Travelling in Scotland

Ancient carved standing stones from the 7th century

I have been travelling in the East Coast of Scotland for work recently in the Aberdeenshire and Angus areas. I was very lucky as the sun shone down on me as if I were the blessed pilgrim. Another good aspect of my video job was that I was chauffeured about. I certainly took in some mileage, from Fraserborough in the fair flung north down to Carnoustie, which is fairly near Dundee.

The advantage of all this was to be able to take in the amazing countryside. I hadn’t realised how much of the land was cultivated into agriculture farmland with barley, wheat and oil seed rape being the most prevalent crops.

Historically this side of Scotland offered much for the Bald Explorer and naturally I had my eyes open for likely video investigations in the future. Part of my job was to film some classic landmarks for a presentation my client was organising and included some rather fabulous opportunities for me to learn about Scottish history.

We stopped at Arbroath Abbey which now lies in ruins but cared for by Historic Scotland. It’s red sandstone remains are impressive as you approach the fabulously craved Norman door. It was where the Scottish Declaration was signed in 1320 after the dreadful Battle of Bannockburn where the Scots were triumphant in sending the English home with their tales between their legs.

J.M Barre of course is famed for his whimsy about the ever youthful Peter Pan, but how many people know where he was born or have ever visited his birthplace? Kirriemuir is the town and to make sure visitors do not forget there is a splendid bronze statue in the centre. Unfortunately the Hook Hotel had seen better days and was abandoned and up for sale when we passed by. Presumably the lease had ticked on by too much.

Brechan is a small city, although you would think it was a town, so small and quiet. The cathedral was rather special surrounded by tall trees with much foliage and chunky tombstones. But for me, the round tower, from Irish descent, was rather unusual and a pencil thin curiosity. A tall edifice with simple, yet small door some eight foot off the ground is the only access. It is capped at the top with a conical roof and its original use was as a bell tower. Definitely a joy to have discovered.

Arbroath Abbey, where the Scottish Declaration was signed in 1320

Golf is represented rather heavily along this coastline with is various links courses, including the Montrose Golf link being the fifth oldest course in the world. I didn’t get to tee off myself from there but I filmed a man who did!

One of the curious and weird things I was shown, of which I gather historians are much ignorance themselves are the Aberlemno Stones. Three upright standing stones carved by the ancient Picts sometime in the 7th and 9th centuries. The first I saw was sculpted with a Celtic type cross adorned with angels with books. These are to be found a few miles of Forfar and are easily missed.

For a stroll I took to the footpath that circumnavigates the Loch of Forar, probably one of the smallest Lochs as they go in Scotland. It takes a mere 45 minutes to walk round and when the sun is shining it is very beautiful.

Well, that’s a brief potted look at some of Scotland’s heritage which passed me by on my otherwise ordinary business trip and definitely worth popping back when I have time to explore in greater detail.

The Magic of the South Downs

The South Downs above Worthing in Sussex

Having been office bound for the past few days, my nose in several books at once and fingers dancing over a hot keyboard as I look up bookmarked websites, gathering information for another Bald Explorer script, I had the chance to take to the hills today. The sun appeared unobstructed by the recent rain clouds and I was determined to make the best of it. Fortunately for me the chalky white undulating South Downs are not terribly far from my abode and within a few minutes I had navigated my car into a trusty car park on top of Salvington Hill, just above Worthing, West Sussex. Once changed into my walking boots I was off.

Naturally a few dog walkers had popped out and were exercising their animals, stooping every few minutes to pick up the nasty stuff that plops out the ugly end of the excitable creatures. I do not own one of these beasts, but I always marvel at the short distance many of these people actually travel with their pets. You would think that walking was the main purpose for investing time and care by owning such canine friends, but it would appear not as I soon found myself leaving them far behind.

Apart from the exercise and the intake of fresh air, I find walking incredible stimulating for the brain. I allow my mind to wonder, or perhaps daydream as I stroll on my merry way along the rural byways of the great rolling Sussex uplands and downlands. If I have a problem I can hand it over to the subconscious mind to ponder on as I take in the sunshine and gaze at the beautiful scenery around me. I find that worries and concerns begin to ebb away as my feet engage with earth and one leg in front of the other takes me methodically forward deeper into the countryside and away from the rat race of the town I have left.

The splendour of the Sussex countryside walk.

When the spring is in full flight, as it surely is now, it is most definitely the time to make an effort to get away and enjoy what nature has to offer. I love it. I would walk every day if I didn’t have to make a living. I’d explore new parts of this wonderful country we call England, jot down everywhere I go and take photos for my blog. I do feel lucky living in this part of the world where there is the ever changing scenery, not to mention beautiful terrain and all riddled with walkways and enticing paths to investigate, either straightaway or in the near future.

You don’t have to make an excursion onto the South Downs, or whatever your local area of natural beauty is called, a big deal and go hiking for miles and miles to feel the effect they have on the soul. A short jaunt of an hour or so is plenty to recharge the batteries. If the sun comes out I know I am chomping at the bit to be away from the desk and really there is no excuse to not pop out at lunch time or in the early evenings. If you get the chance, you should do the same. You wont regret it, I assure you.

These boots will do the walking…

A Boot for a Bald Explorer

Every now and again, the Bald Explorer has to  invest in a new pair of shoes. Naturally for walking over the rugged muddy terrain of Great Britain I visit one of the many outdoor specialist shops that sell just the kind of gear for that purpose.  Here I find a myriad of shapes and styles to choose from and depending on my price range I can make my selection and away I go.

When filming the videos for the Bald Explorer website, however, I try to look reasonably stylish, just  for the sake of the camera, you understand.  Many have confused this look with ‘Quirky’ and who am I to argue.  The main thing is, I believe,  to be comfortable in all situations from the toes up.

Now, because I am not always ascending a hideously steep mountain or trekking across the snow covered ice packs of Antarctica, I just need  comfortable footwear which I can happily stroll the highways,  back lanes and paths of this nation in, but also amble through a public building, clamber up an old church tower and drive my beat up old car in. So with this in mind, I have selected an all purpose smart 100% leather boot from Jones, the Bootmakers and I am rather hoping they will last a few years.

I cannot say they were cheap, but when it comes to foot wear I don’t think you want to scrimp too much. It is essential to look after your feet and keep them in good shape. They take a lot of pounding in life and to wear the wrong kind of shoe for extended periods of the day isn’t going to do you any favours.  So when you are out filming you do need something that allows you the freedom to do many things.

Next time you watch the Bald Explorer videos, take a look at the ends of my legs and check out the clodhoppers I am wearing . In the very first episode I started with a pair of Converses, and while they are an excellent deck shoe for lounging about the house, I soon began to crave for something more sturdy especially towards the end of the long days stomping the streets of Lewes I can tell you.

If you have a favourite kind of boot that you like to wear, I would love to hear about it. Post your thoughts below!


Podcast: Camp Caradoc

Harriet and I headed out to investigate the other Caer Caradoc in South Shropshire. Locally this iron age hill fort is known as Camp Caracticus or Camp Caradoc. It is a wonderful example of such an ancient encampment and many people believe that this is the position of the last stand that the Chieftain Caracticus held against the Romans after they invaded nearly two thousand years ago.

A view from Camp Caradoc to the other hill called Caer Caradoc

It was in AD51 that the Romans managed to defeat and capture this defiant ancient Briton and his tribe of fearless fighting men. He was taken back to Rome and paraded about in triumph as he had evaded capture for seven years and caused much trouble for their invasion plans.

There are many places that also claim to be the last fighting place of this heroic figure, but there is more evidence for believing that this is was the camp used by the ancient Britons. The actual battle itself is thought to have taken place a little to the west of this point because no defender would want to be stuck on a top of a hill that could easily be surrounded.

A view across the South Shropshire Hills from the iron age hill fort.

Have a listen to the podcast as we head out to this important historical monument and explore its potential for the filming in the next Bald Explorer video about the Welsh Marches. I will be looking at the battle and the theories in more details as I begin a series of films about the boarder landed between England and Wales.

Download as Podcast.

Offas Dyke Walk – Podcast

Richard and Harriet take a walk along Offa’s Dyke near the lovely town of Montgomery in Montgomershire in Wales.

Offa’s Dyke is a massive linear earthwork, roughly followed by some of the current border between England and Wales. In places, it is up to 65 feet (19.8 m) wide (including its flanking ditch) and 8 feet (2.4 m) high. In the 8th century it formed some kind of delineation between the kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.

Download as Podcast.

Where are the Marches?

If you look on the usual maps of Great Britain, you may well find such exciting places as the Peak District, the Malverns and the New Forest, but curiously you wont necessarily find a label announcing the Marches. And that is unusual because the March of Wales has been around, in terms of identification, long before the others had their moniker’s attached.

You also be surprised to learn that, and please correct me if I am wrong, there are no brown signs indicating when you have entered or left the Marches. In the next Bald Explorer, I intend to discover why that is.

The Anglo-Saxon Christian King Offa is said to be responsible of the 70 mile man-made ditch that runs almost the entire length along the border between England and Wales. He was the King of Mercia from 757 to 796AD. His famous Dyke was at the beginning of trying to define where one country starts and the other finishes, but nothing in the Marches is as simple as that and both the Anglo-Saxons and the Welsh kept pushing the borders forwards and back.

When the Normans invaded just after the middle of the 11th Century the lines became even more blurred. This borderland was handed over to a series of Barons who turned their territory into mini kingdoms complete with independence from the crown. The Welsh were pushed west and up into the mountainous hills and castles and strong holds were constructed to guard the frontier lands. But this great region was not stable, even from themselves. The Welsh would battle against their own countrymen and the Norman Lords did likewise. The Marches became divided and parceled up further increasing the lordships, kingdoms and consequently, the resentments. This continued for hundreds of years.

Even though Henry VIII eventually took away the Marcher Lords power and dissolved their independence, forming new shires and counties in the mid 16th Century, the term Marches has adhered to this undefined borderland. The map may depict in black and white an exact spot where the each country switches to the other, but those that live in the Marches may tell you that they live neither in England nor Wales, but somewhere far more unique; that fascinating place in between.