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.

 

Dun Carloway

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

Dun Carloway, or Dun Charlabhaigh, is a remarkably well-preserved broch in a stunning location overlooking Loch Roag on the west coast of Lewis. Dun Carloway was probably built some time in the last century BC. It would have served as an occasionally defensible residence for an extended family complete with accommodation for animals at ground floor level. It would also have served as a visible statement of power and status in the local area.

The broch at Dun Carloway is extremely well preserved. It was built at a time when brochs were already starting to be replaced by other forms of housing less demanding on scarce resources (and wood in particular), and it is not known how long it remained in use. It seems to have been still largely complete in the 1500s when some of the Morrison clan sought refuge inside the broch after being discovered stealing the local MacAulays’ cattle. Donald Cam MacAulay climbed the outside of the wall and threw in burning heather, smoking the Morrisons out.

The broch is next mentioned in a report by the local Minister in 1797. By this time, brochs were believed to be watchtowers used as defense against, or by, Vikings. Dun Carloway featured prominently in reports on Western Isles brochs in the latter part of the 1800s, and as a result it was one of the very first ancient monuments in Scotland to be taken into state care. By this time a large a part of the wall had been removed, probably for recycling into the blackhouses built nearby: including the one whose walls still stand nearly complete below the access path.

Callanish Stones

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

After I visit places such as Callanish I am always bewildered, as I am sure that I can’t satisfactorily answer any of the obvious questions – why was it built, how was it built, who built it, what was the reason for building it here rather than on any other hillock in the area? Even the question as to when the site was constructed is open to discussion.

Callanish comprises several different elements – a stone circle containing a central monolith and a chambered tomb, three rows of stones intersecting with the circle, and an avenue of stones heading roughly northwards away from the circle. All the stones are Lewisian gneiss and were quarried locally.

The stone circle consists of thirteen stones, with an average height of 3 metres. The circle is not quite perfect as the east side is slightly squashed. The circle covers an area of 124 square metres with a diameter of 11.4 metres. The circle was built between 2,900 BC and 2,600 BC making it slightly older than Stonehenge.

The 6.4-metre-long chambered tomb, in the central part of the circle, was almost certainly added after the circle was set up and was used for many centuries, as not only local pottery was found, but also Beaker vessels dating from 2000BC.

The central monolith stands 0.8 metres west of the true centre of the stone circle. The monolith is 4.8 metres high and 1.5 metres wide. This stone is on an almost perfect north to south axis, making me wonder how people 5,000 years ago could align a 7-tonne stone so accurately.

Dun Carloway Broch – 3

A path leads up the hillside, giving views of the broch and the surrounding countryside. The side facing you is built above steep rock, and most of it remains as originally designed. As you round the broch to the entrance, on the north side, you are presented with a different picture. From here you can see that the most easily accessible parts of the wall have been removed. What you are left with is a life-size cutaway model, exposing sections through the walls and showing clearly much of their structure.

Inside the broch a number of chambers are accessible at ground floor level, an area which would probably have been used to house farm animals. The human residents would have lived 2m higher, above wooden flooring supported on a ridge that can still be seen running around the inside walls. As in other brochs, stairs are fitted within the thickness of the walls, and there would probably have been several floors of accommodation beneath a conical roof.

Callanish Stone Circle – 3

The stones of the eastern side of the avenue have only three-quarters of the height of the stones on the western side. When I saw this, I wondered whether this was deliberate or just accidental – why would these details be important to the people who created the site? Do we try and provide explanations for the reasons why things are a certain way at ancient sites, when in fact the creators of these places meant nothing by them? Did the stones of the North Avenue fan out deliberately the further away they went away from the stone circle or was it because the people creating the avenue didn’t have accurate measuring devices or just didn’t care whether the distance between the stones was the same all along the avenue – i.e. they just wanted an avenue of stones heading in a roughly northern direction? I believe they did care, as the central monolith was so accurately aligned north to south, therefore the fanning out was deliberate, but what was the reason for this? Was it meant to represent something? If so, what?

Another confusing feature are the three rows of stones that join the southern end of the stone circle. One row comes from the direction of east-northeast, one from the south, and one from the west-southwest. The east-northeast row comprises five stones, the southern row also has five stones and the west-southwest row four stones. None of the stone rows is aimed at the centre of the stone circle. Again, is this significant, or have the stones just been displaced over the thousands of years of their existence? It’s worth mentioning the stones at Callanish were abandoned, for whatever task they were intended, around 800BC and that not much is written about them until 1857, when over 5 feet of peat was removed from the site, revealing the chambered grave and the true height of the stones.

Dun Carloway Broch – 2

The broch is next mentioned in a report by the local Minister in 1797. By this time, brochs were believed to be watchtowers used as defense against, or by, Vikings. Dun Carloway featured prominently in reports on Western Isles brochs in the latter part of the 1800s, and as a result it was one of the very first ancient monuments in Scotland to be taken into state care. By this time a large a part of the wall had been removed, probably for recycling into the blackhouses built nearby: including the one whose walls still stand nearly complete below the access path.

Today Dun Carloway is approached from the car park past the Doune Broch Centre, built largely underground, and containing an exhibition giving a sense of what life in the broch might well have been like. This is run by Urras nan Tursachan, The Standing Stones Trust (as is the nearby Calanais Visitor Centre), and the broch itself is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland..

Callanish Stone Circle – 2

The 6.4 metre long chambered tomb, in the central part of the circle, was almost certainly added after the circle was set up and was used for many centuries, as not only local pottery was found, but also Beaker vessels dating from 2000BC.

The central monolith stands 0.8 metres west of the true centre of the stone circle. The monolith is 4.8 metres high and 1.5 metres wide. This stone is on an almost perfect north to south axis, making me wonder how people 5,000 years ago could align a 7-tonne stone so accurately.

The avenue connects to the stone circle from the north-northeast and is just over 83 metres long. There are 19 stones remaining in the avenue: nine stones on the eastern side, ten on the western side. It’s tempting to think that some of the original stones might have been taken for building projects on the island as there seems to be no real consistency in the layout of the stones on the two sides of the avenue. The largest stone in the avenue is 3.5 metres high and stands on the western end of the row. The two rows are not parallel, but fan out the further away they get from the circle – at the north end the rows are 6.7 metres apart, but only 6 metres apart at the south end, nearer the stone circle. From the circle the height of the stones decreases towards the middle of the avenue; from there the height increases again.