My new book

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.


Dunluce Castle

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

Dunluce Castle dates from around 1500 when it was established by the MacQuillans on a rocky outcrop, jutting out into the stormy, grey North Atlantic Ocean. Around 50 years later, the MacQuillans were ousted by the MacDonnells, a family descended from the Scottish Clan MacDonald. The MacQuillans quickly became the dominant family of the area and who were in conflict with the surrounding families on a constant basis.

Their conflicts soon came to the attention of the English Crown, who were concerned about their growing power in the area. In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I sent Sir John Perrot, Lord Deputy of Ireland, to deal with the MacQuillans. Sir John successfully besieged the castle, but Elizabeth handed the castle back to “Sorley Boy” MacQuillan two years later, when he swore an oath of allegiance to her. “Sorley Boy”, meaning ‘Yellow Charles’ in Irish, repaired the castle with money obtained from selling some of the artefacts obtained from the wreck of the Girona. He also installed three cannons from the ship at the castle.

Salses-le-Chateau in France

I first saw this magnificent fortress from the train and I was delighted when the train stopped at a nearby station, which meant I could easily visit the castle on public transport. The reason I saw the fort is because it’s situated in the ideal spot between the Corbieres mountains and the Leucate lagoon. The fort was constructed between 1497 and 1503 to a design by the Spanish architect Francisco Ramiro Lopez, who had just completed the reconstruction of the Alhambra in Granada.

Ramiro introduced some innovations such as “sinking” the whole fortress into the ground to protect it as far as possible from artillery fire. The only part of the wall visible was used to fire artillery pieces back at the attackers. The masonry was massively enlarged to withstand attack by heaven cannons and the moat was increased in width. All the corner towers were turned into artillery placements allowing the guns to be manouevered into different firing positions. The wallwalks were widened to allow for the movement of guns and forward defences were advanced to keep artillery further away.     

The stone used in the construction were from the nearby Corbieres mountains, the reddish-ochre limestone was taken from the site itself, and the “white stone” was from the Ampurdan area in Catalonia. The limestone was used to feed the many lime kilns. All the bricks and tiles were manufactured locally.

The fort was completed in 1503 and straightaway the defences were put to the test by a French army who were invading Roussillon. Around 1,000 foot soldiers and 350 elite cavalry defended Salses against 15,000 foot soldiers and 1,000 lancers. The attackers reduced the northern ramparts to rubble with heavy gunfire, but the defenders obtained revenge when they blew up the remains of the bastion with a mine, killing 400 of the attackers.

Italy’s sleeping beauty: 400-year-old castle near Venice brought back to life

Close to Padua and less than an hour’s train ride from Venice, Castello del Catajo is an enormous newly-restored medieval fantasy with, so far, few foreign visitors

Take the kids to … Tintagel, Cornwall

Wizards, kings and castle ruins combine with beach, caves and rock pools to make a magical day out – even in February

Sports the Olympics Forgot – Donkey Jousting

This is an excerpt from the Donkey Jousting story in the book, Sports the Olympics Forgot

The sport of Donkey Jousting has taken place under the walls of Caernarvon Castle in North-West Wales since 1300 when King Edward I was building the castle that’s seen today by thousands of visitors. The original jousters were Welsh soldiers who were trying to tempt the English knights into a skirmish. As all horses had been commandeered by the English the jousters had to use donkeys instead and this just drew ribald comments from the knights who found the whole scene comical. To compound matters, the Welsh had to use willow branches instead of lances.

Realising that the English weren’t going to be tempted into a fight, the local Welsh people decided to enjoy themselves. To further parody the English knights the Welsh jousters dressed up in highly coloured garments and decorated their donkeys with rags and flowers. Some of the animals spent more time trying to eat the flowers than trotting around the jousting ‘field’ specially created for the occasion.

The tournament was run on a round robin basis where each jouster took on every other opponent over the best of three jousts. A point was scored if the willow branch touched either the shield or the armour of their opponent.

The biggest problem that riders had was making their donkey gallop at any speed; most donkeys trotted at best and often decided to nuzzle the opposing animal rather than running by. This led to the jousters hitting their opponents many times rather than just once, so quite often the counting judges had a problem counting the blows each had scored. Quite often one donkey would chase another donkey out of the field and in this instance both riders would be disqualified for failing to control their animals.

Travel 2016 – Trencin

I travelled to Trencin on the train from Bratislava – it took 1.25 hours each way and the whole trip cost 12 Euros. The final destination of the train was Kosice.

Trencin was hot – about 34 degrees C, which made the slog up to the castle quite difficult to do all in one go. The castle has a magnificent setting and, for the photographers, is best seen after 3pm. In the town, there are two squares full of interesting buildings and the former synagogue is now an arts centre. There’s a Roman inscription on a rock face, which can be seen in the Elizabeth Hotel. The castle dominates the town and lovely pictures can be taken from the very quiet main street.