Wednesday 27 July 2016

The Appeal of Sir Benfro

You like Cornwall, but not its summer crowds? Well the great news is there's a solution just across the Bristol Channel -  Pembrokeshire.

Like Cornwall, Pembrokeshire - Sir Benfro in Welsh - is a county of surfing beaches:

Quaint creeks like Solva:

A rugged coast:

Moorland walks with Marilyns and prehistoric remains (Mynydd Carningli):

A county town with a cathedral (atmospheric sea fog in St Davids):

Lurid summer flora:

And like Cornwall with the South West Coastal Path - and the main attraction for us - Pembrokeshire has its own coastal path girdling the county. Over and above that, there are some very interesting islands to explore, something Cornwall can't boast.

Given the vast popularity of Cornwall, it's a mystery to me why Pembrokeshire isn't hoaching with more tourists...

Whitesands Bay gloaming:

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Dunnottar Castle

At the eastern end of the Highland Boundary Fault a stone fist punches out to the North Sea. The Highlands squeeze the Lowlands to a narrow coastal strip at Stonehaven and, just at its narrowest point, geology has provided a near-impregnable citadel of rock, surrounded on three sides by the sea. On top of this rock sits Dunnottar, the Stirling Castle of Aberdeenshire.


Dunnottar entered written history in 680, when it was beseiged by King Bridei mac Bili, a Moray man who was in the process of reuniting the Picts after their defeat at the hands of the Angles of Northumbria.

(The history of the Picts is the great unknown story of Scotland. Between the departure of the Romans from Britain in 410 and the slow consolidation of the new country around 900 a huge amount happened. A dynamic patchwork of rivalries and small kingdoms fought across Britain and Ireland. There were invasions of Scots, Angles, Saxons, and Vikings. In those days monarchs had fantastic names like Eadbert, Rienmelth, Urien, Talorcan, Sigurd the Mighty. Saints in the newly-introduced Christian religion travelled the land performing miracles. But there is no compelling narrative of the period for history fans to enjoy. The events were too many, the sources too patchy.)

Honours of Scotland (source,

The castle was prominent in other sieges of the middle ages, but its most famous moment came in the 1650s. Charles II had been defeated at Worcester in 1651 and had fled to France. Cromwell invaded Scotland, determined to get his hands on the Honours of Scotland - a crown, sceptre, and sword used in the coronation ceremony - and destroy them as he had done the English crown jewels. Rumour had it they were in Dunnottar. The siege took eight months, and in May 1652 Dunnottar became the last place in Britain or Ireland to fall to Cromwell. But where were the Honours? They had gone!

After Cromwell's death all became clear. They had been spirited out by the wife of the minister of nearby Kinneff Kirk, whom the English had allowed in to administer to the garrison's spiritual needs. When Cromwell died and Charles II returned to the throne, the Honours were restored.

Kinneff Kirk (By Martyn Gorman, CC BY-SA 2.0):

Dunnottar is deceptively large. After going through the gatehouse the full extent of the castle site is revealed, sloping gently towards the east. It makes a great visit. When you consider the number of armies from the 7th to the 17th centuries which have besieged Dunnottar, it is a modern miracle that these days anybody can pay their small entry fee and walk around unmolested.