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The original castle was then demolished. These included extensions to the existing castle, new approach roads, a new estate road along Loch Muick and the major extension of a shooting lodge near the far end of the loch, called Glasalltshiel, which was located on the Birkhall estate. Another significant development was the diversion of the road between Braemar and Ballater to the north bank of the Dee to bring more privacy to the Balmoral estate. This required the construction of the Dee Bridge at Invercauld and a new bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, to link the castle to the village of Crathie over the river Dee.
The Lochnagar Distillery is located on the Balmoral estate and predates the Royal accession to the property by about seven years. The original building was destroyed by fire in about but it was rebuilt and then consumed by fire again in , only to be rebuilt once more. It was acquired by John Begg, an astute businessman, in late In he seized the opportunity offered by the arrival of his new, Royal neighbours to invite Prince Albert to visit his facilities.
George IV and Highlandism. The traditional role of clan chiefs then changed from being defenders and protectors of all clan members to being landed proprietors concerned to optimise the economic returns from their holdings, which included displacing small tenants from the land. These proprietors spent much of their time outwith Scotland, hobnobbing with the great and the good in London.
Inhabitants of the Highlands were often looked upon by Lowlanders as primitive, feckless, dirty and dishonest and the rugged Highland mountains as desolate, ugly and undeveloped. Emigration from the rural areas of Scotland to the booming towns of the Forth and Clyde valleys was a significant cause of depopulation in the countryside, including the Highlands.
But then something very curious happened. Highland cultural symbols made a resurgence, not as icons of the Highlanders but as an expression of Scottishness as applied to the whole country. In the Highland Society of London was formed to promote Highland culture and the following year the Prince of Wales, subsequently George IV and his brothers William and Frederick were given a complete set of Highland clothing.
Wearing the tartan rapidly became fashionable and, from , it was no longer illegal to dress in Highland garb. Tartan and the bagpipes had been retained in the Highland regiments of the British Army and these military units performed admirably during the Napoleonic Wars, helping in the reinstatement of Highland cultural symbols. Sir Walter Scott organised a series of pageants for him, allegedly illustrating Highland life and culture.
Much of the display content was fake, but this did not hinder the fulfilment of the transformation. Highland culture was back, representing not just the primitive north and west but the whole country, including its industrial heartlands and its cultured capital, Edinburgh. When Queen Victoria came to the throne in , she entered a world where tartan, the kilt and the bagpipes had become accepted as symbols of Scottishness and where the invention of new tartan designs was rampant.
She and Prince Albert enthusiastically fell in with the mood of the nation. In her journals, the first true reference to tartan was made in November Rothsay, on the Isle of Bute, was a stronghold of the Stuarts. Tartan was thus established in the Royal wardrobes even before the Queen had gained a home in the Highlands or more widely in Scotland.
The Balmoral estate was acquired in and later that year the Royal couple travelled to Scotland and entered upon their new property. Balmoral and its village, Crathie, were truly part of the Highlands of Scotland. The country people around still spoke the Gaelic, though the native language was generally in retreat and the locals could also use English, or at least the North-East Scotland version, the Doric.
Religious adherence in the village of Crathie was largely to the Presbyterian established church, the Church of Scotland. However, in Braemar, further up the Dee valley, a significant part of the population still cleaved to Roman Catholicism, in line with Highland tradition.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arrived at Aberdeen on 7 September aboard the Royal yacht, though its august passengers did not journey to Balmoral until the following day. The Queen and her entourage had to travel by sea because the railway had not then reached Aberdeen from the south. It arrived in Later a branch line was built along the Dee valley, reaching Banchory in , Aboyne in and finally, Ballater in , where the passenger railway terminated.
It is alleged that Queen Victoria blocked the further extension of the Deeside railway, fearing it would ruin the tranquillity of the Royal Deeside estates lying to the west. The Royal party travelled along the Dee valley by coach, passing through the villages of Banchory, Aboyne and Ballater before finally arriving at Balmoral at 2. There followed a reception by Dr Robertson, their commissioner and other estate servants. The Royal couple immediately began to explore their new property, walking to the top of a wooded hill probably Craiggowan after lunch.
The Royal Consort was keen to try his hand at shooting stags with his rifle but was unsuccessful, even though the animals were quite close to the house. The following day, Saturday 9 September, Prince Albert again ventured forth with his rifle but with no greater success than on his first day. The same afternoon there was a carriage drive through the estate in the company of Dr Andrew Robertson. Prince Albert was eventually successful in bagging a roe deer on 11 September.
Tuesday 12 September saw the Prince Consort venture onto the Monaltrie grouse moor north of the river and later in the Royal sojourn, he would also be entertained to a shoot for ptarmigan. Meanwhile the Queen amused herself by sketching the local scenery and with walking and driving about the estate.
She was clearly enjoying the solitude offered by the remote location of Balmoral. On the first Sunday of their Balmoral holiday, 10th September, the couple attended divine service at Crathie church for the first time, walking part of the way over the suspension bridge from Crathie village and mingling with the ordinary people of the village. She apparently entertained the fanciful notion that the Highlanders always wore the tartan for their Sunday best.
The following sabbath, church attendance was repeated. At the conclusion of the service there was very little display of curiosity by the ordinary members of the congregation. It was clearly a novelty for Her Majesty to be able to relax in the company of commoners, who did not gawp at her presence. Thursday 14 September was the day of the Braemar Gathering, a re-enactment of the ancient gathering of the clans, part of the revival of Highland customs, to contest with each other in feats of strength of arm and fleetness of foot, bagpipe playing and Highland dancing.
Of course, the Royal Family were curious visitors, at least on this initial exposure. If the Queen had been disappointed by the lack of tartan and the kilt in church, she would have enjoyed a visual feast at the meeting ground in front of the Invercauld mansion of the Farquharson family, north of the river Dee and half-way to Braemar. This latter contingent was carrying swords, dirks and Lochaber axes, a kind of halberd. Her Majesty had clearly become a full subscriber to Highlandism.
So too had the Prince Consort. This rather basic tartan was probably the oldest in existence, genuinely traditional and consisted of dark and light wools, usually undyed from black and white sheep, the contrasting threads running at right angles to each other.
Later, Prince Albert also took Gaelic lessons while at Balmoral and the Queen supported the establishment of a school near the Lochnagar Distillery teaching in the medium of the Gaelic. Towards the end of her stay at Balmoral, on 2 October , the Queen put on a ball for the servants of the estate.
The Queen attended briefly in an observer capacity and did not join in the Highland dancing. The servants all wore Highland dress, mostly of the Stuart tartan, and lighted the path of the Royal party to the ballroom with split pine torches. As was usual with such balls, the activities went on far into the night. Thus, the pattern for future visits was established during the few weeks of this first residence at Balmoral.
Circumstances of the Balmoral estate after He was succeeded by Dr Alexander Profeit, another son of Aberdeenshire who, too, had trained as a doctor and who had also practised in the Crathie area. Alexander Profeit died in office in The Highland servant had built a dominant position within the royal household and was essentially untouchable, no matter how boorish his behaviour towards members of the Court and the Royal Family.
A cousin of John Brown, Francie Clark, was a royal servant too between and John Grant, who had served with distinction as Head Keeper until his retirement in , had died in and been replaced by his understudy, Donald Stewart, who, in , had served the Queen for 32 years and achieved a very high standing with the monarch.
His family was close to Queen Victoria and she often visited their house, The Croft, with her entourage to take tea. Another long-serving Balmoral servant was William Paterson, the Head Gardener, who, in , had also served for 32 years. John Beaton was the Clerk of Works, who had designed many of the new buildings on the Balmoral estate and who, in had been in post for 25 years. He retired in and was succeeded by James Anderson, another Aberdeenshire native with a similar background.
Anderson had been a master mason who subsequently practised as an architect in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, before his Balmoral appointment. Following the death of Prince Albert, the Queen began a routine of making two extended visits per year to Balmoral, one in May — June of about four weeks and the other in August — November, which in was almost three months long.
From the earliest days at Balmoral, Queen Victoria had worshipped at Crathie church and the Minister occasionally conducted divine worship at the Castle. He was also a guest at the royal dinner table from time to time.
Before Victoria Mussen succeeded to the position of Balmoral Housekeeper. All of them regularly accompanied Her Majesty to Balmoral. This was the environment into which the Michies settled in summer Initially, they were assigned accommodation at 7 Easter Balmoral cottages.
Their needs were modest, only having one child on their arrival on Deeside. The family remained at Easter Balmoral until summer when they moved to the Dantzig Shiel on its completion. This house lay close to the Garmaddie woods and the Ballochbuie forest, convenient for forest operations, but it was an inconvenient five miles from the castle and six miles from Crathie church. John Michie kept a diary throughout his employment at Balmoral, between and , though there are some years missing from the sequence and intermittent gaps exist within the diaries which have survived.
The extant years are — , — , — , , , , , Eighteen-eighty-four is the first edition which is known to have survived, though there are two detailed entries on the weather for specific dates in previous years which suggest that earlier volumes were produced.
Despite the gaps, this collection gives a detailed insight into daily life at Balmoral, both during royal residence and the much longer periods of regal absence. The contents range over subjects including interactions with the monarch, the royal family and visitors, members of the Court, servants at all levels, neighbouring landowners and their staff, tenants, local tradespeople, ministers and doctors.
Other, perhaps more trivial, observations were made frequently on the weather, road conditions, river levels and fishing prospects, forest operations, landscaping and church attendance. Entries were typically made daily, though the practice of Sunday reporting varied between volumes. In the years and to inclusive, events relating to the Sabbath were mostly written up on the Holy Day, whereas the remaining diaries to inclusive had Sunday events recorded on the following Monday.
John Michie often recorded his attendance at church and that of his wife, children and visitors in his diaries. Between and late , the Michie family lived at the Dantzig Shiel, located about six miles from Crathie Church. He gave a variety of excuses for non-attendance, but sometimes no justification was attempted.
Most frequently, the weather, which in the late 19 th Century was much more severe in winter than is the case today, was cited. The weather was exceedingly wet and cold from the south west and in consequence did not go to Church as previously intended. In October John Michie missed a church attendance due to his dogcart breaking down, which he regretted because Dr McGregor, then Moderator of the Church of Scotland, had preached that day. Two other trends in church attendance can be discerned.
Until , Helen Michie rarely attended church in the absence of her husband but, from that year, she was more willing to make the journey without her spouse. After , the incidence of joint attendance by John and Helen increased significantly. By this date, their children were off their hands, which may have liberated them from childcare considerations.
The length of diary entries ranged from one word to several paragraphs. Some entries also contained drawings, for example of salmon flies, or Braemar Gathering pavilions. On some occasions when he was away from home, it appears that John Michie made notes in a pocket diary and later transcribed them into his main volume.
This happened in two periods of his absence in John Michie also recorded his work expenses in these tomes. They are not randomly scattered but show clear trends. At their simplest, they surely indicate the amount of time, or degree of inclination, he applied to filling in the diary.
Using a similar argument, the presence of gaps where diary entries are completely lacking, is also probably informative. These blanks, too, are highly non-random in their distribution. Mostly, they are clumped or blocked and not scattered. Through visual inspection of the spread sheet containing data on the occurrence of gaps in the diary, there does seem to be an overall trend towards blanks being more frequent in the half of the year encompassing summer, but this generalisation can only provide a partial explanation for the pattern of dispersion.
However, one of the most dramatic gaps, indeed a complete cessation of entries for the rest of that year, occurred after 12 June She died two days later. This tragedy had a devastating effect on the Michies, one obvious consequence of which was the complete cessation of dairy entries by John Michie. However, none of them exhibits the discrete boundaries of the event.
The smaller gaps tend to cluster together, and the larger ones are all interrupted by occasional entries. The extent of these gaps, collectively, is best shown by summing the number of missed days, ie those lacking entries, across a whole year.
By this measure, the annual diaries for , , and stand out for the number of missed days, all of which exceed for the year, as does the Beatrice year of It was marked by the progressive deterioration of his health, including his mental health, which made life very difficult for John Michie. The death of Queen Victoria in early also had a significant effect on John Michie, who was a very loyal supporter of the departed monarch. But there was one year, where diary-writing ended early but did not restart with the New Year.
Perhaps the disruption in his life continued through the holiday period in this instance? Life after Balmoral clearly did not have as much appeal for Michie, and he no longer felt the same urge to record its daily events. Balmoral Wood Forester. Mr JG Webster was the first person known to have fulfilled this role from at least to He may have been in post from It seems unlikely that John had extensive experience of forest operations at that tender age.
Queen Victoria attended the christening of his daughter, Victoria, at Garmaddie Cottage in At the Census, Thomson was still living at Garmaddie and still a wood forester. However, a decade later his role had changed to ground officer and in and he was described as road overseer. John Thomson specialised in carving walking sticks and many were commissioned by King Edward, who presented them as gifts to Balmoral visitors. Thus, the role of wood forester at Balmoral may have become vacant between and The Ballochbuie.
Lieutenant-Colonel James Ross Farquharson was laird of the Invercauld estate adjoined Balmoral on its western side between and Part of the Farquharson holding was the Ballochbuie forest, extending to about acres. It was and is an area of great natural beauty and was a favourite attraction for Queen Victoria, who was a regular visitor, starting in In the mids James Farquharson instructed substantial sales of standing timber in the Ballochbuie for a variety of purposes, including ship building and the manufacture of railway sleepers.
A steam-powered sawmill was installed in the middle of the forest to cut up these giant trees, but this extensive felling threatened to devastate the appearance of the Ballochbuie forest, causing the Queen much consternation. Consequently, a year lease was negotiated with Colonel Farquharson in late by which the Queen acquired rights to the timber and game in the forest.
Many of the oldest trees in the Ballochbuie were thus saved from felling. Because the Invercauld estate was entailed, James Farquharson had to gain the sanction of the Courts for this lease, but that approval was granted two years later. Subsequently, in , Her Majesty bought the Ballochbuie outright from the Farquharsons. She marked the occasion by causing a memorial cairn to be raised on Craig Doin, a nearby hill. On acquiring the freehold of the area, Her Majesty commanded the construction of a bridge above the falls in order to gain an even more spectacular view of the scene.
There occurred a violent storm of force 10 — 11 on the Beaufort scale wind speeds up to 72 mph , with westerly winds surging across Scotland, on 28 th December One casualty was the new rail bridge across the river Tay at Dundee, which collapsed while a train was crossing, at least partially due to wind stress, killing all the passengers and crew. Another was the felling of about mature Scots pines in the Ballochbuie forest.
A further 60 trees were brought down in the nearby Garmaddie woods, both locations by that year being part of the Balmoral estate. While Queen Victoria wanted to preserve the Ballochbuie and allow its use for deer stalking, the trees were valuable, and arrangements were made for the installation of a portable steam sawmill in the Ballochbuie to salvage the fallen timber. The new sawmill was in operation by mid-April In addition to the sawmill, a new bridge was constructed over the river Dee at the foot of the Ballochbuie forest, about five miles west of the castle and joining the north Deeside road.
The bridge was in operation during the following August. A report of these developments in the Aberdeen Journal described the new structure as follows. Possibly as a result of the acquisition of the Ballochbuie, which greatly increased the commercial forestry potential of the Balmoral estate, a decision appears to have been taken to appoint a fully qualified wood forester at Balmoral with responsibility for forest operations, such as planting, felling, sawmilling and marketing but with the immediate remit of salvaging the fallen Ballochbuie timber.
This position does not appear to have been publicly advertised in - , so it may be that soundings were taken amongst other major estate proprietors in Scotland. John Michie was appointed to the post and it may be that his previous service on the Seafield estate under Head Forester CY Michie no relation demonstrated the necessary qualifications.
The Earls of Seafield were amongst the earliest developers of commercial forests in Scotland. Between and they planted over 44, acres of trees on their estates. John Michie started his new position on 13 August and one of his first tasks was to supervise the Ballochbuie clearance. From 30 October, an advertisement appeared in several local newspapers.
The whole is fine old Scots Pine of the well-known Ballochbuie Forest. Intending purchasers can see the wood at the above mills on the following dates 8, 10, 12 November, when a conveyance will be provided at Ballater on the arrival there of the 7. The Birkhall estate had its own wood forester, one William Yeoman who was in post at least from to , though he was out of the post by , when John Michie first assumed responsibility for that estate.
Yeoman lived at Birkhall Cottage. The Abergeldie estate was acquired on a year lease from the Gordon family to the Prince Consort in and there were further subsequent leases. This estate also had its own wood forester, John Reid, who was in post at least between and In the latter year he was being assisted by his son, John Reid junior.
Before his father had retired, and John junior became Abergeldie Wood Forester. It is not clear if he answered to John Michie before but afterwards, when Michie was Factor, he certainly did. John Michie had, at the age of 27, attained one of the most significant wood forester jobs in Scotland, not because of the size of the holding, but because of the identity of the proprietor.
Does this suggest that not everyone in a senior position at Balmoral had bothered to notice the impact of his efforts? It is interesting that in early , John Michie confided to his diary that he was having thoughts about emigration. Was he unsettled at that time? Nothing came of this wild idea. Wood Forester job scope. Historically, human populations have not grown trees as a crop but simply plundered natural forests, with regeneration left to unaided processes of reproduction.
However, this unmanaged exploitation of wild forests led to widespread deforestation in Britain, including in Scotland and the once extensive Caledonian Pine Forest was reduced to a limited number of remnants by the 19 th century. The burgeoning industrial revolution led to demand for wood outstripping supply home-produced and imported and to a need to start planting trees as a crop. Cultivating and harvesting trees is, in many ways, similar to raising other plant crops, since it involves such operations as preparing the ground, obtaining seed, planting, growing, protecting from pests, harvesting and selling.
Foresters, like farmers, achieve best results if they have been trained to carry out the processes involved according to best practice. This elongated, multi-season growth system results in many special hazards for the practice of economic forestry, due particularly to the risk of crop damage extending over many growth seasons, the difficulty of predicting market conditions decades ahead of crop maturity and the perils of compound interest where money is borrowed over several decades.
John Michie showed his awareness of the need to plan for events that would take place after his own retiral in the following observation from In those days, learning was by watching and doing as an apprentice forester alongside a seasoned practitioner, though there was a movement afoot in the second half of the 19 th century to initiate formal training in forest husbandry. One of the aims of the Edinburgh Forestry Exhibition see below was to raise funds to start a Forestry School at the University of Edinburgh, although it was before that objective was fully realised.
When John Michie fetched up at the Balmoral estate in , tree cultivation had been pursued for some decades alongside the exploitation of naturally grown Scots pine in the remnant of the Caledonian Pine Forest present in the Ballochbuie.
John Michie professionalised the practice of forestry at Balmoral in keeping good records, in his standards of crop husbandry and in his attention to economic considerations. Throughout his career as a forester, even when he had men under him to carry out all physical tasks, he still delighted in rolling up his sleeves and joining in the work.
May John Michie was, in modern parlance, a good role model and many young foresters received their training under his tutelage, before moving elsewhere to take up senior positions. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert leased the Balmoral estate in and bought it outright four years later. The estate was extended in with the lease of the Ballochbuie forest from the Farquharsons followed by its outright purchase in Also, in , the Royal couple bought the nearby Birkhall estate from the Gordon family, which was immediately transferred to the Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Edward.
Victoria and Albert also sought to buy the Abergeldie estate from the Gordons, but their offer was declined, though a year lease was granted to the property. A dispute over the boundary between the Abergeldie and Birkhall estates involving the Prince of Wales and the Gordon family in was settled in court in favour of the Prince and 2, acres of land were judged to belong to Birkhall not Abergeldie.
The Birkhall estate was bought back from the Prince of Wales by his mother, Queen Victoria, in and he then went to live at Abergeldie Castle when he was on Deeside. Collectively the three contiguous estates extended to about 36, acres and stretched over a distance of about 15 miles east to west and about 10 miles north to south. When John Michie was appointed as wood forester in , he appeared initially only to have responsibility for the Balmoral holdings, including, by that date, the Ballochbuie forest.
Staying on top of the head forester role required great persistence and stamina from John Michie. His diaries repeatedly demonstrate his style and pattern of working through being constantly on the move around the estates to give instructions to the men under him, to check on the tasks performed and to correct any work whose standard he found unsatisfactory. A typical diary entry from read as follows. Whole of Wilson's wood squad planting larch in Craig Gowan.
Moving about the estate required the use of a horse, either ridden or pulling a dog cart but, because of the nature of the terrain, Michie frequently had to walk long distances between work sites. This was because his horse was sick.
It is perhaps not surprising that he often ducked out of church attendance on Sundays, frequently observing that both he and his horse were tired and needed a rest after a six-day working week. Life, in one way, became a little easier for Michie once he was able to appoint foremen for his various work squads who were reliable and could be trusted to control their gangs and provide an acceptable standard of labour. William Wilson — The illegitimate son of a shoemaker and a servant girl, William was born at Rathen in north-east Aberdeenshire in He was looked after by an uncle and aunt until his mother married another man, James Rettie.
He was probably tending the steam engine at the Ballochbuie sawmill, that is, he was likely to have been an employee of the Balmoral estate. Robson sawyer to start sawing tomorrow. Wilson was also entrusted, on occasion, to collect wood accounts. He had clearly impressed John Michie. Things had been looking up for the Wilson family but about this time Annie contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and by October she was seriously ill. His diagnosis and prognosis were grim.
The poor woman is much emaciated, and the Doctor's opinion is she will not survive long. Tuberculosis and general consumption he gives as her complicated disease. Phthisis in both lungs. She died a day later, 4 December Five years later, William Wilson married again, this time to Elizabeth Glennie, the daughter of a master tailor from nearby Glenmuick and a son, Douglas, was born in March Only six months after the birth of her son, Elizabeth Wilson died.
She had suffered from chronic endocarditis and then sustained a brain embolism. William Wilson did not marry for a third time. In , William, his two children and a housekeeper were found in residence at the Old Schoolhouse, Crathie. It was a substantial two storey dwelling built of dressed granite blocks. William also became a keen curler in company with John Michie at the Braemar pond.
He had got his leg badly bruised at work and was confined to home for some time, where he was seen by Dr Hendry. In , the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society visited various Upper Deeside estates, including those in Royal ownership, the tour extending over two days and ending with a luncheon in a marquee on the Balmoral lawns.
John Michie, supported by William Wilson, presided at this meal. Also, in , Wilson was being used by John Michie to carry out consultancy work on other estates, such as Castle Newe at Strathdon. No house of this name has been found in the village of Braemar. This cottage lies roughly half-way between Crathie and Braemar. As a Royal servant of long standing, it is likely that William Wilson would have been provided with retirement accommodation on the Balmoral estate, so it seems both probable and appropriate that he should have seen out his days at the foot of the Ballochbuie, where he had spent so much of his working life.
These bell-shaped canvass shelters had a single central pole and the men slept in them arranged like the spokes of a wheel with feet pointing centrally. In July , John Michie resorted to tented accommodation for a squad installing a fence near Glen Callater on the boundary between the Balmoral and Invercauld estates to check sheep movements. John Michie, while expecting his gangs to work hard, did not neglect their comforts.
Forest nursery. The Balmoral estate maintained a tree nursery which was located on the haugh land between Baile-na-Coile Michie sometimes referred to it as the Baile-na-Coile nursery and the river Dee at the foot of Craiggowan hill. It was used mainly for germinating crop tree seeds and transplanting them until they were big enough to be planted out in the forests on the estate, typically at about two years of age.
Other trees and shrubs were raised at the nursery too, both native and exotic species for landscape purposes around the estate. John Michie also carried out grafting, one example being recorded in From late 19 th century maps it appeared that the nursery was not very large, though it was extended in There had been a nursery run by members of the Reid family supplying plants to landed proprietors in Aberdeenshire since about and the firm was well established with a strong reputation by the time that the Royal Deeside estates had been acquired by Queen Victoria and her consort in The full story of the Ben Reid Nursery can be found on this blogsite - years and counting — the origin and history of the Ben Reid Nursery, Aberdeen.
John Michie would not have known the eponymous Ben Reid, who had died in , or even possibly his successor, nephew George Reid, since his attention was largely focussed on the engineering side of the business. When Michie visited Aberdeen for business purposes, he would often stay overnight with one of these Ben Reid managers.
The larch being from Tyrolese seed I took more than will be required to plant the piece lately cut. John Michie also had a close relationship with John Forbes, who ran a nursery in Hawick and who supplied Balmoral with specialist plants such as alpines. The Michies and the Forbeses occasionally visited each other socially and there was clearly mutual regard between the two plant professionals.
Members of the Royal family and their important guests often visited the Balmoral Nursery and would request plants for their own properties. John Michie learned to anticipate the whims of the Royal family, as he remarked in June , when an arboreal monument was required at short notice. Ground preparation and planting. One of the first requirements in preparing ground for reafforestation was the installation of a fence to exclude animals from browsing and trampling young plants.
Different types of fencing were required depending on which browsing animals were to be deterred. Squirrels, red- and roe-deer, sheep, rabbits and black grouse were all mentioned as young tree pests by John Michie. Red deer were particularly destructive since they used saplings to strip the velvet from their newly grown antlers. A fence installed at Birkhall in was described by John Michie.
Most of the different styles of fencing used by John Michie were present in the Ballochbuie and when Donald Cameron, a farmer in Glenmuick, asked for advice on fencing in , Michie took him around the Ballochbuie to illustrate his ideas.
Not all fencing had the purpose of excluding browsers. Some fences, or even palisades, were used for screening purposes, such as a barrier erected at Karim Cottage in Natural regeneration. John Michie often favoured natural regeneration as an appropriate strategy for wild-grown areas of woodland. In , he described such a plan for the Garmaddie woods. By so doing the trees which are going back, and there are a good many dying every year, would be turned into cash instead of rotting on the ground or being used merely for firewood and in their places, the ground being pretty free of any herbage on account of shading, would spring up natural seedlings, the healthy growing left trees producing the necessary seed, while they themselves would be producing a considerable annual accretion till the young seedlings got advanced far enough to necessitate a further thinning of the old wood say 10 years hence when half of them could again go to swell the forest revenue.
Meanwhile a young crop of seedling trees has been pushing forward, without any expense in planting, and that of a quality far superior to any planted trees for the ultimate production of the finest class of Scots pine timber and from the fact that they had never been planted or transplanted capable of living longer in a more healthy state. Another tactic occasionally used by Michie to aid natural regeneration was to trench an area by inverting the surface sod to encourage seeds to germinate in bare ground.
He used this device in when attempting to get Douglas Fir an alien but successful species to regenerate in the Ballochbuie enclosure. In order to press some ground into use for tree planting it was necessary first to dig drainage ditches. John Michie noted one such ditching operation in On occasion, John Michie also took responsibility for draining grass parks.
While the new ditch would be the limit of the field it would be streight which the old one is not and level throughout would be at least a foot lower allowing the upper corner of the field to be drained into it. Ground preparation. The land used for afforestation on the Royal estates was usually nutritionally deficient in one or more aspects, which needed to be addressed before planting could begin.
If the area had just been clear felled, the remaining brushwood would be heaped up and burned and the ash scattered to return vital elements for plant growth to the soil, as was performed at Ashintully wood, Birkhall in There was a constant need for compost at Balmoral and John Michie was always on the lookout for material to add to his mixtures. Autumn leaves, road scrapings, peat mould from Glen Gelder, vegetable mould, bog mould, turf and native soil from Craiggowan, lime and crushed bones from the Aberdeen Lime Company, brushwood charcoal and ashes, and cow manure from the Dairy.
Compost heaps were prepared in various locations including the nursery and a place near the Police Barracks. The heaps were turned regularly to encourage microbial decomposition. Compost was used to top-dress the Balmoral and Birkhall lawns, the trees forming an avenue to the East Lodge and other landscape planting and pasture-land in various locations, including the deer park at the Dantzig Shiel. Most seed planting was done in the tree nursery.
Occasionally, seeds were planted on open ground in the forest. The following example, also from , illustrated the hazards of this simpler and cheaper approach. They are useless both on wet ground and on dry gravel in Ballochbuie. Planting was a laborious and therefore expensive operation, with thousands, or even tens of thousands, of seedlings being used in a single reafforestation project.
John Michie recorded the following, typical example from Reid's people. They are divided thus - for Balmoral 10, small, 3, large. For Ballochbuie 3, small, 2, large. This hill, being near to the castle, was used frequently for walking by members of the Royal Family, which was the reason for using larger plants.
Seedlings previously planted in the nursery would typically be transplanted for two years before being used on the estate. The winter months, into early spring was the time for planting operations. The Black Grouse was a particular browser of buds from the youngest trees, as John Michie learned to his cost in when replanting in Stron-na-brack plantation.
I took no thought of many Black game being in the vicinity otherwise the heeled in plants would have been protected by wire netting. There can be no doubt as to the depredators as their droppings are amongst and atop of the mass of plants. In spite of the many impediments that John Michie encountered he was remarkably successful in increasing the area of the Balmoral estate under timber.
In , the Aberdeen Journal reported as follows. Maintenance of growing plantations. Throughout the years of growth, plantations required maintenance to ensure productive survival of the crop trees. Very often the youngest trees needed to be relieved of surrounding rank vegetation and heather competing for light and nutrition. Sometimes seedlings would need to be thinned where too many seeds had germinated when sown on open ground.
Such seedlings might themselves be sold or replanted elsewhere on the estate. At a later stage, a plantation would need further thinning by selective felling to allow the best trees to achieve maximum growth in the coming years. The felled trees could then be used, often nearby, to manufacture fence posts. Pruning the side branches of plantation trees was also important to reduce the size of knots in the timber ultimately produced. In other situations, pruning of dead branches was carried out for other purposes.
Pointing and tidying. The imminent arrival of the Queen set off a flurry of activity to ensure that the estate was both pleasing to the eye of the monarch and also safe for her use on daily jaunts though the policies. Another house-keeping activity was clearing of any debris from the roads and paths used by the Royal visitors.
It was also necessary from time to time to scythe scrubby vegetation from the banks of the River Dee to allow the fishermen to gain easy access to their sport. Failure of tree planting. No matter how careful the attention given to young plantations, partial or even total failure was sometimes visited upon them.
Scots fir in the same location were doing better but were suffering from predation by both roe and red deer, which were penetrating the protective fence, though all the hardwoods planted had completely disappeared, showing the food preference of these animals. Michie concluded that an extra strand of wire should be added to this defensive barrier.
Marking, felling and dragging. Marking trees for felling was a frequent activity mentioned by John Michie, using a marking bill. It was a task which Michie never seemed to delegate, presumably because identifying trees for a particular purpose required the application of his years of knowledge as a wood forester.
Storms would occasionally blow over hundreds of trees and John Michie would then be confronted with the problem of disposing of the thrown timber, whatever the then current state of the market for wood. In December , a storm brought down 1, trees at Birkhall and in the following year 1, trees were uprooted in the Garmaddie woods. Horses were employed to drag felled trees from their origin to a roadway where they could be loaded onto a wood wagon.
John Michie often hired horses and men from John Milne, the Braemar contractor, for this purpose. Dragging was often aided by using a janker, a machine with two wheels at one end of a beam by which the leading end of a log could be raised off the ground to ease dragging. Softness of ground sometimes required the building of a log roadway to extract the timber from the forest. The heaviest trees were usually removed in frosty and icy conditions using a sledge, since they could then be dragged over the ground without sinking in.
Ideally such large logs, especially if they had lain on the ground for some time, would be raised on wedges and left to dry, perhaps losing half their weight to a point where one horse could cope, before the logs were moved. A loading platform would be built alongside the roadway to ease loading the wood wagons. The heavy wagons would often cause considerable damage to the forest roads on the journey down to the sawmills, sinking into the surface if it was not fully frozen. On reaching the sawmill, logs would often be stacked for some time before being utilised and one man was employed to clean and de-bark logs before they entered the sawmill.
A number of sawmills served the needs of the Balmoral, Abergeldie and Birkhall estates. They were originally powered by water wheels. Subsequently, this source of motive power was replaced by water turbines, steam engines or oil engines. Because of the original requirement for flowing water, most sawmills were located close to water courses, adjacent to major forests and near to a confluence with the Dee and the roads running close by. Early in the 19 th century, some use was made of the river Dee to float log rafts down to sawmills in Aberdeen.
The Ordnance Survey 6in map series from the mids and from the early s allow the identification of the sites of watermills on the Royal estates of Upper Deeside. From west to east, they were as follows. Lower Glen Beg Ballochbuie , adjacent to the Ballochbuie forest. A small sawmill was shown on the s map situated close to the Dee.
This appears to have had inadequate capacity to handle the volume of fallen timber produced by the storm of late , because a portable, steam-driven sawmill was installed in the spring of to handle this major task. The sawmill was manufactured by Blaikies of Aberdeen, Ironfounders, Engineers and Boilermakers, who operated from premises at Footdee and the machinery was installed by John Ewen, master carpenter of Braemar. The new equipment was commissioned and in operation before the arrival of John Michie at Balmoral in August and the working manager of the portable sawmill was John Wright, also from Braemar.
One initiative of the Head Wood Forester appears to have been the replacement of the temporary sawmill before , a site further up Glen Beg than that of the original structure being chosen for the new buildings.
Their location can be clearly seen on the early s Ordnance Survey map. During , the facilities were expanded by adding a saw bench for cross-cutting presumably the other bench was for sawing trees lengthwise for beams, planking, etc. The access road was improved at the same time.
By , John Michie and his family were living in the recently constructed Dantzig Shiel, not far from the new sawing facilities. On Friday 13 February ! Presumably, the sawmill was rebuilt, bearing in mind the importance of the Ballochbuie as a source of quality timber.
Invergelder, close to the confluence of the Gelder burn with the Dee and serving the needs of the Garmaddie woods. This sawmill was present and in the same position in both the series and the series OS maps. In the severe winter of , the Gelder froze, depriving the sawmill of power.
In consequence, the men cutting up firewood for the Queen had to perform the work by hand crosscutting. In early , a portable sawmill was erected in the Garmaddie woods, to deal with a large number of blown trees there. During February , John Michie was informed of a dispute between the carters and the sawyers at Invergelder, the latter accusing the former of not placing new logs close enough to the mill benches.
John went down to investigate but found harmony now in evidence. He diplomatically did not mention the dispute. In , with James Forbes in post as the new Commissioner, Michie and Forbes discussed using the power of the Gelder burn to generate electricity for the castle. We meet to go over the place tomorrow to further discuss the matter on the ground.
Dalraddie , was located east of Abergeldie Castle and near to the Dee. Though not marked as such on the OS maps, this property was a croft and sawmill, part of the Abergeldie estate and was leased out. From at least to , the tenant was George Gordon. Bridgend , was found near Mill of Cosh on the Girnock burn. Nothing is known about this sawmill. The Mill of Cosh itself was a corn mill and also had a farm attached, which was tenanted in by Alexander McPherson.
The Knocks , was near Dallifour farm and served Dallifour wood. This facility had been present since the s. John Michie gave the opinion that the threshing mill to be installed should be powered by a turbine rather than by a water wheel or a steam engine but made no mention of a sawmill. However, it is certainly known that most of the wood for the new steading at Knocks was sawn at the Mill of Sterin. Mill of Sterin was located on the river Muick. This croft and sawmill belonged to the Birkhall estate but was leased out.
In the tenant was Charles Farquharson. On a number of occasions, he was commissioned to cut up wood for works on the Birkhall estate and it seems likely that this sawmill was mostly used for timber preparation for the east end of the Royal Deeside estates.
After the death of Charles Farquharson in , the new tenant was Charles Forbes, a joiner from Ballater. Balmoral trees and timber. After the leasing of the Ballochbuie in , Queen Victoria gained rights to the timber produced there and this location became the major source of timber on the Balmoral estate and its sawmill was the major facility for preparing timber.
Michie was a competent joiner himself and would often prepare wood for his own purposes. At the sawmill all day preparing for the Exhibition Chalet by sawing scantlings and panels. Rode down to Balmoral in the morning and gave men at Invergelder sawmill instructions regarding the cutting of a large quantity of parallel deal for R Gordon of Aberdeen. It is not clear which of the sawmills east of Balmoral Castle were in use to provide timber needed on the Abergeldie and Birkhall estates.
However, wood for a manure court at the Knocks steading and for a new shed at Dorsincilly farm, both on the Birkhall estate, was sourced locally. Trees available from the woods on the Royal estates were of various species. All the trees sold from the Royal estates by John Michie, whether windblown of felled, had been planted long before his arrival there in Planted trees were a minimum of 50 years old when utilised and naturally-seeded Scots pine could be — years old.
Timber from such venerable trees, which had grown slowly and therefore had dense wood, was much valued. Trees most frequently employed by Michie in sawmilling were the European larch and the Scots pine. John Michie tried many tree species for their suitability to Balmoral conditions and he gave his opinions in a lecture in to the Agricultural Discussion Society connected with the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, held at Marischal College, Aberdeen.
His opinion was that the tree most suited to the high-lying Scottish glens and hillsides was the Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga Douglasii , a North American native and not a true fir. Norway Spruce Picea abies was grown successfully on the continent but planted haphazardly in Scotland and had, as a result, got a poor reputation. The native Scots pine Pinus sylvestris did fairly well in most situations in Scotland.
Native hardwoods, such as oak, beech and ash, were grown in small numbers on the estates and were occasionally harvested for special purposes. Trees, wind-thrown or standing, were frequently sold by contract to Aberdeenshire timber merchants, who were then responsible for cutting and carting, often by a date specified in the contract. Equally, fallen or standing trees might be sawn up to create various timber products at the sawmills on the estates.
The purpose could be to supply a specific estate project, to fulfil contracts from local craftsmen and merchants, or for stock and speculative sale. Some of the finest Scots Pine timber from the Ballochbuie was bought by Allan and Sons of Aberdeen to manufacture furniture, pieces of which ended up, for example, in the dining room at Mar Lodge, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Fife. Locally at Balmoral, Ballochbuie timber was used for panelling in the chapel added to the castle in and for the same purpose in the Dantzig Shiel in , where it still survives.
Much experience was required in choosing trees for this purpose. Those, as a whole, which I am most inclined to favour are rugged trees on the outside of clumps of old wood with a good head of foliage on the outside. The spruce pillars for the magnificent rustic portico installed at Birkhall in also came from the estate. The Queen subsequently decided that she wanted the portico covered by creepers. John Michie sent over four evergreens in large pots for this purpose. More mundane uses of local timber were for the construction or repair of bridges, such as the old suspension bridge at Crathie, building construction, repair or extension New Garden Cottage, venison larder, eagle aviary, Braemar Gathering pavilions , cold frames for the Balmoral garden and the manufacture of such items as stone boxes, seed boxes, bloater boxes, venison boxes, plant boxes, boxes for transporting salmon and grouse, snow ploughs, sleighs for drawing wood in winter, ladders, telegraph poles and split pine torches for ceremonial use.
Sawn timber for external customers included beams, planks, scantings small beams , large beams, fence posts, palings and railway sleepers, 6, of which were supplied to the Great North of Scotland Railway in The New Garden Cottage was constructed in - and was characterised by an extensive veranda, the rustic posts for which were selected by John Michie.
All the wood for the new building came from the Balmoral Estate. Timber objects manufactured at Balmoral. Amongst the products to have been manufactured at Balmoral were telegraph poles, plant boxes, boxes for transporting salmon and grouse, ladders, scantlings, large beams, planking, fence posts, palings and pillars for rustic porticoes such as the magnificent structure installed at Birkhall in Occasionally coal was imported to the estate, but most winter fuel was derived from locally grown wood.
Birch trees were the main source of wood for logs and kindling, especially for the Queen, her courtiers and any important visitors. Other hardwoods, such as rowan, aspen and willow were occasionally used, when available. In cold winters, firewood demand could outstrip supply. Roads, rides and walks. The access roads to these dwellings suffered from stones coming down from the adjacent hillsides, usually under the influence of heavy rain, which could make passage difficult for coach traffic.
To avoid the monarch suffering discomfort on her journeys in the area, John Michie paid a servant to walk the roads daily and remove any newly deposited stones. When the tour is done, you are left to drift through a long, dappled ivy tunnel and out into Alnwick Garden proper, where the pretty cascade of water pools, high stone wall and lush, sweetly scented rose garden will obliterate all thoughts of death and deadly addiction.
Some thirty years later, what was once an empty landscape is now one of the most innovative gardens in Britain. Clearly, Charles has spent a lot of time talking to these plants. Tours start at Highgrove House itself, surrounded by scented plants such as wisteria, honeysuckle, jasmine, holboellia and thyme, and meander for two miles through a series of interlinked gardens, from the immaculate Sundial Garden, fronting the house, to the Arboretum.
Evidently, Charles is rather partial to Charlotte potatoes and Hapil strawberries, a big, soft, juicy berry, but among the various fruit and vegetables busily growing here are a number of rare and endangered varieties, including some cooking apples that are now virtually extinct.
Four miles south of here, the sumptuous theme is continued at Mount Stuart, a Victorian ancestral pile built by the third Marquess of Bute, with several tonnes of Italian marble that required a new railway line to ferry it down the coast. The Marquess, who had a strong interest in architecture, commissioned pseudo-medieval Cardiff Castle before getting to work on the family seat.
Mount Stuart was built from red stone in high Gothic style, with pointed window arches, tall chimneys and the chapel spire that renders the palatial exterior asymmetrical. Throughout, the architect fused the Classical marble columns and echoes of ancient Rome and Byzantium and the Romantic; the exterior is festooned with a Juliet balcony and pointy turrets. As you enter the house, the vaulted, cathedral-like Marble Hall is lit with stained glass depicting the signs of the zodiac and rises three storeys high.
For some, the opulence of Mount Stuart tips over into decadence. But the acre estate provides a wonderful counter to the drapes and the marble, with stretches of wilderness, a spacious Victorian kitchen garden and a tumbling rock garden. Sequestered in one of the most scenic corners of the Scottish Borders, Dawyck is a veritable masterpiece of horticultural passion and creativity, matured over three centuries into a stunning sixty acres of botanic forest.
The secret of this place lies in its range of species from climatically similar corners of the globe. Over the brow of the hill, year-old giant redwoods tower next to a rustling brook. Incredibly, these are actually infant trees, just a tenth of the way through their lives, and mere striplings compared to their ft-tall Californian forebears.
Just beyond the upward curve of the burn another giant looms into view: the rhubarb-like gunnera plant feels truly exotic, even tropical, a South American specimen with foliage as big as a golf umbrella. Yet tropical this garden is not, and when the September sun shines the heat of a stalling summer, Dawyck puts on one of the finest displays in nature: Eurasian sorbus and American acers mount a flaring foliage of reds, oranges and yellows subdued only by the rusty native beech, refracting the steaming dew and supplying photo opportunities galore.
Even if you forget your camera, Dawyck will imprint itself on your grey matter anyway, a humbling lesson in the glorious potential of landscape. Perched on a jagged outcrop of granite, and framed by heather-smothered hills, it looks like the classical impregnable fortress, its bleak, stolid walls witness to a long history of murder and mayhem. Thanks to Braveheart, almost everyone in the world knows about William Wallace and the Battle of Stirling Bridge where he trounced the English in that memorable, and bloody, battle scene.
Disappointingly for Wallace fans, little remains of the castle he took in ; after another hero, Robert Bruce, decisively beat the English again at Bannockburn in , the castle was effectively destroyed and then rebuilt. The oldest surviving part of the castle today is the stern North Gate, built in during the reign of Robert II. Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned in the Chapel Royal in , and the Great Hall where she held lavish feasts is still there.
It remains a majestic space, with enormous walls, high oriel windows, and a fine oak hammer-beam roof, encrusted with vivid stone carvings. Mary would have slept inside the section of the castle known as the Palace, built in Then there are the famous Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, medieval gems re-created for the castle by weavers at West Dean College. Without the distracting dazzle of colour, you instead concentrate on textures, contrasts and the subtle interplay of light and shade.
The famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle pours texture upon texture, shape within shape, and is equally fascinating both at a distance and close up. Vita, who had an ancestral connection with the castle, saw in it an opportunity to shake off some of the sadness she felt at being shut out of the inheritance of her childhood home, Knole, simply because she was a woman. The couple had different approaches to gardening: Harold enjoyed the discipline of orderly spaces separated by brick walls, yew trees and box hedges, while Vita was a romantic who enjoyed creating mystery and surprise.
In , they opened the garden for an entrance fee of a shilling. The romantic-looking Elizabethan Tower that dominates the estate was originally a lookout; for the Nicolsons, it was the perfect vantage from which to survey their leafy domain. Climb up to its highest windows and you can see how beautifully the gardens, orchards and vegetable plots nestle within the Wealden countryside, complementing it just as they intended.
The Carnarvon family has lived at Highclere since and the current nineteenth-century Italianate building is home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. The castle is approached by a long drive that winds through a stunning acre estate, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, park and woodlands — open only on the days that the castle is open to the public — designed by Capability Brown.
Inside, Downton Abbey aficionados will enjoy loitering in the Drawing Room and the Library, scene of many a drama and quivering stiff upper-lip of Lord Grantham played by Hugh Bonneville and his family including Maggie Smith as his mother, the Dowager Countess , while upstairs you can peer into the bedrooms of the Crawley girls. Since the house is still a family home and is also sometimes closed for filming, its opening hours vary from month to month and year to year; call or check the website for details.
The website also has a map of public footpaths on the estate that can be accessed even when Highclere is closed to visitors. You must park your car off estate and can choose an east-west route from Highclere village, or a short scramble up to a viewpoint on Beacon Hill which is, incidentally, the final resting place of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon.
The best preserved are Alnwick pronounced an-nick , with its wonderful garden see entry , and stocky Bamburgh on the coast. Bamburgh Castle also has a storybook silhouette, with its elongated battlements crowning a formidable basalt crag rising above the pale sands of a pristine beach, extending a mile out to sea at low tide. Warkworth Castle, home to generations of the Percy family, the powerful earls of Northumberland, is the better preserved.
The shattered remains of Dunstanburgh Castle occupy a magnificent promontory, bordered by sheer cliffs and crashing waves. A little back inland, Chillingham Castle started life as an eleventh-century tower, and from was largely left to the elements for fifty years, until the present owner set about restoring it. Need to know Opening hours include some evenings, see W dennissevershouse. Map 1, F2 Discount if you arrive on foot or by bike, see W edenproject.
Map 2, A7 See W aberglasney. Map 2, B5 See W drummondcastlegardens. Map 2, E7 Timed tickets are compulsory for general entrance donation appreciated. See the website for details of expert-led tours W soane. Map 3, C12 Reduced opening times in winter, see W nationaltrust.
Map 2, F6 See W blenheimpalace. See W hrp. Map 3, C12 See W cadw. Map 3, A11 Glendurgan closes for winter from Nov to mid-Feb. See W nationaltrust. Map 2, A8 See W caernarfon-castle. Map 3, A11 Closed Jan to mid-March. Book online for a discount, see W chatsworth. Map 3, C11 See W english-heritage. Map 3, B12 45min guided walks daily at See W thenma. Map 3, C11 See W nationaltrust. Map 3, C9 See W alnwickgarden. Alnwick is pronounced an-nick. Trains stop at Alnmouth, four miles away.
Map 4, E15 All visitors must have a pre-booked ticket for entry onto Highgrove Estate. No children under 12 years old. Mount Stuart operates limited hours in winter when pre-booking is essential. See W mountstuart. Map 4, B15 Free parking; good wheelchair access; no dogs except guide dogs. See W rbge. Map 4, D15 Guided tours hourly, on the hour included in entrance fee, or audio guide available. Closing time changes seasonally, see W stirlingcastle.
Map 4, C14 Winter opening hours are weekends only, see W nationaltrust. Map 2, F6 Opening dates are seasonal and booked up months ahead. For tickets, see W highclerecastle. Map 2, D6 See W alnwickcastle. In our regional celebration of British food and drink, we give you the unsurpassed Melton Mowbray pork pie, Cornish pasties, Kentish wine and whisky distilled in the Hebrides.
This glorious foodie nation has fantastic food markets, cookery masterclasses, beer festivals and gastropubs galore. Tuck in. A cross between a rock bun and a scone, the Rascal is made with a tempting concoction of dried fruit, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange and lemon zest. Bettys Tearooms was established in by Swiss confectioner Frederick Belmont, who, after arriving in London from his motherland, lost his document with the address of his destination.
He decided to stay in Yorkshire, and went about realizing his dream of setting up his own confectionery business. To a backdrop of gently chinking glasses, the soft hum of conversation and hot tea flowing from china teapots, uniformed waiters and waitresses in crisp, high-collared white shirts and spotless aprons flit efficiently from table to table.
Those with a particularly sweet tooth should drop by for a genteel afternoon tea on Sunday afternoons; as the smart pianist in white gloves tickles the ivories in the background, you can tuck into soft, currant-filled scones with lashings of cream and sweet strawberry jam. Today, alongside its wholesale role — the bustling fruit and veg market continues to operate during the early hours every weekday morning — it stands as the finest source of exceptional produce in Britain. Passionate stallholders will enthusiastically discuss provenance or cooking techniques, all the while — like all good market traders — gently coaxing your purse strings open.
The official start of season is St Georges Day on April 23 and the crop is harvested until June fun fact: although it takes three years from seed to harvest, asparagus spears can grow up to 10cm in one day. The 23, islanders refer to themselves as Shetlanders first and, with the Shetlander flag widely displayed, they see Scotland as a separate entity. This geographical isolation means that islanders have always been more self-sufficient than those on the Scottish mainland, and when winter storms disrupt deliveries to supermarkets, local produce can always be relied on.
Shetland has a proud tradition of crofting and fishing, plus dairy farms produce milk, buttermilk and cream. Farmers toil hard in the summer, when there is up to 19 hours of sunlight each day. More recent introductions to the islands include world renowned whisky distilleries and breweries.
All the traditional eat-and-drink ingredients are present at this November festival, from food stalls to demo sessions and cookery competitions in community halls; but in between you can catch a rollicking fiddle band, talk to Shetland knitters and listen to the Old Norse Saga stories. Local produce, along with cookbooks and the like, can be ordered from the Taste of Shetland website for delivery to your door. Gone are the trade stalls and suited delegates, replaced by an army of volunteers manning hundreds of kegs, dispensing beers, ciders and perries that few people have ever heard of to thousands of squiffy punters — a lot of whom are wearing traffic-cone hats or sombreros for no apparent reason.
Welcome to the Great British Beer Festival, a celebration of home-grown ale and its resurgence in popularity. If you somehow get tired of those and are still able to stand upright, there are a hundred or so ciders and perries to imbibe, plus a large range of international beers including some truly excellent ones from the US.
Those yet to be convinced of the hoppy stuff can take part in tutored tastings; connoisseurs will appreciate the book signings and collectors-item beer mats for sale. Perhaps the highlight, though, is the oyster-eating contest where ironstomached participants sacrifice their dignity by downing four oysters and half a pint of stout in the fastest time possible. And just as their kiln chimneys seem wrought from some displaced seam of Orientalism, so their smoky single malts have proclaimed a new Lordship of the Isles with an export dominion extending right across the globe.
Also near Port Ellen is the even older and equally iconic Lagavulin, a venerable year-old malt with a similarly peatsmoky if not quite so medicinal finish. Oldest of all Islay distilleries, however, is Bowmore, a beach-fringed northern stalwart whose lighter strain of peat-reek is perfect for newbies. The first to join, back in , was the charming Shropshire market town of Ludlow, which has strong claims to be at the vanguard of this particular epicurean revolution.
A highlight is the sausage trail, which takes you to every butcher in town to sample a banger. Locals swear by D. Many gravitated to Glasgow, engine room of the empire with a working populace ripe for conversion to what was then an exotic foreign luxury. As such, this frozen marvel was to cause no end of controversy, blamed for everything from Sunday trading to juvenile delinquency. Yet with more than shops operating by alone, ice-cream cones — and the families who sold them — were to become an integral and much loved fixture of Scottish life.
Open since , the place could win a prize for its vintage-kitsch window display alone. Inside, shelves groan with glass jars, the wood panelling goes back generations and the mirrored walls reflect one of the most loyal clienteles in the city, some slurping away at the prize-winning, home-made vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, others tucking into pretension-free pasta.
Padstow and its environs are full of fabulous food — from pasty shops to delis, ice-cream parlours to gastropubs — but this chic little fishing village is best known for its high-class restaurants. It still gets booked out well ahead — proof the experience is worth splashing out for. The seafood may be out of this world, but hemmed by Atlantic coastline and the lush Camel Valley, there are acres of farmland to support high-quality locally reared and grown meat, veg and dairy — the Padstow Farm Shop has a superb selection.
A tolling bell declares Billingsgate open for business at 5am, but in fact the market never really sleeps — the porters and merchants start work well before dawn and deliveries of up to or so varieties of fish and shellfish arrive throughout the night from all over the UK and beyond.
With only a few hours of trading each day, activity is frenetic, competition between merchants fierce and the banter brusque and bawdy. For now, you can still buy from fish merchants, many of whom come from generations of Billingsgate traders, who know exactly where the fish was caught, as well as how best to cook it. Billingsgate is first and foremost a wholesale market. Locals often resorted to brewing ale because the fermentation process created a palatable, nutritious product safe to drink — albeit one with alcoholic benefits.
And so, when Nottingham Castle was built for William the Conqueror in , a brewhouse was one of its first additions. The sandstone caves at the base of the castle proved an ideal location as they provided the steady, cool temperature required for brewing. Downstairs in the cellar, where the beer barrels are now stored, are the remains of an old castle jail cell, as well as a former cockfighting pit call the pub beforehand if you want to take a look down here.
Sadly, the pub ceased its brewing role years ago, but there is a fine range of beers, ales and stouts on offer. The perfect thing to sup — of course — is Olde Trip, a rich and faintly fruity ale brewed for the pub by Greene King. Though iconic Albert Dock — home to Tate Liverpool, the Mersey Maritime Museum and a host of other attractions — was magnificently restored in the s, much of this vast former fulcrum of industry has struggled to shrug off postindustrial decline, with acres of warehouses, locks and offices lying empty and forlorn.
Many of the hundreds of pubs in this once teeming area met a predictable fate. Some have been boarded up for decades, victims of the decline of the docking industry. There are, however, a few characterful old-timers that somehow still manage to get by. Firmly stuck in the early s, this one-room pub still has sawdust on its floors and a skiffle band in the corner on Sunday lunchtime.
The same goes for The Bramley Moore nearby, where retired dockers sip pints of spectacularly cheap ale, joined by families and in-the-know traditionalists who simply refuse to see such an important slice of Liverpool social life die out. Back towards the city centre and stop off at The Baltic Fleet, shaped like a ship, and the only pub on Merseyside with its own brewery.
Minutes can slip into hours when settled into the bijou drinking area, complete with a real wood stove; you can even partake in a pinch of snuff tobacco, available at the bar. Still popular today, this stew served with bread and beetroot was in former times a welcome taste of home for returning sailors after months at sea, or for fatigued dockers after a nightshift unloading cargo from distant shores.
One day, dozens more pubs along here may reopen their doors, but for now, the majority of visitors to Liverpool are too wrapped up in the bar scene in Concert Square to venture into this forgotten spot. Come for a pint and drink a toast to the dockers who made Liverpool one of the most important trading centres on earth. No one really knows why the European eel makes such a mammoth journey, only to return when fully mature, to spawn and die.
Not much is known about this mysterious creature, which was until recently critically endangered — conservationists have been helping out in recent years by catching over a million of them and helping them round the man-made obstacles upstream. Elvers have been a central Somerset delicacy for hundreds of years: covered in flour and deep-fried, cooked with bacon and served in an omelette or, best of all, smoked.
The eels, pulled from the nearby River Parrett, are hot-smoked over beech and apple wood. The coppery-skinned creatures are then whipped out of the smokery, aromatic clouds billowing about them, and served fresh on rye bread at the on-site restaurant, or vacuumpacked for the deli next door. Add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of pepper or, for the smoked-eel aficionado, a dash of horseradish , but not too much — you still want to taste the briny tang of the Sargasso Sea.
Mind you, nobody deep-fries it batter. Merchant Chippie on the High Street, is a proud purveyor and Romans Pizzeria has created a Mars Bar calzone, served with grated almonds, caramel sauce and a scoop of ice cream. Tastiest of all, however, and undisputed king of all Glaswegian battered dishes, is the deep-fried haggis. Takeaways throughout the city will usually deep-fry any confectionery you like for a modestly negotiated fee.
At its best, a pasty is the ultimate comfort food. To be considered genuine, it must be crimped to one side rather than on top, must have no filling other than chuck steak, sliced potato, onion and swede, and these ingredients must be raw prior to baking. Purists roll their eyes at carrots and such abominations as lamb and mint.
Ann also makes cheese and vegan varieties. But put that glass of champagne down: not any more. Since then the industry has expanded exponentially and now produces wines to rival even the most established competitors.
English sparkling wine has been the most successful so far: with a soil and topography not dissimilar from the chalky terroir of the Champagne basin, the vineyards of the South Downs have produced some award-winning fizz in recent years.
There are now over four hundred vineyards in England, mainly concentrated in the sunny southern counties. Many are open to the public for tours and tastings. Visitors are free to wander round the vineyard at their leisure, or join the free tour that takes place on various weekends throughout the year. A friendly guide leads you past neat rows of straight, beautifully pruned vines, explaining the history of the business and the ins and outs of viticulture.
The best time to visit the vineyard is during the harvest September— November , when you can watch harvesters busily picking juicy bunches of grapes. The tour then moves to the barns, where the grapes are pulped, ready for bottling. Wales is prime foraging territory, with vast, craggy stretches of coastline, clean rivers, ancient oak woodlands, craggy mountains and rugged moorland all teeming with edible wild plants.
Mid-Wales and the Brecon Beacons are a great place to start. The scenery is stunning — all soaring mountains, glacial cwms and hidden waterfalls — and the place names hereabouts are as much a mouthful as the food. All you need to begin is a good identification book and a keen eye.
For dessert, head up to the mountaintop heaths and moors to look for Tolkienesque-sounding bilberries — they taste zingier than their cousin, the American blueberry, and stain your mouth a dark plum colour. In spring the trees are in blossom and in autumn they are laden with apples. Tastings are done in an old, dark cider house dripping with atmosphere.
Tour its visitor centre in the village of Much Marcle to admire one of the largest bottle collections in the world and sample a drop of potent Old Rosie, much like a traditional scrumpy but slightly sparkling — at 6. Though Stilton is no longer made in the village — only producers in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire are allowed to use the name — the inn still serves a fine selection of cheeses, and the village still celebrates its formative role with an annual Stilton-rolling competition along the High Street in May.
The pies are baked overnight, ready to be picked up the following day. Clothes shops stock saris, salwar kameezes and pashminas; halal butchers stand beside grocers with Asian fruit, vegetables and spices; jewellers sell elaborate gold creations by the weight, while other stores offer a bewildering array of multicoloured beads and bangles. Locals switch between Urdu and Punjabi and English — though whichever language is spoken a distinct Brummie twang remains.
Above all, the air is thick with intoxicating aromas. This area, centred on three roads — Ladypool Road, Stoney Lane and Stratford Road — is home to something just as iconic to Birmingham as the Bullring and the Rotunda: the balti. Baltis are cooked and served in the same balti bowl, a small thin-pressed steel wok that allows for a swift cooking time baltis take around eight minutes to cook, far quicker than a curry.
Vegetable oil and fresh herbs and spices are used, rather than ghee and curry pastes, giving the dish a lighter, fresher taste. And naan, instead of rice, is the accompaniment of choice. The Balti Triangle — spread over the Sparkhill, Balsall Heath and Moseley neighbourhoods and easily accessible from the city centre — has around a dozen authentic balti restaurants as well as many traditional Indian restaurants : among the best are Punjab Palace and Shabab on Ladypool Road, and Shahi Nan Kebab House on Stratford Road.
Few restaurants are licensed, but the vast majority allow diners to bring their own alcohol corkage is rarely charged. For dessert, head to one of the many local sweet shops Royal Sweet Centre on Ladypool Road is particularly good , which offer toothsome burfi similar to fudge , gulab jamun deep-fried dough balls soaked in syrup and kulfi Indian ice cream. Where should you go for the best fish and chips in Britain? Here, the haddock is fried in beef dripping and the chips have a deeply satisfying crunch.
What you will find is an authentic slice of northern hospitality and gargantuan portions. Just keep any references to Yorkshire strictly critical. But the national delicacy back in favour is laverbread bara lawr in Welsh : not a bread at all, but a wild, edible seaweed that grows on rocks, piers and harbours along the exposed west coast. The sheets of seaweed are gathered and carefully washed before being simmered in boiling water for 6—8 hours.
The spiritual home of laverbread is the wild Gower Peninsula and a great place to try your first spoonful is in Swansea market, on the seafood rotundas at the very centre of the glass-roofed market. There are speeches, recitals and perhaps even a ceiledh, before the end of the night is marked by crossing arms, holding hands and singing Auld Lang Syne. Details of cookery classes at Bettys can be found at W bettys.
Map 3, C10 See W boroughmarket. Wholesale market Mon—Fri roughly 2—8am. Map 1, E3 For general information about British asparagus, see W britishasparagus. Map 2, D5 See W tasteofshetland. Map 5, F18 For details of the August event, including opening hours on each day and tickets, visit W gbbf.
For exact dates see W whitstableoysterfestival. Map 2, F6 Up-to-date tour times and prices are available on the individual distillery websites: W laphroaig. For Ludlow Food Centre, see W ludlowfoodcentre. Map 4, C14 See W rickstein. Check out W padstowlive. Map 3, B11 See W brownandforrest. Map 4, C14 See W annspasties. The Lizard shop shuts at 2.
Closed Sun. Map 2, A8 See W biddendenvineyards. Map 2, F6 Brecon Beacons Foraging runs fungi and wild food identification courses, see W breconbeacons. Never eat anything you are unsure of, dig up the root of a plant or strip it of its leaves, flowers or seeds. Map 2, B5 You can book online for tours at Westons 11am, W somersetciderbrandy.
Map 2, C6 W mmspink. Map 4, D13 W thebellstilton. For a list of producers see W stiltoncheese. Map 3, D12 W porkpie. Map 3, D11 See W balti-birmingham. Map 3, C12 Seniors W thinkseniors. See also W ghilliedhu. History is our thing. Every week, thousands of otherwise perfectly normal people willingly give up their spare time to tinker with steam engines, don a Roman tunic or show groups of kids round a coal mine.
Having grown out of its original London Bedford Square location, nowadays you must travel to the countryside to see finely dressed ladies and gents gathering for a rather special sports day as part of the Firle Vintage Fair. Put on by The Chap magazine, the Olympiad encourages vintage-style dressing up, taking sartorial inspiration from Victoriana up to the s. This is no half-hearted fancy-dress day out: chaps and chapettes are painstakingly attired down to the last pearl and tiepin apart from the occasional doubter in jeans and T-shirt, looking outrageously out of place and look worthy of an invitation to a knees-up chez Gatsby.
On to the games themselves. Throughout, contestants show a sanguine lackadaisical sportsmanship. To break a sweat would just be poor show; posing, smoking, drinking gin and cheating your way to the prize with a theatrical flourish of course are the marks of a true sporting champ. If only sports day had always been thus. But then your guide clambers up the slope, looking for something. When he gets to the top he pauses for a second, nods, then suddenly lies down, legs fully extended with his back flat on the ground.
But then he slowly lifts his left shoulder off the grass, and holds the position. When unearthed more than seventy years ago, the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo yielded some of the richest Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found. Treasure-hunters had been digging here for centuries without much luck. By the time Edith May Pretty bought the nearby property in , tales of gold were just rumours, whispered stories told by the old men of the village.
Yet Edith was intrigued, and finally, in , she invited local archeologist Basil Brown to excavate the site. On his second dig the following year, Brown uncovered the remains of a vast burial chamber, later identified as a seventh-century Saxon ship — perhaps the last resting-place of King Redwald of East Anglia. The site today, on a bluff above the River Deben, remains a wild, unkempt heath, open to the wind.
The biggest dates in the horse-racing calendar are Ascot flat racing and Cheltenham National Hunt racing. Part racing competition, part fashion show, Royal Ascot is all about high society a British Monarch has attended every year since its inception in The Festival originated in and the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the pinnacle of the jump racing calendar. You can even don a deerstalker and pretend to be the great man himself. But most celebrated of all the chalk carvings has to be the 55m ft Cerne Abbas Giant, just north of Dorchester in Dorset.
Legends explaining his significance run back to ancient times: he was a Roman tribute to Hercules; a Celtic British icon; a Saxon deity; and a slain Danish giant. More convincing interpretations place him during the English Civil War, when he was carved as an insulting caricature of Oliver Cromwell — the local landowner of the time was a sworn enemy — while others suggest he was a parody of Abbot Thomas Corton, expelled for malpractice from the nearby Benedictine Monastery.
Whatever his genesis, however, it is his status as a fertility symbol that has always resonated most strongly with visitors to the site. Childless couples used to dance around a maypole erected on nearby Trendle Hill, and it is said that if you make love on the carving — particularly on the tip of his phallus — your chances of conception will be greatly enhanced. This is, of course, if you decide to ignore the notice from the National Trust who now own and maintain the site: the public are politely requested to remain outside the perimeter fence.
Just how many locals ignore this plea is open to debate. Not once, in any of the films, do you see him stooped over a designated plot of turf, back aching and fingernails crudded with dirt, as a fine drizzle sweeps in from the North Sea. Built in AD, the Wall ran 76 miles from the Tyne to the Solway Firth, its entire length dotted with milecastles, turrets and, as at Vindolanda, forts. The backache vanishes. The rain seems to disappear.
Finds like this will pepper your two weeks volunteers can be accepted for a maximum of four weeks , as you work closely with a professional archeologist, perfecting your dig skills and enhancing your understanding of Roman Frontier Britain. Many such discoveries end up in the on-site museum, which houses the largest collection of leather, textiles and basketry found anywhere in the Roman Empire. The famed writing tablets, the earliest archive of writing in the country, however, made it into the British Museum itself.
Not even Dr Jones managed that. These five long years were a time of isolation and struggle during which over three hundred islanders were sentenced to prison or sent to concentration camps. Many suffered severe malnutrition. The Germans carried out a number of defensive construction and engineering projects in the Channel Islands but the excavation of Hohlgangsanlage 8 Ho8 , a series of hillside tunnels in central Jersey, was by far the most elaborate and dangerous.
Totalling over a kilometre in length, the complex was originally designed to be a weapons store sturdy enough to last a thousand years — the constant, cool temperature provided optimum conditions — but as the war drew on and casualties increased, the Germans converted it into an impregnable hospital. Creating the tunnels was a gruelling task. Others were injured in accidents, and some simply disappeared. The displays are stuffed with memorabilia relating to the harsh realities of German occupation: little details, such as the make-do-and-mend shoes and the handmade clothes and cosmetics, speak volumes about the resourcefulness of the islanders at a time of deprivation.
Some unfinished sections of the complex have been revealed, to give you a sense of the conditions the prison labourers had to suffer. The result: an extraordinary — and unique — pastiche of an idealized Italianate village, incongruously set on the west Welsh coast. In the wrong hands, of course, it could all have gone terribly awry. And yet it works. Williams-Ellis scoured Britain for a suitable site for his project but settled on this forested cove, just four miles from his family home.
When the tide is out, broad sands stretch right across the Dwyryd Estuary, where Patrick McGoohan was forever being chased by a giant beachball in the cult TV series, The Prisoner. Though certainly a delightfully theatrical place, Portmeirion can feel plain bizarre on a rainy day, so come when the sun is shining and let the Italian atmosphere seep into you. Warm days attract large crowds, however, so the key is to stay overnight on the estate, either at Castell Deudraeth, a Victorian crenellated manor fashioned into a boutique hotel, at the waterside Hotel Portmeirion, or in any of the numerous self-contained cottages Williams-Ellis constructed around the village.
Guests get free rein around Portmeirion after the day visitors have gone, the most peaceful time of all to explore. The main part of the collection comprises an enthralling chronological social history, represented by a vast assemblage of domestic products, toiletries, clothing, food, toys and more. In the 80s section, up pop irritating dancing sunflowers, while the 90s ushers in bottles of former teen-favourite scent Charlie Red. You might find that the impact fades in the s display, but in a few years it will no doubt prompt a stroll down memory lane.
The second stage of the museum is a study in brand development. The winding route means you can lose yourself in the detailed displays, emerging hours later, awed and blinking, into the lobby. He commenced his most conspicuous projects, Temple Meads railway station and the splendid Clifton Suspension Bridge see entry , while he was still in his twenties; both are monuments to the supreme confidence of the s.
A decade later, with interest in travel to American and Australia growing apace, he turned his attention to shipping. Designed to have the grace of a galleon, it was nonetheless breathtakingly modern. Among the vintage photos, tickets and sketchbook pages are letters describing life on board, from the quality of the porridge to the terror of a mid-Atlantic storm. Promenade on the open deck and you can imagine yourself breathing in the salty air of the high seas, just as the passengers did — strictly segregated by class.
An excellent audio guide brings the whole visit to life with sound effects such as the grinding of machinery and the clucking or mooing of livestock, while diary snippets give voice to characters as diverse as stokers, merchants and Royal Marines. You could easily miss it, almost hidden in a small copse at the foot of some bald hills. From the outside the chapel appears little more sophisticated than a barn — just a long, stone, whitewashed building with a simple pitched slate roof.
But the s, when the chapel was built, were more God-fearing times. It should be derelict by now, but the widely scattered community of Calvinist Methodists has just managed to keep the place viable, even using it as a schoolhouse until the s. Doors either side of the altar lead into a plain, white interior with a small maze of box pews, all nicely worn by nearly two centuries of devotion.
Typically Calvinistic simplicity is the theme here — only Duw Cariad Yw God is Love written in scroll behind the pulpit signals the divine presence. On a busy Sunday they might once have squeezed in a hundred of the faithful, but by the end of the last war the congregation had shrunk to fifty and by the s less than ten attended regularly. Some two thousand troops — representing the Houses of York and Lancaster — advance to their battle lines, facing each other across an open field.
The roar of a cannon shot tears the sky, then a whoosh of arrows as the archers fire their longbows. As the bodies enmesh in combat, amid battle cries and the clash of steel, the first casualties drop from the melee.
For one weekend every summer, the genteel Gloucestershire town of Tewkesbury turns the clock back to , hosting in a field nearby a re-enactment of the bloody Battle of Tewkesbury, a decisive moment in the Wars of the Roses for the record, the Yorkists soundly thrashed the Lancastrians. Most participants — anyone can attend the festival, but you need an invitation to take part — are sticklers for authenticity.
Spectators, however, are free to live a less ascetic lifestyle, sampling hearty food like hog roasts and traditional beers and meads, watching jousting and archery contests, and wandering among the colourful array of jesters, acrobats, jugglers, falconers, magicians, fire-eaters and storytellers. Meanwhile, Tewkesbury itself hosts numerous events, giving the town the feel of a film set for the weekend.
Once the battle is decided late on Saturday afternoon, the victorious Yorkists advance to storm Tewkesbury Abbey, an event swiftly followed by the trials and mock beheadings of the captured Lancastrian soldiers. For many, however, the most enjoyable parts of the weekend are the comical juxtapositions of medieval and modern life. For though a state-of-the-art visitor centre boasts computer-simulated combat, Culloden remains a place forever ruminating on a darker age, when brother fought against brother in the last tooth-and-nail battle on British soil.
With loyalties so divided, sometimes within the same family, it also remains, unsurprisingly, one of the most controversial, recalling a pivotal clash between competing dynasties: the House of Stuart, represented by Bonnie Prince Charlie and a Jacobite army comprised largely of Highland clansmen; and the governing House of Hanover, represented by a Duke of Cumberland-led British army that included both Lowland and Highland Scots.
As Charlie legged it to the Hebrides, the remnants of the Jacobite army met with as little mercy as ordinary Highlanders. Indiscriminate killing and economic devastation followed as government forces attempted to purge the region of both its Jacobite sympathies and its cultural identity. Tartan bit the dust, as did, ultimately, the whole clan system.
And whether the Highland Clearances were an inevitable consequence of the battle or not, what strikes you more than anything about Culloden two and a half centuries on is its haunting sense of absence, a microcosm of countless straths and glens ceded to the wild, or to sheep.
GPS audio guides may offer the last word in historical tourism, yet the essence of this place surely lies in the depths of its silence. There are ten museums scattered over an area of six square miles, each dedicated to a different aspect of industry — from iron-smelting to tile-making and ceramics. Between them they create the most extensive industrial heritage site in the whole of England. The Coalbrookdale Museums are a good place to start: the Museum of Iron sets out the importance of the early iron industry, and is also home to the original Old Furnace, where Abraham Darby produced the first iron smelted from coke rather than charcoal.
His discovery made iron integral to the Industrial Revolution, and close by are the Darby Houses, where the wealthy family lived. Also nearby is Enginuity, an interactive exhibition offering the chance to really get involved with industrial processes, from using a little ingenuity to pull a locomotive to generating power by hand. The other big draw is Blists Hill Victorian Town, a acre recreation of a working town at the turn of the twentieth century. Authentic shopfronts have been transported to the site, and visitors can change their twenty-first-century sterling for pounds, shillings and pence in the bank, before visiting the pharmacy, sweetshop and haberdashers, all of which mix antique items with gifts for sale.
The shops are staffed by characters in period dress, who are on hand to give an insight into life during the Victorian era. Both its great age and the feat of human endeavour evidently involved in its construction are awesome to consider. But this colossal structure is never more astonishing than on the summer and winter solstices, when it is perfectly aligned to the points of sunrise and sunset.
Archeologists are still unsure why Stonehenge was built. Theories abound and conflict. It could have been an astronomical calculator, or a place for ritual sacrifice, a royal palace or even a UFO landing site — but for modern-day Druids who follow the Celtic Pagan systems of faith, Stonehenge is not only a mysterious site to marvel at, but a living, functioning temple.
They, along with thousands of others, visit annually to witness sunrise on the longest day of the year, a significant date in the Pagan calendar. The Summer Solstice is a mass gathering. If the sun is out, around 30, people grab the rare opportunity to experience the view from inside the usual ten-yard barrier.
Cars and camper vans line up in thousands in a nearby field and the festival feeling kicks in. Inside the circle it is madness, crammed with bodies. Some are naked, clambering up onto the formations to dance and sing; some chant and meditate; others hug the cold sandstone. But most just stare in wonder at the ancient edifice around them. The celebration is typically peaceful, if eventful for the security guards, who are better practised at pacing the circuit on dark, lonely nights.
There are concerns about the effect this revelry has on the prehistoric construction. Druids fear for the corrosion of the stones, and that the spiritual meaning of the occasion is diluted. But as the sunlight spills over the edge of Salisbury Plain, and breaks behind the Heel Stone, there is only common joy and appreciation for the remarkable orientation of these incredible lumps of rock.
Any puzzling questions What was that used for? What age can my kids start down the mine? Enthusiasts in Ramsbottom re-create the days of starched uniforms and flouncy dresses vintage gear is de rigueur , complete with jive competitions, marching bands, church coffee mornings, wartime markets and sassy troop entertainers.
The Ramsbottom festivities go hand-in-hand with the wider East Lancashire Railway s weekend, which takes place on the heritage railway and at the stations along its mile track: Heywood, Bury, Burrs Country Park, Summerseat, Ramsbottom, Irwell Vale and Rawtenstall. In Bury, at the Transport Museum, visitors can sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire and start the litre Rolls Royce engine. Back in Ramsbottom, Bridge Street is decked out in bunting and shops are given a war-years makeover.
This is one place where you do mention the war. When most of the mines of the South Wales Coalfield closed, they shut for good. But the Big Pit was different: having stopped operations in , it got a partial reprieve three years later and in started life as the National Coal Museum, part of the National Museum of Wales. The centrepiece of a visit, however, is undoubtedly the Underground Tour itself.
Former miners get you kitted up in helmet, lamp and battery pack — the latter still charged in the former Lamp Room — ready for the rattling descent, the blurred rock face just inches away through the mesh-sided lift. As you wander through the low tunnels your miner-guide explains how ancient stack-and-pillar operations gradually gave way to more modern mechanical mining techniques. Such advanced methods hardly look fun, but are undoubtedly an improvement on the old days when shifts were often so long that during winter most men would only see daylight on Sunday between visits to the chapel.
Fighting for better wages and conditions has always been part of life here — hardly surprising when you hear tales of small children working a six-day week literally for tuppence — only to have to pay half of it back for the candles used. The tower-topped hill is visible for miles around, and has allegedly served as everything from the Land of the Dead to a meeting point for UFOs. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, attempting to establish Christianity in this heathen corner of the Roman Empire, buried the Grail at the foot of the Tor.
Descendants of this sacred Glastonbury Thorn still grow in the abbey grounds, blossoming around Christmas each year — the only other hawthorns that do this are, interestingly, in the Middle East. They are immediately recognizable as homes, furnished in period style with stone shelves, beds and square hearths.
The adjacent visitor centre re-creates one of the homes for a walkthrough experience, but in fact the real thing gives an equally vivid sense of the lives of the people who farmed and fished here five thousand years ago. A remarkable amount has been discovered about the inhabitants from the midden — or waste — pile that sheltered the houses; though the windowless homes would have been dark and smoky, in other ways life was pretty comfortable here.
The diet was varied, consisting of shellfish, beef, red deer, boar, mutton, barley, wheat and sea-bird eggs. Flint for tools was collected from the seashore, and animal bones provided the raw materials for other implements: needles, knives, pins and axes. The inhabitants slept in their cosy-looking stone beds on a mattress of straw or heather, with animal skins — and the fire — to ward off winter chills. A complex drainage system has been unearthed, and some early form of toilet may have been one of the mod cons on offer.
The houses follow an identical layout and were connected by low passageways, suggesting a close and non-hierarchical settlement. Skara Brae must have been a successful community: it was inhabited for six hundred years before being abandoned, to disappear under the soil for more than four thousand years. But as the weather conspired to reveal Skara Brae, so it threatens to wash away and eclipse this vulnerable coastal site. Take a ferry to Orkney and see it while you can. What more perfect place, with its winsome old town and idyllic village green, could there be for a museum dedicated to that most British of anachronisms — the steam railway?
And Bressingham Steam and Gardens, full of gentle surprises, is a steam museum par excellence. Wander through the Exhibition Hall and you arrive at a gaslit wartime-era shopping street. The immaculately tended herbaceous borders are a riot of colour at any time of year, with some delightfully eccentric touches, not least the cute stone bridges and Anglo-Saxon huts of The Dell.
Bressingham, with surprises at every turn, is the sort of place that makes you chuckle contentedly for much of the day. Both fascinated and terrified by witchcraft, the paranoid king brought in harsh statutes for anyone found guilty of covenanting with the spirits or uttering spells.
Four hundred years after the most notorious witch trial in Britain, bleak, windswept Pendle Hill has lost none of its powers to enchant. Once roamed by wolves and wild boar, this terrain of verdant pastures, steep valleys and dramatic expanses of open moorland, dotted with stonebuilt farms and villages, is magnificent walking country.
You can also explore the area — visiting sites connected to the witches — by car on the mile Pendle Witches Trail, which leads from the Pendle Heritage Centre, where you can read up on the trial, through the bucolic Ribble Valley — inspiration to both Conan Doyle and Tolkien — and over the heather-clad slopes of the Trough of Bowland.
The Trail concludes with the dramatic descent to Lancaster, where a tour of the castle brings the horrors of the trials to life. But, even if you prefer your entertainment not to be of the ironic variety, Blackpool Pleasure Beach provides big thrills. First, the old-fashioned fun. Blackpool seeks to carve out a new, modern heritage and perhaps the biggest surprise for unsuspecting fun-seekers is the impressive collection of modern art scattered around town.
Each film, from Dr No to Spectre, is represented by the pristine cars, boats, aircraft and motorcycles used during filming, and related Bond memorabilia, props, film footage and storyboards is exhibited alongside. You can take as many pictures as you like no flash and you also get the chance to dress up as Pick up the audio tour to hear stunt driver Ben Collins from Quantum of Solace and Skyfall tell the real-life stories behind the vehicles, many of which had to be tracked down and restored to former glory.
But the serious stuff of the weekend is the competition for the coveted trophies. The only drawback: you need to share the castle with the tourists. Need to know See W thechap. Map 2, F5 For tickets and travel information, see W ascot. Map 1, B2 The best place to see the giant in his full glory is from the viewing area just off the A south of the village of Cerne Abbas. W nationaltrust. Map 2, C7 Vindolanda W vindolanda. Excavations run from April to September booking from Nov 1.
Minimum age 16 years. See W jersey. Closed mid-Nov to Feb. Map 2, B8 For more information and accommodation bookings see W portmeirion. Map 3, A11 See W museumofbrands. Entrance fee includes free return visits for twelve months. Map 2, C6 The chapel is generally left open during the daytime.
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