Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Postcard 38: Vindolanda, Trafalgar Square and Jeremy Paterson on the Plinth

Lion in Trafalgar Square, London (above)

Vindolanda (above)

The Mithraeum at Carrawburgh, Hadrian's Wall (above)

Just a few weeks ago I posted a postcard on the children's book, V-mail, about the Vindolanda Writing Tablets. Little did I realize then that it would only be a few weeks before I was back in the North East, visiting Hadrian's Wall and the site of Vindolanda itself.

Last week a friend of mine was in London, listening to fellow poet, Crysse Morrison declaiming from the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. This week another friend alerted me to the fact that my lecturer (from 1979!), Jeremy Paterson (and here) was marking his retirement with an appearance from the same Fourth Plinth - in a Roman toga. His purpose was in part to promote Latin in schools, and the Minimus mouse material in particular. The Minimus books are written by Barbara Bell and Helen Forte. They have a vocabulary section and a Minimus glossary. Some of the Minimus tales (or tails?) revolve around Vindolanda, as you can see from the Minimus blog.

  • Earlier post on the Hadrian's Wall area, including the Great North Museum, our student Rag Day 'Homer-in-Greek' oration - and a mention of Maureen Almond's splendid poetry anthology, 'Recollections', about items in the old Newcastle University Museum of Antiquities.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Postcard 37: The 'auld crag' of Bass Rock - and Tantallon Castle

Top: Bass Rock off the Scottish coast
Middle: View from Tantallon Castle
Bottom: The Gannetry on Bass Rock, the oldest-known Gannetry in the world (taken from Tantallon)

Click here to see David's short video clip of the gannets (on my Coastcard blog)

On our recent holiday in Scotland, we spent a very happy couple of hours at Tantallon Castle on the east coast. The castle has a spectacular setting, but sadly we did not have time on this occasion to go to the spot along the coast from which this castle can be photographed to best advantage. You will, however, get a flavour of the site from my shots above.

St Baldred was an early visitor to Bass Rock. He died out there in c.606 AD (although the date of his death seems to be in some dispute).

About a hundred members of a garrison were posted there in the mid-sixteenth century. Their survival in this inhospitable place was due largely to the gannets, who carried fish to the island and provided material for fires (intended for gannet nests).

We learn about Bass Rock from the account of Jean de Beaugué, a French writer who published L'histoire de la guerre d'Ecosse in 1556, concerning the campaign of the French auxiliaries in Scotland from 1548-9. Jean de Beaugué wrote of the rock that 'those who enter it must climb up by the help of a strong cable thrown down for the purpose; and when they have got with much ado to the foot of the wall of the castle they sit in a wide basket and in this posture are mounted up, there is no other way.'

These days the 21,000 pairs of gannets are allowed to enjoy their realm on the rocky sentinel of the Firth of Forth without the presence of human residents. The nesting fulmars prefer the cliffs around Tantallon on the mainland. The 19th century lighthouse on Bass Rock built by David Stevenson (of the Stevenson dynasty of lighthouse builders) continues to serve as a key beacon for ships. Eider ducks float in rafts on the sea, diving for mussels.

  • Bass Rock in Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson (himself a member of the lighthouse building family)
  • Tantallon, a feature in The Independent

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Postcard 36: To the Lighthouse?

Godrevy Lighthouse,
Photo: copyright David Gill

This beautiful lighthouse, supposedly the inspiration for the novel, 'To the Lighthouse' by Virginia Woolf, has been sold for £80,000. The lighthouse in the novel is on The Hebrides (realm in real life of the Stephenson dynasty of lighthouse builders), but Woolf drew on her memories. She had spent childhood holidays in nearby St Ives.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Postcard 35: Scotland & Sir Walter Scott Territory

Above: Loch Katrine
Below: Abbotsford

I have long wanted to visit Loch Katrine where my great uncle used to enjoy fishing. However, it was not the fish that appealed to me, but rather the setting of Scott's poem 'The Lady of the Lake'. It is certainly a very beautiful and majestic area. I had already visited Dozmary Pool in Cornwall, home of another mythological Lady of the Lake (and my poem on the subject has been accepted by Reach Poetry, Indigo Dreams Press).

It was interesting to compare these two watery locations. Loch Katrine nestles among towering hills: Dozmary Pool seems to 'float' on a flat corner of Bodmin Moor, close to Jamaica Inn, with its Daphne DuMaurier connections.

While we were in Scotland, we also visited Sir Walter Scott's wonderful home of Abbotsford on the Tweed. It is worth seeing for the setting and architecture alone, but it was the artefacts that particularly caught my eye. There was an intriguing picture of the young Scott being presented to Robbie Burns by a female who was gently pushing him forward from behind. The picture highlighted for me the importance of the poetic relay race in which we find ourselves running. We beaver away in our own little garrets most of the time, but often find ourselves influenced - consciously or subconsciously - by that great number of poets who have gone before.