A country diarist walks the Vale of Llangollen

William Hazlitt, one of Britain’s finest essayists, discovered the ‘natural mysteries’ of this part of north Wales more than 200 years ago. Henry Eliot follows his lead

Churches of Tallinn

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, one of the three Baltic countries that achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Tallinn has many houses of prayer, including a Roman Catholic Church, within its old town walls. The spires of some of these churches dominate the skyline. The old town is a beautiful place just to wander around and walking is the best way to see all the churches.

On the edge of the Toompea district, opposite the National Library, stands Charles’s Church, regarded as the centre of the Estonian Lutheran Church. It gets its name from the previous church occupying the site, a wooden structure built in the late 1600’s during the reign of King Charles XI of Sweden. This church was burnt down in 1710 by the Russians. The site then lay vacant for 150 years before the current church was built over a period of 20 years in the late 1800s. The interior seated 1,500 people and allowed Estonians to meet in large numbers at a time when Russian rule was being severe on any evidence of Estonian nationalism. Today, to emphasize this point, the funerals of notable Estonians are held in this church.

Walking along the street called Toompea towards the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral make sure to visit the Occupation Museum, which documents the times in the 20th Century when Estonia was occupied by either the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Do not miss the statues of Communist notables in the basement outside the entrance to the washrooms.

Excerpt from – Ten Traveller’s Tales

Beaghmore Stone Circles

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

Taking the A505 westwards from Cookstown in County Tyrone, I found my right-hand turning to the Beaghmore Stone Circles after about 15 minutes. Having just visited the Giant’s Causeway, I was expecting to be one of many visitors to these Bronze Age relics. The drive through the countryside afforded wonderful views of the Sperrin Mountains, though I had to be careful as the road was narrow in places. After about four miles, I saw the sign pointing into a field. There were two other cars. The sun was out and the wind was blowing from the south-east. According to the information board, this area had Northern Ireland’s darkest sky, meaning there was little light pollution here, even in this modern age of 24-hour street lighting, car headlights, and planes flying overhead.

In a way, the fact about the darkest sky might have applied whenever the Beaghmore Stone Circles were created. For anyone expecting a Stonehenge-size spectacle, please read your guidebooks before you travel. Beaghmore has hundreds of stones, arranged in 7 circles, 10 rows, and a dozen cairns, but none of them are more than three feet in height.

The stone circles are in pairs, apart from one, which is filled with over 800 small, upright stones. This individual circle is known as the Dragon’s Teeth and is thought to represent a comet. The alignments of the circles correlate to movements of the heavenly bodies and three of the rows point to sunrise at the summer solstice.

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.

Rosslyn Chapel

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.

Before the book, the Da Vinci Code, was first published in 2003, Rosslyn Chapel received between 5,000 and 5,500 visitors per year. After the release of the film of the same name in 2006, 176,000 visitors arrived in the next six months. This figure is now the average number of tourists the chapel receives each year, meaning there will be quite a crowd of people there whenever you arrive.

Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, 3rd Prince of Orkney, as the Collegiate Church of St Matthew and was completed 40 years later. Sir William died in 1484 and never saw the completed masterpiece he’d initiated the building of.  Excavations in the 1800s indicated there had been plans for the chapel to be 30 metres longer. The village of Roslin probably began as a worker’s village for the chapel with the masons, blacksmiths, and quarrymen all needing somewhere to stay whilst they crafted the chapel.

The most famous features of the chapel are the two pillars carved by the master mason and an apprentice mason. The story goes that the master mason carved his rather simple column and then went on a tour of European cathedrals, looking for inspiration for the other major pillar in the chapel. While the master was away, an apprentice had a dream and was inspired to carve his pillar. When the master returned, he was so jealous of the apprentice that he hit him over the head with a heavy implement, killing him straightaway.

Northern Spain road trip: pull over for pintxos

There’s great food and striking design on the route from the Basque country to Galicia, taking in boutique hotels and beautiful beaches

An alternative road trip in County Kerry, Ireland

Spinning off south-west Ireland’s famous tourist route, there’s a less-visited crock of Kerry gold amid the islands, peaks and cliffs of the Skellig Ring