Across the Border for Real (not a reel you understand)

After our quick foray into Scotland yesterday we retreated back to England. Now we are crossing the border intending to stay. It seems very strange being away knowing half my family are at home staying in my house but I will see the other half very soon. There is something strange up with the sat nav. Set it up for our destination town and road and it is twenty miles nearer than if I set it for the campsite itself. Fortunately I discover where I have gone wrong in plenty of time. I am sure I can’t be the first person to confuse Culzean Road, Maybole with Maybole Road, Culzean. We travel along the M6 and M74 before turning off on to the A70. Here the landscape is barren and desolate with evidence of open cast coal mining. The villages seem run down and depressed. Annoyingly the road we need is closed but we manage to negotiate the diversion and only one U turn is required before we arrive at Culzean. It seems we have not booked this site. We so have booked. My itinerary says we have so it must be so. They insist we haven’t. Fortunately cancellations mean there is room for us. This site has a swimming pool but it is £9 a day for a family. This is good value if you have a family with you but it seems rather a lot just for me so I invest in 24 hours’ internet connection instead and begin to catch up.022 26 July 2014 Walled Garden Culzean Castle 1

In the afternoon we visit Culzean Castle and Country Park. Apparantly Culzean is pronounced Culeen and this is the largest estate in Ayrshire. Our English National Trust cards mean we do not even have to part with money to see this Adam designed stately home on the Firth of Clyde, once home to the Kennedy family. There is a list inside of some of the many servants who have worked at the castle at various dates. Many of these are clearly taken from the census returns but one, from the 1740s, is Scipio Kennedy who, with that first name and sharing has he does the family name, must surely have been a slave.

Today is decidedly cooler and by mid afternoon it has begin to rain but undaunted we look at the walled garden. This is huge and more a garden with a wall than a walled garden in the traditional sense, although the head gardener insists that the walls do have warming properties. Talking of warming properties, it seems every shop on the premises has its heating on full blast. I know it is not as hot as earlier in the week but this does seem unnecessary. We look at the deer in the deer park then investigate swan lake. This is not a balletic performance but a lake with swans and terns on. By this time the rain has set in and we are getting as wet by the lake as we would in it so we head back to the van.


Mistress Agnes Threatens to Elope

We move the van the short distance to Englethwaite Hall, a very pleasant wooded site lacking in facilities. Near here reddish sandstone cottages are becoming a feature of the villages. Our journey deliberately included a stop off at motorway services so I could balance my computer in one hand and download 200 emails with the other. We could of course have done this sitting at a table but a) we are too mean to invest in hugely expensive services beverages and b) neither of us had thought to bring money with us out of the car. We also get fuel and supplies at a local supermarket. There is no space to park the caravan so I am delegated to get the shopping while Chris gets the diesel. On the list are toilet rolls. I grab a bargain. This involved purchasing 16 toilet rolls; too late I wonder quite where we are going to store 16 toilet rolls until they are needed.

014 25 July 2014 Blacksmith's room Gretna GreenIn the afternoon we take a trip to Gretna Green, not I hasten to add in order to get married, although we are offered a ‘no need to book’ opportunity to be ‘hand fasted’ for £30. Inevitably the whole thing is ridiculously commercialised but rather like Land’s End, you feel you just have to see it when you are in the area. There are several ‘blacksmith’s shops’ posing as the real thing, though of course clandestine marriages did take place in more than one Gretna location. We have to dodge wedding parties as the complex is now a wedding venue. It is like a conveyor belt and one bridal group, having been marched in accompanied by bagpipes (and these so need to be heard out of doors not inside), are out again in no more than ten minutes. There are also some glaring errors of the most basic kind concerning the history of marriage legislation on display. I grit my teeth and try to ignore these. You can’t blame the locals for cashing in on the gullible tourists and I have to say that the gift shops did avoid the worst of the tourist tat. I guess few visitors are genuinely interested in the history of the place, which is probably just as well. We try out the ‘Courtship Maze’, where couples are supposed to enter by different entrances and see if they meet. I know how mazes work (always take the left hand option in and right hand option out) so I whizz round and even manage to meet Chris in the middle.


A Close Encounter with a Lake

We had planned a drive round to see some of the sights we enjoyed last time and were rewarded with glorious weather. We headed south towards Ullswater stopping at the peaceful Glencoyne Bay to admire the view. Then 1500 feet up the 1:8 hill over the Kirkstone Pass. We decide to take the minor road down to Ambleside and the shores of Lake Windemere. The road is called the Struggle but nothing ventured. We take advantage of the National Trust membership to park at Fell Foot, on the shores of Lake Windemere, near Newby Bridge. Last time we came we were forced back to the car by heavy rain after a few minutes. This is a lovely spot with families enjoying the school holidays and the lake.

011 24 July 2014 Fell Foot Park - Canoe on Lake Windermere 2

A selfie taken whilst trying not to capsize

Somehow we find ourselves hiring a kayak. Whose silly idea was this? Oh, it appears to have been mine! I have to fill in a form as the responsible adult of the party – in other words the one who had their reading glasses with them. I have to state the ages of other members of my party; ‘ancient’ seems to be sufficient. We were squeezed into life jackets. ‘Have we kayaked before?’, we are asked. The fisherman of my acquaintance has not but I have. I neglect to mention that it was more than forty years ago. A few practice strokes with the paddle and we are let loose on Lake Windermere. We debate the relative risks of taking our valuables with us (we might capsize) or leaving them with the kayak man (they might get stolen) and opt for the former. We choose the quieter end of the lake, taking careful note of warnings of weirs and faster currents. Paddling for 45 minutes is actually quite hard work but I am determined to get value for what was quite a lot of money. I am not quite sure what I am doing wrong but I manage to soak all my below the waist clothing to the skin. It is incredibly hot but even so I do not dry off on the walk back to the car. We decide to cope with the situation by my removing my trousers, covering myself up with my jumper and sitting on my plastic rain poncho. It really is rather too hot for sitting on plastic but needs must.

As we leave the car park we witness an interesting incident where a van towing a trailer designed to hold canoes is being driven, fairly badly, out of the car park. The driver misjudges the turn and then has to reverse. As she (and I hate to admit it was a she) was incapable of going forwards there is really no hope of her going backwards and so it proves. Chris restrains himself from offering to help and after several abortive forward and back motions her colleagues unhitch the trailer and manoeuvre it manually. Astonishingly she has managed to avoid hitting any of the parked cars in the process but the anticipation that she might do so was entertaining.

009 24 July 2014 Kirkstone Pass

Kirkstone Pass

Not wanting to retrace our steps, we drive home the slightly longer way through the Grizedale Forest. A sign warns us of delays due to road works and suggests we seek another route. At this stage there isn’t really another route so we proceed, only to find that the promised ‘long delays’ are non-existent. A little further on a fellow motorist coming in the opposite direction suggests we turn round because the road is blocked by an accident. Again we ignore the warning and again our decision is vindicated as the road is not remotely closed. Back at the site I have to get from car to van without anyone noticing I am imperfectly dressed. We manage this with the use of car and caravan doors and Chris wielding my coat like a matador. This of course serves only to attract the attention of any passing caravaners.

Heading North

Obviously almost any journey we make involves heading north but this time we are planning to go as far north as you can without leaving the land or falling off the edge. After a slight hiatus when we somehow couldn’t quite get the caravan and car to attach, we departed on the hottest day of the year so far. We seem to make a habit of this. At least this time we are not flying off and missing the summer.

We make a ‘breaking the journey’ overnight stop at Tewkesbury, This site is notorious for flooding and was underwater for weeks earlier in the year. No sign of floods today and we arrive in time for a quick wander round Tewkesbury. Sadly some of the beautiful ancient houses are in disrepair. The heraldic flags brighten the town but the shops are distinctly lacking in anything that would be remotely useful on a daily basis. Plenty of interesting antique shops but I can’t start filling the caravan with random items at this stage of our trip. There is also a branch of every conceivable bank, I wonder how long some of these will survive. We do locate a well hidden supermarket for essential supplies, like super-glue. This is required to reattach a vital knob to the caravan fridge.

The local insects have decided that I need a rehearsal for the promised midges of Scotland and have had a quick chew. Fortunately bite cream is not one of the things that I have inadvertently managed to leave at home. We are staying in sight of the cathedral. The quarter hour chimes vie with the collared doves to ensure that we are sleep deprived. In fact it is too hot to sleep anyway so neither win.

The next day and we depart for the Lake District. There are only minor motorway hold-ups for roadworks. Many of these seem to involve miles of traffic cones and not a workman in sight. The last third of our journey leaves the industrial Midlands behind and the scenery begins to look like a holiday destination. It makes a change to be able to actually see the Lake District as last time we were here in rain, floods and mist. There is pinky-purple Rosebay Willowherb growing everywhere, setting the hillsides alight. The Sat Nav gets us safely to the site at Troutbeck and the van is, as the name suggests, right by the Trout Beck. We go for a short wander through the Matterdale Forest in 27 degree temperatures – yes overseas friends that is hot for us.003 23 July 2014 Rose Bay Willow Herb Matterdale Forest

On returning to the van I look for the site on the map so I can plan for tomorrow. Ah there is a place called Troutbeck. Funny, I didn’t think we were as far south as that. Oh, there is another river to the north east called Trout Beck, maybe we are there instead but how can we be, there is no nearby road? I give up and look at the Caravan Club book to see which Troutbeck is correct. Hmm that would be neither of them – there is a third Troutbeck and that is where we are! I appreciate there must be a lot of trout round here but it does suggest a distinct lack of imagination.

End of Term for the History Interpreter

All a bit of a mad rush really, with talks to give and research to do as well as the fun of having visitors. Then Mistress Agnes came forward in time to participate in World War 1 day at the local school. Interesting to see how some of the children found the formality very difficult, whilst others revelled in it. The children had written some very moving poems that they ‘planted’ in the poppy fields on the Village Green. My ’1946-1969’ ladies have been writing about their schooldays. I wonder if World War 1 day will be a lasting memory for those who took part.

I was really excited to see that ‘Putting your Ancestors in their Place’ was chosen as one of the books of the month in the Family History Bookshop. On the One-Place front I have been planning an on-line course for the autumn. ‘Discovering Your Ancestors’ Communities in the Early Twentieth Century’.

Now it is the holiday count down and trying to get the house fit for its house sitters, who will be in residence while I am away. Inevitably, I do not get to the end of the ‘to do’ list but hopefully the things I can get away with the things I haven’t done.


A Voyage into the C17th – review of The Bitter Trade

A rather different blog from me this time – a review of a book by a fellow lover of the seventeenth century.

The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander

As someone who ‘inhabits’ the seventeenth century as an historical interpreter and a fan of historical novels, I jumped at the chance to review Piers Alexander’s debut novel The Bitter Trade. Normally, reading historical fiction is a risky process for me. Will I be enthralled by the plot or frustrated by historical inaccuracy? Then there are those disappointing historical novels, which are a cheesy romance, ostensibly set in times gone by – times that are threaded through with factual errors. The Bitter Trade was a delight and no glaring anachronisms detracted from the story. The book is set at the time of the political turmoil of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the action is fast paced, making the book hard to put down. The plot is complex enough to hold the interest of the reader without being confusing. The characters, particularly that of the hero Calumny Spinks, are well drawn and believable.

The Bitter Trade is also beautifully written, with intricately drawn descriptive passages. Alexander’s characters do not speak in genuine seventeenth century language but this is just as well as it would alienate the majority of readers, rendering as it would the text incomprehensible to all but Shakespearian scholars. The author gets the balance just right. The vocabulary and phrasing are different enough to give the flavour of the period and remind the reader that they are not in the present, yet it possible to understand the meaning, even if some terms are no longer in current use.

I was given a copy of the novel to review but the task was a pleasure not a duty and I look forward to a sequel.

Alexander, Piers The Bitter Trade Tenderfoot 2014 978-0-9928645-0-7 422 pages £11.99 also available on Kindle. Currently on offer on Amazon. See also the author’s website.


Of Voyages, Vicars, Wedding Vows, Wonderful Venues and Wildlife

It has been a little quiet on the blogging front lately, mainly because life has been far from quiet. I spent a wonderful week in Granny mode. This involved rather more heaving cases on and off trains than is ideal but it was worth it. Whilst on the subject of trains there was an unusual incident when the guard, having helped Edward’s buggy on to a train, dropped his phone on the track. Regular readers will know that I have form for this type of thing, so it was gratifying to see that even the ‘professionals’ make this sort of error.

Exciting news for next year, when I will be combining travelling with family history in the best possible way, as a presenter on the Unlock the Past Baltic cruise. Now where did I put those sea sickness tablets? On the presenting front I have been keeping up with technology by leading a Society for One-Place Studies Hangout On Air about Marriage Records. I will also be discussing finding elusive marriages at the next meeting of the North Devon Group of Devon Family History Society. More tackling technology as I prepare for my remote presentation on emigration for British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottowa in September and yes it works! Last night’s lower key, local presentation was something special. Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher were appearing at Poundstock Gild House – what a truly amazing gem. Go there, visit, you will be in awe. In truth Mistress Agnes rather wants to live there. Check out the history of these Church Houses and go and soak up the atmosphere.

Isn’t it great to live in a friendly community? Today one of my neighbours helped me by extracting a baby starling from the inside of my fat ball holder – industrial strength wire cutters to the fore. Wildlife abounds in Mistress Agnes’ tiny garden, a friendly hedgehog was my latest visitor. I must say I am less enamoured by the army of flies who have taken up residence in the new conservatory and I have to confess to having adopted extermination tactics. At least, I am trying – some of the blighters seem to be immune to any form of fly spray. Yesterday another neighbour came to find me when she encountered some ancestor hunting visitors to the village. I was able to show them several houses where their relatives had lived, including my own. In return they showed me a memoir of a Victorian vicar of the village, written by their ancestor, that totally turns on its head some of the theories about the effects of non-conformity on community cohesion that I expounded only two weeks ago at The Devonshire History Society conference – fascinating.