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.

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.

Dryburgh Abbey – Scottish Borders

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.

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In 1124 King David I came to the throne of Scotland. His brother-in-law was the then king of England Henry I. David established a feudal system in Scotland and introduced many novel ideas such as silver coinage, promoting education and giving royal audiences to rich and poor alike. Stirling, Perth and Dunfermline were made royal burghs which meant that they could engage in foreign trade.

However, David’s biggest desires for Scotland were to create a lasting peace with its southern neighbour and to create a nation where the influence of the Church would have a positive social effect, much as it had in the England of the time. Where better place than the Scottish Borders then, to show this demonstration of goodwill towards England, that the Scots shared their religious belief but did have the power and wealth to build large religious houses of their own? The result was the founding of four large abbeys: Kelso in 1128; Melrose in 1136; Jedburgh in 1138 and Dryburgh in 1150 with each of the buildings being the home of a different order of monks.

Dryburgh was founded in 1150 by Hugh de Moreville, one of the many Anglo-Normans who came north with David I in the first half of the 12th century. As High Constable of Scotland, de Moreville was one of the most powerful men in Scotland and had estates throughout the Borders, Ayrshire and in England. Despite his obvious piety (he enrolled as a novice in his old age) his son was one of the murderers of Archbishop Thomas à Becket at Canterbury in 1170.

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