Historia Normannis at Lancaster Castle

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Historia Normannis, the twelfth century reenactment group, came to Lancaster Castle for the easter Weekend and we decided to go and have a look see.

We arrived just in time for a potted history of Henry II and his sons. It was necessarily brief, with no mention, for example, of Thomas Becket or of John’s treatment of his nephew Arthur. Still, it gave an entertaining picture of the infighting and back-stabbing ways of the Plantagenet Kings and their Barons. (And of Philip II of France come to that).

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After that little history lesson, we strolled the short distance into the city centre…

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…where the usual Saturday market was in full swing.

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Including musical entertainment…

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There were plenty of stalls serving food, and after making various choices, we plonked ourselves on the steps of the former Town Hall (built 1781-1783), now the City Museum (free and well worth a look).

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Back to the castle then for an exposition on how to dress a twelfth century knight in his armour.

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…which seems to be quite a long-winded affair!

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And which ended with a demonstration of combat in which, it seemed at least, not much quarter was given.

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The stalls on period food, and leather-working…

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…herbs and medicines…

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Were fascinating, but for some reason the boys seemed particularly drawn to the area where the replica weapons, shields and armour were on display…

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The next display was a tournament…

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…in which it once again seemed to me that the combatants were giving each other pretty hefty whacks.

Time to head home, but not before making one more stop at our favourite stall…

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B and his friend E. Captions anyone?

Historia Normannis at Lancaster Castle

Barrow Dock Museum

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We’ve been intending to check out the Dock Museum in Barrow for quite some time and, last week, finally got around to it.

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It’s a small museum, but it has model boats, which are pretty irresistible,

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…and The Furness Hoard, found locally in 2011 and including Viking, Saxon and Arab coins plus fragments of arm-rings and bracelets, not dissimilar in fact from The Silverdale Hoard.

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Having examined the area’s Viking treasures, you may want to dress the part…

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There are also axe-heads and arrowheads of Langdale stone which were apparently brought to the Barrow area for finishing and polishing.

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A big surprise for me, and a great discovery, was this furniture by the late Tim Stead.

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I’ve not been aware of his work before, but shall be looking out for it in the future. He was one of the artists who built the Millennium Clock, now housed by the National Museum of Scotland, and definitely added to my ‘too see’ list.

Whilst the boys hared around the playground in the museum grounds, I took a quick look at the docks themselves.

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Our trip to the museum was intended to be a precursor to a trip to the Wildlife Trust reserve at the southern end of Walney Island, somewhere I’ve long wanted to visit, much like Foulney Island in fact. But, having had my sutures removed early that morning, I now discovered that everything was not quite going to plan, and we spent the next three hours, or thereabouts, sitting around in A&E at Barrow Infirmary waiting to see what was to be done. Not much, it eventually transpired. Patience is the order of the day apparently. Ho-hum.

Barrow Dock Museum

Warton Crag Hill Fort

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Another Heritage Open Day, and another guided walk organised by Morecambe Bay Partnership. I hadn’t booked this one, but having enjoyed the previous day’s outing on and around Piel Island, and having always been intrigued by the presence of a hill-fort practically on our doorstep on Warton Crag, decided that it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to find out more.

Apparently, until relatively recently, the ruins on the crag were obvious on even quite impressive, but….

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….since most of the crag came into public ownership as nature reserves, it has become heavily wooded, and I’ve never been able to find any tangible sign of former occupation. The walk, and the talks which accompanied it, were fascinating. Finding out about this artist’s impression of what the Crag may have looked like…

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…was worth the entrance fee alone. (Not that there was an entrance fee.) The painting is by John Hodgson, and I’d love to have a framed print of it on my wall.

A group from an archaeology evening class in Lancaster have been carrying out what has clearly been a pain-staking and very thorough survey of the remains on the hill. With the help of one member of the class we toured the area and looked for some of those ruins. 

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The walls are extremely difficult to spot, even when you are almost standing on top of them. Apparently, they are a bit easier to find in the winter months when some of the undergrowth dies back. We saw some photos taken after an area of trees had been felled and one section of wall there was quite clear and easy to see.

On our trip, this…

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…was about the clearest view we had. The wall was a bit more obvious than the photo suggests, but it would still have been very easy to walk past it without noticing.

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Bright and sunny like the previous day, it was also reasonably warm, so that bees and butterflies were out and about.

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Warton Crag Hill Fort

Jersey – The Channel Island Way I

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I’d arrived in Jersey mid-afternoon the day before to louring skies, having departed from a very sunny Manchester just over an hour before. (Sunny Manchester, cloudy Jersey – surely some mistake?) I’d had a bit of a look around St. Helier, been treated to a sumptuous evening meal at our hotel and had met, and been royally entertained by two masters of the anecdote, blue badge guide Arthur Lamy and fellow blogger Alan Sloman. All we needed now was a change in the weather so that we could see the coastal path at it’s best and have the light for some decent photos. And fortunately that’s exactly what happened.

Our first walk quickly brought us to a headland from where we could see beautiful coastline, azure seas, the French coast and oodles of history…

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The boulders in the foreground are Le Dolmen du Couperon. A late Neolithic gallery grave built around 5000 years ago….

I could go on, but:

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If you want to read the small print, click on the photo to see a larger version on flickr. (The same applies to all of the pictures in recent posts – technical wizardry which I picked up after a not very technical ‘technical discussion’ with my friend the Shandy Sherpa.)

The building behind is a Victorian public convenience, or in the local patios – Jèrriais – known as a kharzi….

Alternatively…

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The bit about Jèrriais is true though – it is a Jersey patois, although apparently not many people speak it today.

There didn’t seem to be much, well anything really, that Arthur didn’t know about Jersey, but if you were walking the route without a guide, the historic sites are well supplied with information boards and it’s all in Arthur’s excellent guidebook too. You wouldn’t get the more recent gossip however, or be introduced to Arthur’s friends and relations who seemed to be everywhere (Jersey is a small place after all), but were particularly thick on the ground here in the parish of St. Martin, Arthur’s home patch.

It was apparent why this headland would be chosen to site a battery since it has commanding views of the Normandy coast, just 14 miles away, and the reefs and low islands in the intervening straits.

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Which of course, for the walker, makes it an ideal place to pause for a gander.

On the next section of the walk, on minor roads, the verges were decorated with these….

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..cyclamen. I was confused at first by the lack of leaves and because I thought that cyclamen were spring flowering, but apparently cyclamen are hysteranthous, which means that the leaves appear after the flowers, and different species of cyclamen can be found flowering all through the year. Cyclamen are not native to Britain, or to the Channel Isles, but they have naturalised and are clearly thriving here. The English name, which I didn’t know, is sowbread, because pigs like to eat the tubers.

Many of the fields we walked past had produced their crop of Jersey Royals earlier in the year and were now planted with barley, but full of wildflowers too.

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As Alan pointed out, there was a distinctive earthy tang in the air which instantly brought to mind fresh new season potatoes – maybe it’s something in the sandy Jersey soil.

At…

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…we passed the first of numerous round towers we would see during our stay.

Fliquet Tower

The white paint is there to provide a landmark for seafarers.

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Looking back to Fliquet.

Over coffees and tea at the cafe at St. Catherine’s, Arthur told us the history of the breakwater here – part of an abortive attempt to build a huge harbour here, ostensibly for the fishing fleet, but actually intended for the British Navy to deter French aggression. Topically, Alan recalled working on the construction of a similarly over-large ‘fishing’ harbour in Libya.

Our route then shadowed the coast on the sea wall…

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The house on the right was a hospital built to treat the many men, and their families, who worked on the breakwater. I think. Like the rest my attempts to recall Jersey history – if it’s accurate then the credit is entirely Arthur’s, and if it’s not then the fault lies solely with my dodgy memory. In my defence – there was an awful lot of history to soak up!

I’m going to stop here, despite the fact that I haven’t even managed to get Alan and myself to our (delectable) lunch on our first day’s walking. More to follow….

Jersey – The Channel Island Way I