Arnol Blackhouse

Excerpt from the book 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. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

The small village of Arnol lies on the north-western coast side of the main A858 on the island of Lewis and Harris. At the far end of the village is the Blackhouse Museum, an unmissable visit for anyone interested in how some people used to live in this part of world up until 50 years ago and, as such, it’s more a time capsule than a museum.

Built in 1885, this traditional blackhouse – a combined byre, barn and home – was inhabited until 1964 and has not been changed since the last inhabitant moved out. The museum staff rekindle the central peat fire every morning so visitors can experience the distinctive peat smell in the interior, which I first became aware of about three steps before entering the building. There’s no chimney, and the smoke finds its own way out through the turf roof, windows, door and attached to the outer garments of any visitors.

All homes built in Arnol up to 1900 were blackhouses. These double-walled dwellings were simply called taighean (‘houses’). But new health regulations introduced around this time, required the complete separation of byre and dwelling by a wall, with no internal communication, which was not the case with the blackhouses such as those at Arnol. Therefore, a new type of house appeared, built with single-thickness walls cemented with lime mortar. It presented such a contrast that people coined the term taigh-geal ‘white house’. The term taigh-dubh ‘black house’ was then applied to the old houses retrospectively.

Titanic Belfast

Excerpt from the book 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. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides.

Titanic Belfast stands 126 feet high, the same height as Titanic’s hull. The interior of the eight-storey building provides 130,000 square feet of space. Its centrepiece is a series of interpretive galleries exploring aspects of the building, design, sinking and legacy of Titanic. On the top floor of the museum is Belfast’s largest conference and reception space, the Titanic Suite, a banqueting facility capable of seating 750 people. A reproduction of the original staircase on the Titanic, made famous by the James Cameron film Titanic in 1997, is located in this conference centre. The construction of the building cost £77 million with an additional £24 million spent on pre-planning and public realm enhancements.

Once inside, the visitors all go the same way, through the various galleries that first provide the background of Belfast the city at the time Titanic was constructed, followed by the various phases of the Titanic’s life, starting with the construction of the vessel, the launch, the fit-out, the maiden voyage, the sinking, and then the aftermath.

The first gallery recreates scenes from Belfast at the time of Titanic’s construction in 1909–11. It illustrates the city’s major industries, including amazing statistics about linen. In 1825, James Kay of Preston in Lancashire invented a method of “wet spinning” which passed the flax through warm water and enabled a much finer yarn to be spun. By the late 1820s several “wet” spinning mills using water-power had been built in Ulster. By 1850 there were 62 mills in the region, employing 19,000 workers and by 1871 there were 78 mills with a workforce of 43,000. People flocked into Belfast to work in the new spinning mills. Belfast more than quadrupled in size between 1841 and 1901. It’s easy to see why Belfast was known as ‘Linenopolis’ during this time.

Northern Ireland and Scotland

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.”

In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by readers of the respected Rough Guides.

This book is short and provides a brief history of Northern Ireland and Scotland, ideal for dipping into during your busy life.

 

 

The Giant’s Causeway

Excerpt from the book 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. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

In 1693 the wider world first became aware of The Giant’s Causeway when Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, presented a paper on this unique geographical feature to The Royal Society. Even then, it was four years before an artist was sent to the area to provide evidence of this ‘curiosity’ on the north-east tip of Ireland.

It may seem remarkable to visitors such as myself that there were people in the late 1690s who put forward an argument that The Causeway had been created either by men with chisels and picks or by the efforts of a long-dead giant. When I looked at the Giant’s Causeway I had seen many pictures of it before, so it was completely new yet somewhat familiar, but in the 17th Century nothing like it had been seen before. Therefore, the visitor’s imagination could run wild.

In 1740 another artist, Miss Susanna Drury, popularised the Giant’s Causeway for the first time. Her views of the area are landmarks both in Irish topographical painting and in European scientific illustration. The groups of fashionably-dressed figures in Susanna Drury’s paintings show that, even in 1740, the Giant’s Causeway had become a tourist attraction. Soon it became part of The Grand Tour amongst the social elites of the time and its popularity began to increase, a trend that has continued to this day. Even though there were many visitors to the Giant’s Causeway in the period 1740 – 1770, no one could conclusively prove how the feature was created. Then in 1771, a Frenchman by the name of Demarest, announced the origin of the causeway was because of volcanic action.

Travel Poetry – 2

Travel poem number 2 about Istanbul.

I depart the shiny new tram

taste sage tea hundreds of years in the making

consumed near a Muslim graveyard,

where I espied silhouettes of crescent moons, stars

under pitch black skies.

As I dodge mutant dancing zebras,

vehicles screech to halt at the light.

Garish clothes, piled on the pavement, are sorted

by six grey men, women

the smiling trader haggles with all.

My linen shirt feels clammy, I sniff fresh orange juice.

Men rock on wooden chairs, debate

unending traffic above on the concrete flyover.

Scrawny cats wail, hiss over a discarded kebab

A welcoming dolmus awaits travellers to distant destinations.

 

How to book and travel by high-speed train around China

China’s rail network is a fast-paced wonder that makes exploring this huge country – including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen – much easier

The best sights and bites in Hong Kong: readers’ travel tips

This cinematic city offers iconic views, stunning rooftop bars and, a little further afield, pretty beaches and great hiking.