Thursday, June 30, 2011

Haggis for Breakfast

We stayed at a bed and breakfast in the Scottish village of Crieff.  It was a lovely little place run by an Irish guy.   An Irish guy running a Scottish B&B.   Anyway, he asked us what we would like for breakfast.  Both black pudding and haggis were options.  I have tried black pudding and do not care for it (best not to ask what comprises black pudding if you are squeamish) but have never had haggis.  I didn't know that people ate haggis for breakfast but I thought, why not? When in Rome do as the Romans do.    Ian has eaten haggis before on his visits to Scotland so I knew that I should try it.  Below is a photo of a plate with haggis on the right.  I will try anything once.  It tastes a bit like liver and wasn't bad but I couldn't finish it.  The cooked breakfast is massive and I wasn't hungry enough to eat it all.

A typical cooked Scottish breakfast includes:  egg (usually fried but can be ordered scrambled), bacon, grilled tomato, baked beans, sometimes sausage, black pudding and sometimes haggis. Sometimes white pudding is available (don't ask about that either).  Plus toast and either tea or coffee.  Massive!  You will not need anything else to eat until late in the afternoon, at the earliest.

Here is a photo of black pudding.  Ian loves it and he eats mine when they forget to leave it off my plate at breakfast.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Whisky Distillery

Today we visited The Famous Grouse Whisky Distillery.

There are several tours available and we chose the one with two tastings each.  This actually worked out to be 4 tastings for Ian since I am the official driver when we visit the distilleries.  So I gave him my tastings as well.    The distillery has a nice restaurant and shop (all tours exit through the gift shop as usual).  Two cappucinos and a bakewell tart and 4 tastings of whisky were consumed!  We also learned that whisky distilleries frequently have a resident cat, whose job it is to catch the mice that like to eat the barley/grain. 

A previous cat named Towser, lived at the Famous Grouse for 24 years and caught 30,000 mice.  She made it into the Guiness Book of World Records for most mice killed by a cat.  Today's cat is a lovely lady by the name of Brooke.  Brook has lived at the distillery for 6 years and has caught 9 mice.  I don't really blame her because why should she go to all that trouble when she is fed so well?   Here is one of the advertisements for the Black Grouse - Ian's favorite brand.

Back on the Dig

We were rained out for a good part of our dig this year.  But we did have a couple of good days.  Here are some photos of our crew.  First, we have Ian with the pole that marks his find.
This is Mike in the background, one of our digging colleagues.  Mike and his digging partner, Paul, are physicians.  We discovered this at the pub and told them it was comforting to know that two physicians are working alongside us, in case of heat stroke or back injury:):) 

Here is Sheri and her digging partner, Bob. 

Those wheelbarrows get pretty heavy on the trek to the spoil heap.  The idea is to load the dirt and rocks (there are always rocks!) into the wheelbarrow and sort through it for "finds."  Then, when any finds are placed in the finds bags, it is time to haul the rest of the dirt/rocks to the spoil heap.   Lugging the wheelbarrow through the mud and up a muddy plank is a precarious situation.  But thankfully, no one had need to consult either Dr. Mike or Dr. Paul!

Castles in Scotland

In the year 1066, William the Conqueror brought civilization to England.  I wish I could say he was French but actually, his grandfather was a Viking who settled in what is today northern France.  He became the Duke of Normandy.  Normans = Northmen (aka Vikings)  End of today's history lesson.

As part of "French" civilization, William built many stone castles.  I could talk about castles forever, but I'll just stick to the one that we saw in Scotland.  We were driving down the road after visiting Stirling Castle, when Ian saw a sign for Doune Castle.  We decided to take a chance and check it out.  It turned out to be an extremely wonderful decision.  Doune Castle is one of the best that I have ever seen.
It is not commercialized and looks very much like it did when it was occupied in the 14-15th centuries.  You can climb all the way up to the top of the castle on the original winding, spiral staircases and visit the duke and duchess' bedrooms, sitting rooms, great hall and the kitchens.  And, we discovered that the castle was the setting for the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."  

Ian took some excellent photos of the castle interior.  This is a particularly good one of the great hall on the second floor - where the duke and duchess did their private entertaining.

Can a Roman Survive North of the Wall?

In the book, Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliffe (excellent book - highly recommended!), Marcus tells his uncle he is crossing The Wall to look for his father's lost eagle.  His uncle replies - "No Roman can survive north of the Wall."   Anyway - a Yank and a Brit can survive and even have a good time!

The dig finished last Friday and we drove up to Edinburgh.  The posts have been few and far between since it is not always easy to get internet access in the barbarian land north of the wall:):)  Edinburgh is a lovely city and we had a wonderful time.  Prince Charles is here and in residence at Holyrood Palace, which means the palace is closed to visitors.  I don't think Prince Charles would mind if we visited, but apparently his security forces think otherwise.

We visited the royal yacht, HMS Britannia, which has been decommissioned and now sits in the harbor at Edinburgh.  It was very interesting and has a delicious tea room where we had cappucinos and champagne.  If one is going to consume champagne, what better place to do so than the royal yacht?  Here is a photo of the Queen's bedroom.  I'm amazed at the size of the bed.

We also went to Rosslyn Chapel, of the Da Vinci Code fame.  It is a lovely chapel and has some excellent gargoyles, like this one:

We also visited a most excellent castle and a whisky distillery.  More on those later.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Housesteads Photos

When you are climbing up the hill from the car park to the fort, you will be amongst the present-day residents of Housesteads.  They are very mellow and will often talk to you as you are passing by.  Here is a photo of two of the youngest ones:

Chesters Roman Fort, a few miles east of Housesteads, is famous for the remains of the bath house.  The bath house was an important part of everyday life for Romans, even for soldiers.  The best preserved building at Housesteads is the latrine, an important necessity for everyone!  The latrine is located next to one of the watchtowers, which would be very convenient for the soldiers on turret duty. 

There were wooden seats along both sides of the latrine.  Note the channels on both sides of the platform in the middle.  They would have been filled with water in which you would clean your sponge on a stick.  Sponges on sticks were the Roman version of toilet paper.  The two containers in the middle, filled with water, were used for washing hands or whatever you felt the need to wash. 

A Lake or a Roman Fort?

We have been rained out of the dig about half the time.  The dig site resembles a lake.  I have learned a new skill - bailing out.  Who knew how much water a medium size sponge would soak up?  Bail out the little puddles first and then work your way to the larger ones. 

When we are rained out - we take trips to other places along the Wall.   There were originally about 16 forts on the Wall.  Some have been excavated and preserved and are open for visitors.  Vercovicium - known today as Housesteads - is a wonderful place to visit.   Hadrian's Wall comprises the north wall of the fort.  Ian took some amazing photos and a few videos.  We may not be able to upload the videos since the signal here is not particularly strong.  But here are two great photos.

The above photo is the north wall of Housesteads, overlooking the wall as it runs east, towards Newcastle.

We love this photo, which shows the wall running along the hill.  Housesteads is so picturesque and would be a lovely place for a picnic, if only it weren't raining!

 Naturally, this being England, there is a small cafe at Housesteads which serves nice sandwiches and drinks.   If you survive the climb up from the car park to the fort entrance, at least reward yourself with an ice cream. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rained Out

Tuesday and second day on the dig.   We got to the archeology center and discovered the excavations had been called off because of rain.  The rain came in over night and the fort was like a lake.  So we went to the Roman Army Museum, about 7 miles down the road.

I have been waiting for months to visit the museum, partly because it is extremely interesting as well as for the new film, The Eagle's Eye - Edge of Empire.  Watch this trailer:

By 1:00 p.m. - it was determined that we could get back to excavating.  But first, we had to bail out the site.  It is amazing what a huge amount of water a small sponge can absorb!
In the two days that we have been excavating, we have found some lovely things, which we can't talk about on a public blog.  But when we return home, we can show you.

In closing, I would just like to say that the picture  in the article below is not us.  When we went to Lindisfarne on the Holy Island, there were huge warning signs everywhere to remember not to try and cross the causeway when the tide is coming in.  Alas, not everyone thinks those signs actually include tourists.

Monday, June 20, 2011

First Day on the Dig

and we are tired.......
We are hoping to get down to the anaerobic layers (meaning soil without oxygen) which is good for preserving things.   Some nice pieces of pottery found today. 
We walked down the road to the local pub for the weekly Pub Quiz - voted the worst pub quiz in Britain.  A good time was had by all.
More posts later - time to go to bed and work up energy for tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lindisfarne - the Holy Island

We have a  free day today before we start the dig on Monday.  We debated on what to do and Ian, as usual, had a great suggestion.  We should go and see Holy Island.  I'm a medievalist - it would be a crime not to go.  So off we went.  
Some of you may ask - what and where is the Holy Island?  Well, it is an island which is reached by a causeway when the tide is out.  And it is called Holy Island because of Lindisfarne Priory and monks who lived there in the Middle Ages. 

In the year 635, Saint Aiden founded the first monastery, for the purpose of converting the northern Anglo-Saxons from paganism to Christianity.  The monastery became a well-known center of Christian life and learning - especially famous for the creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Probably the most famous monk at Lindisfarne was Saint Cuthbert, whose tomb became an important pilgrimage site.  However, when the Vikings raided Lindisfarne in the 8th century, the monks were forced to flee to safety on the mainland and took St. Cuthbert's relics with them.  Today you can visit his shrine at Durham Cathedral.  And as an added bonus, you can see also see the tomb of the Venerable Bede at Durham as well.   "Google" the Venerable Bede for your free history lesson!

There is also a castle on Holy Island, built in the early 1500s.  Now something built in 1500, for me, is relative new, but it is a very interesting castle so I recommend it to future tourists. 

It was lovely and sunny at Lindisfarne.  But, just like in the midwestern USA, if you don't like the weather, just wait a bit and it will change.  By the time we left the island around 3:30 p.m., the blue sky had turned to rain.   It was a lovely day and a good time was had by all.  Don't we look like happy campers in this photo?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back in Northumbria Again

American Airlines motto should be "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."  We were supposed to leave Kansas City at 1:15 p.m. and we finally took off a little after 2:00 p.m.  Because we expect this sort of thing with American, well any airline these days, we left plenty of time for a layover in Chicago when we booked our flight.  Some people literally ran down the aisle when we landed in order to make their flight connections.

We had an uneventful but loud flight to Manchester (and actually left on time!)  There were two toddler children in the aisles directly behind us, and one of them screamed nearly the entire way.  Thanks so much to the selfish mother who made the entire plane endure your screeching child's tantrums.

But at last, we arrived in Manchester and picked up our car and received a free upgrade.  We shared the driving and arrived at the Vallum Lodge on the Old Military Road at about 1:30 p.m. yesterday.
It is a lovely place and only about 100 yards from The Twice Brewed Inn - the local pub for the Vindolanda excavators. 

We had a nice meal and after a great night's sleep we visited Hexham today.  The number one spot on the itinerary was the Abbey, originally built in the 7th century and rebuilt again in the 12th century. 

Someone had the nerve to be getting married in the abbey so we had to wait for a couple of hours before we could visit.  But there is plenty to do in Hexham, such as shop at the big Tesco store for snacks and drinks.
And I always have to buy a book in the Waterstones bookstore.  Buying a book when one is on vacation is a tradition.  Sampling the various coffee houses is also a part of our vacation.  So a good time was had by all today and tonight it is back to "the Twicey" for dinner.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Waiting to Fly

So here we are in the departure lounge at KCI - waiting for the flight to Chicago.  We survived the shoe carnival and the strip search.    So the journey begins.   More from Chicago, if there is free Wi-Fi that is!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sites Along the Wall - Part I

There are so many things to see in Hadrian's Wall Country.  This web site is an excellent source of information:

One of my favorite places along the wall is a Temple of Mithras at Brocolitia. 
The temple was discovered in 1949, when the tips of the altars were found sticking out of the ground.  The original altars are in the museum in Newcastle, but there are some amazing replicas in the temple. 
Worship of Mithras was popular among the Roman legions.  Mithraism was a mystery religion, probably originating in Persia.  The image of Mithras slaying a bull is present in most all the temples.  Here he is:

To reach the Temple at Brocolitia, you have to walk back through a field of cows and sheep, and it is not easy to find.   But last year I was determined to find the temple so made the trek through the livestock and down the hill and finally, there it was - the temple. The cows and sheep just looked at me as if to say, "here is another silly tourist."    I couldn't believe that I was actually walking into the remains of a Mithraic Temple.  There were no other people around and it was deadly quiet and a bit spooky. 

Planes, Trains and the Bus

There are many ways to get to Hadrian's Wall.  However, for we colonists the first step is to actually get to England.  Unfortunately, this means flying since we don't have the time or the money for a cruise across the Atlantic.   Once we have survived the cramped Atlantic crossing amongst the rest of the peasants in economy class, we have a car waiting for us.  We don't mind driving in the UK as one of us is British and the other one has done a lot of UK driving.  Here is a photo of my car from last year - a cute little red Ibitha (I called her Ida) which got 70 miles to the gallon.  Take note American car manufacturers!
This year we are getting a somewhat larger car, since there are three of us AND we are actually splurging for an automatic.  Who needs to shift gears when you don't have to?

For the non-Brits who are a bit intimidated by driving on the "wrong" side of the road, fear not.  Behold - the Hadrian's Wall Bus, also known as the AD122 (which happens to be about the year The Wall was started).

Hadrians Wall Country Bus

During the summer months, the AD122 runs between Newcastle and Carlisle, stopping at the major attractions/villages/car parks along the way.
So even if you drive to The Wall, you can leave your car and tour the sites by the AD122.   It will also allow you to stop at various pubs along the way and not have to worry about driving!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Soon to be at the Wall

Hello and welcome to our blog.  We love history and B loves Roman Britain.  In a few days, we are off to Hadrian's Wall in northern England.  We will be volunteer archeology excavators at a famous Roman fort called Vindolanda.  B was on the excavating team for two weeks last year and this summer we are both going, along with a very good friend of ours.  Below is a photo of a replica gatehouse at Vindolanda.  More photos and a travel narrative will be forthcoming.

We are aware that not everyone knows about the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the wall.  In about the year 122 A.D. Hadrian ordered a wall built from Wallsend, near Newcastle upon Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast.  It took the Roman legions about 6 years to build.  It is 73 miles (80 Roman miles) long and was once 15 feet high and up to 10 feet thick. 

There are a number of forts along the Wall:  Housesteads, Chesters, Birdoswald and our favorite, Vindolanda.  Vindolanda is not actually on the wall, but about 1 mile south.  The fort predates the Wall.  Vindolanda is incredible.  The discovery of the Vindolanda writing tablets 30 years ago was a milestone.  The wooden tablets are examples of the earliest written material in British history.  They give a view of what life was like for the Roman legions (and their families) along the Wall.