Saturday, 28 June 2008

John Paul Jones - Father of the American Navy

John Paul Jones

I am sure not may people will know that they would have to travel to Scotland to find the Founder or Father of the American Navy, John Paul Jones. Today I was driving along the Solway coast and decided to stop at his birthplace, a tiny, two roomed cottage on the Arbigland Estate, where his father was the gardener.

Such humble beginnnings are hard to believe, but it goes to show that in life, if you are determined, you will succeed. John Paul was born on the 6th July 1747 (the name Jones was added later in life) and went to the local school at Kirkbean. He liked to go to the local small port of Carsethorn, where he enjoyed meeting and talking to the sailors. Along with his friends he would act out naval battles, with John Paul in command giving the orders. At 13 he signed up for a naval apprenticeship, and set sail for real, this time from Carsethorn. One of his voyages took him to America where his older brother had emigrated. He stayed with him at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and studied navigation.

The tiny cottage in S W Scotland where he was born.

Bedroom of the Cottage

Main room of the cottage

By the age of 21 he was a Captain, always neatly dressed, and standing no nonsense from anyone! despite being only 5'5" tall. He was to travel to Scotland many times, in the course of his work.

Commodore Jones stood no nonsense from the crew!!

Always of smart appearance.

When the American War of Independence came, he supported the colonists, which did not make him very popular back in UK. He joined the American "Continental Navy" in 1775. His reputation and experience became such that he was asked to advise on the drawing up of Navy Regulations. In 1777 with his friend Benjamin Franklin, he forced the French to salute the American Flag at Quiberon. This was the first time the American Flag had been hoisted in a foreign port.
After this he went to Whitehaven on the English side of the Solway for a hit and run raid after which he would travel to Scotland again, to Kirkcubright Bay, where his crew did a spot of looting, before going on to a naval battle at Carrickfergus, which he won. The British were not happy, and were really out to get him now! He did not have good press in Britain and was regarded as a pirate.
Next he went to Brest, where he took command of his most famous ship, the Bonhomme Richard. From here he was to travel to Scotland with a fleet of seven ships on a mission to destroy British trade in the North Sea. After some adventures in the Firth of Forth he was to engage in his most famous naval battle against the HMS Serapis, and the HMS Countess of Scarborough, which he won, with the loss of the Bonhomme Richard. The year was 1779.

Replica of the Bonhomme Richard

Two years later he returned to America where he spent his time advising on the establishment of the American Navy, and training naval officers.
By 1788 he was in Paris and on the recommendation of Thomas Jefferson, he met Catherine, Empress of Russia, and was made an Admiral in the Russian Navy before returning to Paris in 1790. He died at the age of 45 in Paris two years later, where his remains lay until 1905.
President Roosevelt, ordered that his remains be found, and transported to the USA. Amidst great ceremony, John Paul Jones returned to Chesapeake Bay to be met by seven battleships, and 15 gun salutes. He was then taken to Annapolis,to be laid to rest in huge marble tomb in the Crypt of the Chapel of Annnapolis Naval Academy.

So, the young boy from the tiny gardener's cottage did not travel to Scotland again. His final resting place is a testament to the esteem in which he is held in America.

Scottish and American flags fly in the garden of the John Paul Jones Museum.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Travel to Homecoming Scotland 2009 - Your Invitation

Travel to Homecoming Scotland 2009


You are invited to Travel to Scotland to attend a Party to Celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the Birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's National Poet.

Start January 25th 2009

Finish November 30th 2009

Venue Scotland

It is estimated there are 100 million people of Scots descent living throughout the world, (The Scottish Family)and this Party is to encourage them, and people who have a love of Scotland, to travel to Scotland next year.

The 5 Themes of the party will be those which have made Scotland famous :

  • Robert Burns
  • Whisky
  • Scottish Enlightenment
  • Golf
  • Culture & Heritage.

The Party will kick off with the world's Largest Virtual Burns Supper.

In July there will be The biggest Clan Gathering ever, in Edinburgh, (thus far 107 clans have accepted) Highland Games, and the World Heavy Athletics Championships.

For those who like a wee dram, there is a Whisky Month in May when all the distlilleries will be open to the public, and a Whisky Galore Festival on the Island of Barra. (This will be interesting!!)

The Golfers will be happy as the Open Golf Tournament is to be held at Turnberry in 2009.

Lovers of the Bard will be pleased to know that there will be a Concert at the Clyde Auditorioum in Glasgow to celebrate the songs of Robert Burns.

Contributions made by Scots to the World of Science will be highlighted at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The Queen Mary 2 will be anchored in the Forth as many visitors have chosen to travel to Scotland on the ship, for the Celebrations.

Those who live in Scotland are being encouraged to invite overseas family members to visit next year, and it is hoped that many more memers of the extended Scottish Family will travel back to Scotland.

A lot of visitors will be keen to take the opportunity to trace their ancestry whilst here. Family Trees are becoming very popular nowadays, and there are many organisations who can help with this.

2009 is looking to be a Great Year for Scotland, with lots of events all over the country, ending on St Andrew's Day 30th November.

We hope you can travel to Scotland, and see the Homeland at its best.

(This Blog has attempted to assist with Scottish Travel, accomodation etc )

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Dalswinton Wind Farm - Living with Wind Turbines

Dalswinton Wind Farm

Today there was an Open Day at the new wind farm a few miles away from my home. I decided to make a trip there to check it out.There was a long queue to board buses which took one up the hill to the wind farm. Children were becoming restless, as the wait was about one hour. Eventually I boarded my bus and whilst I was thinking that it was a good distance to the top of the hill, on sighting our first turbine, a young voice piped up from the back of the bus "Are they solar powered?" This put a smile on everyone's face, because we had all been rather fed up having to wait so long to get up the hill to see these famous turbines.

They are giants! The top looks like the fuselage of an aircraft with the tail cut off, and a propeller added. They make little sound for something so large. The sound is like a gentle swoosh, and I found it quite appealing. They had a mesmerising effect on me, as I stood and watched them turning in the wind. Quite graceful, I thought. There is a door at the base of the suporting pillar which provides access to the control mechanisms of each turbine.

Views from the top of the hill are spectactular. It is possible to see all the way over the Solway Firth to Cumbria. The Firth looked very muddy on the day! Perhaps the tide was out.

For those who like Facts & Figures

This windfarm has 15 turbines

Each has a capacity of 30MW

This provides power to 18,000 homes.

CO2 saving is over 60,000 tonnes per annum

The project commenced in March 2007

Was completed in May 2008.

12km of new roads were constructed.

The diameter of each rotor is 82 metres

The base or Hub is 80 metres

Each rotor can turn at 8-19 rpm

Living with Wind Turbines

These Giants can be seen from all areas surrounding Dalswinton. Some say they are a "Blot on the Landscape"

Acres of forest was cleared to make way for them.

The worst part for those living in the area was the Constant Roadworks, with accompanying Traffic Lights, which held us up, even though the part of the road being worked was only a few metres, and was perfectly passable with care. Most thought this was OTT but I reckon it was more to do with the Elf 'n Safety Police enforcing their will on the poor motorist.

As a result of all these road works, the road now is in a disgusting state, full of potholes and patches. It wreaks havoc on the tyres.

We were told that the road would be resurfaced completely, making us feel quite jubilant. However, some things are too good to be true, and we now hear that all that will be done is a spot of cosmetic patching. NOT FAIR is the general opionion here!

As for the acres of cut forest, there is a replanting programme. Many young trees have already been planted, and at the top where the turbines are, 50 hectares of heather will be planted.

The roadworks were a pain. The fact that the road will not be completely resurfaced is also a pain.

My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that the windfarm, all things considered, is beneficial.
The turbines look like graceful dancers on the hilltop.

Although I am not one of the Global Warming Devotees, I do see the need to get away from our dependency on oil. We are currently being held to ransom by oil producing countries, oil traders, and those who have a political agenda. At the time of writing, some filling stations are charging £1.99 per litre for petrol. This is completely out of order!

The windfarm is a step in the right direction. Scotland has many renewable natural energy resources, we should take more advantage of these.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Cycling Holidays and a Secret Place

Cycling in South West Scotland

As we have already seen the bicycle was invented in this area, and because of this, there are many cycling facilities in SW Scotland.

The European Union gave a grant to develop cycle paths, and the National Cycle Network which passes through this area gives the opportunity to explore a variety of differing scenery.

Someone once told me that Dumfries & Galloway has every type of landscape which Scotland is famous for. As I pondered this, I realised that it is a very true statement. From rolling hills to mountains and glens - beaches, lochs, and rivers, lush farmland, forests, and moorland, it is all here! and to cap it all the weather is much milder than in other parts of the country, as our coastline is warmed by the waters of the Gulf Stream.

A Secret Place

I was once at a play during the Edinburgh Festival, which was acted in French. Afterwards I had the privilege to meet up with some of the actors. We were discussing where we each came from, and one of them told me he came from a Secret Place, in France, which, translated meant, that it was a place which is not generally known to people. When he said this, I realised that I too came from a Secret Place!

When most people come to Scotland they head up to Edinburgh, the North and the Highlands, missing out the South West. This of course makes it ideal for cycling as there is less traffic on the roads. The area is mainly rural, so the opportunity to be out in the wide open spaces without having to negotiate towns & cities is welcome by cyclists here. Yes it really is a Secret Place. It is My Scotland!

For those who prefer to be off the roads there is ample opportunity to visit the 7 stanes centres within the forests of the area. There are 5 of these centres here.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Kirkpatrick Macmillan Inventor of the Bicycle

Kirkpatrick Macmillan

As we have seen in the article about Drumlanrig Castle, the first bicycle was invented near to the site of the Castle.

Just outside the hamlet of Keir, Kirkpatrick Macmillan was a blacksmith, who having seen a child riding a hobbyhorse along the rural roads promptly went home and made one for himself. He then thought that there could be a more efficient way of moving the hobbyhorse, without having to put his feet on the ground . In 1839 he came up with the design which was to be the first bicycle, and was a familiar sight riding around the area.

This machine must have required a great deal of effort to ride, as it was made of wood, the wheels had iron rims, and the whole thing weighed 57 pounds!

As he became more adept at riding his bicyle he ventured further afield on it. On a trip to Glasgow which took him 2 days, he had the distinction of being the first person to be fined for speeding (8mph) and knocking down a pedestrian with his bicycle! The fine was 5 shillings!

He never gained financially from his invention, because he did not patent it. Instead it was left to others to develop, and prosper from it. But he would be happy to know that in the sport of Cycling the Scots have proved to be great world champions, with cyclists such as Graham Obree, Chris Hoy, and Mark Beaumont. Perhaps one might think this is a better, and more enduring legacy.

This is the Smithy, still in use today where the bicyle was invented.

Wall plaque commemorating the invention of the bicycle.

Replica of the first bicycle. If you look closely at the front of the frame of the bicycle, you will see a horse's head. This replica can be seen at the Bicycle Museum at Drumlanrig Castle.

Macmillan Tartan

Friday, 6 June 2008

Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig Castle

This castle is different from the other castles previously mentioned in this blog, as it is neither a ruin nor a hotel, it is one of the homes of the Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry.

When one enters the Castle it is advisable to use the services of one of the excellent guides, to learn all about the history of this beautiful home.

Constructed at the end of the 17th century, it is built of local pink sandstone. The families associated with the Castle are Montagu, Douglas, and Scott. The Douglas family had an association with the area dating back to the 14 century.

The Castle houses an eminent Art Collection. One can see paintings by such well known artists as Rembrandt, Holbein, Gainsborough........and more. There was also a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna and the Yarnwinder, which was stolen in 2003. In October last year it was recovered, but when I visited the Castle last month it was still not on display again. Sadly the previous Duke died last year only a few weeks before the painting was recovered.

Although there are many very grand and valuable items in the Castle, the overall impression one gets is of a family home with lots of family photographs and nick nacks on display.

The former stable block has been turned into artists workshops, and one can hire bicycles from the Bicycle Museum also in this block. This is appropriate to the area as only a few miles from Drumlanrig, the first bicycle was invented.

The grounds are vast, there are walks, a children's adventure area which can keep the youngsters occupied for hours, and if one is lucky in the summer months there will be falconry displays, Country Fairs, Carriage Races and all manner of activities to get involved in.

This Castle is in the North West of Dumfries & Galloway, near to the village of Thornhill.

As previously mentioned I was at Drumlanrig last month showing a Swedish Guest around the area. On returning to Sweden this friend sent me a gift by way of thanks. I immediately wrote back thanking her, and in this very SMALL world where we live I discovered a few days ago that the person who delivered my Thankyou letter to her was, in fact, my NEPHEW!!!! who had just got work with the Swedish postal service.

Scott Tartan

Black Douglas Tartan

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Comlongon Castle

Comlongon Castle

A few miles from Caerlaverock Castle stands Comlongon Castle. This Castle is run as a hotel, wedding and conference venue.

Comlongon Castle is regarded as one of the finest preserved examples of a border stronghold. Built of pink dressed sandstone, with a rubble insert, on a wide plinth base, to act as a strengthener on what was once marsh ground. Measuring 50 feet square and standing 70 feet high, it retains many original and unusual features.

The Great Hall, used as a meeting, living and banquet room, would have originally been plastered and painted with murals in vivid prime colours, depicting historical, religious and heraldic themes. Around the walls at ceiling level are some fine examples of stone carved corbels, bearing arms of families connected with the Murrays through intermarriage. Above the fireplace is an early 15th century royal coat of arms. All these carvings were at one time highlighted with coloured paint.

The western side of the hall is dominated by the huge open fireplace, an original lintel (long since gone), was replaced by a wooden beam unequal in length, propped up on one end by a carved pillar. Above the lintel is an unusual carved overmantle depicting various plants and heads emanating from a dragons breath, believed to depict the ancient Celtic legend of the green man, or god of spring. To the right of the fire is a small dressing room where the laird would have changed into a variety of outfits, to entertain a constant stream of business delegations and social guests.
From ancient to modern : Helicopter landing facilities at the Castle.

Jacobean Style Entrance / Bride and Groom

Murray Tartan / Murray Dress Tartan

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

My Favourite Castle - Caerlaverock Castle


This has to be the most beautiful of all Castles in Scotland. It has a unique triangular design with towers at each point of the triangle, and is surrounded by a moat.Entrance is gained via the drawbridge. Set in a willow wooded area on the Solway Firth, it dates back to the 13th century, and was the stronghold of the Maxwell Clan.

Edward 1, Hammer of the Scots, captured it in 1300 and it remained in English hands for 12 years until it was reclaimed for Robert the Bruce.

Because of flooding a new Castle was constructed in 1600 in Classical Renaissance style.

At the gatehouse it is possible to see the initials of Robert Burns who paid a visit there in 1776.

I simply love this place and always take visitors to the area there. There are woodland walks and a nature trail behind the building. Once when I visited there was a jousting show with Medaeval Knights and horses wearing each Knight's livery. There was also a falconry display, and one of the hawks liked the area so much it would not come back! -- much to everyone's amusement, and the HORROR of the local bird population!

Renaissance Style

Maxwell Tartan