Traveller's tales

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ardnamurchan - the most Westerly point on the British mainland

Peace and her huge invasion to these shores
Puts daily home; innumerable sails
Dawn on the far horizon and draw near;
Innumerable loves, uncounted hopes
To our wild coasts, not darkling now, approach:
Not now obscure, since thou and thine are here.

Extract from the poem “To my Father” by Robert Louis Stephenson

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mull of Kintyre - Oh mist rolling in from the sea

Mull of Kintyre
Oh mist rolling in from the sea,
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre
Far have I traveled and much have I seen
Dark distant mountains with valleys of green.
Past painted deserts the sunsets on fire
As he carries me home to the Mull of Kintyre.
Mull of Kintyre
Oh mist rolling in from the sea,
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre
Sweep through the heather like deer in the glen
Carry me back to the days I knew then.
Nights when we sang like a heavenly choir
Of the life and the time of the Mull of Kintyre.
Mull of Kintyre
Oh mist rolling in from the sea,
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre
Smiles in the sunshine
And tears in the rain
Still take me back to where my memories remain
Flickering embers growing higher and higher
As they carry me back to the Mull of Kintyre
Mull of Kintyre
Oh mist rolling in from the sea,
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre
Mull of Kintyre
Oh mist rolling in from the sea,
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

The sights of Skye

Tales by the peat fire

"The enchanting tongues went on and on beside the fish-oil lamps. Then the grey of morning entered the crofts and called the islanders back once more to their hard work of ploughing and fishing".
George Mackay Brown

Monday, July 14, 2008

The standing stones of Orkney

Stromness - home of some of our friends

We had a lovely time at 45, John Street, Stromness, Orkney, thanks to Mrs. Sinclair and her family. Many thanks to all of you from both of us.
Robert L. Fielding

Tam O' Shanter meets Gabriel Oak - crofting in Orkney - storytelling

Still standing tall - the Old Man of Hoy, Orkney

A small RAF log book in a Tupperware container is buried in a cairn on the summit and serves as an ascensionists' record. of the 450 feet sea-stack of red standstone which stands just off the West coast of the island of Hoy (High Island in Norse).

None other than Chris Bonnington made the first ascent of the pillar in 1966, and an ascent was famously filmed by the BBC a year later.

It is climbed quite regularly, with approximately 20 ascents a year, most of which take the Original Route, pioneered by Bonnington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey. On 8 September 2006 the stack was climbed by Sir Ranulph Fiennes (aged 62) in preparation for his proposed climb of the Eiger in the following year. He was accompanied by Sandy Ogilvie and Stephen Venables. And while it is regularly scaled, doing so must seem a terrific feat to those fortunate enough to have their names recorded in the log book in that cairn at the top.

Sailing from Scrabster on the Scottish mainland, close to the Caithness town of Thurso, the MV Hamnavoe, passes close by the imposing rock and draws passengers away from their comfortable chairs inside, out onto the steel terrace at the rear of the boat, on its way to Stromness.
Robert L. Fielding

The beautiful Italian Chapel, Orkney - the power of faith and love and industry

Probably one of the best indications of whether a nation is civilized is how prisoners of war are treated. The Geneva Convention informs nations of the humanitarian treatment of POWs, but how many countries adhere to those Conventions?

In May, 1940, about 1,300 Italian prisoners of war captured in Libya, were taken to the Orkney islands to ‘sit’ out the war. These prisoners helped to build the Churchill Barriers on the edges of Scapa Flow. Being God-fearing men, they required a place to show their devotion. They were given permission to build a chapel – a place of worship, so the POWs got to work and built one on the soon to be connected island of Lamb Holm.

The new commander of Camp 60, Major T P Buckland, favoured the idea of constructing a chapel, which was put forward by the camp padre, Father Giacombazzi. The chapel was built from two Nissen huts joined together lengthways. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers.
Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a POW from Moena, who stayed behind on the island to finish the chapel even though his fellow prisoners had been released shortly before the end of the war.
What Chioccetti achieved was remarkable. He constructed and painted a pedimented Italianate facade, from scrap and other simple materials and painted a representation of the Madonna and Child above the altar, and he also created a grand statue of St George slaying the dragon outside.

Of course, coming from Italy, the men inevitably suffered from the cold so far North, and being a people given to singing, they missed the opportunity to be musical. Their captors provided facilities for the men to put on shows – to participate in entertainment, and to form an audience to enjoy the shows.

After hostilities, they were repatriated, but many never forgot the kindness showed to them by the people of Orkney. Chiocchetti returned to repair the damage wrought by time and the elements. His widow communicated with the islanders until her death.

Nearer to home, Glenn Mill, on the outskirts of Oldham, housed Italian POWs, many staying behind after the war, marrying local girls and integrating fully into a community they had previously been fighting.

Churchill famously once said, “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity”. Those sentiments took us through the dark days of war, and helped us maintain our civilized stance towards those who had formerly been our enemies.
Robert L. Fielding

Life back then - Kirbuster Farm Museum

Life before electricity, before piped, clean water, before mechanization and technology took over our lives, life then would have been much simpler – it would have most probably been much harder too, but life has its difficulties these days, doesn’t it?

What has changed isn’t the existence of difficulty in life but the order, magnitude and shape of it. Food was dug out of the ground, water was carried, heat was made rather than switched on, and family life was organized along functional as well as familial lines.

Comfort most probably didn’t occupy the central place it occupies in all our lives today. One thing that surely would have been very different was the way we fit into the lives of others and into the life of our surroundings; without constant electricity to make night into day; without the tyranny of the clock to dictate our comings and goings, the influences on life would have been much more elemental and more universal too.

Today, the day begins with an alarm ringing and ends with the last watchable thing on TV; before our dependence on the electronic media to entertain, on radio and newspapers to inform, the Internet to connect us to each other, the source of primary energy would have been the sun and the light it shed on our corner of the planet.

A reliance on domesticated animals to feed us would have meant that the working day started earlier and finished earlier. In the Orkneys, natural light still affects life, but in the days when it provided practically the only source of light, summer days would have started at 4.0am and finished at midnight.
Robert L. Fielding

Skara Brae, Orkney - older than the Pyramids

Britain's 'Pearl Harbour' - Scapa Flow, 1939

On 14th of October, 1939, the Revenge-class battleship ‘Royal Oak’ was sunk with a huge loss of life, by a German U-boat. Settled in Scapa Flow, the captain and crew must have thought they were safe: Scapa Flow is surrounded by a ring of islands in the Orkneys, and is large and deep enough to hold the entire Grand Fleet, and block-ships and floating booms had been sunk to block the three minor entrances to the harbour.

Korvettenkapitän Günther Prien, one of Germany’s most outstanding U-boat commander and the first to receive the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, often simply Ritterkreuz, was Nazi Germany's order and recognized extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during the Third Reich period. Prien earned it that fateful night.

He successfully negotiated the obstacles in his way and entered Scapa Flow on the surface. It has been said that the U-boat was caught in a passing car’s headlights but was missed, which is entirely understandable; the last thing you expect to see in your main beam is a German U-boat, particularly in that particular location, even during wartime.

The U-boat fired several torpedoes into the side of the battleship and sank it where it was docked, with the loss of 833 men, and then escaped the way it had entered, returning to Germany to give a tremendous confidence boosting propaganda coup to the Nazi regime so early in the war.

Of course, what happened in Pearl Harbour was much more devastating, but those 833 lives should not have been lost that night in Orkney, and surely would not have been, had what are now known as the Churchill Barriers, been erected before, rather than after the audacious attack.
Robert L. Fielding

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