Search This Blog

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Illustrious Iona

Returning to my whistle-stop tour of my best holiday destinations, I recently fulfilled a long-held ambition. For years, I’d longed to follow in the footsteps of my literary heroes Boswell and Johnson and visit the ‘illustrious Island’ of Icolmkill, or Iona. Their accounts of their 1773 tour, Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), and Boswell’s Journal of A Tour to the Hebrides, (1785), were bestsellers in their day.

A later visitor was John Keats, who enjoyed a walking tour of Scotland in 1818. The grandeur of the scenery, especially the islands of Iona and Staffa, was a huge inspiration for his poetry.

Iona’s beaches were dazzling white; the encircling sea far bluer than I’d ever imagined. Strangely, I’d always pictured Iona as empty and deserted; of course there were several shops. As we walked up to Iona Abbey, the path was busy with tourists and pilgrims. From here we had a splendid view of the Abbey, guarded by wonderfully carved stone crosses; the Sound of Iona, with the cheery-looking ferry zooming back and forth; and the wild, rough mountains of Mull, vividly delineated against the sky. It was a crystal-bright summer’s day, and I’ll never forget it.

Images © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.
Sràid nam Marbh, The Street of the Dead, the ancient burial pathway of the Scots kings. Iona Abbey.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A Mighty Fortress

The Beeston Castle area is one of my favourite places in Cheshire; we’ve had many smashing walks along the Sandstone Trail there. The weather was so lovely today that we had an afternoon out and enjoyed a stomp along the Trail from the Castle to the Candle Workshops and back again. The hedgerows were full of blackberries; there were a few pheasants trundling about, and we saw a pair of buzzards mewing and circling high above us. The Castle was built in the C.13th by Ranulf, sixth Earl of Chester. The mighty fortress was ‘slighted’ during the Civil War, so it falls short of its former splendour, but it’s still an impressive landmark, towering high above the surrounding countryside. Beeston was believed to be impregnable, and when a raiding party sneaked inside the Castle during the Civil War (supposedly by treachery), its commander Capt. Steele surrendered; he was later executed for cowardice.
Image: Beeston Castle from the bridge over the moat. © Sue Wilkes

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Cheshire butterflies

The much-needed sunshine on Saturday brought out the butterflies in my garden. They're very fond of our buddleia bush, and I've never seen so many different varieties on one bush. We had three Red Admirals, a small tortoiseshell, cabbage whites, and a comma butterfly, which I've never seen before. A peacock butterfly was out and about last week, too. I was very excited to see the small tortoiseshell as I watched a recent BBC news report saying these once common butterflies are in decline.

Images of Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies © Sue and Gareth Wilkes.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Doom at Dundrennan

In this month's issue of Scottish Home and Country, I take another look at the history of the Galloway area, in particular St Ninian and the early abbeys; Dundrennan is just one abbey in the area with wonderfully romantic ruins. Glenluce and Sweetheart Abbey are also in beautiful settings; the holy monks knew how to choose a fruitful site for their labours.
Mary Queen of Scots’ final tragic hours in her homeland were spent at Dundrennan. On May 16th 1568, accompanied by a small group of friends, she set sail for England in a humble fishing boat. Mary must have been full of hope as her native Scotland receded into the distance. But it was a mistake which led inexorably to her doom...
Image: Mary Stuart's escape to England. A typically understated Victorian engraving from Miss Corner's History of Scotland, c.1845.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Lost in Austen II

I watched ‘Lost in Austen’ last night. I have to say this is one of the most gormless things I’ve seen on telly for a long time, which takes some doing in the ‘Big Brother’ era. ‘Lost in Austen’ was unrelentingly daft. I kept the remote control out of reach, hoping the programme would improve as time went on, but no!

It was as if writer Guy Andrews and the producers tried to do a pick ‘n’ mix of all the things they think us mere females like about Pride & Prejudice - elegant ladies in gorgeous frocks, Regency bucks clad in tight ‘inexpressibles,’ quadrilles etc - and stirred them up with a big stick in the hope we’d lap it up.
But someone forgot the sparkling dialogue! And who on earth is this aimed at? If Austen fans, then why did Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) spend an age justifying the fact that she loved the book?

There were a couple of things I liked about it. Mrs Bennet (Alex Kingston), who I thought was going to be an Alison Steadman clone at first, had a chilling air of menace as she protected her daughters from the interloper. Darcy (Elliot Cowan) was watch-able, with a manic gleam in his eye, and Mr Bennet (Hugh Bonneville) was great. But it was incredibly slow to get going. I can’t believe they are going to spin it out over four hours! This might have been better written as a one-hour special.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Lost in Austen I

There’s a treat in store for Austen fans – they can lose themselves in the pages of the ‘new look’ Jane Austen's Regency World. In this month’s issue, you can read my feature on three women caught up in the maelstrom of Revolutionary France. Madame Roland, Théroigne de Méricourt and Charlotte Corday were supporters of the Girondins or ‘moderate’ republicans in the National Assembly. They lived incredibly different lives to Austen. The sabre-wielding Théroigne de Méricourt met a tragic end; Charlotte Corday slew the merciless Marat, and Mme Roland, like Charlotte, bravely faced death by guillotine. Austen, of course, was no stranger to the Reign of Terror - her cousin Eliza Hancock’s first husband, the Comte de Feuillide, was guillotined in 1794.

The Austen bandwagon continues with ITV’s ‘Lost in Austen’, which I'm hoping to watch tonight. L’aimable Jane must be revolving at warp speed in her grave at the thought of all the TV and film royalties she’s missed out on. Regency romp or Regency rip-off? What do you think?

Image: Madame Roland, History Of England, Charles Knight, Volume VII. (London, 1868.)
As Madame Roland awaited execution, she cried: ‘O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!’

Monday, 1 September 2008

Holiday Rock

During our stay in the Western Isles we visited the amazing Kilmartin Glen sites. There must have been a prehistoric stonemasons’ convention held here every year because the glen is awash with mysterious stone carvings and ritual circles. We also climbed up Dunadd hill fort, home of the ancient Scottish kings of Dal Riata. Today, the only things living there are a million warlike Scottish midges. On the summit there’s a carved footprint, thought to have been used during coronation ceremonies. The spooky thing is, I placed my foot in the stone footprint and it fitted exactly!

Images © Sue and Nigel Wilkes. Achnabreck rock carvings, Dunadd stone footprint.