Uphilldowndale

Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England


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Tomb of the Eagles

Tomb of the eagles  Orkney landscape_

 

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Thirty Days Wild,  thirty posts throughout June (and July, and August, I’m so,so tardy) something that is grounded in our wild world. This year posts are from our travels around the  north coast of Scotland  on the North Coast 500 route and a visit to Orkney. Stand by, for lots of sky, sea, wildlife, history, Spud the dog and random musings.

Tomb of the Eagles, (or less dramatically, Isbister Chambered Cairn)  was on our ‘must do’ list for our visit to Orkney, having watched a TV documentary about its  archaeological importance.  The visit starts at the visitor centre (not surprisingly) and  what I liked about this, was how you are allowed to handle some of the exhibits, to hold a five thousand year old Stone age axe in your hand and feel its balance, is quite something, something that you can never get a handle on from seeing it exhibited in a glass cabinet. 

After our tour of the centre, the tomb is accessed by a  mile long walk along a track, passing as you go, another significant bit of archaeology  a Bronze age mound of burnt stone, a modest 3,000 years old

Burnt Mound Orkney_

Mr Uphilldowndale was a little puzzled that I seemed more interested in photographing the plants than ancient relics, I pointed out that this plant, and I don’t know what it is, looked as thought it might have been hanging out here since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

spiky plant Orkney

It was late when we arrived at the tomb, the visitor centre had closed behind us, and we were free to take a look inside the tomb at our leisure, in a kind of ‘let yourself in, the doors on the latch’ way (lovely bit of drystone walling here).

Tomb of the eagles  Orkney entrance 2

In reality you enter the tomb, on a little bogie cart, 

Tomb of the eagles  Orkney entrance_

My photos in the tomb, don’t do it justice, I’ll admit, being on the slightly claustrophobic spectrum, I happier outside than in, so I didn’t hang around for long.  As last visitors of the day, I didn’t fancy being entombed for the night. The tomb is divided into stalls, by stone orthostats (love that word, hard to drop into conversation though) the remains of the sea eagles and 341 humans have long since been removed to safety.

Tomb of the eagles  Orkney 2

It was cool, dark and had an unusual earthy kind of smell,  but what did I expect of a tomb

Mr Uphilldowndale kindly demonstrated the technique for entry and exit

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The return walk, takes you along the edge of the  South Ronaldsay cliffs, where there were beautiful flowers

Tomb of the eagles  Orkney Squill 2

as blue as the surrounding sea

Tomb of the eagles  Orkney sea

in places the flowers were named with tags, a lovely touch,  by the Simison family, a family (dad, discovered the tomb, fifty years ago) that values the sharing of information about this special place. The plastic tags did seem a little incongruous to me though, maybe wood or even written on stone would have been more fitting, you know I fret about plastic and the sea.

Tomb of the eagles  Orkney Squill

By the time we returned to the van, it was just us and the rabbits, and maybe, soaring on the wind, the spirits of the eagles, looking for a tasty rabbit,

Rabbit Orkney_


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Lichen

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_08

Thirty Days Wild,  thirty posts throughout June (and July!) something that is grounded in our wild world. This year posts are from our travels around the  north coast of Scotland  on the North Coast 500 route and a visit to Orkney. Stand by, for lots of sky, sea, wildlife, history, Spud the dog and random musings.

Lichen, a symbiosis between fungi and alga.   The islands of Orkney have the most sumptuous lichen I’ve ever seen 

Lichen Wall Orkney_

I’ll not pretend to try and understand of identify them, the most accessible information I could find is on The Woodland Trust website, which is ironic because if there is one thing Orkney is in short supply of its trees. 

Lichens are often an indicator air quality and pollution. The leafy and beardy species being the most fragile, in their response to the air quality.

lichen wall 3_

I can confirm the air on Orkney is palpable in its freshness, its a  striking feature of the islands; as is the quietness (apart from the  gorgeous, gorgeous,birdsong)

Lichen_

its’ a quietness that presses on the eardrum, as unfamiliar with this void of noise, it seems to scan for familiar sounds amongst the white noise of wind, sea and birdsong

lichen wall 4

Orkney has so much archaeology it makes it your head spin.  It has standing stones a plenty. The perfect host for a colonisation of lichen

lichen standing stones 3

  In close view they look like maps of different worlds, which I suppose they are.

lichen standing stones 2

There was a time when man  deemed a good idea to clean the precious stones of lichen.  The lichen fought back.

lichen standing stones

They  also takes hold of more contemporary standing stones

grave stone lichen_


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Ring leader

Thirty Days Wild, a post each day throughout June, something that is grounded in our wild world. This year posts are from our travels around the  north coast of Scotland  on the North Coast 500 route and a visit to Orkney. Stand by, for lots of sky, sea, wildlife, history, Spud the dog and random musings.

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Well as you can see I’m more than a little tardy, 21 days behind schedule. Oh dear.

Will it surprise you that it was a springer spaniel that was the ring leader of this little bit of mischief? Not our Spud the dog, you understand, but he’d have loved to join in.

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It was at Skaill House  on Orkney, which as well as being rather grand family estate, stuffed full of beautiful antiques and historic items,

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and the odd exotic thing, that you can only wish had stayed wild

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It also has a touch of the 20thC about its decor in some of the rooms,  as it was a family home until the 1950’s

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It just feels familiar, take this wallpaper, for example.

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What Skaill House has, at the bottom of its garden, is altogether more unusual, and its survival is nothing short of miraculous is a  prehistoric village was exposed in 1850, when a great storm tore away the sand dunes that had protected it. I could show you my photos, but I think you’ll be netter served by the Skara Brae website

They do say if you scratch the surface of Orkney, it bleeds archaeology. I’d not disagree.


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Kew Palace

We’ve been to London, not see the Queen, but to see family, and whilst we were there we did two things, we went to the National Archives, to take a look at the war diaries of the time my father spent in Burma, during WWII  with the 864 ME  Coy Royal Engineers.  It was an emotional experience.  And deserves a blog post of its own. I need a little time to bring my thoughts together first though. 

Afterwards, to decompress, we went to Kew Botanical Gardens, a favourite place.

We’d not been to Kew Palace before (which stands within the gardens) its a gem of building. Imbued with history, its been a home to the Royal family as far back as 1729.

Kew Palace

But what we liked about its that for the best part of two centuries it stood empty,  which meant many things were left unchanged, it escaped the passing fashions of the time.

I thought the soft light and the colour of the clerks of the kitchen’s office rather special. 

Kew Palace blue_

The dinning room  is set for the first meal King George was allowed to eat with a knife, as he recuperated from a period ‘of madness’ at Kew

In 1788 the whole nation was thrown into turmoil as the King was declared ‘mad’ after the onset of a mysterious illness, probably porphyria. This is a hereditary blood disorder that can cause temporary mental derangement.

Roast rabbit was on the menu, I think you might wish to take a knife to it!

Roast rabbit_

They were not the only delicacies…

Kew Palace dinner

The top floor of the building is unrestored,  we liked seeing the way the building was put together,

Kew Palace door

I’m always drawn to a little sparkle though

Kew Palace_

The room guides were as imbued with the history as the building itself.  We’d have missed the detail and craftsmanship of this  original window, were it not for the guide

Kew Palace window

And who knew the Royal Palaces have a sash window expert that maintain these troublesome devices so they can be lifted with a finger.


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Time for Tea

It’s back! We have a phone line, we have broadband! Put the kettle on lets have a nice pot of tea.  Storm Doris is behind us at last.

Mr Uphilldowndale, Tom and I were sat at the kitchen table the other day having a cuppa; idly  we calculated  that our Denby tea pot, purchased circa 1987, has made in the region of 47,000 pots (not cups) of tea. Astounding.

teapot

Tom wryly observed ‘We wouldn’t be working this out if we had the Internet, wed have found better things to do.’ he is probably right.  It also cast my mind back to how we had the majority of our Denby Greystone crockery as wedding gifts. The very first phone call I took, to our landline, from a mobile phone  (a car phone) was about a matter of great importance, a friend and early adopter of such  technology rang to ask ‘This wedding list of yours, we’re just going shopping,  err what exactly is a  ramekin’.

Tom of course has never know a world without mobile phones and the Internet, or for that matter Denby crockery. Tom is 22 today.


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Twekesbury Abbey

We travelled to Teweksbury Abbey between Christmas and New Year; sadly it was for the funeral of Mr Uphilldowndale’s Godfather.

The Abbey was gloriously decorated for Christmas, I’ve just few camera snaps, taken after the service, but I think you can see what I mean

Christmas Abbey

The music, especially the singing, was very special: members of the Ebor Singers had made it through the ice and fog to sing. It was quite magical and gave me goose bumps.

The low winter sun, made the stained glass look spectacular.

Felix funeral 3

As it was a cold, foggy and icy day, we were please to find two of the these  imposing Gurney heaters, installed in the abbey in 1875 

Gurney heater

Even with such beasts of heaters, I was so glad I’d worn my winter coat. ( I nearly didn’t take my coat, just a jacket as I have a habit of being the overdressed northerner at family occasions south of Birmingham!)

As music is in the DNA of Mr UHDD’s family, so is an interest and admiration of the manufacture of such a magnificent piece of engineering.  Mr UHDD couldn’t resist a closer look at its  inner workings. His Godfather would have thought it a commendable curiosity, of that I’m quite sure.

Gurney heater 2


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Ghost Soldiers and Bird Song

I went to our  local park today, to the war memorial where there was a service to commemorate the  anniversary of the first day of the battle of the Somme.

I have to say the blowing of a whistle at the start of the service, chilled my blood. What a thought, that 19,420  lives were lost that day.

On 1st July 1916 at 07.30am, whistles blew all along the British front line driving thousands of troops out of the trenches into No Man’s Land as the Battle of the Somme began.

The park was built as a memorial to those who lost  their lives during World War I, and during the two minutes silence I was struck by the sweet scent of roses drifting up from the flower beds and the bird song from the surrounding, and now mighty trees. I could pick out the cheeky chatter of long tailed tits

Long-tailed tit, windy day

Birdsong must have been the last thing the soldiers heard before the guns

From Bivouacs by Gilbert Waterhouse

In Somecourt Wood, in Somecourt Wood,
We bivouacked and slept the night,
The nightingales sang the same
As they had sung before we came.
‘Mid leaf and branch and song and light
And falling dew and watching star.
And all the million things which are
About us and above us took
No more regard of us than
We take in some small midge’s span
Of life, albeit our gunfire shook
The very air in Somecourt Wood.

It was very moving, and I don’t think had I seen these  ‘ghost soldiers’ today, moving speechlessly through our cities, each one  simply carrying a card with the name and age of a soldier they represented. I could have helped but shed a tear. What a powerful piece of art.

'Ghost Tommies' at Waterloo Station in London