Friday, July 28, 2017

The Last Leg and the caves of Smooooooooooo

The last day had very eventful weather.
We were at Stoer and then drove up to Durness which is right on the top of Scotland.
It is very windy.

A summer day on the road to Stoer
A sheep with its coat half blown off.
A resident, similar haircut,  looking rather handsome

Two more residents of the campsite

The coastline is getting a bit more rugged.
And Icelandic

Our Motorhome nestled in the site by the bay.
Beautiful fine white sand.

We sat and watched these Islands appear and disappear as the haar rolled in.

He wasn't impressed that we were on his road.
                                                A dog looking for something to herd.
trying my 1/ 1000 shutter speed.
The wave came in and the wind blew it back out again
And then all was calm

Down on the beach

That night we got about two hours sleep. We were parked at the top of this cliff and the wind and the rain was battering on the motorhome. The noise was louder than a military tattoo and the wind was so strong we felt the motorhome 'lift' slightly.  We had travelled to Durness to see the famous Caves Of SMOOOooooooo....
So we were determined to go.
The caves were one mile away from our campsite.
We couldn't even get the door of the Motorhome open because of the wind.
I had to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the jaggy, stinging rain.
In three minutes we were soaked, right down to our underclothes.
At one point I was hanging onto a fence as I was being blown off my feet.
But being an intrepid MIE blogger, onwards I went.
All the sheep were lying down as they were in danger of being blown over. 

I didn't take my good camera with me as it would have been ruined in this weather.
So here are some pics from the Caves Of SMOOooooo take from their Wiki page.

The cave swallowed this river..

It didn't look like this when we were there! There was water pouring everywhere and instead of bats, there were pigeons.

What the cave opening looks like in sunshine. I had planned to put a body in it (fictionally) but there are tourist coaches arriving every five minutes so that was that idea wrecked.

The inside of the cave has one big hole, full of water, floodlit and covered in a metal grate. There were huge signs everywhere warning that if the grate is closed, it's closed and don't attempt to go down the hole.

It was too noisy, too wet and too cold so we ran away.
A patient told me that in good weather you can pay five pounds and climb down into the hole by a ladder to a boat.  The boat is then rowed in an subterranean canal, the passengers have to lie down in the boat as the rocks overhead are so low. Then the boat  floats out into a huge cave and the 'rower' shines his torch round at the fossils that glint and shine in the cave walls.
The time frame of getting in and out before the tide comes in and cuts off the canal is very narrow.
The channel the boat goes through is also very narrow.

I am very fearful of being in rising water with the risk of being cut off.

It wouldn't bother Joe Hunter. Sure as hell bothers me.

Caro Ramsay  28th July 2017

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Familiarity Breeds Apathy

It is my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Matt Hilton, a prolific and successful writer.

He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series, and the Tess Grey and Po Villere thrillers. His first book, Dead Men’s Dust, was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Book of 2009 Award, and was a Sunday Times bestseller.  It was also named as a ‘thriller of the year 2009’ by The Daily Telegraph. 

Matt has also published novels in the supernatural/horror genre, namely Preternatural, Dominion, Darkest Hour and The Shadows Call.

His twelfth Joe Hunter novel, Marked For Death, was published this month, and his next Tess and Po novel, Worst Fear, will be released in September 2017.

Where does he find the time?

Please welcome Matt Hilton.

Familiarity Breeds Apathy

Recently I was appearing at a crime fiction weekend, and after one event got talking with an American reader, who asked me where I was from. I explained that I lived in a coastal village near Carlisle, in Cumbria, which earned me a blank stare. Attempting to pinpoint my location I explained that my home is very close to the England/Scotland border on the western side of the country. The blank stare persisted. So I asked if he’d heard of Hadrian’s Wall, which to his delight he had – albeit as the literary inspiration behind the wall featured in Game Of Thrones. He asked me, quite excitedly, if I’d ever visited Hadrian’s Wall, and to my shame I had to admit I hadn’t (not since I was a 7 year old child on a school trip). The realisation gave me pause for thought.

            I live within approximately twenty minutes drive of the Lake District, a stone’s throw from the Solway Firth, and around ten miles from the western most point of Hadrian’s Wall at Bowness-on-Solway and yet rarely visit any of them, preferring instead to drive, fly or sail miles to take in the culture of other lands. With that in mind, I recently jumped in my car, to take in some of my local sights with a fresh eye. Within half an hour and very little distance I had discovered some amazing historical places, ranging from the Roman invasion of Britain, right up to WW2, and how each had shaped my local area.

            For starters, I live in a village named after its very own abbey. Holme Cultram Abbey was a monastery founded by Cistercian monks in 1150 A.D. on territory held by Scotland at the time, but later reclaimed by Henry II of England. Having once been Scottish didn’t protect it from repeated attacks by Scots raiders, and even Robert The Bruce attacked it, despite it being the burial place of his father. After the dissolution of monasteries in 1538, the monastery was granted to the parish as a church. Several collapses of the building occurred over time, so the monastery isn’t as large or impressive as it once was. Ironically it was an arson attack in 2006 that caused its most severe damage, and forced years of restoration work to be undertaken before it was reopened in 2015.

Holm Cultram Abbey in 2017
A few miles to the west, and also towards the Solway Firth coastline lies the town of Silloth. Before entering the town, I discovered this pillbox style lookout post that once served to guard the adjacent airfield, used during WW2 to train pilots destined to go into combat against the Luftwaffe. Hangars still dot the terrain but these days have been converted for business uses, and the airfield has been left to nature, and a massive Sunday market.

Pillbox with a view of Skiddaw Pike and the northern Lake District    

Close up of pillbox

 Entering Silloth, it’s easy to spot that it was once the holiday destination for Victorians. The main street still retains its cobbles, and grand Victorian houses dominate the architecture, now largely converted to shops and flats. Opposite the main street is a large green and sculptured landscape, with man made mounds crowned by trees twisted by the elements and time. A promenade stretches approximately two miles along the coast, formed of a series of concrete steps. It’s easy to imagine ladies and gentlemen strolling along the prom in their finest clothes. Sadly the town lost its appeal as a holiday destination when the railroad between Carlisle and Silloth closed. These days it is still a seaside town, enjoyed by visitors from far afield, and is very popular with campers staying at various campsites within the town.

Victorian sculpted landscape in Silloth

A few miles further along the Solway coast to the west and you pass through Allonby. These days it is the destination for kite enthusiasts and even surfers, and a for a famous ice cream shop known far and wide. For many years when I was a police officer based in West Cumbria, I used to drive to work through Allonby towards Maryport, and would often wonder about an unusual feature of the landscape. Take a look at this accompanying picture:

Fields sloping down to the flood plains and seashore mainly dominate the terrain, and yet there was this one mound that always struck me as unusual. And it had good reason to. It is the remains of Milefortlet 21 (or Swarthy Hill), an extension of the fortifications dotting the northern English countryside built by the Romans to defend against Picts invading from across the Solway. The fort underwent extensive archaeological study in the 1990’s, as did two associated towers nearby. The cliff on which the fortlet was built has been reclaimed by nature, but the remains of the ditches and turf ramparts can still be observed when the fortlet is approached across adjacent farm fields.  

Milefortlet 21 now reclaimed by nature
Milefortlet 21 now reclaimed by nature

If one stands at the foot of Swarthy Hill aka Milefortlet 21, you can see evidence of another period of history, this time Elizabethan, in the Crosscanonby Saltpans. For nearly seven hundred years, salt was made from seawater here, and the site at Crosscanonby is a well-preserved example of the practice.  The large, circular, elevated structure seen in the accompanying photos is known as a sleech pit, or a kinch and was a storage tank. It was built of cobble with a clay infill and lined with reeds to act as a filter. Nearby is a settling tank (now just a depression in the earth) and in the shallow tidal waters lie the submerged timber remains of an elevated tank.

The circular sleech pit at Crosscanonby Saltpans

Sleech pit showing original cobble interior structure, and view across the Solway Firth
 to Criffel Pike In Scotland

Lastly, still standing at the foot of Swarthy Hill, you can see a promontory to the west, where again there is evidence of a Roman fort, this time known as Senhouse, where recent excavation of the Hadrianic fort was completed, and where there is a museum to commemorate it.

View towards the promontory and Senhouse Roman Fort
They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but I think in my case it was one more of apathy. 

Right then. I’m off to Hadrian’s Wall next.  @MHiltonauthor Twitter official author page at Facebook