Monday, July 26, 2010

Loch Assynt

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(here endeth the holiday snaps!)

Ardvreck Castle 2

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Ardvreck Castle 1

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In Corrieshalloch

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Kylesku - which surprisingly turns out not to be the name of a Romanian spy, by a village in the NW Highlands, graced by a particularly fine bridge.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Falls of Measach

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The Falls of Measach plunge into Corrieshalloch Gorge immediately underneath a little steel suspension bridge that allows walkers to watch the water seeming to disappear deep into the earth beneath them. As the gorge is only a stone's throw from the car, its easy to access this great little walk - although you will at some point be asked to sign a petition for the re-opening of the adjacent public toilets.

A film crew filming a show called "Secret Britain" were working around the falls on the day we were there. In real life Julia Bradbury actually looks a little scary.

Across Little Loch Broom

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Beinn Ghoblach looks more like a water-colour than a photo as it sweats in humid air, while the next rainstorm brews.


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Gruinard Bay 2

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A welcome break from the rain, the sun shone, we ran to the beach!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gruinard Bay 1

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Above Little Gruinard a layby on the A832, gives access to a rough path up onto a little promontory with a wonderful view.

Hazy Assynt

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Link of the Day: Eli on the day cancer came into her family

Christian blogger Eli posted a piece yesterday on the day she found out about her Mum's cancer, how it has affected them all, their faith, and the way in which she still believes in the Sovereignty of God. Moving, profound and nicely written, it's worth a read.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


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This door in the walled garden at Inverewe, appears to have magical properties. Who would have thought that opening it would reveal a secret garden containing mountains?

Strathspey Railway

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Driving near Grantown on Spey we stopped to eat lunch, and stumbled upon the re-launching ceremony for this engine. 111 years old and now back at work, steaming and gleaming!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Loch Muick

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Nice little place The Queen's got on the banks of the River Dee. Victoria and Albert's Highland getaway looks something like I imagined Cair Paravel to look when I read the Narnia novels as a child.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Notes: Friends Like These by Danny Wallace

The humourist Danny Wallace was having something of a pre-emptive mid-life crisis as he approached the age of thirty! (thirty!!). It was during this time that he discovered a box of sentimental items from his childhood, which his mother had cleared from his childhood bedroom. The box contained all manner of memory-provoking items including the names of a whole gallery of long-lost friends.

This book is the story of Wallace's mad-cap adventures as he e-mail's, Google's, Facebook's, and travels to catch up with the people in his old address book - wherever they are in the world. His travels take him around the UK, and then around the world.

It's a hugely entertaining, easy-reading, ultimately pointless book - which is a bit of a laugh (which after my last two book reviews here you might be thinking is well in order!). Wallace is an amusing writer who tells a good story and he's on good form here. Much of the book isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but is full of wry amusement as his observational humour is so well directed. The book is loaded with references which all 30+ people in this country will recall, TV shows, toys, Raleigh Chopper bikes and the like. Likewise, I imagine I am not alone in having spent time wondering what various characters I have known are now up to, where they are, and how their lives turned out - or even having Googled a name or two.

Many of his friends appear to still be highly entertaining characters too, with a wealth of funny shared memories, which keep the story of his search for them bubbling along nicely. It's not deep or profound, mostly its just delightfully silly - but I did enjoy this.

Derry Cairngorm

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Picnic at Derry Lodge

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The road from Linn of Dee to Derry Lodge is one of the best and most popular access routes into the Cairngorms. The track begins in a large car park, climbs through fragrant pine woods, and then out into broad glens that lead to the feet of some of Scotland's greatest mountain scenery. It's a track frequented by day-trippers with little rucksacks, travelling just far enough to touch the wilderness; by long-distance trekkers with heavy loads ands woolly beards, by families, by cyclists, and all manner of people young and old.

I've walked to Derry Lodge, camped at Derry Lodge, cycled to it, used it as a base for exploring the Cairngorm Plateau and looked longingly for it to come into view at the end of a gruelling hill day! This time however, we were there just to have a family bike ride and picnic. The girls played on the grass, the boys played in the river - and we all stood in awe of the mountains.

And then cycled back to the car at Linn of Dee!

Glenbuchart Castle

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The Falls of Glassalt

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The walk around the stunningly beautiful Loch Muick to Glas Alt Sheil is one we have done many times. This part of the world is beloved of hill-walkers, cyclists, and became popular after Queen Victoria fell in love with it, and bought most of it! Apparently the Falls of the Glassalt, this delightful 150ft cascade that brings the Glas Alt tumbling down from Lochnagar towards the great loch in its vast glacial trench below, was a favourite spot of Prince Albert. It was for this reason Victoria built the holiday house below it on the lochside after his demise. The route from Spital of Glenmuick to the house can be cycled on good tracks, before walking up through the woods to the falls. It's a magical family afternoon out, the route of which is described on the Walk Highlands website here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Notes: The Chartist Legacy, edited by Ashton, Fyson and Roberts

'The Chartist Legacy' is a collection of eleven essays, analysing different aspects of Chartism, the great 19th Century popular movement for social change through parliamentary reform.

Owen Ashton, Robert Fyson, and Stephen Roberts (known to some as Pugnose) assembled a diverse range of scholars to address different aspects of the movement - and the results are absolutely fascinating. Given that we now have a government who claim to be embarking on a massive programme of constitutional reform - when could be a more relevant time to explore those who have gone before? My A-level history teacher had a sign on the classroom wall which read, "Anyone not interested in history is like a leaf that doesn't realise that it is part of a tree". How true!

The collection is as diverse as the contributors, and the essays within it which I enjoyed most were those which had some connections with areas I had studied before. It begins (after Asa Briggs' introduction to the field) with Miles Taylor's piece entitled, "The Six Points and the Reform of Parliament." This was one of the few essays which took a general approach to understanding Chartism, rather than delving deeply into specific aspects of it. He argues that the traditional understanding of Chartism - in continuity with the radical tradition is mistaken. His reading is that Chartism is characterised as a new movement in response to the 1932 Refrom Act and its consequences, and as such stresses its discontinuities with the older tradition. While I felt that Taylor claimed more than he proved in this regard, it is a well-written piece which will be worth returning to.

Then there are a whole cluster of essays which present detailed research into particular strands of the Chartist story, personal, regional or ideological. These were on the whole really good reading, the fruits of massive research and some good writing too. These included, Joan Hugman's detailed study of the Chartist Newspaper the Northern Liberator, Owen Ashton on Chartist Oratory (really interesting), Roberts on the forgotten aspects of Feargus O'Connor's Parliamentary career, Pickering on O'Connor and the Irish Question and Timothy Randall's delightful contribution on Chartist poetry and song.

My favourite essays in the collection were however Jamie L Bronstein's exploration of the Chartist movement's interaction with America. This was undoubtedly because this linked up with so much of what I had previously studied. Of special interest here was the way in which English Chartists re-evaluated the extent to which parliamentary reform would be an engine for social justice, in the light of the American experience. The essay which lives most vividly in my memory however is Robert Fyson's biographical study of William Ellis, the transported Chartist. He records the suppression of this Chartist, his treatment at the hands of the courts, and his experience in the Australian penal colony to which he was confined - a fabulous twenty or so pages of living history.

The book then concludes with a detailed piece of literary criticism from Kelly Mays - so loaded with technical terminology and impossibly dense prose that I skipped it, and then two essays which focus on the decline and memory of Chartism from Robert G. Hall and Anthony Taylor. They explored the ways in which the movement was memorialised by participants and how it then interacted with the rising Liberal Party later in the century.

Ironically I found this book celebrating 19thC discontent and sedition, in a second hand bookshop in the shadow of Queen Victoria's Balmoral Castle. While a disappointingly rainy holiday meant that days in the hills were numbered, sitting in a holiday cottage with a coffee, and a view down a great Loch, with a book as multi-faceted and stimulating as this wasn't a bad substitute.

If you aren't yet, we can help...

Signpost at Strathdon

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Notes: Rough Crossings: Britain, The Slaves and The American Revolution, by Simon Schama

The story of the abolition of the British slave trade, of Wilberforce, the Clapham Sect and their life-long struggle against "the accursed trade in human souls", has been told many times. In contrast, a story which has been too often forgotten is that of the African-American slaves who fled to fight for the King in the American Wars of Independence; believing that in so-doing they would gain, "British Freedom". In almost 450 pages of riveting narrative, in 'Rough Crossings', Simon Schama has retold this important story.

He describes the way in which British and American laws and attitudes to slavery diverged, and how in George III's England, free blacks lived with the fear of kidnapping; under a legal system which was at best ambiguos as to their status. In the centre of this story is the early abolitionist Granville Sharp, and his tireless efforts to establish and defend the legal basis for liberty.

The story of the African-Americans who fought against Independence for America, is a tragic one, and Schama tells the story both of the people as a whole, as well as many of the individuals caught up in the great unfolding drama of Empires in collision. Driven by the fear of the slave-holding state that that the USA was evidently to become, and lured by the false hope of land and liberty under the rule of the English King; the African-American army of former-slaves fought hard, loyally and sustained dreadful losses. Schama quite beautifully describes their experience of war, and of the broken promises they endured as Britain pulled out of America.

Schama then describes, the disastrous attempt to form a settlement for these loyalist 'free-blacks' in Nova Scotia (Canada still being a British colony at the time). With the land-promises made to them in tatters, "British Freedom" proving to be illusory, and amidst great hardship and alarming mortality rates, the experiment was ended. What emerged from the heart-break of Nova-Scotia was the attempt to establish a free state for these former slaves in Sierra Leone.

The final part of the book details the reasons for the attempt to establish the free colony at Sierra Leone, the successes and failures of the Nova-Scotians (As the ex-slaves were known), as they sought to carve out a new life for themselves in Freetown. The inevitable parallel with the biblical-Exodus in which slaves were lead by Providence to a 'Promised Land', was clearly in the minds of the settlers. Equally inevitably we are told of the struggles, hardships, more broken promises, diseases and political squabbles that characterised the first few generations of the settlement. Schama paints a wonderful portrait of the settlement's first governor, John Clarkson - and his missionary zeal to see his people established in the land, treated equitably and provided for. He tells of how Clarkson's absolute determination to see these people flourish, led him into conflict with his masters in London, who ultimately replaced him with a governor whose priorities were those of the Sierra Leone Company, rather than the people.

Schama is a historian who writes like a novelist. As such, he supplies great detail, with remarkably few references. However it means that he writes with great feeling and pathos. He isn't the kind of writer who seeks to persuade with statistics - but rather makes the reader feel the anger of injustice, and vividly picture the great sieges and battles. The reader almost smells the inside of the ships, and then marvels at the exploits of those both black and white who struggled for liberty and hope, but is finally brought to despair as hopes are dashed, and justice delayed once again.

Whilst occasionally the abundance of poetic metaphors and flowery prose is a bit much, nevertheless this lively writing brings this history alive. This is a brilliant read about an important subject - a part of our past about which I feel I ought to have been told before. This is popular history at its best. It is riveting, accessible, moving, powerful and disturbing.

Friday, July 02, 2010


With the kids off school, and life madly hectic, it's time once again to have a rest from blogging, for a few weeks. See you soon.