Barcelona – Castell de Montjuic


When we first arrived in Barcelona our taxi from the airport took us along the coast and beneath this hill, with it’s surmounting fort. Later we had good views of it again, when we boarded the Norwegian Epic for our cruise.


Obviously, we had to visit when we returned to Barcelona.


It’s quite a modern fortification, compared to most we see in Britain. It was completed in 1799, although there has been a fort here since 1640. It’s had quite a chequered past, having be captured by the British in 1705 and by the French during the Napoleonic wars.


Situated as it is, overlooking both the city and the port, it would seem to be ideally sited to defend Barcelona, but it seems that more often than not its guns have been used to bombard the city itself to suppress unrest in the region.


During the civil war both sides imprisoned and tortured captives here. Most infamously, Lluis Companys, President of Catalonia, was executed here in 1940 on the orders of Franco.


Not a happy story then.

But the views are magnificent, both near and far…





We’d been concerned about just how hot it would be in Barcelona in the middle of the summer. In fact, aside from on the Metro, where it could be rather sweaty, it was mostly very pleasant. There generally seemed to be a cooling sea breeze and in the Gothic Quarter at least, the high buildings and narrow streets combined to make a deep, cool shade. On Montjuic hill however, it was very hot.


So much so that many people were tempted to paddle in the pool above the mirador (waterfall).



We were wandering down the hill…


…through pleasant parks…


…and a sculpture garden…


…to our next destination…

More to follow!

Barcelona – Castell de Montjuic

Entertaining Mister B

After my turn around Myer’s Allotment and Leighton Moss I came home in time for a quick bite of lunch (homemade burger and coleslaw which the Dangerous Brothers and I had knocked-up for tea the previous evening, very nice too) and then collected the chefs from school (TBH and A were away visiting friends).

The sun was shining and B was anxious to drag me to the park to throw a ball around. Before we could do that, however, he needed to pack for his first Scout camp. This was a protracted and painfully slow process. I gave him the packing list, he went off to pack. When I subsequently went through the list with him it transpired that he had omitted more items than he had packed. He went away and tried again, with similar results. Eventually, I stood over him and watched him put all of the things he needed into my voluminous, and venerable, Karrimor Jaguar 6 (which dwarfed him when packed).


B, living up to his billing as a Dangerous Brother, was still recovering from a sprained ankle and whilst he was keen not to miss out, was not fit to join the rest of the Scouts on a scheduled long walk. So an early start for me – I picked him up from Sykeside Campsite by Brother’s Water at 9am. Well, I was there to pick him up, but he was still eating his breakfast. It had been wet in the night, and also very, very cold, but now the weather was apparently set fair and the views were rather splendid.

The rest of the Scouts would be returning to camp at around five in the afternoon. So; how does one entertain a boy who can’t walk too far on a sunny day in April in the North-Eastern Lakes?


First-off: a short walk along a delectable bit of path along the western shore of Brother’s Water.



…is typical of the kind of the remnants of the winter flooding which A and I noticed on our walk through the Lakes the week before. It’s hard to see it here, but a tiny dribble of water was flowing down this small bed, but as you can see, a layer of topsoil has been scoured away for a few yards either side of the rivulet. Where it met the right-of-way, a large mound of boulders was humped across the path.


It was a slow meander, with lots of pauses to try to take photos of small birds. B was a patient companion, actually a willing accomplice: we watched a pair of nuthatches seemingly taking it in turns to fly back and forth between the trunk of a tall tree and the base of small sapling nearby. As I tried to keep up with their antics through the lens of my camera, B kept up a running commentary in an attempt to help me find them as they moved.


We had arranged to meet the rest of the family at Aira Force at 11. We were a little early, and we knew that the others would almost certainly be late (they were), so decided to wait for them outside the little cafe there, at a table from which we could watch the road and wave at the others to join us when they arrived.

B and I had been listening to Chaffinches and Robins as we walked beside Brother’s Water. We’d seen a few of the songsters but always at quite a distance. Now, as we sat outside, tamer cousins came looking for crumbs on the wall by our table…


Or even onto the table itself…




Naturally, we were then duty bound to have a wander up to view Aira Force itself.



There’s a bridge at the top, from which you can stare into the chasm…


And another at the bottom…


Which is a great vantage point to view the falls…


Last time I was here there was a lot more water coming over the falls. I was quite surprised, when I checked, to discover that it was more than 5 years ago.

Less surprising to find that it is also almost 5 years since we previously visited Brougham Hall…


…and Brougham Castle…


…because I remember how much smaller the kids were at the time.

Both are well worth a visit. The castle is built on the remains of a Roman Fort. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say: built with the remains of a Roman Fort. Inside the keep, one ceiling was clearly made using a Roman headstone…


The River Eamont runs past the castle, and the town of Penrith is nearby.


One of the surprising things about the castle is that, on both of our visits, there were hardly any other visitors.


And we even found a bench that was out of the wind and so pleasantly warm to sit on as the children played hide and seek in the ruins.


They may be much bigger than they were, but happily, they still enjoy simple pleasures.

There are lots more pictures here, from our last visit, including some of swash being buckled.

Not far from the castle, a bridge over the Eamont, currently closed, showed more evidence of the winter flooding…


Entertaining Mister B

Across the Sands to Piel Island


Sheep Island with Piel Island behind.

Onward and upward, to September and the 2015 Heritage Open Days. There are always lots of interesting events on that weekend across the UK; if you aren’t already aware of the event, then I would recommend that you get acquainted with what’s on offer in your area in 2016.

We chose to join a guided walk organised by the rather wonderful Morecambe Bay Partnership.


The event will include a guided walk across the sands from Walney Island to Piel Island, led by expert guide John Murphy who will be accompanied by eminent local archaeologist Rachel Newman. 

On Piel Island, Rachel Newman will provide an in-depth tour of the castle ruins, whilst informing visitors about the archaeological investigations undertaken during the 1980’s and hearing about challenges of excavating on a island.


It was reassuring to have an expert guide on hand. I’ve wandered a little on Morecambe Bay over the years, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like the area close to Piel Island, where the sands disconcertingly wobbled and squirmed like a jelly. The beach was raised in long ridges and furrows, not dissimilar to the medieval field patterns which surrounded the village in which I grew up. You might expect the tops of the ridges to be the driest and safest ground on which to walk, but on the contrary, they often seemed to be the most unstable and conspicuously colloidal: betwixt and between, neither sea nor strand but a treacherous hybrid of the two.




Roa Island.


Once on Piel we were treated to an unexpected bonus: the landlord and landlady of ‘The Ship’ are traditionally King and Queen of the island, and today they were knighting two worthy subjects.


A curious ceremony involving some dressing-up, a short speech, the conventional dubbing with a sword…


…and then a booze shower:


As we began our tour of Piel Castle, S and I were distracted by the seals visible, if somewhat distantly, on the beach at the southern tip of Walney Island. I tried to use the zoom on my camera to get S a clearer view of the seals, and was surprised by how clearly Blackpool Tower could be seen in the background.


Since then, these seals have hit the news..

Seals have used the protected South Walney beaches to haul out and rest for decades. The colony found here are usually older bulls no longer able to control a harem on breeding beaches and sexually immature younger males and females.

But now the reserve could be becoming a breeding colony. Pup one was born almost three weeks ago, then pup two was discovered on Sunday when it was believed to be a day old.


I really enjoyed the guided tour, but it’s a while ago so I shan’t attempt to regurgitate any of the details. In fact , the principal impression I took away is that surprisingly little is known about the castle, because it so infrequently appears in written records.


Regular readers will know that I love a good ruin. Tight winding staircases, a dingy dungeon, or lofty battlements all enhance the romance and I was hoping that we might have special permission to access the battlements, but sadly we didn’t. Maybe next September?


One reason I may not remember too much detail from the castle tour is that little S, once he’d satisfied his curiosity about the seals, discovered that he desperately needed to discuss his feet, one of which was uncomfortable. It transpired that he had managed to pick-up odd wellingtons: to be fair, they looked the same, but were different sizes. Consequently, he returned across the sands barefoot…


All in all, stunning day out, which was rounded off with an unscheduled fish and chip supper in Ulverston, where, unbeknownst to us – at least before we arrived to find roads closed and streets thronged with people –  the Lantern Festival was in full-swing – all very spectacular (I didn’t take any photos sadly).


Some links:

Heritage Open Days

Morecambe Bay Partnership

The Ship Inn

Piel Castle

Walney Island Grey Seal Colony

Ulverston Lantern Festival

John Murphy is a former mayor of Barrow, and seemed to have inexhaustible funds of jokes, anecdotes, nature lore, local history, patience and good humour. I gathered that he regularly runs guided walks in and around Walney, and would have liked to include a link, but I can’t find anything on the internet which doesn’t relate to walks which have already happened. Probably worth googling next summer if you are interested.

Across the Sands to Piel Island

Castle Acre


More Norfolk adventures, to wit Castle bagging, a favourite pastime of ours. The small village of Castle Acre still has some of its village walls, and is flanked by the remnants of a castle and the more substantial remains of an abbey.

Although there’s not all that much of the castle left to see – no winding staircases to clamber, no battlements to charge around – even what remains of the huge moat and earthworks are very evocative. What’s more, on an afternoon which had, slightly unexpectedly, turned sunny and warm, the castle grounds, a haven for wildflowers – were full of butterflies and bees; a great place to explore.


Whilst the kids were running around being knights of old (or somesuch) I was revelling in the abundance and variety of the flowers on offer – particularly those which I haven’t encountered close to home.

I think that this,…


…which was ubiquitous, is Common Calamint.

This enormous plant…


…is a Mullein. We do see Mulleins at home, we’ve even had them appear as ‘weeds’ in our garden, but I’m pretty sure that this particular specimen is a Hoary Mullein which is an East Anglian speciality.


The castle itself is very interesting (and free to boot). It was built by William de Warenne a Norman baron who fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and subsequently became a very wealthy landowner with properties across thirteen counties.



It’s all built, perhaps not surprisingly, of the local flint.


The kids charged around. TBH found a spot out of the wind to sun herself, and naturally I took photos.


A mallow.


A (large) white on Calamint.

The butterflies led me a very merry dance. There were lots about – chiefly Whites, often in groups of two or three, but also Meadow Browns and some Small Blues. To my great delight, I also spotted a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, only the second one I’ve ever seen, but I wasn’t anywhere near like fast enough to catch it’s darting flight on camera.

Whilst I was pursuing a trio of amorous Whites, I encountered this long-legged beastie…


…which I’m pretty sure is not a spider, but rather a Harvestmen (Harvestman?).



Castle Acre village.


Meadow Brown.


I could have happily stayed at the castle photographing plants and insects etc, but we had other fish to fry. We had a wander through the village, through the Bailey Gate…


…to the church of St. James the Great….


…(wasn’t it enough that he was a Saint, doesn’t that imply that he was Great? Or was there another St. James…St James the Slightly Cheesy?)


The Church of St. James.

A bit of internet research reveals that I should have ventured further in – the pulpit on the right has some paintings of saints which I wish now I’d taken a closer look at.


Impressive medieval font cover.


Ornately armoured stained-glass knight.


In this huge Norfolk church I was transported back to the area close to home by this painted panel. I’ve seen very similar, but much smaller, panels in modest Furness churches. (See them here and here.) Those were both dedicated to Queen Anne, but this one, dated 1748, is too late for her: it’s from the reign of George II – which explains the G II above the Lion’s crown.

On to the Priory next…

Castle Acre

Lincoln Castle, Steep Hill, High Bridge and Brayford Pool


I’m sure that, at least briefly, I was almost up to date for a moment; now I seem to be woefully far behind. Queue a hasty sequence of mainly photo based posts.  So anyway, the last day of our post-Easter trip to Lincoln was spent in Lincoln itself.


The castle has recently re-opened after a refurbishment.




It was a lovely sunny day and actually warm, which seems hard to believe now in snowy June. The castle was very busy. Apparently it has been hugely popular since it reopened.


And why not? The walls are not especially tall, but the views from them are magnificent.


Lincoln has very few tall buildings, so the Cathedral tends to dominate the view. The only competition comes from this water tower…


…built in the early part of the twentieth century in response to an outbreak of cholera. And then there is a windmill, which we have yet to visit.


Maybe next time.

Within the castle walls there is a working court (the far building), and a former, Victorian prison (on the left here).


More of which has been opened to the public than previously.


We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the grounds of the castle and then had a stroll down Steep Hill (I think, officially, Castle Hill).



My Dad, who has thoroughly researched both his own family tree and my Mum’s, tells me that some of my ancestors lived in this house on the left….




Down in the town, we had some book tokens to spend, well the kids did anyway, and some sight seeing to do.


This is Stoke’s Coffee shop, which sits on….


…High Bridge. The shops are relatively recent, only built in 1550, whereas the bridge is around 400 years older.

A flotilla of swans came flooding from Brayford Pool onto the River Witham…



I think that some of them had been paid to pose for the tourists.




Brayford Pool.


After a preposterously huge Chinese buffet, we headed back up the hill to the environs of the Cathedral.





Lincoln Castle, Steep Hill, High Bridge and Brayford Pool

Tattershall Castle

So, Autumn has been and gone, accompanied by lorry loads of film-crews and huge flocks of Chris Packham spotters down at Leighton Moss, and yet somehow I haven’t managed to finish blogging about the summer holidays.  


Although, I’ve made a great deal about the fact that we spent the summer at home, aside from our annual trip to Towyn Farm, we did in fact pop off to Lincoln for the Bank Holiday weekend. My parents dragged the kids off to Sundown Adventure Land for the day (you can’t keep my Dad away – he loves it there) leaving TBH and I free to do some exploring. We went to have a gander at Tattershall Castle and the adjoining church.

(It seems that an amoeba was hitching a ride on my camera lens that day, I can only apologise.)

Because the castle is constructed from….


….red house bricks, I assumed that it was of relatively recent construction. How wrong I was: it was built in the 15th Century.


There’s plenty of natural history on offer alongside the history. The castle and church have important populations of bats and the moat hosts numerous newts. I think that this flower is viper’s bugloss, it’s not something we see at home.


The National Trust provide audio guides, which I always enjoy and which really brought the history to life here.


I shan’t attempt to recreate any of it here – visit yourself and listen to it in the environs of the castle – very enjoyable.


Each floor of the keep is chiefly occupied with a single large room, each of which has a large and richly decorated fireplace. I was pleased to find George and his dragon above one of them.








The views from the top of the castle – over the flatlands of Lincolnshire – are extensive – Boston Stump can be picked out in one direction and Lincoln Cathedral in another.


I subsequently discovered that an old school friend was staying at a holiday park by the old gravel pits that same weekend. It’s a small world…..



The church by the castle is very large relative to the village.


As well as the bats, it has a second-hand book-stall and a cafe. As has the gatehouse…


Tattershall Castle

The English Civil War, and Other Days Out


Although we stayed at home for much of this year’s summer break, we did get away to the Seventeenth Century for a couple of days.


Some time ago, my Mum and Dad very generously bought us a family membership to the National Trust. It came in very handy over the summer – not only were we covered for many of the Lake District’s (very expensive) car parks, but we made repeated visits to some local properties too.

For one long weekend, Sizergh Castle had an encampment of Sealed Knot enthusiasts. I took A and B for a day out there, whilst S was attending a friend’s Birthday party. They enjoyed it so much they insisted that we go back the following day so that S and TBH wouldn’t miss out.


The chap on the left is using a Civil War era microphone, attached to a Civil War era PA system. To be fair, his talk was very entertaining. In fact, I found the whole thing very interesting and gruesomely informative. Notice his hat: you’ll see it, and him, again.

S was hobbling around on crutches, a legacy of his fall at Fell Foot Park, and when the desk staff saw him, they offered him the use of a wheelchair. Never one to miss an opportunity to be pampered, S jumped at the chance. Well actually…not jumped, but you see what I mean. In those circumstances we felt justified in not climbing the steep bank where the rest of the spectators were standing, but took a ringside spot right on top of the action.


What I remember about the muskets is that they came in two flavours – matchlocks and flintlocks, that they took an age to load, were extremely inaccurate, prone to misfire and were almost as much of a danger to the soldiers using them as to their opponents. The huge, and far as I could gather, only, advantage of the musket over the the longbow – which is much quicker to fire, less likely to injure it’s user and has a longer range – is an economic one – it takes only twenty minutes to train someone how to use the musket and not the lifetime of practice needed for the bow.*

Which brings me seamlessly onto….


One of our trips to Wray Castle, where, on Wednesdays, volunteers from Kendal Bowmen are on hand to coach anyone who fancies themselves as an archer and has £1 for a few shots. (I think it was advertised as 3 or possibly 4, but they were very generous with their counting.)


The archery was in the old walled garden.

We’d intended to try archery the week before, and had parked further down the shore of Windermere at Harrowslack car park, had a picnic there, and then, whilst the others cycled from there up to Wray Castle, I moved the car and cycled back to meet them. The National Trust have upgraded the lake shore path to make it suitable for cyclists. I was a bit concerned when, after cycling for quite some time, I still hadn’t met the others. When I arrived back at Harrowslack, without seeing them at all I was perplexed: the route between Wray Castle and Harrowslack is entirely beside the lake – how could we have missed each other? Because, it turned out, TBH had mysteriously diverted uphill away from the lake – when we eventually found each other we were too late for archery.

Wray Castle isn’t really a castle at all – it’s a Victorian house with mock turrets and battlements, built by Liverpudlian surgeon James Dawson and his wife (an heiress). The house was donated to the National Trust as far back as 1929, but was used as a Naval Communications Training College and also as the headquarters of the Freshwater Biological Association. Although some of its former grandeur is in evidence, it’s generally a bit shabby inside. It’s only been open to the public for a while and the Trust have done their best to make it inviting for families. In the grounds there’s an adventure play area, a volley ball net, croquet equipment and an area in the woods where den building is encouraged. Inside there was all sorts for the kids to do – huge soft bricks to build with, an enormous Jenga set, table tennis, snooker, fancy dress, etc etc…..

Anyway, back at Sizergh, there were also numerous entertainments on offer – for some reason B was keen to have wet sponges thrown at him in the stocks. Disappointingly, A and I were shockingly poor shots and I don’t think we managed to make him even mildly damp.


There were talks and demonstrations on throughout the day. The field surgeon’s talk was a highlight: grisly but good. A hurdy-gurdy player popped up before many of the talks – his explanation of how the instrument is played and how it functions was almost as enjoyable as the music itself. (I did overhear somebody claim that the tunes ‘all sound the same’, but he must have had cloth ears. They didn’t.) He did tell us that the instrument wasn’t called a hurdy-gurdy in the seventeenth century, but I can’t recall the contemporary name.


Here’s the green hat and its owner again.


After another hair-raising talk about the development of sword designs and fighting styles through history, these two gents put on a demonstration duel.


It was evidently a rigorous aerobic workout.


Cloaks and hats were employed in a vigorous dirty-tricks campaign.





I wasn’t clear on who was for the King and who for Parliament, or whether that really mattered. Either way, both combatants looked to be having a whale of a time. Me too: I like a bit of swashbuckling, when observed from a safe distance!

The English Civil War, and Other Days Out