A timely account of a fraught part of Europe has won Stanford’s book of the year. Here, one of the judges heralds a master storyteller and gives an overview of the nominees
My new book is called: Travels through History – Northern Ireland and Scotland
Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet.
Lonely Planet praised its “timeless beauty and high-grade distractions – golf, whiskey and some of the world’s most famous rocks. The region may be famous for Game of Thrones but its many scenic filming locations are just the start.”
Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland covers not only the murals and Titanic Centre in Belfast, but also the world-famous rocks of The Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle, and the Beaghmore Stone Circles, situated in Northern Ireland’s darkest area.
The original owners realised it was time to leave Dunluce Castle when the kitchen along with their cooks and the dinner they were preparing fell into the sea during a particularly bad storm.
In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company. Rough Guides, the leading publisher of travel and reference guides, tasked its readers to choose the top 20 most beautiful countries in the world, and Scotland came out on top.
Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland covers not only the capital Edinburgh, but also the Isle of Lewis, the border abbey at Dryburgh, and the mysterious chapel at Rosslyn as featured in the famous book The Da Vinci Code.
On Lewis, itself voted Europe’s top island destination in 2014 by TripAdvisor, I write about the 5,000-year old stone circle at Callanish, the 2,000-year old rock house at Dun Carloway, and the black houses at Arnol where people lived until the 1960s.
In Edinburgh, I describe the sights that can be seen along The Royal Mile from Holyrood House to The Castle including the cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter books. I visited the botanical gardens with its magnificent Victorian Temperate Palm House, the tallest in Britain and a Chinese garden, home to the largest collection of wild-origin Chinese plants outside China.
Fans gather in a non-stop reading of Herman Melville’s entire masterpiece at an annual winter festival in New Bedford, where the idea for the novel was born
It’s a little known fact that every turtle that swims up the River Thames past Tower Bridge into the Pool of London becomes the property and responsibility of the monarch. This rule is part of the Common Law of England and dates back to the time of Queen Matilda in the 12th Century.
The Royal Turtle Surveyor has to be notified if a turtle reaches the Pool of London so that the ceremony of Turtle Rinsing can occur. This old procedure involves the Royal Turtle Surveyor, The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor, the Royal Net Bearer, The Royal Water Bagpiper, and the Master of the Hose. From the Tower of London, these five officials proceed towards the turtle in a launch bearing The Royal Standard.
Once the turtle is observed by The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor using a spyglass, the Royal Net Bearer apprehends the creature in a special Turtle net that’s over two hundred years old. Once clear of the water, the turtle in the net is raised to shoulder height. Using a 500-year old hose made from Staffordshire Boar hide, the Master of the Hose sprays the creature for “one round of ye reel,” which is danced by the Royal Turtle Surveyor and The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor. The Royal Water Bagpiper accompanies the dance.
Once the reel is complete, the rinsed turtle is returned to the water. In the past, the turtle was observed swimming vigorously for the open sea; however in recent years they have mainly hung around HMS Belfast waiting for tourists to drop food to them.
Historians believe that the Turtle Rinsing was created because of Matilda’s desire to keep her supporters happy by giving them jobs in the Royal Household that were purely ceremonial in nature. Other such jobs include The Royal Wasp Counter in the Hunting Forests, The Royal Cloud Shape Describer, and the Royal Maker of Cubes from Honey.
The concept of the Village Idiot is a long-held tradition that was refined to its highest degree in rural Somerset in the 1300s. At that time the position of Village Idiot was an official job title and had a salary, though it was paid in acorns. Both men and women could apply for the role in the annual Dancing Around the Windmill contest, which took place in November – the windiest time of the year. The selection process involved drinking copious amounts of cider and then dancing in between the blades of the windmill.
Nowadays, there is no job of Village Idiot but the contest continues in purely ceremonial form, though the rules are almost the same. The only change from 700 years ago is that the dancers don’t have to wear oak clogs. Starting at 8 o’clock in the morning the contestants are presented to the watching crowds in their fool’s costumes. Each contestant is given a gallon vat of apple cider, which they must drink by nine o’clock or be disqualified from the dance. They are not allowed to eat any food during this time.
At ten past eight, the potential idiots start dancing through the sails carrying their vats with them. The contest is judged by three umpires who perform various tasks. The contestants are supposed to avoid the sails by either slowing down or speeding up their dance, but they must never stop or they will be penalized a point by an umpire. Dancers must not move more than 10 feet from the windmill or they will be deducted a point. Contestants who are hit by a sail are either deducted a point if they remain conscious or disqualified if they have to be sent to the hospital by the umpire. If the umpires deduct three points from a contestant then their contest is over. The contest continues until there is only one person left who hasn’t been disqualified.
According to the Lindisfarne Chronicles, “Walking the Ways All” was an annual tradition in all Anglo-Saxon towns. The third Thursday in July was set aside for the townsfolk to walk along the common pathways and re-establish their right to frequent these paths. According to the English Common Law, if this annual reclamation wasn’t performed these pathways would become the property of the local landowner, who could then collect tithes from the townsfolk for using the paths.
In 1471 a drunken clerk, Oliver de Turnhouse, misheard the Cleckheaton town crier’s proclamation and so the new tradition began. The town mayor for that year, William de Gradlove, had to walk around the paths dragging a small mammal with sharp teeth behind him. Animal rights not being of top priority, it’s believed that a different weasel was used every year.
One particularly cruel mayor, Edgar Stride, decided to ride around the paths on a horse as he didn’t want to be bitten in the ankle by the weasel. However, his fear caused his death. The weasel’s leash wasn’t quite long enough for it to walk on the ground. Not wishing to be strangled, the weasel fought and writhed against the leash until it managed to sink its teeth into the horse’s haunch. This powerful nip caused the horse to bolt – Stride was knocked from the horse’s back when it ran under a low branch. Stride hit the ground hard and died from his injuries. His quick-thinking deputy, Mortimer Sanderson, jumped over Stride’s body and managed to pick up the weasel’s leash before it could effect an escape. He walked around the rest of the paths without further mishap. This act of quick-wittedness is now enshrined in the ceremony. Since that day, when the mayors approach the area known as Mortimer’s Leap, they have to sprint for approximately one hundred yards, ensuring that the weasel is keeping up.
Only when the role of ‘The Walking Weasel’ became an officially recognized position in 1661, to commemorate the restoration of the monarchy, did the same weasel perform the ceremony more than once. Indeed, it’s understood that the walk began to appeal to the weasel, as it came across the warrens of the local rabbits, which it could visit at other times of the year. The record for the number of walks undertaken by one weasel is 18 between 1872 and 1889 by Walter the weasel, whose son Barney succeeded him for a further 14 years. The ceremony has been performed nearly 540 times in a continuous line that hasn’t been broken by World Wars, Civil War, or the election of Margaret Thatcher.
Each year there are roughly 5,000 entrants for the race who make their way to Cairo at their own expense. They are given a thorough medical by the race organizers and those who pass have to sign an insurance waiver and provide proof they have adequate medical insurance for repatriation to their own country. If more than 3,072 pass the tests then an elimination 10,000-metre race is run around the Giza Plateau and the top 3,072 entrants reach the pre-qualifying races.
A basic pyramid race comprises four racers, one for each of the edges. The idea is that the contestants start the race 50 yards from their corner of the pyramid. They stand by an empty plinth and wait for the Starting Judge to wave the Wand of Osiris. Once this happens, they make their way to the top of the pyramid, collect an image of Thoth from a judge wearing an ibis mask, who stands on the capstone, and then descend to the bottom. The winner is the person who first places his Thoth on the plinth.
In the week prior to June 21st the qualifying takes place on the Pyramid of Menkaure. Between June 14th and June 17th the 3,072 entrants each take part in one of the 768 races; the losers from these races qualify for the races on the Step Pyramid of Djoser between June 18th – 21st. On June 18th and 19th the 768 winners are whittled down to 192 and then on June 20th the final 48 are decided and they qualify for the “Race to the Stars” on the Great Pyramid on June 21st. The 576 who lose races on June 18th and 19th qualify for the races on the Pyramid of Menkaure on June 21st, which is still a prestigious race. The 144 who lose races on June 20th qualify for the races on the Pyramid of Khefre on June 21st, a race only second in importance to the race on the Great Pyramid.
Extract from Sports the Olympics Forgot