Sunday, 21 December 2008

Remembering Lockerbie

Remembering Lockerbie

20 years ago, I was driving home from work when news of a plane crash came over the radio. I heard that it had happened at Lockerbie. It came as a shock, as this is such a rural area, things like that do not happen here. When I got home, I phoned the local hospital to offer help, and blankets. I was told that blankets would not be needed........... My reaction was to say," Are you saying what I think you are saying?" "Yes was the reply.

The night sky was lit by the blaze which could be seen from Dumfries. How could this have happened to our little Lockerbie? That night we were all watching or listening for news as it came through. Planes and helicopters started to fill the skies. Was our country under attack? ..... we did not know.
Phone lines became blocked, we did not know why. As the full extent of what happened gradually became clear, shock set in. Stories started to emerge from the people of Lockerbie, and from the local emergency crews who had attended the disaster. I cannot write about these as they are too shocking.

Visitor Centre

Now the person who is in a Scottish jail, found guilty of the bombing, is asking for release, due to the fact that he is terminally ill. Did he do it ? ......many people, including some families of the victims, think he is not guilty.

Out of such disaster has come good. Lasting links with Lockerbie and the families of the victims. Scholarships to the University of Syracuse, a Cairn of remembrance made of our local red sandstone built in the USA. A Garden of Remembrance on the outskirts of Lockerbie, with breathtaking views.

View from the Garden of Remembrance

Patchwork picture in the Visitor Centre

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Doon features on the the WWT Posters

Doon Features on the WWT posters.

We are experiencing lovely clear frosty days at present. Ideal weather to go to visit Caerlaverock, and the swans. Compared to my last visit the area is now populated mainly by swans, which is some sight to see, and HEAR! because the sound of them can be heard quite some distance away as they chatter away to each other constantly. They are very social birds. I hurried down to the hide where staff were busy counting and identifying each swan. However I was told that I had just missed Doon and his family by about 15 minutes. He had been travelling with cygnets from 3 years ago, as well as this year's family. The staff member told me that Doon is the best swan to sponsor as he has such a large family! Apparently he had moved off to a nearby field to graze with a large flock of swans. I saw them as I left, but they were just too far away to get a photo.

I have to say the sight of such large numbers of such graceful beautiful,(and very noisy!) birds is something I feel blessed to have witnessed, and heard.

After being out in the cold, my sister and I went for some delicious hot homemade soup in the WWT centre. There I saw the poster of Doon with Kate Humble (WWT president) with MY swan.

This is a photo of a swan with a satellite tracker attached to its back, just the same as Doon has. Each of these trackers costs in the region of £20,000! All the more reason for people to sponsor birds.

Another swan family arrives to feed.

I took some digital film of the swans, and when I get the time to process it all, I shall attempt to put it on the blog so that you can all see and hear the Whoopers.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

WWT More Interesting Swan Facts

More Interesting Swan Facts

(From the information pack I received as sponsor of Doon.)

Swans belong to the same family as geese and ducks.

There are 8 different swan species.

Mute,Trumpeter, Bewick's, Whistling, Black, Black-necked, and Coscorba.

Mute, Whoopers and Bewick's occur naturally in the wild in Europe.

The Mute is UK's heaviest resident bird, the male weighing in at 12 kg.

It takes about 40 days for a Black Swan's egg to hatch which is longer than any other wildfowl species.

Swan parents help their young to feed by bringing up submerged vegetation, or pulling off overhanging leaves.

Unlike most ducks, the sexes in swans are similar in appearance, although the male is usually larger.

The male is called a COB, the female a PEN, and the young are CYGNETS.

Swans have more vertebrae in their long necks (25 in total) than any other animal. This allows them to reach submerged vegetation to a depth of 1 metre. Compare with the giraffe which has only 7 vertebrae!

Swans need a runway to take off, look for them running along a waterway in order to get airborne.

Swans find it difficult to change course quickly in flight. Collisions with overhead wires and buildings are the most comon cause of swan death in UK.

Swans occasionally mistake motorways and roads for open water and are either killed or injured when attempting a landing.

Mute Swans, despite their name, are not silent. They have a range of gentle grunts, and make a whistling noise whilst in flight.

At the beginning of next week, and Scottish weather permitting, I hope to go to see Doon, Balfron and family at Caerlaverock. I shall report on this after my visit.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

WWT Interesting facts about Whooper Swans

WWT Interesting facts about Whooper Swans

Take a stroll to your local pond or river, and look at the swans there. In particular look at the beak. You will see it has orange markings. This identifies the Mute Swan. The Whooper Swans are identified by their YELLOW bill markings in the shape of a triangle.

When you sponsor a swan you get a lovely information pack from the WWT. This gives lots of really interesting data about the Whooper Swans, some of which I shall put on my blog.

All swans pair for life and start to breed when they are around 4 - 7 years old.They lay 4-5 eggs out of which approximatley 2 - 3 hatch. This makes Doon and Balfron's rearing all 5 cygnets successfully a great achievement. The cygnets stay with them all winter and sometimes cygnets from previous years will also join them.

There are 5 populations of Whooper Swan, with the Iceland population overwintering in the UK and Ireland, although a small percentage remain in Iceland all year.

Around 12,000 Whoopers migrate to UK every winter with around 300 arriving at Caerlaverock.

Whoopers have been recorded flying at heights of 27,000 feet, where air temperature is as low as -48 centigrade.

Migrating Whoopers can reach flying speeds of 100 mph or more and can reach Ireland from Iceland in 7 hours! WOW! That is some achievement.
When you read this data of the family life of these graceful beings, and their brave and arduous annual migrations, it makes one wonder why human beings feel they can go out and shoot at them. X-rays have shown that approximately 15% of the swans contain lead shot from illegal shooting.

Friday, 7 November 2008

WWT Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Caerlaverock and MY VERY OWN SWAN - DOON

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and DOON

Last month I noticed that the wildfowl migrations had begun. Swans and geese were flying over my cottage on their winter migration from the cold Northern Countries to Caerlverock Nature Reserve.

Caerlaverock Nature reserve is located very near to Caerlaverock Castle.

On one of the few sunny days my sister and I decided to pay a visit to the reserve. Whilst most of the visitor attractions in this area close for the winter months, this is the busiest time of the year for Caerlaverock. It is a veritable hive of activity with birds arriving from Scandinavia, Siberia and Iceland all the time.

When the birds arrive from each country the flag of that country is flown to greet them. We saw the flags of Iceland and Norway the day we were there.

A few days after our visit it was my birthday and imagine my surprise when my sister presented me with a real live Whooper Swan called DOON. (well he was not actually there in the flesh, he was adopted!) Doon was ringed at Caerlaverock on 21 02 2001 (21st Feb 2001) and has a mate called Balfron.They were still in Iceland in October, and had reared a family of 5 cygnets.

Last night I heard that they had arrived in the area with 4 of the cygnets. As for the other cygnet it is hoped that it has taken a break on the Island of Mull on the West Coast of Scotland before continuing down to Caerlaverock. This is what Doon & Balfron did last year.
So watch this space for more information about Doon and family!
The following is taken from the WWT Site
Super Whooper Doon flies in to Caerlaverock
5 November 2007
Doon has become the first satellite tracked Super Whooper to arrive at a WWT centre this autumn. He arrived at his winter home at WWT Caerlaverock yesterday (4 November) with his mate Balfron, but minus one of their five cygnets.
Doon is one of seven Whooper Swans fitted with satellite transmitters as part of the Lough Neagh Whooper Swan Project this summer at their breeding grounds in Iceland. There, Whooper Swan expert, Richard Hesketh, reserve manager at WWT Caerlaverock, was joined by Kate Humble and a BBC film crew to film the Super Whoopers for Autumnwatch which begins tonight on BBC 2.
Doon, Balfron and their cygnets made this treacherous journey together for the first time, and the youngster are only three and a half months old! The group flew from Iceland and headed south over the western isles via Lewis and Skye before hitting the mainland in Ayrshire and landing appropriately at Loch Doon.
Richard Hesketh said: "When we saw them yesterday at Caerlaverock we could only see four cygnets, we feared that one of the youngsters must have perished on that terrifying 500 mile maiden flight over the sea. However one of our contacts on the island of Mull reported a lone Whooper cygnet on a lochan and managed to read the ring on its leg and sure enough it was our missing cygnet.
"The chances of her being re-united with her family are fairly remote, she will probably latch on to other Whooper Swans as they pass through."Of the other six remaining Super Whoopers, Blidfinnur also appears to be heading towards Caerlaverock, Fiachra and Merlin are in North East Scotland, Conn and Jaleel have reached Northern Ireland, and Gudjohnson is yet to leave the breeding grounds in Iceland.
You can follow the flights of all of the Super Whoopers at and on BBC Autumnwatch from tonight or even better come to see Doon, Balfron and their family with hundreds of other Whooper Swans at WWT Caerlaverock. The centre is open from 10am to 5pm daily with a chance to see the swans at close quarters at the spectacular Wild Swan Feeds at 11am and 2pm every day.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Shut your trap !

Shut your trap !

No I am not being rude here. It is the expression which was used by knights about to go into battle when they would close the visor of their armour in case they were hit by arrows.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Trebuchet

The Trebuchet

This is a sort of enormous catapult, used to sling stone balls at high velocity towards a target. It was also possible to hurl infected corpses at the enemy in a form of germ warfare!

An operational trebuchet can be seen at Caerlaverock Castle.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Germ Warfare -The invention of!

Germ Warfare

The Scottish Border Clan families were always fighting one another, and when they were not at each others' throats, they were fighting the English.

One of the particularly unpleasant ways of "doing the dirty" on their foes was for the archers to urinate then dip the arrows in the urine just prior to firing them. Thus this early attempt at Germ Warfare!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

A Mediaeval Village at Caerlaverock Castle

Mediaeval Scotland

Recently I went to see a working medaeval village. The backdrop was Caerlaverock Castle. It was a very spectacular sight. Firstly I shall show some photos, before going into some interesting historical details.

The day was run by Historic Scotland, and member groups from all over Scotland dress up to show how a Mediaeval village would have operated.On the day, boys could train to be knights, girls to be Princesses, and those not wishing to be either could become merchants. Each received a certificate at the end of the day to show they had passed their training. A great way to keep the children occupied, and a wonderful way to learn history.

During the day there was a battle, involving the children, and another involving the members of the Border Clans.

Demonstrating how the weapons were used.

Making bows, and playing musical instruments

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Rev Dr Henry Duncan

Henry Duncan

Born the son of a church minister, near Dumfries in on the 8th October 1774, the young Henry attended Dumfries Academy, which is where I also went to school. After school he went to St Andrews University at the age of 16 years, but when a relative offered the chance of employment in a bank in Liverpool he went there after only two terms at university. Here he honed the commercial skills which were to lead to his establishment, years later, of the First Savings Bank.

Henry lasted only 3 years as a banker, and returned to university to train for the ministry. After qualifying, he returned to preach at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, where his ministry spanned a half century. We have learned in the last few Blog entries of his restoration of the Ruthwell Cross, his establishment of the First Savings Bank, his discovery of the first fossil footprint, and his establishment of two local newspapers.

He married twice. His first wife Agnes bore him a son George, and when she died he went on to marry Mary the widow of a friend.

Henry was a great writer and his circle of friends included the likes of Thomas Carlyle, James Hogg, Sir Robert Owen, Sir David Brewster.

The garden of the manse was something of a showpiece which Henry's skills had developed. People would visit to see his garden and also the model farm he made, behind Ruthwell Manse.

An accomplished artist and sculptor, Henry painted local scenes as well as making a replica scale sculpture of the Ruthwell Cross which can be seen in the Savings Bank Museum.

Henry Duncan died, of a stroke, at the age of 71 in 1846, whilst preaching a sermon in a neighbouring Church.

So ended the life of a uniquely talented man who gave the world so much. He and his family are buried in the graveyard of Ruthwell Church.

Friday, 26 September 2008

What is the Connection between the 2 local Newspapers and the Ruthwell Cross?

What is the Connection between the 2 local Newpapers in Dumfries & Galloway and the Ruthwell Cross?

In SW Scotland we have 2 local Newpapers. The Dumfries & Galloway Standard, and the Dumfries Courier.

They were founded in 1843,with the aim of broadening the minds of the local people to appreciate not just local news but also news of world events.

The Standard is published twice a week, whilst the Courier is a free paper published once per week. In fact as I write this I am expecting to hear the Courier being delivered to my home any minute!

So who was the founder of these Newspapers?

None other than the multi -talented Rev Dr Henry Duncan!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

The connection between the Ruthwell Cross and Britain's first fossil find.

The Connection between the Ruthwell Cross and Britain's first fossil find.

Here we can see the distinct footprint of a dinosaur. This is the first one to be found in the British Isles. It was found in a quarry at Lochmaben in SW Scotland. This footprint can be seen at the Museum of the Royal Society in Edinburgh.

So what is the connection with this footprint and the Ruthwell Cross?

Well, the extremely talented Rev. Henry Duncan was the man who discovered and identified it. After his discovery Henry Duncan presented a paper to the Royal Society in Edinburgh.

It is somehow appropriate that Scotland was the first country to set in place a Fossil Code, which gives guidelines about looking for, collecting, treatment of fossils etc. thus aiming to preserve the rich fossil heritage of Scotland.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Back in business

Well I do not know what I did to lose my layout, it has been a long struggle to get things put right, but now with thanks to Skyler and Glenn in Utah I have finally got both the Blog and the layout back! Yippeeee.

There will be a new post next week about a dinsosaur fossil, and its link to the Ruthwell Cross.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Layout Problems

Sorry Readers I am unable to make new postings at present as I have lost my layout facility.

Friday, 1 August 2008

What is the Connection between the Ruthwell Cross and The Savings Bank

What is the connection between
The Ruthwell Cross and a
Savings Bank?

In the closing years of the 18th century, Britain was suffering in many different ways. There was a need for many reforms at this time.

We had been at war with France, and more strife was still to come. All this had to be paid for. Added to this there was galloping inflation, with grain prices rising by a massive 358% within the short period of 15 months.

The majority of rural people worked long hours on the land where wages were extremely low. There had been some poor harvests, and as agricultural work is seasonal, it was almost impossible for people to make ends meet in the countryside.

The government of the day introduced direct income tax, but wages did not rise to reflect this. The children of the poor worked in harsh conditions.

The money was in the hands of the few, and as France had proved with its Revolution, something drastic had to be done! Social reform was, of course, resisted by the few who feared for their "heads".

It was a bleak time.

The little Parish of Ruthwell was no different from other rural areas, but then someone arrived in their midst, who was to change all this.

Not only did he change attitudes to the poor, he also changed the banking world forever.

This man personally underwrote a consignment of corn
to be shipped to the Solway from Liverpool, and arranged for its distribution.

He saw the trials of the poor, and realised that when someone was sick or died there was no income for that family. In the area a Friendly Society had been set up, which was a form of insurance fund to provide for such requirements. However this was not being run successfully. He revived this and saw that it was run properly. The Friendly Society flourished. the people of the area were starting to feel more secure.

To help the women he organised supplies of flax which they spun, whilst the men were working.

He saw the need for a community spirit, for some relief from the worries of work and money, and persuaded the local Laird to build a Society Room for local folks to get together for social meetings, parties and the like.

This building became the focal point of village life, and was to eventually become the site of the First Savings Bank.

This man believed in the dignity of the ordinary man. He believed that it was degrading for people to be labelled as poor.

Banking was outwith the reach of most people in those days, because one required an initial deposit of £10 to open an account. On wages of 5 pence per day one can see how this could never happen.

On 10th May 1810, he set up Ruthwell's own Savings Bank in the Society Room
To join this bank a deposit of 6 pence was made, and provided that every depositor lodged an amount of 4 shillings within a year, interest of 5% would be paid. The first year showed deposits of £151. By year 4 this had risen to £922. The Savings Bank was a success! The local people could hold their heads up high, they did not need charity, they were self sufficient.

By this time word about it had spread throughout Scotland, and this man was asked to travel to other areas to help set up similar banks. Soon this concept was being adopted in other countries in Europe and the World.

The tiny village of Ruthwell on the Solway Coast of Scotland had given the Savings Bank to the World.

But who was this wonderful man whose idea it all was?

None other than the same man who set about restoring the Ruthwell Cross, the Rev. Dr Henry Duncan. A man of vision.

Rev. Dr. Henry Duncan

A lovely collection of Savings Banks.

The Bank held the key to these banks so they could not be raided!

(I know this because I have one!)

Why the Ice Cream?

For those wishing to visit Ruthwell, and area, there is a farm which makes its own Ice Cream in the area, where one can stop, have a light meal and sample the delicious Ice Cream selection they have. It is called Drummuir Farm, Collin. there is also a play area for childen.

It called to me the day I made my visit to Ruthwell!

Mmmmmm Delicious!!!!

Monday, 28 July 2008

The Ruthwell Cross

The Ruthwell Cross

Crafted some time between the 7th and 8th centuries by a skilled Anglo Saxon craftsman, the Ruthwell Cross has a quite a story to tell.

Described as the finest Runic Cross in the World, and the Oldest and most Interesting Monument of its kind in Britain, the original unhewn stone monolith was 12'high, 3'6"wide, and 2'6" thick.

It has not always stood inside this little country church near the Solway Firth in SW Scotland, but was designed as a sort of marker, designating a preaching place, where people would gather on consecrated ground to hear about Jesus.

However, it also preaches its own story as can be seen in both Latin inscriptions, which would be for monks who could read, and in runes for those who could not read Latin. The sculptures told their own story.
Through its history it has survived the Viking invasions, and also, more devastatingly, the Reformation in Scotland when it was ordered to be broken up. The reason for this is that Scotland took the Reformation further than England, and banned all references to the Cross as it was deemed to be idolatrous. So in the mid 16th century it was taken down and lay forgotten partly buried in the floor of the Church, and in Ruthwell Churchyard, until in 1794 parts of it were discovered. A grave digger found the largest piece depicting John the Baptist, whilst digging a grave, other pieces were found under grave slabs. The only part which was never discovered was the cross beam of the cross.

These pieces remained in the Churchyard until a minister Dr Henry Duncan came along in 1799. He marvelled at these wonderful pieces of sculpture and determined to find out all about them. It became his mission to restore the beautiful Cross, to its original state.

But what to do about the missing crossbeam?

Henry Duncan researched the matter and together with a local mason came up with the design as it now stands.

Eventually it was complete, but although times had changed since the Reformation it was still deemed unsuitable to erect the Cross within the area of the Church. Henry got around this by erecting it in the garden of the Manse (Scottish name for the vicarage).

But then through time the vagaries of the Scottish weather were working against the preservation, and the sculpture was beginning to suffer.

In 1871 a new minister Rev James Caplin realised this and saw that if the Cross were to survive it had to go indoors. By this time it had become world renowned, and this project had the backing of prominent scholars from within Scotland and beyond. In the Year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, 1887, it was taken in to Ruthwell Church. As it was too tall to be erected without raising the roof of the building a compromise was reached and a pit dug into the floor to house the beautiful Cross.

And to cut a long story short, it remains there to this day.
I have to say it is quite one of the most beautiful things I have had the privilege to gaze upon, and when one considers it was created over 12 centuries ago, one must wonder what other such pieces have been lost to us today.

Detail on the Cross

The Visitation

The new Crossbeam with Archer underneath

Landscape around the Church

A brief description of the Cross.

Thicker at the base it tapers to the Crossbeam.

Jesus is always portrayed with a halo inside which is the shape of the Cross, other dignitaries whilst being depicted with halos, do not have a cross inside them.

It is thought that the Master Carver left some of the lesser work to an assistant, as some of the figures do not exhibit the same level of skill. The Master Carver however always carved the images of Jesus.

When the Cross was reconstructed it is thought that some of the parts may have been incorrectly placed.

Vine Scrolls can be seen in many European countries, especially in the Catacombs in Rome. The examples on the Ruthwell Cross far outshine the workmanship of those anywhere else.

There are also wonderful depictions of animals on the Cross. Look for lizards, pigs, eagle, dove...

The Story the Cross Tells

It tells of St John The Evangelist, and shows his emblem the Eagle.

One can see an act of penance where a woman washes Jesus' feet.

Also it tells of the Annunciation where Angel Gabriel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus.

One can see the Visitation scene, where Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with her son who will be known to all as John The Baptist. The baby in the womb is said to have leapt with Joy when Mary came to visit.

There is a scene of the flight into Egypt, showing Mary and the Baby Jesus riding on a donkey.

At the base, there is a scene of the Cruxifiction.

Jesus is shown in one section standing on what looks like pigs, which illustrates the triumph of good over evil.

Two of the Evangelists are shown.

John the Baptist is depicted with the Lamb of God, his feet are placed on two orbs.

Another scene shows Paul meeting Anthony, a hermit, in the desert.

The Story of Jesus is there for all to see, and the message of the Ruthwell Cross will carry on down through the generations for all of time.

My Next post will pose a question.
What connection does the Ruthwell Cross have with a Savings Bank?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Comlongon Castle Revisited

Comlongon Castle Revisited

It is some time since I was last at Comlongon Castle. As I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to go along to show it to a friend who was visiting.

The weather was beautiful that day the Castle looked splendid, so I took some photos to update my diary. Here they are.