Sunday, April 25, 2010

Diligentia maximum etiam mediocris ingeni subsidium*

It's probably time to admit that, apart from my garden, walking and steam trains, I have a fondness for ruins! Scotland's tower houses are a big interest. But I wasn't in Scotland today.

You probably won't know that I have an O-level in Latin. I'm actually quite proud of it. Three years of study of the language though gave me no interest at all in Roman history and culture, and the reason for that was a teacher who certainly did not inspire me. Perhaps I should just leave it at that.

A trip to Rome in the late 1970s galvanised some enthusiasm. But it was my friend Antony Kamm, an editor and writer, who has been the one to stimulate more recently my interest in all things Roman.

This is one of Antony's books, published in 2004. Wamphray lies 'Between Two Walls', which just happens to be the title of one of the chapters of this book. Skip itself sits on the line of a Roman Road. In fact, on quiet winter nights, you can hear the marching of Roman soldiers on the road outside. (Or it may be just the rumble of passing goods on the nearby West Coast Main Line, you decide.)

Antony's best known work, The Romans: An Introduction (second edition 2008), has its own website here, if you like your history presented onscreen. I recommend both book and website.

But I digress.

I remember learning about the finds of Roman military and private correspondence written on wooden tablets, amongst the most important archaeological treasures ever unearthed in Britain. Vindolanda was a Roman fort at Chesterholm, just south of Hadrian's Wall in northern England. It guarded the Stanegate, the Roman road from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth. The first fort was built here around AD 85. Hadrian's wall was built some forty years later.

Making a trip to Vindolanda has been on my 'must do' list for a while. Today was not really a day for the garden, so I headed south from Skip. The first stop was the Houghton Hall garden centre near Carlisle (needs must), but it was overflowing, and not pleasant. So it was in and out quickly, and on to the A69 and Hadrian Wall country, looking for the signs to Vindolanda.

The setting is impressive, as is the extent of the area which has been excavated.

These are the remains of an early bath house.

Remains of a mausoleum.

The museum (and coffee stop) is in this building, which was originally the cottage of Chesterholm, built in 1831 for Antony Hedley, Vindolanda's first excavator. What an amazing collection of finds are on display in the museum! Just the right size too, not overwhelming. And the interpretation of the Vindolanda tablets did not disappoint.

The gardens and open air museum contained even more of interest.

This is a replica timber milecastle gateway, constructed in 1972, alongside a section of turf wall. Interestingly I read that there is no longer the enthusiasm for reconstructions like these as there once was.

One highlight of the visit was the opportunity to see volunteers working on the excavations. The aim of the current investigations is to examine the fourth and fifth century remains of barracks and other buildings in the north west quarter of the fort. This should reveal information about the standard of living and activities of those living inside the fort compared with that of the residents outside the walls.

Andrew Birley is director in charge of the excavations (that's him on the right) and he was only too willing to answer questions from visitors.

I asked where the stone for all the buildings had come from. The quarry at the top of the hill on the south (top of the pic above) is one of the Roman quarries. There are others on the far side of the hill.

There really is so much to see and do. The photos above only scratch the surface of the place. I will certainly make another visit. The Vindolanda website is here. More Romans in future posts!

(*The title of this post 'Diligentia maximum etiam mediocris ingeni subsidium', I think translates as 'Diligence is a very great help even to a mediocre intelligence'. No doubt someone will tell me if I've not remembered correctly!)

Pics © Skip Cottage

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cromwell goes home

BR Britannia Class 7MT 4-6-0 no 70013 Oliver Cromwell slides quietly into the loop at Beattock, heading south from Edinburgh today. The locomotive was pulling the return leg of the Railway Touring Company's 'Auld Reekie' excursion, between Manchester and Edinburgh.

Oliver Cromwell has been in Scotland since April 9, see here. It went up to Inverness with the Great Britain 111.

The loco also hauled the SRPS Railtours Forth Circle excursions last weekend over the Forth Bridge, along the Fife Coast and round the Fife Circle then along the recently re-opened railway through Kincardine and Alloa to Stirling. Read the report on these here.

After a short stop at Beattock to let other traffic play though, here is Oliver Cromwell pulling away, next stop Lockerbie, then back to England.

Pics © Skip Cottage

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Daffodil days

I'm not sure whether the volcanic ash has made sunsets in Annandale any more beautiful than normal, but you can judge for yourself!

Shrubs are flowering, and the daffodils are finally putting up their best show.

You can compare this with thirteen months ago here. I think everything at Skip is about a month later than last year.

A previous inhabitant of Skip went to considerable effort to plant daffs on the road verges near the cottage.

There's quite a variety too.

I like how they have even escaped through stone dyke and fence!

It's a pity that this feast of colour will shortly be over - all too soon!

Pics © Skip Cottage

Sunday, April 18, 2010

An April Weekend Part 2

On my way home from Appleby in Westmoreland, I went via a scenic route by Alston. The South Tynedale Railway is a two-foot narrow guage heritage railway. The route is two and a quarter miles in length and there are plans to extend the line by a further two and a quarter miles to Slaggyford. It is built on the southern end of the track bed of the disused standard gauge Haltwhistle to Alston Line. This connected with the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway at Haltwhistle and was closed on May 1, 1976.

No. 4 Naworth heads back to the sheds, its work done for the day.

There's more about this locomotive here.

No 9 sits ready to haul the late afternoon train to Kirkhaugh Station.

More about the history of this locomotive is here.

I look forward to returning to Alston later in the summer, taking a trip on the line, and seeing the line's steam engines in operation. These are described here.

Here again is 46201 Princess Elizabeth, now on the Carlisle - York leg of Saturday's railtour, pictured near Gilsland. (More pics on yesterday's post here)

What a great day exploring the north of England!

Pics © Skip Cottage

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An April Weekend Part 1

The Settle - Carlisle railway line is justifiably famous, see here. I found my way to this station today.

This Northern Rail DMU was headed to Leeds at 12.30.

One of the reasons that the stations look so pretty is because of the work of volunteers. Info on the Friends of the Settle - Carlisle line is here.

Another reason I was there was to get a closer look at Great Western Railway 4-6-0 4979 'Wootton Hall'. It's been here at the Appleby Heritage Centre for a couple of years. And I've seen it when I've been passing on the regular train. You can read all about this locomotive here.

I understand it may be moving on soon for the next stage of its restoration.

And this is the real reason I was in Appleby this afternoon.

Here is LMS Princess Class 4-6-2 no 46201 Princess Elizabeth sliding into Appleby station for a water stop - hence the tanker. The locomotive was pulling The Railway Touring Company's excursion The Hadrian today.

The story of this locomotive is here.

There was time for many of the passengers to stretch their legs.

Ready for the next leg of the excursion.

All aboard!

I love the sights, sounds and smell. Actually, this is not the first time that Princess Elizabeth has featured on this blog, see here.

It was headed for Carlisle and then along the Newcastle line.

Aye, right!

Part 2 to follow.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tornado at Ravenglass

It's another one of the 'Here it comes' moments. This was yesterday, and I'm at Ravenglass station in Cumbria.

It's Tornado, the new build Peppercorn class A1 Pacific. It was hauling the HF Railtours Cumbrian Coast Tornado excursion, from Crewe to Carlisle, via the coast line, and back by the Settle line.

I've seen this locomotive a number of times now, and I am still amazed by how impressive it is.

It passed through Ravenglass at speed, somewhat behind schedule, but watched by an appreciative audience!

I loved how the little engines of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway were all on show and whistling as their 'big brother' passed through! This is Northern Rock which was built in the workshops at Ravenglass and saw service for the first time in 1976. The others are described here.

The line's newest diesel locomotive, the Douglas Ferreira, beautifully turned out.

I took the seven mile trip up into the hills, to the delightfully named Dalegarth for Boot station. There is a little turntable at both ends of the line. The lineguide is here.

The River Mite was built by Clarkson's of York in 1966. The line is 15 inch guage.

Passing place, as Douglas Ferreira heads for Dalegarth.

Photos © Skip Cottage