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.

Samos

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

I had arrived at the town of Pythagorio on the ferry from Patmos. Pythagorio is the Samian destination for ferries from the Dodecanese Islands. The port of Vathy on the northern side of Samos is the terminus for ferries to the other Aegean Islands, whereas Karlovassi towards the western end of Samos is the place to catch ferries to the Cyclades. There’s more to Samos than meets the eye and the coast of Turkey is only about two miles away to the east.

Visiting the area around Pythagorio I was struck at how many of the substantial ruins didn’t have any written explanation as to their origin. There’d be a small acropolis in the middle of a field, a large section of town wall by the roadside, or a Roman baths close to a hotel, with no information as to their age or significance. The irony is that the best known ancient site, the Heraion a UNESCO listed World Heritage Sight, whilst extensive, has only one heavily restored column to give the place a sense of perspective and depth.

Walking around the ancient harbour of Pythagorio, parts of which are 2,600 years old, the visitor soon comes to a statue of Pythagoras, who was born i the area around 574 BCE. He was one of a number of intellectuals – Aesop, Aristarchus, and Epicurus were others – who thrived on Samos during the prosperous reign of the tyrant Polycrates in the 6th Century BCE. With the rise of the Athenian city state and the killing of Polycrates by the Persians, Samos declined and never reached the same heights again, becoming part of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires before joining the Greek state in 1912.

The Archaeological Museum in Pythagorio has two floors and an extensive outdoor section where the walls, dwellings, and temples of Ancient Samos can be viewed from a raised walkway. Indoors my highlights from the collection include 7 terracotta dolls dating from 500 BCE, a vase in the shape of a running hare, grave stele with palmettes on top, a large marble sarcophagus in the shape of a temple, a large status of the Roman Emperor Trajan, and a hoard of 300 gold Byzantine coins found in a bronze jug.

At the western end of Pythagorio, right by the shoreline, is the castle built by a local strongman Lykourgos Logothetis in the 19th Century. Next door are the ruins of a very early Christian church. From the castle, the visitor can walk westwards along the path towards the Doryssa resort and pass many ruins along the way including an acropolis, former town walls, and Roman baths.

Heading back into town, walking up the hill and then taking another road out of Pythagorio in a westerly direction, I came to the Panayia Spillani monastery and the attraction here, other than the cats lying on piles of carpets, is the subterranean shrine to the Virgin Mary, found about 100 yards inside a cave. The miniature church is impressively manicured despite the permanently damp conditions. This cave was also the place where the priestess Phyto – known as the Samian Sibyl – gave out prophecies including one prediction of the birth of Jesus in a stable. Further along the same road, passing an ancient theatre still used for performances, is the entrance to the Efpalinio Orygma.

This ancient aqueduct is 1036 metres long and was built by Eupalinos of Megara on the orders of Polycrates, using slave labour. The tunnel was dug through solid rock by two sets of slaves starting at opposite sides of the hill and working towards each other. The whole venture was a success and the aqueduct provided the town with running water until Byzantine times.

If you’d like to read more, the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands is newly available on Amazon.

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.

A Canterbury trail: exploring the city’s medieval streets on foot

With its extraordinary history and ecclesiastical grandeur, Kent’s murder mystery capital has much for the walker to savour on a day’s stroll