Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Causeway Coast

I’ve been following the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland.  It runs along the NE coastline above Belfast and as far as the NW border with the Republic of Ireland.  The first stop was a visit to Carrick-a-Rede.  This part of the coast was once alive with salmon making their way year after year upstream to spawn.  The local fishermen built a rope bridge across a short gap to an adjacent island which gave them access to calm waters.  It’s now owned by the National Trust and there is a fee to cross the bridge.

20160331_151218

Yes, more experimenting with the panorama option on the phone.

IMG_9366

One of the smaller offshore islands appeared to have the remains of a manmade structure

IMG_9367

Then I noticed part of another manmade structure on the headland opposite. 

IMG_9370

My guess is there was some type of cableway between the headland and the island?

A one kilometre walk takes you to the site of the rope bridge.  Of course it’s not the original rope bridge which would have been a far flimsier affair.  This one is made from heave steel wire ropes. 

IMG_9383

IMG_9371

It’s one way crossing so there were queues at both ends.  The process was made even slower by tourists who decided to stop in the middle of the bridge and have their photo taken.

IMG_9372IMG_9374

I wasn’t sure if the boat was for rescue or a prop.

IMG_9375

Same with the buildings on the island

IMG_9378

Next stop was the Giants Causeway which is probably the most well known attraction on the coast and also owned by the National Trust.   The causeway was formed about 50-60 million years ago during a volcanic eruption and consists of approximately 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns.  There is also a local legend about how the causeway was formed.  Wikipedia records it as “The Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn's wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the 'baby', he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal's Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.”

IMG_9328IMG_9330

IMG_9324IMG_9325

It was at this point my camera battery went flat forcing me to use the phone camera.

20160330_185810

The last attraction was Dark Hedges.  This is an avenue of beech trees planted by the Stuart Family on the 18th century on the road approaching their mansion, Gracehill House.  The bridge of trees is probably the most photographed attraction in Northern Ireland and was made even more famous when used for a scene in the popular TV series Game of Thrones.  It was used in Series 2 Episode 1 where Arya Stark has escaped from King’s Landing, disguised as a boy. She is with Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and others who are to join the Night’s Watch, in a cart, travelling north on the King’s Road.  They filmed the scene in the middle of summer when the tress were covered in foliage.  The best I could do to replicate the scene was to take a photo of the photo on the information board beside the road.

IMG_9312

And this is how I saw it.

IMG_9315

It actually proved to be rather hard obtaining the above photo as tour buses kept turning up and parking in the middle of the road.  Of course the film crew had covered the tarmac with earth for the scene in Game of Thrones. 

Still on the run

Another blog post with a nautical flavour..
After hearing some Geordies had cross into Scotland looking to put me straight about Gateshead I decided a water gap might be a prudent idea and caught the bus from Glasgow to Caimryan on the west coast of Scotland.  The latter half of the journey was adjacent to the coastline and more interesting than the inland portion of the trip.
IMG_9292
Crofters cottage
IMG_9293
I did wonder what the name of the island was off the coast.  It always seemed to be in view and has an interesting dome shape.  Eventually I discovered it is Ailsa Craig in the outer Firth of Clyde.  It’s the plug of an extinct volcano
IMG_9294
I never did identify these ruins
IMG_9297
Attractive coastline, but it did look cold and after seeing three static caravan parks wondered why anyone would want a static caravan here.
The bus took me directly to the ferry,  I used Stena Ferries.  It’s a Swedish owned company and one of the largest ferry operators in the world.
IMG_9301
Vehicles were loaded through the stern doors and I assumed this would also be the exit point.  However the vessel also had bow doors which is how it was unloaded at the other end.
IMG_9305The ferry departed for the 2.5 hour crossing to Belfast
IMG_9309
The competition!
As we approached Belfast there was time for some experimenting using the panorama function on the phone.
20160330_131349
So after an uneventful crossing of the Irish Sea here I am safely in Northern Ireland,
Hi Jennie, yes I think the Kelpies are worth a visit, but if it were me I wouldn’t be making a special trip just to see them.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Flee the country

After yesterday’s post a number of readers have written to suggest I either love living dangerously or must ensure I never return to Gateshead.  I’ve taken the advice and temporarily fled the country.
Apparently Gateshead is a town in it’s own right and NOT a suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne.  Even at my advanced age I continue to learn!
So here I am north of the border and getting my canal fix by visiting the Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies.  This is all new to me and for some reason I thought the two were co-located.  That another thing I got wrong!  The are both approximately midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh but are about 8km apart.  The Forth & Clyde Canal is 35 miles long and links the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde.  It’s an east-west link across the lower part of Scotland.  The Kelpies are at the eastern end. 
The Falkirk Wheel was opened in 2002 replacing what was once a flight of 11 locks that were dismantled in the 1930’s.  It links the higher Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal.  The wheel is at the western end of the canal Union Canal with Edinburgh at the other end. Boats drop down through two locks to approach the wheel over an aqueduct.
IMG_9239
The furthest section of the aqueduct consists of two rotating caissons.  I was fortunate enough to arrive just in time to see a Black Prince hire boat descending.
IMG_9245
The trough is on rollers enabling it to maintain a horizontal plane as the boat lift rotates. As both caissons are full of water they counterbalance each other.
IMG_9249
At the base of the wheel are the statues of the Kelpies.  This is where I became confused after viewing an earlier photo in a magazine.  I thought these were the original statues, however they are only smaller replicas.
IMG_9250
Having descended, the narrowboat has to go through a further lock to reach the Forth & Clyde Canal.
IMG_9255
Every part of the canal network I saw appeared to be in excellent condition and there were also numerous BW Scotland staff on hand to assist.  It all appeared to be well funded and maintained.  A 15 minute drive took me to the far end of the Forth & Clyde Canal where The Kelpies dominate the area.  They are obviously a very popular tourist attraction.
IMG_9259
I took this photo from a distance so you could see the location of the canal and the size of the statues.
IMG_9266
The cladding is stainless steel
IMG_9268
Another thing I hadn’t realised was the canal passes between the statues via a lock.
IMG_9269
Not sure how long it will take for the dust to settle in Gateshead so I’ll probably be out of England for a few more days.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Angel of the North

Today involved an interesting drive east across England to Newcastle upon Tyne.  This isn’t the first Newcastle I’ve visited.  If my memory is accurate my first visit was to the city of Newcastle some 160km north of Sydney Australia in 1989.  I had been selected to attend a course at the Joint Warfare Centre which was located outside the city.  At that time Newcastle Australia had some similarities with Newcastle on Tyne.  There was a large steelworks, coal mining and a major centre for ship building.  Both cities have lost the steel and ship building industries.  Newcastle upon Tyne also lost the coal mining.  Both cities subsequently went into decline for some years.  Newcastle, Australia remains a major coal exporting port and is also a centre for rail rolling stock manufacturing.  I gained the impression that somewhere in its past Newcastle upon Tyne was the centre of a large fishing industry.  In 1989 Newcastle, Australia had a rather grime and dirty appearance, however today it’s a more attractive and thriving location.  The same can be said for Newcastle upon Tyne.
The gps took me directly to the statue of the Angel of the North.  The statue was completed in 1998 and is 20 metres high with a wingspan of 54 metres
IMG_9211IMG_9212
It is constructed of steel and as you can see in the above photos it has been ‘ribbed’ to provide structural strength.  The rust on the surface give it a dark red appearance.  A human sized copy of the statue was made and in 2009 donated to the National Gallery of Australia.
I was amused to read the local’s have named the statue “The Gateshead Flash”.  Gateshead being the suburb where it is sited.
It was a rather cold wet and blustery morning on the exposed hillside so I didn’t stay long before heading into the city making my way to the riverfront where I found an open market.
It was this building, along with the large bollards and rings, that led me to the conclusion the city must have been the base for a fishing industry.
IMG_9225
IMG_9221
It’s the former fish market.  I couldn’t help it notice that on top was a statue of Poseidon with two fisherwomen and their baskets.
Another similarity with Australia is the steel arch road bridge over the river.  However this one is much smaller.
IMG_9217
The Tyne Bridge
IMG_9223 
Further upstream is a low swing bridge, a rail bridge and a second road bridge.
IMG_9233
One of the market vendors had an interesting stall.  It appeared to be a former London style taxi cab.  The back had been modified to make a hot sausage and kebab stall where the owner stands in what would have been the rear seat.
IMG_9237
A lady in an old caravan offered to tell me my past….. or future.  And could assist with any problems.  My only problems are financial and she wanted to compound them. Smile
IMG_9238
I wanted to see the Gateshead Millennium Bridge which was erected across the river in 2000 as a single structure using the largest floating crane in the world.  It has a span of 126 metres and can be tilted 40° by six big hydraulic rams creating an air draft of 25 metres.  The bridge carries pedestrians and cyclists.
IMG_9227IMG_9230IMG_9235
On the far bank is the former Baltic Flour Mill
IMG_9231
The mill was formerly owned by Hovis and was designed in 1930.  Construction was completed in 1950 and the mill operated until it’s closure in 1982.  The mill was renovated and reopened in 2002 as the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Scotland smashed and crumpled England

Several millions of years ago Scotland decided to leave America racing across the North Atlantic before making a 90° turn and smashing into England severely crumpling her.  Roll the clock back 1900 years from today and a senior one of these arrived in the area.

IMG_9195

He looked north and decided there was nothing of any real value in Scotland apart from some uncouth and wild undesirables (Scots readers might disagree).  The best way to keep the riffraff out was to build a wall.  Being a clever fellow he made use of those natural high and sharp ridges running across the original collision point.

IMG_9203

There is little point in having a barrier unless you are prepared to occupy it (something the Australian Army failed to do in Vietnam).  So General Hadrian (later Emperor Hadrian) had forts built along the wall in strategic locations.  The forts had multiple purposes.  They accommodated the soldiers manning the wall, controlled the access points through the wall and enabled trade taxes to be collected.  The total length of the wall is 73 miles and there was a fort every 5 miles.

Today we visited Housesteads Roman Fort which is owned by the National Trust and managed by English Heritage.  The fort was constructed and occupied Roman Auxillaries. 

IMG_9196

Remains of the legionnaires barracks

IMG_9197

The wall heads of east towards Newcastle.

IMG_9207

The were four gates into the fort.  The above is the West Gate.

Apparently the wall had a width of between 2.5 and 1.8 metres.  Near the fort the remains of the current wall is probably less than one metre wide.

IMG_9203

I have a sneaky suspicion the remains of these walls may have been “improved” by some of the owners during the Victorian period, when visiting such antiquities became very popular. 

IMG_9199

I’m reminded of my walk along the Great Wall of China.  The section the tourists visited was in reasonable condition whereas the section I walked was crumbling away from time and neglect. 

But the visit was interesting, and who knows; the English may yet again need it to keep out independent and marauding scots. Smile