S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

Reviews, news and inside the world of books.

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

History at the ends of the Earth

leave a comment »

Something I discussed last night with a friend led me to posting this today. This is my list of the top 10 places I would give a kidney to visit, but will almost certainly never do so. How many of these are on your list?

ANI

Image result for ani turkey

Nestled in the uplands on the eastern border of Turkey this early medieval Armenian city is a sprawling plateau of glorious ruins, from ancient churches to city walls and more. Though it is now part of a struggle for preservation and aid, its position led to decades of Turkey and Armenia both blaming one another for the site’s increasing dilapidation while doing nothing to halt it. Without taking sides, I find it saddening that unless change is effected quickly there might not be much of this world-class sight to visit by the time I get the chance.

SHAHARA

Image result for shahara

Quite apart from being in war-torn Yemen, Shahara with its astounding ancient bridge and buildings lie outside the sphere of the stuff I write, so I will be unlikely to find a reason to get there. And of course my Acrophobia might be an issue too….

RATIARIA

Image result for ratiaria

One of the saddest stories I have followed over the last few decades, Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria was a largely untouched Roman city buried beneath the earth in Bulgaria. But due to corruption and greed and simple poverty and desperation, since the country’s emergence into freedom, it has been systematically ravaged and looted, even to the extent of using JCBs and bulldozers. Now under a desperate push for preservation, what is left is a shadow of what was. I would have loved to have visited it decades ago, and there might be something still to see when I eventually get there.

SABRATHA

Image result for sabratha

One of several mind-blowing sites in Libya (along with Leptis Magna), these Roman cities are some of the most incredible of all ancient remains, and quite rightly are counted some of the world’s most important sites. Miraculously over the recent decades they have largely survived harm, largely through the dedication of locals, but with Libya remaining a difficult place to visit, reaching them seems unlikely.

AI KHANOUM

Image result for "ai khanoum"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Few places are more inaccessible for us than the ruins of Alexandria on the Oxus, in the mountains of Afghanistan. And even if we were freer to visit such a place (and that likelihood is ever increasing, of course), sadly, Ai Khanoum fell foul of some dreadful bombing a few years back that has left large tracks of it utterly obliterated.

NISIBIS

Image result for nisibis

A Roman legionary fortress, grand city and centre of the early Christian church, Nusaybin contains remains both civil and military spanning more than half a millennium, yet some lie in Turkey, some in Syria and some, totally inaccessibly, in the barbed wire no-man’s land between the two. Visiting the place would be problematic to say the least.

CALDER ABBEY

Image result for calder abbey

This one is pretty much on me, I have to say. The picturesque ruins of Calder abbey in Cumbria have been on my must visit list for over a decade, since I planned on visiting all Britain’s monastic houses. But they are on private land, and part of a big house’s grounds. I’ve got a poor distant photo of them. I have occasionally contemplated seeking permission to visit, but since we only get over there on at least a night away, it has thus far been too complex to plan, and so I’ve never yet been there. Perhaps next time…

LESHAN

Image result for leshan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those of you who know me know my leanings towards Buddhism, and I would love to visit the Buddha of Leshan in China not only because of what it is, but because of the air of mystery and power surrounding the monument. But China is sadly so far off my radar every year makes this less unlikely.

WEWELSBURG

Image result for wewelsburg castle

The fortress of Himmler’s SS occult obsession in deepest Germany has a weirdly dark fascination for me. Medieval fortress, Renaissance chateau and 20th century pit of evil, it has so many levels of interest, but being so far into Germany it is unlikely I will get there any time soon, since I naturally tend to spend my money heading to places that have a bearing on what I write and research. Still, I would be fascinated to prowl the corridors of this place.

CHURCH OF ST SYMEON

Image result for church of st simeon stylites

In Syria, the Byzantine church of my favourite saint remains one of the most beautiful and evocative ancient ruins in the world, despite having been repeatedly occupied and damaged in wars right up to this very year. The saint’s famous column has been a victim to this ruination, as has much of the structure.  And Syria remains a difficult place to visit, especially this church in a critical area that keeps being used as a fortress by one side or another. My chances of seeing this amazing site are tiny.

So that’s it. 10 places I will probably never get to, but wish I could.

Advertisements

Written by SJAT

October 7, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Travel

Sacred Mountains of China

leave a comment »

Sacred Mountains of China

You might remember that over the past year or so I’ve reviewed two motorcycle travelogues, on DVD and in book form, that were made by Ryan Pyle and his brother Colin. In addition to those great bike treks around China and India, Ryan Pyle has branched out and taken us on a trek on foot around some of the most incredible locations on Earth. Extreme Treks: Sacred Mountains of China is available on Blu-Ray and with an accompanying book. Let me tell you about them.

It’s hard not to draw a comparison with the brothers’ motorcycle journeys, especially given that the first one took in part of the region where these walks take place. I shall try and avoid comparisons as much as possible, but two things leap out and will recur at some point: One is the superior feel of this DVD, and the other is the increased depth of immersion in the landscape.

The DVD/Blu-Ray takes us on four treks, each of which is a pilgrimage in the Tibetan culture, circumperambulating four great mountains on the Tibetan plateau. I won’t go into the details of each one, but for reference, the four mountains are Minya Konka, Mount Kailash, Amne Machin & Kawa Karpo. No, I’d not heard of them before either. Perhaps I should have since I lean heavily towards Buddhism and am fascinated by the beliefs. In each case, Ryan Pyle dons his impressive walking kit and braves altitude sickness, exhaustion, illness, dangers in numerous forms, endless discomfort and the most extreme and sudden changes of weather to hike around one mountain, the journey varying from perhaps five days to twelve (if memory serves me). We are treated to such sights as yak herding, bathing in ice cold water, trying to put up a tent in a full-force mountain gale, other pilgrims on the routes kneeling in devotion on stony mountain paths and often Yak Butter Tea.

The journeys undertaken in this DVD were not done alone. In their motorcycle adventures, while the brothers had a support van with a camera, most of the actual filming was done by the two journeyers on bike cams and hand-held cameras, and the presence of the support van was barely noticable. Here, Ryan has a full support team of local guides, cooks, sherpas, and his loyal cameraman – who I felt for, as he performed the same trek but filming it at the same time. And the result of the increased team support means that the actual technical side of the travelogue in terms of filming, sound etc, is vastly superior. In fact, I would say the camerawork in particular is excellent.

What you are left with, then, is a very well filmed and well-produced journey, which is made worth filming by the enthusiastic, immersive and open attitude of Pyle himself, who is clearly in love with China and the Tibetan world, and equally clearly wants to make everyone else fall in love with it too. His enthusiasm and willingness to completely lose himself in this world is catching, and because of that, everything he introduces us to is that little bit more fascinating and attractive.

In summation, the video series is stunning, well-produced and enjoyable. The scenery is probably the biggest star. I’m not a lover of mountains, myself. I like hills and grassland and sea coves and so on. But it’s really hard not to be impressed and stunned by the beauty of these places, which have been so lovingly and clearly captured on film. I recently started watching Levison Wood‘s Himalaya walk, having thoroughly enjoyed his Nile walk. But sadly, having watched Ryan Pyle’s treks, I found Wood’s journey to feel tame and uninteresting by comparison. Perhaps because he doesn’t display the same connection to his environment?

Then there is the book that accompanies the series. This is a worthwhile purchase even if you’ve watched the series, for it’s not a text repeat of what you’ve already seen. From the start of the book (and I read it after I watched the Blu-ray) it was clear there was more to the book, as it begins by going into the whole background of Pyle’s life in China and the reason for the Treks in the first place. And throughout, the book goes into a level of detail that the series clearly could not due to constraints of time and flow. The book draws on more sources, details more than you see on screen and, of course, tells us more of what the explorer was feeling and experiencing as he trekked. It works nicely as a counterpoint to the series.

If you like your travelogues, this comes highly recommended. I will watch it more than once, that’s for sure. And reading the book has nudged me to want to be that little bit more adventurous in our own outings, even if at a rather tamer level. I am unlikely to come face to face with an angry yak in my searches for Roman ruins in deepest Romania, but the need for adventure is infectious. And if the pics in this review aren’t enough to persuade you to watch it, I don’t know what will. 🙂

Buy the Blu-ray here, and the book here on Amazon UK (or look it up on any other site of your choice).

Written by SJAT

January 21, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Tough Rides – China

leave a comment »

We’re taking a brief break from books again this week to look at a different kind of media. For those of you following this blog, you’ll remember that earlier this year I reviewed a great motorcycle adventure in both DVD and book format called the ‘Middle Kingdom Ride‘, and that during the summer I reviewed the second in the series – ‘Tough Rides – India‘. Well the great news is that Ryan and Colin Pyle are busy producing the third adventure in the series, this time in Brazil, to which I am eagerly looking forward. But in the meantime, here’s a worthily re-packaged re-release to grab the attention of anyone who hasn’t yet seen that and who has an interest in travel and/or bikes.

816I+IVQfwL._SX342_

When the Middle Kingdom Ride was first released I have no doubt that it was intended to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It certainly felt like it, and it had been a whole change-of-life, drop-everything-and-try-something amazing project. Having decided to pursue further ‘tough rides’, though, the original has been re-released but with a new name, new look and new format in keeping with the budding series. The DVD of MKR is now available on Blu-Ray as ‘Tough Rides: China’ (you can buy it here.)

eaf102cc-cae9-4114-8b32-8c42401bf617

So why a new review? Well because the new format deserves the press. I thoroughly enjoyed MKR when I first watched it, and my only real complaint with it was that the sound quality occasionally dipped. Well the blu-ray format is much clearer, which alone makes it a worthwhile improvement. But the real value is in the display. You see, one of the most amazing things about the travelogue was the scenery, which is absolutely stunning and captured with style and grace, especially considering the minimal manpower and equipment available on the journey. Truly, the scenery was breathtaking. And on Blu-ray, that really comes across. Don’t take my word for it. Load up the blu-ray on an HD widescreen and when you’re looking at the Mongolian and Tibetan landscapes it’s like something from Tolkien. Simply stunning.

91JHrhqKAvL._SX466_

The menu navigation on this edition is also much improved and having the series on one blu-ray instead of two DVDs adds another level of ease to it. And in case you’ve not read my earlier review, I’ll include a little something about the background of the ride from it out here. Do check out the whole review here for more information, though. If you enjoy a good travelogue in the vein of Michael Palin’s or Levison Wood or Billy Connolly, then these deserve your attention.

(From earlier review:)

Amazingly, this tremendous journey, painstakingly documented in both text and film, was carried out by the two stars from their own funds. They did not receive the financial and logistical backing of the BBC or Nat Geo, or any of the great media groups that usually produce such series. They did not get given special treatment from the authorities as media stars. They were not donated bikes. They used up their savings, sold a house, quit jobs and did it themselves. Did what? you ask… Oh yeah. Here’s what they did:

Ryan Pyle is a freelance photographer from Canada who’s lived in Shanghai for a decade now. He loves China. He loves the culture and the people and has been documenting it with his camera now for years. He’s also an enthusiastic, if relatively amateur, motorcyclist. His brother Colin owned a company back in Canada, but was tiring of the life and sought adventure – and he’s also a biker! So from Ryan’s enthusiasm and Colin’s need for change was born the idea of the Middle Kingdom Ride. The Middle Kingdom, you see, is a phrase derived from China’s name for itself, based on the principle that China was at the centre of its world. Ryan had this crazy idea that the two brothers could leave behind work and ordinary life – including, most wrenchingly, their wives – and take two bikes and a small support crew and ride around the circumference of China. China hold the longest unbroken border that can be driven or ridden, and to do so would not only be fascinating and an amazing achievement, but it would also be a world record.

Ryan and Colin sought financial and logistical support, but the deals they made fell through, leaving them alone. Not to be thwarted, the pair decided that they would do what they intended, with or without support. And so they found a filmmaker who was enthusiastic over the idea, who would travel behind the bikes in an SUV. And through careful planning around the route, arranged a series of local guides from each region who would join the support vehicle for a section of the trip. That was it. Two brothers on bikes, and two men in an SUV behind them.

Middle_Kingdom_Ride mkr5

Written by SJAT

October 22, 2015 at 9:42 am

Istanbul, not Constantinople

with 6 comments

So, after 6 years we just made it back (this time with 4 of us rather than 2) to Istanbul. And confirmed that it is still our joint favourite location on Earth along with Rome. It is somewhat hard to beat. And so for those of you who’ve not considered visiting or who are wavering as to whether to go, here’s my top tips…

0016 Blue Mosque

  1. Most important of all: do not be put off. Do not allow rumour or uncertainty to put you off. When we went this time, we happened to time it (yes more than a year after the park riots) but only a week after the hospital riot following the poor young lad’s death. A number of people expressed concerns, and we could understand them and expected to have to be wary. The simple fact is that we felt safe everywhere and more than that: welcome and encouraged. Even with some political problems, the Turks are a friendly people and Istanbul is a relaxed, pleasant place.
  2. Go off the beaten track. Istanbul has maybe a dozen major historical sites that are thrown at you constantly (eg Aya Sofya, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Chora Church, Topkapi palace.) There are lesser sights. And then there are the unusual ones. And then there are the astounding ones. Istanbul is packed with sights like a pomegranate with seeds. Some of them require a bit of walking or extensive tram use. Go for it. It’s cheap, you’ll see things you’d regret missing, and exploration is half the fun of the city.
  3. Do not book a short trip. The girls behind us returning to the plane said that next time they were only booking a one-way ticket so that they can choose when to come back. They were right. Istanbul sucks you in and tries to keep you. If you want to immerse yourself in it stay for a week minimum. If you’re wanting to see whether it’s for you, do 4/5 nights, but take it from me: it is. Book longer.
  4. Get yourself in the mindset. Istanbul is a meeting of worlds but also a meeting of ages. It is the ancient, the medieval, the renaissance, the new and the modern as well as just east and west. Read C C Humphreys’ A place called Armageddon, or Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, or Christian Cameron’s Tom Swan series (or might I suggest my own Ottoman Cycle!) Having a good historical context for the place will give you something you might not see otherwise. Oh, and if not a reader (why are you here again) you could watch Topkapi or From Russia With Love, or play that Assassin’s Creed game.
  5. Keep your eyes open. Istanbul is absolutely chock full of odd fragments. There is every chance that when you walk down a side street you will see a wall with layers of bonding tiles. It’s Roman/Byzantine. Or early Ottoman stolen style. It might be the back wall of a garage which was a monastery 1200yrs ago, or a couple of 3rd century columns supporting a doorway, or a 17th century watchtower. Nothing in that city is what it seems.
  6. Plan in advance. Search out everything you can find and make sure you don’t miss something just because you don’t know about it. If necessary, mail me and I will send you a fairly comprehensive list. Rank things. And go. Do it. But take maps. Be prepared. PPPPPP as they say. 🙂
  7. Try the foods and drinks. It’s not Turkey without Koftas, good Kebabs, coffee like sweet silt, and of course yogurt and sherbert. Do not buy a fez. Only a feckin’ idiot buys a fez… like the muppet we watched wearing one while sucking face outside a mosque at a cafe table.

Given that, here are things (not necessarily the top ones you get pointed at) not to miss:

  1. Spend a day walking the walls. Start at the Yedikule fortress, walk the land walls, and then the sea walls via Golden Horn and then Marmara. It is a stunning journey full of wonders. It’s long, but it is more than worthwhile and you will see Istanbul from every angle.
  2. Go and visit the monastery of the Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii) and explore Fener and the area around it. It is the most truly local and real area you will find and that church/museum is one of the most amazing places in the city.
  3. You will visit the Basilica cistern. You might visit the 1001 column cistern. There are a hundred of these water tanks in the city, but do not miss dinner at the Sarnic restaurant. Dinner in a Roman cistern among the myriad of columns is a special thing.
  4. Walk the Blachernae area. Some of it has been horribly reconstructed and some is under current work, but everywhere from the Chora to the Golden Horn… walk it just inside the walls. You will see a side of the city you would otherwise miss!
  5. The Hippodrome is hard to miss. You will find a thousand tourists being herded round it every hour. Go past the end of it and trace the Sphendone – the curved end – down and back up. If gives an idea of scale you would fail to see any other way.
  6. When you visit the Aya Sofya, realise that this was attempt #2 of Justinian’s church. The first version on a small scale was the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, now known as Küçük Ayasofya Camii. Try to get there. It’s beautiful.
  7. Istanbul is full of Roman honorific columns. Track them down and visit for a fun quest: Hippodrome columns x3. Goth’s Column, Cemberlitas, Column of Marcian and Column of Arcadius. And then look for the REALLY obscure ones.
  8. Take the boat trip up the Bosphorus. It’s cheap. It’s relaxing. It’s fun and it’s educational. Take the short trip for a 2hr rest. Take the long one if you want to get as far north as Anadolu Kavagi, but be prepared to eat seafood for a while then.
  9. Go for dinner at Palatium restaurant on Cankurtaran. It was a stunning atmosphere, an amazing meal and an all round great evening. But even more, in their courtyard you can descend into the rooms of the Byzantine Imperial palace.
  10. Simply: stroll. Enjoy the city. The more you wander and meet the people and find the unusual unexpected sites, the more you will fall in love with the place and the people.

And with that now in the bag, here are another 10 reasons to visit:

Arch of Theodosius Fragments 5

Fragments of the Arch of Theodosius

Aya Sofia 14

The Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya) of Justinian

Basilica Cistern 01

Basilica Cistern (Birbindirek Sarnic)

Blachernae - Palace of Porphyrogenitus 2

Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (Tekfur Saray)

Bosphorus - Rumeli Fortress 9

Rumeli Hisar, the fortress of Europe

Chora church 10

Church of Saint Saviour in Chora (Cariye Camii)

Column of Marcian 2

Triumphal column of the emperor Marcian

Land Walls 14

Reconstructed section of the Land Walls of Theodosius

0041 Hippodrome

The Hippodrome of Constantinople as it is today.

IMG_2513

The Bukoleon palace. Probably my favourite single place in Istanbul…

Written by SJAT

March 22, 2014 at 12:24 am

Seven Wonders

with 3 comments

So, I was watching the Big Bang Theory and listening to its rather catchy theme tune, and noted the mention of the Wall and the Pyramids, which got me to thinking about what Herodotus would have included on his list of Wonders of the Ancient World if he had had access to more exotic places? The Great Wall would probably not have been one, since the wall as we know it is much later, the early versions not being up to Herodotus’ mark, I feel. And that led me to wondering what my Seven Wonders would be. So I’ve set myself the task to work it out.

The criteria must be the same as those available in the ancient world when ‘roddy wrote that list that rested in the library of Alexandria. Of the original seven wonders, only tiny fragments remain of most of them. Only the Great Pyramid at Giza still stands entire. So my seven wonders must be there and visible. I am going to allow ‘ruinous’ of course. And I must have been there. How can I compile a recommended list if I haven’t seen them?

1. The Pyramids of Giza

Image by Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, the only survivor from the original list. Who could deny they’re a wonder? Quite simply they are breathtaking. Sadly, with every year, they are a little more invisible through hordes of tourists. Every year the urban sprawl of Cairo gets a little nearer to enveloping them. Already between the two visits I made to this amazing site (in 1982 and 2006) the city moved frighteningly closer. And given the troubles in Egypt, one has to fear for their future safety. But still… they remain an icon of the past and rightly so. Nice one, Herodotus!

2. The Ayia Sofya (or Haghia Sophia)

Image by Philz via Wikimedia Commons

Not around until long after our Roddy made his list. The great church of Holy Wisdom was started by Constantine II, and there were several rebuilds between 360AD and 532 when the current structure was commissioned by Justinian. It is simply the most breathtaking religious building I have ever set foot in. It is a symbol of Europe and Turkey and Byzantium and Rome, the blueprint for the Ottoman mosques for half a millennium. Among the fascinating oddities to be found within are runic carvings by one of the Viking Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Emperor who went by the name of Halfdan. The place leaves me speechless.

3. The amphitheatre of Pozzuoli

Image by Ferdinando Marfella via Wikimedia Commons

The Colosseum is magnificent, yes. El Jem is wondrous. I am led to believe Pula’s amphitheatre is astounding. Yet surprisingly few people mention the great Flavian amphitheatre of Pozzuoli in Italy (near Naples.) It’s only a little smaller than the Colosseum (3rd largest in Italy), constructed only a few years later, and is easily better preserved than any of those previous three I mentioned. It is simply astounding to walk around and beneath. While I find most amphitheatres to be dead, emotionless structures (while still wondrous), the one at Pozzuoli sent a shiver through me. I felt loss there. Perhaps it is too intact not to?

4. The Siq at Petra

Image by David Bjorgen via Wikimedia Commons

I guess everyone knows this because of Indiana Jones if nothing else. But Petra blew my mind. All of it. You can’t see Petra in a day. You can’t see it all in 3 days. But the core area, in particular the Siq are easily taken in. The siq was a crevasse through the rock that contituted the main entrance to the city. It is astounding to walk through. Roman paving is visible beneath your feet and an aqueduct channel runs along at your side, dry for millennia. Carvings crop up here and there, and tombs are visible high in the rocks. And in places where the Siq opens up, you find carved monuments such as the Treasury (see above). How could that NOT make it to a list of the great seven?

5. Hadrian’s Wall

Image by Michael Hanselmann via Wikimedia Commons

I can”t imagine I need to do much enthusing about Hadrian’s Wall. It is quite simply one of the most amazing and evocative monuments in the world. Not only was it a feat of sheer engineering and planning brilliance, but it also marks something unique. It represents that very moment when Rome stopped expanding and defined borders. Until Hadrian, the idea that Rome had a limit was a flight of fancy. Despite the Roman influence that continued beyond the wall, for that reason alone, Hadrian’s wall marks the edge of the Roman world for me.

6. The Baths of Caracalla

Image by Pascal Reusch via Wikimedia Commons

There are many great bath houses of Roman construction, even in Rome. The baths of Trajan and Diocletian remain. Further afield, those of Licinius in Dougga, or Antoninus in Carthage. But those of Caracalla stand as a testament to the sheer scale of such monuments. The remaining decoration; the enormous walls; the supplying aqueduct and cistern; Mind-blowing. And, though not open to the visitor, the underground passages remain, with rooms and furnaces, shrines and more. It is, to me the height of the Roman bath house and will ever remain so.

7. The harbour of Carthage

By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The navy that actually beat Rome! Yes, Carthage for a while actually held the might of Rome at bay. They had the most advanced navy in the world, in history in fact. And the military harbour at Carthage was a wonder worthy of that fleet. Take a look at the picture above, as it survivies today. Upon a time, imagine this image, but with the circle complete, both the island’s edge and the outer circuit home to endless what are essentially hangars for warships. Room for around 300 warships to be berthed, each in its own building on an inland port with swift access to the sea by a channel. On the island’s centre was the admiralty. I stood on that road on the left side of the picture a few years ago and was simply stunned into silence.

* * * * *

So there you go. That’s my Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now, all those of you who blog… let’s hear yours? I’m intrigued.

Written by SJAT

November 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Unsung sites to visit in Britain

with 7 comments

Here’s a quick Top #5 list of my favourite not generally well-known historical sites in Britain.

#5 – Aesica.

The Roman fort of Great Chesters on Hadrian’s Wall. Not under English Heritage control. Not covered in tourists gawking. Aesica is generally largely empty when I visit. Though the fort has not been excavated in the past century, somewhat dilapidates remains were consolidated after the 19th century excavation and are still visible (sections of wall, gates, internal buildings, the strong room.) Though overgrown and often being grazed by sheep, there is something I find magical and peaceful about Aesica and I always try to visit when I am in the area.

#4 – Jervaulx.

The cistercian ruins of Jervaulx Abbey are among the most evocative and beautiful anywhere in the world. The abbey is privately owned and payment is by honesty box. Again a serenely fantastic place. Go there early or late and you will likely be alone, which is the best way to wander among the breathtaking ruins. Combine a visit with a trip to the nearby Brymor Ice Cream place and you have the makings of an unforgettable day.

#3 – Whorlton Castle.

Close to the North Yorkshire Moors, near the A19 there is a hill covered in trees. From a certain angle on the road, you can catch a glimpse of the gatehouse of Whorlton castle. Turn off the road and pass through the village and go find it. Most of the castle lies as sad rubble at ground level among the tree roots, though the gate house stands proud and impressive. You will likely be alone to explore this absorbing little hill. Just down the lane is also a partially ruined church. A magical find.

#2 – Newminster Abbey.

Hardly anything remains of Newminster, standing buried in and entwined by the woods on the edge of Morpeth, Northumberland. A few small arcades, the occasional arch, scattered stonework across the ground. It is not easy to get to and therefore is rarely visited. Make the effort to climb the styles and cross the boggy ground, though. You will never find a more magical site than this. There is sommething almost fantasy, Elvish even about the arches and the tree roots. The place sends a shiver up my spine. Photograph courtesy of timojazz on flickr:

#1 – Hardknot.

The Roman name of this fort high on a mountain pass in the Lake District is not known. The fort seems to have been used for only 20 years. The walls are well preserved (with a little reconstructive help.) There are remains of various internal buildings, extramural baths, and even a parade ground with viewing mound that is higher up the hillside and requires a very wet, soggy climb. The fort is lovely, but it is the situation that really makes this something special and probably my #1 site to visit in Britain:

Written by SJAT

September 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , , , , , , ,

Are you a pole-vaulter? No, I’m a German… and how did you know my name was Walter?

with 2 comments

So for those of you who didn’t know, we were away recently for a week in Poland. Although we generally treated it like a holiday, we were there primarily with all wifey’s family to be at my brother in law’s wedding to the most fantastic Polish lass. So, before I go any further, if you’re holding a glass, raise it to Garry and Agnieszka. Most of this entry is photos, so beware, those of you still residing in 1989 with dialup connections! I have deliberately avoided shots of the wedding and reception and happy couple with one nicely anonymous exception, for their privacy. Click on the photo for more details. Here we go:

Written by SJAT

September 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , ,