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Monday, 28 July 2008


The French Revolution of 1789 changed everything for ambitious young officer Napoleon Bonaparte. The ancien régime vanished and there were new opportunities for those prepared to risk everything. Although Corsican-born Bonaparte held the bloodthirsty Jacobin mob in contempt, he decided his best chance of achieving glory was in the service of the new French nation. You can read more about Europe’s bogeyman in Napoleon: Child of the Revolution, my feature for the July issue of Jane Austen's Regency World .

Would Napoleon ever have achieved such amazing power if the French Revolution hadn’t taken place? Just one of history’s many ‘What if?’ questions to which we’ll never know the answer.

The effects of the Napoleonic wars were felt all over Britain, even as far away as Orkney, where Martello Towers were built c.1814 to protect English shipping from French and American privateers. Attacks by French ships in the Channel meant English merchant ships were forced to take Northern routes around Scotland to reach trading centres. Only three towers were constructed in Scotland, such as this one on Hoy, but over 100 were built along the English South coast. The magical Orkney isles are next on my list of favourite holiday destinations.

Photo: Hackness Martello Tower, Hoy, Orkney. Image © Nigel Wilkes
‘Napoleon crossing the Alps’: History of England, Vol. VII, (London, c. 1868.)
‘Napoleon’ from an old engraving of a picture by Bouillon. Napoleon: Warrior and Ruler, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893.)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Landscape of Faith

I never tire of visiting Scotland. I love Scottish landscape and history. I first holidayed there well over twenty years ago with my husband Nigel. Since then I think we’ve stayed there every year but one, when we found we missed it terribly and couldn’t wait to go back again. From the Highlands to the Lowlands, we always find somewhere exciting and interesting to explore.
The Solway coast seems an appropriate place to begin my whistle-stop tour of our favourite holiday places. This beautiful landscape has witnessed political and religious strife through the ages. In the 1990s we visited the Whithorn Dig while the archaeological excavations were taking place; there’s now a museum dedicated to the finds of this historic site. Last year we visited St Ninian’s Cave nearby. St Ninian brought the light of religion to Whithorn some time late in the 4th century. He built a church here, and after his death Whithorn became a place of pilgrimage; even royal visitors such as Mary Queen of Scots endured long journeys to visit his shrine.

You can find out more about St Ninian’s story and how the footsteps of faith through the ages led to the Killing Times and the shocking tales of the Covenanters’ sufferings in ‘Scotland’s Landscape of Faith,’ the cover feature for this month’s Highlander magazine.
Images © Nigel and Sue Wilkes.
St. Ninian’s Cave, Whithorn.
Covenanter Martyrs’ Graves, Wigtown.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Grace Darling

Summer is here at last – at least according to the calendar, if not the weather itself! Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite holiday destinations with you.
Last year, I enjoyed a boat trip to Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland. As well as seeing the seal colony (featured recently on BBC’s ‘Autumnwatch,’) I visited the Longstone lighthouse, home of Grace Darling.
One stormy September night in 1838, the SS Forfarshire was wrecked on the rocks near the lighthouse. Twenty-two year old Grace and her father William, the lighthouse keeper, braved terrible conditions to rescue nine survivors who were clinging desperately to the rocks, lashed by the waves and wind. Grace’s gallantry was reported worldwide, and she became a worldwide celebrity; not all the attention she received was welcome. There’s a new museum dedicated to her, where you can see the ‘coble’ boat used in the rescue by the Darlings. The RNLI lifeboat based at Seahouses is also named after Grace. You can also find out more in my feature for the summer issue of children’s magazine Aquila.

Images: Engraving by unknown artist, World of Wonders, c.1870. Nigel Wilkes collection.
Longstone Lighthouse and Grace Darling lifeboat photos © Nigel Wilkes.