The Grand Tour II: Great Scott, What a Monument

scott4

EDINBURGH — Nowadays, it is hard to imagine a world where a writer is lauded and praised, and treated of as one would treat a rock or movie star today. Yet, Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish novelist who wrote “Ivanhoe” and “Rob Roy,” was so beloved that an enormous monument to his memory sits in Princes Street Gardens in the middle of Edinburgh.

Enormous is no hyperbole. The Victorian gothic structure is the largest monument to a writer in the world, measuring 197 feet high. The highest platform is accessible by 288 steps. The tower, tarnished by smoke, is blackish in color, which contrasts with the white marble statue of Scott that sits within.

Following Scott’s death in 1832, a competition was held to design a monument. One entrant went under the pseudonym “John Morvo”, the name of the medieval architect of Melrose Abbey. He was George Meikle Kemp, a 45-year-old joiner, draftsman and self-taught architect. Kemp feared his lack of qualifications and reputation would disqualify him, but his design was popular and in 1838 he was awarded the contract.

scott5John Steell was commissioned to design the Carrara marble statue which shows Scott seated, resting from writing one of his works with a quill pen and his dog Maida by his side.

The monument features 64 figures of characters from Scott’s novels by a variety of Scots sculptors including Alexander Handyside Ritchie, John Rhind, William Birnie Rhind, William Brodie, William Grant Stevenson, David Watson Stevenson, John Hutchison, George Anderson Lawson, Thomas Stuart Burnett, William Shirreffs, Andrew Currie, George Clark Stanton, Peter Slaterand two female representatives, Amelia Robertson Hill (who also made the statue of explorer David Livingstone in the gardens east of the monument), and the unknown Katherine Anne Fraser Tytler.

Four figures are placed above the final viewing gallery and eight kneeling Druid figures support the final viewing gallery. There are 32 unfilled niches at higher level.

Sixteen heads of Scottish poets and writers appear on the lower faces, representing James Hogg, Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson, Allan Ramsay, George Buchanan, Sir David Lindsay, Robert Tannahill, Lord Byron, Tobias Smollett, James Beattie, James Thomson, John Home, Mary, Queen of Scots, King James I of Scotland, King James V of Scotland and William Drummond of Hawthornden. All told there are 93 people, two dogs and a pig.

If it wasn’t enough that he was a significant enough poet, playwright and novelist to warrant a huge monument in his country’s capital, Scott was also a judge, advocate and legal administrator. He died in 1832, aged 61.

Scott’s legacy spreads across many literary works, and the last lines of The Police’s classic “Synchronicity II” is lifted directly from Scott: “Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door of a cottage on the Shore of a dark Scottish lake.”

For all his celebrity, I doubt Sting will get a monument half the size of Scott’s.

For more, visit the Scott Monument website.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

The Grand Tour II: Inverary No Drafty Old Castle

inverary29

INVERARY, Scotland — Not all the castles in Scotland are drafty examples of medieval austerity. A case in point is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of the clan Campbell.

The current Inverary Castle, inspired by Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard, is relatively new, completed in 1789, although a castle has stood on the shore of Loch Fyne since the 1400s. A fire in 1877 led to the addition on the conical roofs on the turrets.

The house is a combination of baroque, Palladian and Gothic styles, designed by Roger Morris and Richard Adam, both of whom died before the project was finished, and decorated by Robert Mylne.

Inverary Castle is opulent and decorous, especially if one is a fan of miltaria. Its displays include 1,300 pikes, Brown Bess muskets, Lochaber axes and 18th century Scottish broadswords, as well as preserved swords from the Battle of Culloden.

inverary6

Entering the castle, one is faced with a grand room filled floor to ceiling with intricate displays of weaponry.

inverary12

The State Dining Room and Tapestry Drawing Room both house French tapestries woven especially for the castle, as well as prime examples of Scottish, English and French furniture and artworks. The castle’s collection of china, silver and family heirlooms spans generations, and the Clan Room features a genealogical history of the family.

Inverary’s 16-acre estate is gorgeously manicured, a contrast to the wildness of Doune, and is more in keeping with what one things of from the nobility.

It is more than just a museum and the current Duke of Argyll and his family still live in the castle.

 

It seems no self-respecting castle is without a link to popular culture and Inverary is no exception. The Christmas feast scene from “Downton Abbey” (Brit-porn for Americans, as I like to call it), in the fictional Duneagle Castle, was filmed here.

On our highland tour, Inverary was the last stop, and the tranquil surroundings made the perfect backdrop for a cup of tea and a scone after a long day.

The castle is open April 1 to Oct. 31. General admission is 10 pounds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Grand Tour II: Going Medieval

doune0

DOUNE, Scotland — At first glance, Doune Castle looks pretty much like any other dilapidated medieval castle dotted around Britain. But one should not judge a book by its cover or, in this case, a castle by its worn stone walls.

The castle is familiar as the setting for scenes from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and as Winterfell in the “Game of Thrones” pilot, as well as, more recently, Castle Leoch in the series “Outlander.” The audio guide features narration by Python Terry Jones, as well as Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie Fraser in “Outlander.” Jones provides the history, while Heughan offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of his show.

The castle is sparse from the outside, and one could be fooled into thinking the inside is simply a ruin, but once inside, the rooms go on and on, in a labyrinthine maze of medieval opulence.

The castle looks out over the River Teith and has a view of the Scottish mountain Ben Lomand. In the 14th century, the Highland tribes would trade wool with the Lowland tribes. with Highlanders were quite aggressive, which caused problems. The Lowland king determined that weapons should be surrendered at the river crossing, meaning they were “armed to the Teith.”

The castle was built in the 1200s, damaged in the Scottish Wars of Independence, and rebuilt in its present form by Robert Albany in the late 1300s. The castle passed into the hands of the crown when Albany’s son was executed in 1425, and saw military action in the 17th and 18th centuries (including during the Jacobite Rebellion, a central plot point of “Outlander).

doune4

The Great Hall is a magnificent example of a 14th century living space, measuring 66 feet by 26 feet, and it is 39 feet high. There is no fireplace and historians speculate that there was probably a central fire with louvres in the roof for the smoke. In most houses of the period, the hall was the main living space for all of the house’s incumbents (for a detailed exploration of the evolution of housing, I recommend Bill Bryson’s “At Home,” which features the author’s trademark blend of detailed history, wit and easy-going style).

On the day of our visit, it was a positively balmy 65 degrees, but one can imagine the Great Hall brimming with activity and Highland revelry while the wind whistles outside.

doune5The Kitchen Tower houses one of the best examples of castle kitchens of the period, complete with an 18-feet-long fireplace and oven. A stair turret leads to two stories of guest apartments, including a “Royal Suite,” for special visitors, including Mary, Queen of Scots.

Aside from the serious history of the castle, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is an important part of the building’s legacy, one that its current guardians, Historic Scotland, embrace. It is a pilgrimage for fans of the film and a Monty Python Day is held annually. The “Camelot” musical number was filmed in the Great Hall and the “Trojan Rabbit” was filmed in the entryway and courtyard, among others.

It is a testament to the forward thing administration that they now cater to the “Outlander” loyalists as well. History must be maintained and that costs money. It is a trend that I have seen more and more, where historic sites use connections to popular culture to draw in customers, a trend that is smart and expands the opportunities to share history.

Terry Jones audio commentary mentions the Pythons, but he is also well known for his historical documentaries, and he offers insightful context for each room.

Castle Doune is a popular stop on a Highlands bus tour (which, if one has only a few days in Scotland, I highly recommend), and is a delightful way to spend an hour or two.

Entry is only 6 pounds and includes the audio guide.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Grand Tour II: Hilltop History

EC1

Edinburgh Castle on top of Castle Rock. Photo by Andy Coughlan

EDINBURGH — It is hard to imagine a more spectacular sight than looking up the craggy hill to see the medieval castle perched high above the town, unless it is the stunning view of the town from the castle’s walls high above. Edinburgh Castle is the highlight of a visit to a town that would be beautiful even without it.

The castle stands 430 feet above sea level. There is evidence of human settlement on top of Castle Rock, formed after a volcanic eruption some 340 million years ago, since the Iron Age in the second century, and a royal castle since the 12th century in the reign of King David I, son of St. Margaret. It was the home of kings until 1633, before being used as a military barracks.

EC4

The view of Edinburgh from high atop the castle walls. Photo by Andy Coughlan

As a Scottish stronghold, it was the scene of many conflicts from the wars of Scottish independence to the Jacobite Rebellion in the mid-1700s. David McLean, writing in the Edinburgh News, says that, “having faced attacking forces no less than 23 times, Edinburgh Castle bears the extraordinary distinction as the most besieged place in Europe.”

During the Jacobite Risings the Scots attempted to recapture the castle from English control. The final attempt was in 1745, when the Jacobite army was led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Although the Scots were able to capture the city, they could not lay siege to the castle and were forced to retreat in November. The Jacobite Rebellion was finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden, the last battle on Scottish soil. Bonnie Prince Charlie was forced into exile in France with a price on his head.

Of the existing buildings, St. Margaret’s Chapel dates from the early 12th century, and is the oldest extant building in the city. The castle is home to the Honours of Scotland and is the site of the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland and is Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction, with more than 1.4 million visitors in 2013, and more than 70 percent of visitors to Edinburgh visiting the castle. It is home to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Another attraction is the 15th century Mons Meg canon that can fire a canonball more than two miles.

EC12

The recreation of the prison at Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Andy Coughlan

The castle also houses a recreation of the prison which housed prisoners of many nationalities, including France, America, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Poland, including a five-year-old drummer boy captured at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Wandering around the castle is like a stroll through a small town with cobbled thoroughfares inside the walls. The various buildings house stories of battles and heroic conflicts.

It is well worth the time to climb the battlements and take in the breathtaking view of the Queen City and the Water of Leith on the Firth of Forth. Strolling around Edinburgh Castle, one can breathe in 900 years of history, and feel the ghosts of past knights and warriors guarding generations of Scottish royals. It is a wonderful experience.

Admission is 17 pounds for adults and 10.20 pounds for children.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Grand Tour II: Jewel in England’s historical crown

tower1

LONDON — One of the beauties of a European trip is the sheer wealth of opportunities to nerd out on history. A visit to the Tower of London ticks all the boxes.

Age? It was built in the 1070s, so that box is ticked. Spectacle? Well, it is the repository of the Crown Jewels, which literally shine and sparkle. Famous names? It was built by William the Conqueror, imprisoned the “Princes in the Tower” and Anne Boleyn, as well as being the site of executions for high treason. Which brings us to the best thing about the Tower — the stories. There are tales of intrigue, betrayal, power and bloodshed at every turn, tales that have inspired novels and plays for centuries.

tower16

A Beefeater regales tourists with tales of the Tower of London.

The first thing a visitor must do is find out when the next tour starts. There will be plenty of time later to wander around and really take in the sights, but one really must get the full history. The tours are free and are held every 30 minutes, and the guides offer a splash of color, both with their stories and their traditional garb. The Yeoman Warders, better known as Beefeaters, were historically charged with guarding the Crown Jewels and watching over prisoners. They have served at the Tower since Henry VII formed the corp in 1458.

The current Beefeaters are retired military who must have served at least 22 years, and earned the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. There are 37 who live at the facility with their families in the 13th-century apartments.

The Beefeaters are as committed to entertaining the crowds as they were to their service, and the historical anecdotes, mixed with humor and excellent storytelling, is the best way to get the full feel of the place. Besides, being on a tour is the only way to get entry into the Tower’s church, St. Peter ad Vincula.

After the tour, armed with all the grisly details of British history, one is free to wander the grounds. The Crown Jewels are a must for the first-time visitor, but expect to wait in line (and it is one of those annoying places where the line continues for quite a while once one gets inside, so don’t be disappointed. There are plenty of historical displays to occupy the time inside). The jewels themselves are spectacular, although I find that seeing them once is enough for me.

Of more interest is the Royal Armoury. Located in the White Tower, the United Kingdom’s Museum of Arms and Armour is the oldest museum in the U.K. and features swords shields and armour dating from the Middle Ages.

tower10

The Royal Armoury

On the first floor is the “Line of Kings,” featuring suits of armour from various monarchs. There are six suits of armour built for Henry VIII alone. The exhibition opened after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and has been in the White Tower since the 1880s, and was used to remind the populace of the king’s right to rule.

tower12Also on display is a “Collar of Torment” for prisoners, which, as one can imagine, was designed to make the wearing slightly uncomfortable. It is a reminder of the Tower’s position as a place of imprisonment for some of the most infamous prisoners in English history including the guilty, such as Guy Fawkes who was one of the Gunpowder Plotters; the inconvenient, such as the two princes who stood in the way of the future Richard III’s ascent to the throne; rebels, such as William Wallace the subject of the (bloody awful and historically incorrect) movie “Braveheart”; Henry VIII’s wives Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn (whose ghost is said to walk the tower); and the faithful, such as Sir Thomas More. Even the future Queen Elizabeth I was held there briefly in 1554 by her sister, Mary I, for her alleged involvement in Wyatt’s Rebellion.

For all that, only ten people were actually beheaded there, three of them Queens.

Traitors Gate, built by Edward I to provide an entrance from the River Thames, is named for the heads of recently executed prisoners that were displayed there on pikes. When one looks over the railing at the water gently lapping on against the dock, one is overwhelmed with the fascinating history that seems to be infused in every stone.

The Tower of London attracts two million visitors a year, and each one walks in the footsteps of England’s history.

Entry to the Tower is 21.50 pounds for adults aged 16 and over, and 9.75 pounds for children if purchased online. Family rates are available.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Full English Breakfast

breakfast

LONDON — What is it with the French? How do they manage to go through the day without passing out?

Now I am a staunch supporter of the concept of Europe, and I really believe that the people who voted for Brexit are the kin of Trump supporters — people who just “wanted to shake things up a bit but, oh wait, do you mean we are going to lose all these subsidies and life will be worse?’”

But there is one great divider between the Brits and the Euros — breakfast. Who decided that a “continental breakfast,” a croissant and a choice of 40 tiny bits of cheese, was enough to supply the energy needed to make it through a grueling workday.

A good full English breakfast is what is really needed. Lots of carbs, lots of fats, lots of gooey mingling of various delicious fluids — now that’s how to get your day going. And it has the added bonus of probably shortening your life, thus cutting down on the number of days you have to spend dealing with idiots. It’s a win-win situation if ever there was one.

During a recent trip to England we stopped off at a Polish café — because it was in Tooting in London, a diverse part of one of the most diverse cities in the world — for a full English breakfast. It starts with a pot of piping hot tea, which is best drunk with a splash of milk and some sugar, but to each his own.

What exactly constitutes a full English breakfast? Well, of course there are eggs, over easy preferably so the yolk can be popped and mixed in with the rest of the goodies on the plate. A couple of chunks of toasted sliced bread (we used to refer to them as door steps because they should really be sliced thick. Non-fats are taken care of with some fried mushrooms, a couple of the big ones, and some fried tomatoes. Add some potatoes (a pattie or chunks) and some baked beans to help lubricate the swallowing. Finally, the piece-de-resistance, the meat. A full English doesn’t force you to choose between sausage and bacon — you get both. And the bacon is not like the U.S. kind, it’s thick and almost hammy.

This is how to start the day. Give yourself an hour to eat and let it digest. No need for lunch, hell, no need for supper half the time. Now you are ready to walk around all day.

And that’s why the English had an Empire.

The Grand Tour II: Cemeteries a Lively Way to Spend a Day

cemetery

BRIGHTON, England — Ramona and I are constantly asked, “What is it with you guys and cemeteries?” It is true that on any trip, our social media feeds will feature at least one set of photos of graves.

So what is it that we find so fascinating? Well, for one thing, they are dead quiet (sorry, last intentional pun I promise).

But seriously, our vacations often consist of running from museum to gallery to historical monument, and a stroll through a random graveyard can be quite a pleasant escape.

cemeteryfallenI am not interested in pristine, well-manicured cemeteries. I like the ones that are overgrown in places, full of broken headstones and random fallen statuary. Woodvale cemetery in Brighton is full of broken graves. They are not the object of some mismanagement. It is just time taking its toll, and the graves forgotten or ignored by family. Sometimes, a 100-year-old grave has a bright, modern marble headstone, with the names or names of the deceased etched sharply into the stone. Obviously someone is paying attention.

But what of the others? The cemetery stretches for half a mile up a steep incline. The trees are thick away from the central road which leads to the church, and many have grown up through the middle of graves, breaking the stones and toppling the headstones. I find it comforting that whomever was sleeping underneath is more than likely part of the rich foliage that now offers shade.

 

 

cemeterygraves3

The older headstones are weathered and faded, the once crisp lines washed away to almost nothing in the 150 years since they were interred. We try to read the names, especially the ones where some long-ago relative thought enough to regale us with a little bit of history. He was a butcher, a policeman, a city councilor, or he was Sir Edward So-and-So of the Queen’s Royal Fusiliers.

cemstatue4Wives are buried with husbands — one headstone recorded a wife buried with both her husbands. I wonder if the first was comfortable spending eternity with his replacement?

On our most recent trip (yes we go to this one on each trip), we discovered a section that contained the graves of many people from the same years and roughly the same ages — 1914-18, during World War I. There were mentions of good sons, their lives cut short, and stories of bravery in action.

Many of them were from the three South Downs battalions that suffered massive losses at the Battle of the Boar’s Head, a diversionary raid the day before the Battle of the Somme, meaning it is all but forgotten. The three battalions finished with 366 killed and more than 1,000 wounded or captured. More than 70 percent were from Sussex and many were from Brighton.

The most poignant gravestone told of one young man, died in August 1917 from wounds he received in battle in March 1916. It was obviously important to whomever commissioned the headstone that we knew he took that long to die. With the state of medicine back then, I wondered how much pain he must have been in. If I remember, he was barely 20.

To be standing at this soldier’s grave, 100 years after his death, a tree nudging the stone sideways from one corner, I thought about him for a moment, then, squinting in the bright sunlight, with the faint hum of traffic from behind the stone wall, I walked up the hill to a lovely broken statue and took a photo. One hundred years ago, I like to think he enjoyed a moment in the sun, far away from the bloody battlefield.

Life is for the living, and sometimes it takes the dead to remind us to appreciate that.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.