolanda

Fast forward to 1814, when an Anglican clergyman named Anthony Hedley purchased the land which included Vindolanda’s remains. Using leftover stones from the fort, he built a home there in 1831, christened it Chesterholm, and embarked on excavating the north and west gates of the fort. An owner or two later, a 23-year-old Classical scholar named Eric Birley bought the Chesterholm estate in 1929 and began a new series of excavations in his spare time. What Birley, his son Robin, and their colleagues have found in the following years has been extraordinary.

Initially, the elder Birley wanted to examine Vindolanda’s civilian settlement, something that had never been attempted before in Britain, to discover what life was like on the northern frontier for the soldiers’ wives and families, as well as the tradesmen and Vindolandamerchants who conducted business with them. Soon, the team discovered that there had been at least three successive sets of stone buildings at the fort. What’s more, below those stone buildings lay as many as six successive layers of foundations for wooden buildings. This was a major discovery, turning the task into a long-term project of excavating ten layers of evidence that the Romans occupied this place from the mid-80s AD until after 400 AD.

In addition to the fort, archaeologists have found the remains of numerous houses, shops and inns, a granary, a bath house, a barracks, and a temple or two at Vindolanda. The foundations were preserved as a result of some remarkable conditions.

VindolandaNorthumbria is a damp, rainy place, and Vindolanda has always been a particularly wet site because of a spring at its western edge. Add to this the Roman practice of building where clay or turf layers were placed above the foundations of demolished buildings to create a level platform for the new structure. Over the years, these layers accumulated so that they were about four feet thick, impenetrable to water and oxygen. Archaeologists dug their way through carpets of twigs, branches, heather, bracken, straw and moss, and unearthed thousands of exceptionally well-preserved objects.

Iron tools, weapons, utensils and nails — made after the Romans mined deposits of iron ore within a few hundred yards of Vindolanda — were found uncorroded. Animal bones showed that oxen were used for target practice. Fragments of wooden furniture, wagon axles, boxes, bowls, hair combs and toy weapons were determined to be made from local birch, alder, oak, ash and yew trees. Bronze objects emerged from the ground gleaming like new. One example is a Roman calendar, a circular disc on which a peg was moved into the next hole every day to indicate the correct date. A little bronze figure of a cavalry horse, originally mounted on a regimental flagpole, has become Vindolanda’s symbol.


Thousands of examples of leather footwear, from marching boots and shoes to sandals and slippers, were uncovered. The most common was the calceus, a shoe with laces that tied at the ankle. An indoor shoe called a carbatina was cut from a single piece of leather, with scallop-shaped holes cut around the outer edge, secured with a lace that crossed over the foot, and worn with colored socks to highlight the scalloped pattern. All of the shoes’ soles were studded with hobnails, either arranged in a pattern or hammered in randomly.


Textiles woven with wool from local sheep range from jerseys, cloaks and tunics to sleeping mats, bandages, socks and insoles for shoes.


A fragment of a glass bowl manufactured in Cologne, Germany and decorated with a painted gladiator scene was found in a fourth-century ditch.


Glossy decorated red glazeware pottery, known as Samianware, was made in Gaul around 80 AD.Vindolanda

Other finds include dozens of intaglios and gemstones from finger rings, brooches, hairpins, buttons, beads and medical instruments.


Most extraordinary of all are the written items that have been uncovered at Vindolanda. In 1973, excavators found some very thin, oily wooden shavings that were covered with tiny ink hieroglyphics on both surfaces. Infrared photography revealed that the neat cursive script handwriting was in Latin. Now known as leaf tablets, these thin postcard-sized sheets were made from local birch and alder branches around the turn of the first century, were scored down the center for folding, and were especially prepared to take ink writing. These postcards offer a treasure trove of details about daily life at Vindolanda, from invitations to social events to shopping lists. They also provide the names of names of several hundred people who lived there, as well as their correspondents.


In 1992, Robin Birley found over 350 of these leaf tablets on a site at Vindolanda where Roman soldiers burned their commanding officer’s correspondence in a bonfire before they left in 105 AD. The bonfire had been lit, but abandoned after a rain shower, so most of the tablets were singed, but survived mostly intact. A sculpture in the form of a fire ball pays tribute to Robin Birley’s work and celebrates his incredible find. The fire ball depicts cursive Roman writing from the tablets and is lit every year to commemorate what is now considered to be Britain’s top treasure.


While the majority of the writing tablets were transferred to the British Museum, virtually all the material from Vindolanda’s excavations since 1967 is housed onsite, with some on public display in a museum that was created from the original Chesterholm house in 1974. A super store is stocked with Roman-themed items, and a café serves jacket potatoes, toasties, award-winning savory pies, and teatime tray bakes and scones worthy of the Great British Baking Show.

VindolandaThree hundred yards to the north of Vindolanda, at the side of the Stanegate road, stands the only Roman milestone from Britain to survive intact in its original position. This replica milestone shows what the original might have looked like when it was placed there in 121 AD. Milestones not only served the useful purpose of giving distances to the next important place, but also demonstrated that road-building or repair work had been carried out. They also publicized the name of the Roman emperor.

The grassy expanse at Vindolanda is a reminder of how much more excavation needs to be undertaken. A magnetometer survey revealed that more is likely to be found over at least another 12 acres, most likely including forges, a regimental parade ground and cemeteries.  No wonder Vindolanda invites amateur and professional archaeologists alike to apply for the opportunity to dig there.  If you’re interested, click here for more information.

When I boarded the Mercedes, I concluded that I could have spent three more hours at this fascinating place whose name still sounds like dancing to me.

For more, see Vindolanda: Extraordinary Records of Daily Life on the Northern Frontier, Vindolanda: A Roman Frontier Post on Hadrian’s Wall, and Chesterholm: From A Clergyman’s Cottage to Vindolanda’s Museum, 1830-2000, all by Robin Birley. Also, check out The Marches: A Borderland Journey Between England and Scotland, by Rory Stewart; and Hadrian’s Wall: Everyday Life on a Roman Frontier, by Patricia Southern.  Visit Vindolanda Tablets Online and you’ll find a searchable online edition of the writing tablets excavated at Vindolanda, together with an introduction to their context and a guide to their content.

Posted in History, Museums, Northumberland, Travel | Leave a comment

Hadrian’s Wall Looked Much Better Than The One I Drew For Dr. Rogers

Say the words “Map Test” to anyone who took Dr. Rogers’ English History class during her freshman year at Columbus School for Girls, and she’ll likely remember having to mark the precise location of several cities and important landmarks on a blank page bordered by a hand-drawn outline of England. After carefully drawing Hadrian’s Wall on that map many times during 1983 and 1984, I was thrilled to finally see this famous dividing line for myself.Hadrian's Wall

The Romans had been trying to conquer Britain since Julius Caesar’s day, but they were finally successful when the Emperor Claudius invaded in 43 AD. Roman armies slowly worked their way to northern England, enforcing their authority by constructing fortifications and building roads to link them that followed existing trails that had been in place for thousands of years. Around 120 AD, the Emperor Hadrian directed the construction of a stone wall that crossed three rivers as it stretched across 73 miles east to west, from Wallsend on the River Tyne to the Solway Firth at Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria.

Maintained for almost three centuries of Roman military occupation of Great Britain, the wall defined the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. Some viewed it as a strategic attempt to control, defend and maintain power, built to separate the British barbarians from the civilized Romans. Others regarded it as a deterring obstacle built by subdued Britons under the control of Roman officers. Whatever the viewpoint, Hadrian’s Wall remains as one of the most well-preserved ancient monuments in Great Britain. It is so important that UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site.

Hadrian's Wall at CawfieldsThe Romans utilized the natural landscape to make their defensive boundary more formidable. Hadrian’s Wall wound its way across the undulating slopes of the Tyne River valley, ascended tall granite outcrops, crossed rivers and descended down sandstone ridges to the flat coastland of the Solway Firth. Once standing 15 to 20 feet high, and seven to ten feet thick, the wall must have been a massive undertaking to build. It incorporated lookout posts, 80 milecastles — small rectangular fortifications placed at intervals of approximately one Roman mile along the wall, capable of housing up to eight men — and turrets equally spaced between each milecastle, enabling Roman soldiers to watch what was happening along the whole length of the border

While some of its stones were snagged for other building projects after the fall of the Roman Empire, remnants of Hadrian’s Wall are still visible in several places. A defensive ditch dug on its northern side, its accompanying earthworks, its roads and forts can still be traced by rolls, dips and bumps in the ground.

My first view of Hadrian’s Wall was near Birdoswald Roman Fort. For about one mile east, you can follow the line of the wall to Piper Sike Turret. About three miles to the west are the Roman Wall sites at Hare Hill and Dovecote Bridge.

Hadrian's Wall

Mediterranean snails called Clausilia dubia hitched a ride with Roman soldiers and have never died out; they can still be spotted here.

Clausilia dubia, Hadrian's Wall

At Cawfields, Hadrian’s Wall was built at the scarp face of the Whin Sill, a spectacular rocky crag of hard, weather-resistant black rock called dolerite, locally referred to as whinstone.Cawfields

Quarries have destroyed Hadrian’s Wall by removing the scarp face of the Whin Sill and using the rock for surfacing roads, but you can still walk along a short, steep section of the wall that survives on the top of the cliff.

Hadrian's Wall at Cawfields

Walk a three-mile stretch of the wall from Steel Rigg to Housesteads, and you’ll see well-preserved remains of three milecastles.

Hadrian's Wall at Steel Rigg

In the section of Hadrian’s Wall between two crests just east of Milecastle 39, you’ll find Sycamore Gap, the site where a sycamore tree stands.   Its location was made famous in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Sycamore tree, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves

For more, see Hadrian’s Wall: A Life, by Richard Hingley; A Walk Along the Wall: A Journey Along Hadrian’s Wall, by Hunter Davies; Hadrian’s Wall: History & Guide, by Guy de la Bédoyère; Journey to Britannia: From the Heart of Rome to Hadrian’s Wall, AD 130, by Bronwen Riley; The Marches: A Borderland Journey Between England and Scotland, by Rory Stewart; Hadrian’s Wall: Everyday Life on a Roman Frontier, by Patricia Southern; and English Heritage Book of Hadrian’s Wall, by Stephen Johnson.

Posted in Columbus School for Girls, History, Nature/Outdoors, Northumberland, Travel | Leave a comment

Haste Ye Back To Jedburgh, Famous For Pears, Snails, A Comb And A Mole Who Found A Queen’s Watch

Drive just 12 miles north of the border between England and Scotland, and you’ll find Jedburgh, a bonnie Scottish town on the bank of the Jed Water river. Spend a few hours there and you’ll resolve to return again soon.

A famous comb led me to Jedburgh’s equally famous abJedburgh Abbeybey, regarded as one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Scotland. Around 1138, an Augustinian monastery was built on a series of terraces cut into the steep slope of the river bank. It became an abbey around 1154.

In 1285, its church was the setting for the wedding of Alexander III, king of Scotland, and his queen, Yolande de Dreux. Legend has it that a ghost appeared during the wedding and predicted that the king would die soon. The following year, Alexander set off in the dark, fell from his horse, broke his neck, and perished.

The abbey survived attacks in the 15th century and raids in the 16th century, but the Protestant Reformation spelled its end. Its ruins remain today. Archaeological excavations during the 1980s unearthed a comb masterfully carved from a single piece of walrus ivory around 1100. Made during a time when artistic scenes of combat were popular, one side of the comb is decorated with a griffin and a doe; the other shows a warrior fighting a dragon. Scholars have concluded that the warrior may represent Hercules battling the guardian of the tree with the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides, a popular decorative theme in Romanesque art. The comb is also said to resemble some of the scenes carved on capitals in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral that were made about the same time.

Jedburgh’s greatest claim to fame may be that Mary, Queen of Scots arrived there to hold a Circuit Court, but stayed there longer than she intended. The 24-year-old queen had given birth to her first child only four months before.

Our visit to Jedburgh was just three days before the 449th anniversary of a momentous event in the queen’s life. When Mary heard that James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, had been wounded in an attack and was recuperating at nearby Hermitage Castle, she decided to set out on horseback on a day trip to see him. Hermitage CastleIt wasn’t an easy journey, and the route went through a dangerous, bleak moorland, but she didn’t listen to advice and went ahead with the nearly 60-mile round trip on October 16, 1566.

After spending two hours at Hermitage Castle, Mary started her return to Jedburgh. Her horse tripped on the way and threw her head first into a bog. She was soaked, but she made it back to Jedburgh. The next day, she became very sick, possibly with pneumonia, and it was thought she might not survive, but she recovered by the end of the month. Mary’s reign was brief after that, and the rest of her life was so disappointing that she is said to have remarked, “Would that I had died in Jedburgh.”

The house where Mary stayed has been turned into a museum of memorabilia connected to her, including the French enameled thimble case that she lost when she stopped during the Hermitage CasMary Queen of Scots House, Jedburghtle journey to allow a repair to her dress; a cigar box made from the wood of a pear tree that Mary planted on the grounds of the house where she stayed in Jedburgh; a shoe that Mary wore during her journey and then discarded because the heel was broken; and the watch that she lost in the bog. A mole unearthed the watch 250 years later; today, children spot plush toy moles along a sightseeing trail in Jedburgh.

The house has a unique staircase built for its left-handed residents, so that they could wield their swords more easily. It is surrounded by pear trees, recalling an industry that was important to Jedburgh for centuries.

Jedburgh’s situMary Queen of Scots House, Jedburghation on a steep river bank made it the perfect place to grow pears. Monks at Jedburgh Abbey are thought to have introduced the pears to the community, growing “Jeddart pears” or “Jethart pears” in the monastery’s gardens. Orchards popped up on the Jed Water’s banks, growing over 20 kinds of Jeddart pears, such as Goodwife of Glasgow, Fair Maid, Red Honey, Lady Lamont, Scots Bergamot, Warden, and Monk’s Pear. In Scotland, pears were considered a dessert, rather than a fruit, so pears were often cooked into “Warden pies.” An equally celebrated plum called Cloth of Gold is also said to have grown in Jedburgh. The local fruit industry shriveled up in the late 19th century, and now there are just a few Jeddart pear trees left in JedburghJedart Snails.

Jedburgh may not produce as many pies now, but a resident still makes Jethart snails, a confection only available in Jedburgh. This brown, peppermint-flavored boiled sweet is said to have been introduced to Jedburgh by a French prisoner of the Napoleonic War at the Jedburgh Castle Jail, and it is still made with his secret recipe today. Click here to watch a video of Jethart snails being made.

Travel a few miles north to nearby Dryburgh, stop at a place on the grounds of Bemersyde House, and you’ll see a dramatic sight — a 31-feet-high red sandstone statue of Sir William Wallace, a Scottish knight who stood 6’7″, led military campaigns during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.  When he was captured, he is said to have been  torn in two by teams of horses and his limbs were placed at the four corners of Britain.  David Stuart Erskine, the 11th Earl of Buchan, was passionate about conserving and recording anything to do with Scotland and its heroes, so he commissioned local sculptor John Smith of Darnick to carve a statue of Wallace surveying the River Tweed. It was unveiled on September 22, 1814, the anniversary of Wallace’s victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. William Wallace statue, DryburghA smaller statue in the style of a funeral urn is at Wallace’s feet. The Earl of Buchan was a fan of the 18th-century poet James Thomson — best remembered as the author of the words to “Rule, Britannia” — and created this statue as a memorial to him. It is inscribed with a quotation from Thomson’s work: “Sacred to the memory of Wallace/The peerless Knight of Ellerslie/Who wave’d on Ayr’s Romantic shore/The beamy torch of Liberty/And roaming round from Sea to Sea/From Glade obscure of gloomy Rock/His bold companions call’d to free/The Realm from Edward’s Iron Yoke.”James Thomson memorial, DryburghYou, too, can look over the River Tweed at Scott’s View, a viewpoint about three miles east of Melrose that is said to have been one of Sir Walter Scott’s favorite views of the landscape of the Scottish Borders. It’s said that Scott stopped here so often on his way home to Abbotsford, his legendary estate at Melrose, that his horses would pause here without command. After Scott’s death in 1832, his mile-long funeral cortege passed here on its way to Dryburgh Abbey so that he could take one last look at the Borders landscape he loved.Scott's ViewFor more on Jedburgh and Mary, Queen of Scots, see Jedburgh Abbey: The Archaeology and Architecture of a Border Abbey, by John Lewis and Gordon Ewart; Antonia Fraser’s acclaimed biography, Mary Queen of Scots; and Mary Stuart’s Scotland: The Landscapes, Life and Legends of Mary, Queen of Scots, by David and Judy Steel.  William Wallace is the subject of The Wallace, an epic poem written by Blind Harry around 1477; Sir Walter Scott’s Exploits and Death of William Wallace, The “Hero of Scotland” and the 1995 film Braveheart.  Also check out The Marches: A Borderland Journey Between England and Scotland, by Rory Stewart. 

Posted in Food, History, Museums, Scotland, Travel | 1 Comment

Ask An Armstrong, A Beattie Or A Graham If Their Family Tree Includes A Bereaved Reiver

Words like “retrieve” and “bereaved” come up often in conversations today, but did you know that they originate from a ruthless group of Scottish clans who raided, stole, kidnapped, murdered and pillaged?

The BordersTerrible conflicts between England and Scotland began in the late 13th century and lasted for 300 years. Powerful clans emerged, developing alliances, demanding loyalty, and earning a reputation for being notoriously lawless. Their family names — like Graham, Armstrong and Beattie — are still common today.

Frequent wars, invasions and raids took place on the border between the two countries, turning a picturesque landscape into a dangerous frontier. These clans became so criminal that they came to be known as the Border Reivers, derived from the Scottish verb, “reive,” meaning “raid,” “rob” or “plunder.” “Reive” then became associated with loss, which is how it morphed into “bereaved.”

Border robbers needed horses to raid properly.  Sitting atop a hobbler, a small, agile horse trained to navigate the rugged terrain, riders wore a steel bonnet helmet, a jack — a quilted leather coat sewn with metal or horn plates for added protection — leather breeches and boots, and carried a lance and other weapons.  

A modern-day interpretation of a Border rider greets visitors at the Tullie Museum in Carlisle, but instead of riding a hobbler, he sits astride a bicycle.  Pay a coin and he'll start to move.

A modern-day interpretation of a Border rider greets visitors at the Tullie Museum in Carlisle.  Pay a coin and he’ll start to move.

The reivers were such a national disgrace that the Archbishop of Glasgow directed a “Great Curse” against them that was read from every pulpit in the Scottish borderlands, expressing the hope that they would be “swallowed down to hell.” Some reivers were hung from this capon tree in Jedburgh, Scotland, a massive oak tree whose name derives from a corruption of the name of the Capuchin monks who would find shelter under its branches on their way to Jedburgh Abbey.

The Capon Tree, painted by Arthur Perigal in 1876, Jedburgh Castle Jail and Museum

The Capon Tree, painted by Arthur Perigal in 1876, Jedburgh Castle Jail and Museum

If an innocent resident of the Borderlands found himself victim to one of these raids, he could demand justice, wait and plan for the time when he could raid the robbers yourself and get his revenge illegally, or he could legally pursue them in a “hot trod.” A trod gave him the right to recover his property by force within six days; it was a “hot trod” if it followed immediately, or a “cold trod” if not.

Fear ran rampant, and those who lived in these borderlands developed ways to protect themselves and their livestock in surviving this turmoil. Wealthy families built sturdy refuges with walls up to 10 feet thick.

Some were pele towers, like this one built in Chathill, Northumberland between 1392 and 1399. Preston Pele Tower has seven-foot-thick walls. A guard room and prison was on the ground floor, a bedroom and living room are on the first floor, and the second floor contains the mechanism for the clock that was installed in 1864.

Preston Pele Tower

Others were bastles, fortified farmhouses that were built with about 400 tons of sandstone blocks. The Tarset Bastle Trail winds its way through the Tarset Valley of Northumberland and passes Black Middens and the Gatehouse North Bastle, two of the area’s best-known bastles.

Gatehouse North Bastle

Gatehouse North Bastle

To construct bastles like these, larger stones were placed at the bottom of the structure, and smaller stones were placed near the top. The floors of most bastles were made from soil and paving stones. Virtually all bastles had one door at the gable end and small, narrow windows at the first-floor level. Livestock were kept on the ground floor, so that the heat from their bodies would rise and warm the family’s living quarters on the first floor, like central heating. The main door was at the top of a flight of external stairs. A “quench hole” on the first floor allowed buckets of water to be poured on any attacking reivers, and a trap door opened from above, for added protection. Rush lights were placed in indentations made in the walls on the first floor, since they were easily extinguished in drafts.

Black Middens Bastle

Black Middens Bastle

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I, became King James I of England, and wanted to bring peace to his kingdom. Reivers were executed, their lands were confiscated, and the reiving stopped. To signify the union of Scotland and England, both countries’ flags were officially combined in 1606. Both countries stayed independent until the Treaty of the Union in 1707 which created one Parliament of Great Britain. In 1801, the saltire of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was combined with the cross of St. George, the patron saint of England, and the saltire of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. That’s how the Union Flag, or Union Jack, became the national flag of the United Kingdom.

For more on the Border Reivers, see The Reivers: The Story of the Border Reivers, by Alistair Moffat, The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, by George MacDonald Fraser; The Borders, by F.R. Banks (published by B.T. Batsford, Ltd.); and The Marches: A Borderland Journey Between England and Scotland, by Rory Stewart. 

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Survey the Farne Islands From Bamburgh’s Royal Throne

Fantastic views across the North Sea, a dramatic coastline, stretches of sandy beaches and an impressive history define the Northumberland village of Bamburgh.

Once the ancient royal seat of the kings of Northumbria, Bamburgh is dominated by a striking castle that traces its roots back to around 420.

Ida the Flamebearer, an Anglo-Saxon king who was a widower, lived in the castle with his teenaged daughter, Margaret, while his son, Childe Wynde, sought adventure abroad. Ida remarried, choosing a woman named Behoc who, unknown to him, was a sorceress who was so jealous of Margaret that she decided to cast a spell on hBamburgh Castleer, and no one saw Margaret again. In the years that followed, a scary dragon settled on a nearby hill, terrorized the kingdom, and became known as the Laidly (loathsome) Wrym (dragon). One day, the news reached Childe Wynd, and he returned on a ship with a keel made from the rowan tree, which offered protection against magic. Queen Behoc saw the ship coming and started a storm, but the rowan keel kept the ship safe. When he docked, Childe Wynd overtook the dragon and was going to kill it until he saw it was crying. The dragon told him that it was under a spell, which could be broken if he kissed its face three times before the sun set. He did, the dragon turned into his sister, Margaret, and they went back to the castle, where they found Queen Behoc, used her own magic against her, and turned her into a toad that still lives in a cave below the castle.  The Laidly Wyrm of Spindlestone Heugh is told through a series of ceramic rubbings created by local potter Graham Taylor that visitors can work on at the castle and take home with them.  

The castle passed to King Ida’s grandson, Aethelfrith, who named it Bebbanburgh for his wife, Bebba, then to Aethelfrith’s son, Oswald, who would play a significant role in Northumbrian history by bringing a monk named Aidan from Iona to establish a monastery on Lindisfarne.

A piece of stone found during archaeological excavations in 2010 is thought to be part of an Anglo-Saxon throne or “gift stool.” Based on the style of the carvings, it dates from around 800. The original is on display in the castle’s museum, but the castle grounds include a replica of the throne that was made by a local stonecarver.

Bamburgh Castle

The Vikings destroyed the original building in 993, and the Normans built a new castle there. After an unsuccessful siege in 1095, the castle belonged to the reigning English monarch, and the Forster family of Northumberland governed it for 400 years, eventually coming to own it until they became bankrupt.

DSCN1351In 1894, the castle was purchased and restored by William George Armstrong, a successful and famous Northumbrian engineer who designed a hydraulic engine used in cranes and lifting mechanisms, like the one originally used at the Tower of London. During the Crimean War, he developed a field gun that was much lighter and easier to maneuver, leading him to be knighted by Queen Victoria and regarded as the inventor of modern artillery. Armstrong’s Northumbrian home, Cragside, was the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity, with power generated from its five surrounding artificial lakes.

One of the many rooms on view at the castle is the magnificent King’s Hall, which Armstrong built on the site of the castle’s medieval Great Hall as a place to host grand balls and other social events. The intricately carved ceiling is made of Siamese teak, and musicians performed in a minstrel’s gallery.Bamburgh Castle

For more on William George Armstrong and Bamburgh Castle, see  Emperor of Industry: Lord Armstrong of Cragside, by Ken Smith; Armstrong: The Life and Mind of an Armaments Maker, by Kenneth Warren; and The Laidley Worm of Bamburgh, by Steve Chambers. Bamburgh Castle is the setting of Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories, Matthew Harffy’s The Serpent Sword, and Anne Thackery’s Ragnarok. It also been featured on film, including A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), Elizabeth (1998), Robin Hood (2010) and Macbeth (2015). Historian Michael Wood’s “In Search of Eric Bloodaxe,” an episode about the last ruler of Northumbria from the 1981 BBC television series, In Search of the Dark Ages, includes a visit to the castle.

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That’s Iron And Coal!

The Vatican Museums were packed. I shuffled along through the Gallery of Maps, squeezed inside the Room of the Segnatura, and there it was, just like I had seen in Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. I was standing before The School of Athens, Raphael’s famous painting of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid and other ancient philosophers that I had learned about in Sweet Briar’s Survey of Art History course.

During my travels, I often find myself face to face with a masterpiece like that, one I pored over during the seven art history courses I took.  While traipsing around Wallington Hall in Northumberland last month, I spotted Iron and Coal: The Industry of the Tyne, a painting by William Bell Scott that I had memorized when I learned about the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.Wallington Hall

In 1853, Sir Walter Trevelyan and his wife, Pauline, Lady Trevelyan, decided to create a large sitting room in the center of their home where they could have afternoon tea while their grandchildren played. John Ruskin was an influential friend of Lady Pauline’s, and an illustration of Murano Cathedral in his Stones of Venice inspired the balustrade around the hall’s upper gallery. It’s also said that he introduced her to the Pre-Raphaelites and their serious, detailed, symbolic and colorful paintings.

Lady Pauline approached Scott, the head of the School of Design in nearby Newcastle and a Pre-Raphaelite proponent, to create eight scenes in Wallington’s Central Hall that would illustrate events in Northumbrian history, such as the Vikings’ landing near Tynemouth; the building of Hadrian’s Wall; the Spur in the Dish, a Northumbrian custom in which the lady of the house asked her husband to forage for food that would fill their empty larder; and Iron and Coal, a tribute to two important industries in the valley of the River Tyne: the iron foundries that devWallington Halleloped for shipbuilding, and glassmaking, which depended on the region’s coal mines. From 1856 until 1860, Scott toiled away on the paintings, borrowing props, studying local architecture and persuading Trevelyans to pose for him. Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, the heir to Wallington at that time, wields the sledgehammer in Iron and Coal.

Lady Pauline and her friends painted flowers and plants on the hall’s piers. Ruskin started to work on the two panels on the southwest corner in 1861, but he was not able to finish it.

The Central Hall may be the most famous room at Wallington, but I found many other wonderful things in the home.

Wallington’s 13,000-acre estate was the home of the Fenwicks, the Blacketts and the Trevelyans. The house was built around 1688, and altered around 1738. The Trevelyans, the last family to live in the home, inherited Wallington in 1777 and donated it to the National Trust in the 20th century.

Decorated in a style recalling a fine piece of Wedgwood Jasperware, the dining room recently took on the hue of the 1929 General Election campaign in which Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan defended his Newcastle Central Labour Parliamentary seat. He also was a Socialist who had a hammer and sickle painted on Wallington’s entrance gate.

Wallington Hall

The Trevelyans gathered in this beautiful drawing room to enjoy music.  Mary, Lady Trevelyan, Sir Charles’s wife, played Beethoven on the piano every Sunday, as a promise to her mother.  She also taught her six children German songs she translated herself.  

A spectacular piece of needlework hangs in the drawing room. Lady Mary started working on it on July 6, 1910, beginning at the top left corner, and finished it in 1933.  The panel illustrates the legend of the first Trevelyan who is said to have swum with his horse from St. Michael’s Mount to the mainland of Cornwall on a bet. Lady Mary also included the birthdates of most of her children; the four shields of the Fenwicks, the Blacketts, the Trevelyans and the Bells — Lady Mary’s family; and “Tyme Tryeth Troth,” the Trevelyan motto. Here, you can also see the results of a nifty innovation called an Eyemat. The original floorcovering was photographed with a high-spec scanner to capture its exact details. Digital printing matched the color and the look of the original, creating a floorcovering that looks just like the original, but is much more durable to withstand visitors’ feet.  It is then placed on top of the existing floor to protect the original.

The original “Granville” William Morris wallpaper has hung in the parlor since it was installed for Caroline, Lady Trevelyan in 1897. The room is adorned with framed paintings by great artists J.M.W. Turner and Edward Burne-Jones. A William Morris carpet and table lamps were added about 1940. Talk about an inspiring environment in which to work, as these Wallington staff members were doing when I looked around the room.

Wallington Hall

Another room displays several period dollhouses, as well as 3,000 lead soldiers that were made in Germany in the 1880s. The Trevelyan boys set them out on the floor, following actual battle plans from the Marlborough and Napoleonic wars.

Hammond House dollhouse, Wallington Hall

Upstairs, you’ll find a Cabinet of Curiosities, a room filled with a fantastic collection of everything from fossils and porcupine fish to narwhal tusks and kangaroo paws. One bedroom contains a Georgian exercise contraption called a “chamber horse” that Thomas Sheraton included in The Cabinet Maker’s Drawing Book.

Wallington Hall

The nursery’s walls are hung with applique needlework panels of nursery rhymes that Lady Mary made in 1906 and 1909 for Cambo House, where the family lived before they moved to Wallington.Wallington Hall

I was transfixed by two rooms furnished with needlepoint stitched by Julia Blackett, Lady Calverley, the oldest daughter of Wallington’s builder and the mother-in-law of Sir George Trevelyan, whose son inherited Wallington in 1777. In one room called the “Pigeon Hole,” I admired a six-leaf screen worked in petit point in 1727; the designs were taken from engravings from the 1663 edition of Virgil’s Georgics and from the Eclogues.

Pigeon Hole, Wallington Hall

The walls of the other room are lined with 10 needlepoint panels of linen canvas, on which Lady Julia stitched designs influenced by Oriental textiles with wools and silks. She created the panels for the drawing room at Esholt Hall, the Calverley home, during a three-year period in the 1710s, and they were brought to Wallington when Esholt was sold in 1755. Six chairs with matching needlepoint cushions sit before the panels. Lady Julia’s portrait hangs over the room’s chimneypiece.  Here’s a detail of one of the panels.

Wallington HallDuring World War II, Wallington was home to a number of children who had been evacuated from Newcastle. When parents came to visit them, Lady Mary Trevelyan served them tea for twopence a cup. Recalling her ingenuity, a room in the home was furnished in the style of the era, with wartime music playing and newspapers to read, and tea was served there during the most recent summer season.

Four stone dragons’ heads are an eye-catching feature of Wallington’s grounds. They were purchased in 1760 in London, where they once had adorned the Bishopsgate entrance to the City of London, and were brought to Northumberland on a coal ship via Newcastle. They stood at Rothley Castle, about four miles from Wallington, until they were placed on Wallington’s east lawn in 1928.

Wallington Hall
Wallington Hall

Wallington boasts a connection to Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the famous English landscape gardener whose famous nickname derives for his talent for recognizing and capitalizing on a landscape’s natural “capabilities.” He is best known for his gently curving serpentine paths; plantings of circular clumps of trees surrounding parks; the gentle contouring of smooth, sweeping lawns that meet the water; and sunken ditches that separated livestock from the grounds without interrupting the view — better known as ha-ha’s because people were so surprised to find them during their walks.

Brown was born in 1716 in Kirkharle, just steps away from Wallington. His family name is said to have originated from the fact that people who lived in this area wore clothes made from wool that was naturally brown like the peat-stained countryside, which made good protective camouflage to hide from the Border Reivers.

AKirkharles a boy, Brown walked through the Wallington estate on his way to and from school in nearby Cambo. In 1732, he became a gardener at Kirkharle Hall and helped to improve the estate by planting thousands of trees. He moved on in 1740. Around 1980, an unsigned, undated landscape plan for a curving lake, a park, and a semicircular entrance drive at Kirkharle was discovered, and it is thought to have been Brown’s work.

In 1765, Brown is said to have designed Wallington’s Rothley Lake as a fishing lake that would be part of a pleasure ground, with a Gothic-style grotto and teahouse, but they were not built. He also may have been responsible for some alterations to a wooded area near a garden pond and for naturalizing the landscape closer to the house, planting clumps of trees and rounding the boundaries of the woods, both telltale symbols of his style.

For more on Wallington and the Trevelyans, read Wallington, Northumberland, by Sheila Pettit, John Cornforth and Gervase Jackson-Stops; A Very British FaWallington Hallmily: The Trevelyans and Their World, by Laura Trevelyan; A Pre-Raphaelite Circle, by Raleigh Trevelyan; and Lady Trevelyan and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by John Batchelor. George Macaulay Trevelyan was an historian known for narratives like The History of England, British History in the Nineteenth Century and Must England’s Beauty Perish?

To learn more about Capability Brown, see A World of Gardens, by John Dixon Hunt; Capability Brown and Humphry Repton, by Edward Hyams; Capability Brown: The Story of a Master Gardener, by Thomas Hinde; Capability Brown and the Eighteenth-Century English Landscape, by Roger Turner; The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot “Capability” Brown, 1716-1783, by Jane Brown; Capability Brown and the Northern Landscape, a catalogue of an exhibition in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1983, the bicentenary of Brown’s death; Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, by Laura Mayer; and the just-published Capability Brown & Belvoir: Discovering a Lost Landscape, by Emma Duchess of Rutland, with Jane Pruden.

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