On the Road to Goodwood, Even More Sites: Brooklands

Brooklands is the home of British Motor Sport, with a banked track built in 1906.

Here is the information from the site:

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Brooklands, the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, was built by local landowner Hugh Locke King on 330 acres of farm and woodland on his estate at Weybridge in Surrey. Work commenced in late 1906. As soon as the design of the track was entrusted to Colonel H.C.L. Holden of the Royal Artillery, the original plans began to grow beyond Locke King’s wildest expectations. Far from his initial idea of a simple road circuit, Locke King was persuaded that, in order for cars to achieve the highest possible speeds, with the greatest possible safety, the 2¾ mile circuit would need to be provided with two huge banked sections nearly 30 ft. high. The track would be 100 ft. wide, made of concrete and include two long straights, one running for half a mile beside the London to Southampton Railway, and an additional ‘Finishing Straight’ passing the Paddock and enclosures, bringing the total length of the track to 3¼ miles. This outstanding feat of engineering was built in only nine months and eventually cost Hugh Locke King his personal fortune, a price equal to nearly 16 million pounds today. In 1913 the world record of more than 100 mph was set on the steeply banked track. The last race meeting was held at Brooklands on 7th August 1939. With the outbreak of World War Two, the aerodrome was requisitioned by the Government and devoted to the production of Vickers and Hawker aircraft, including Hurricane fighters and Wellington bombers.

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So, the area has a strong motor and aircraft connection and we really took the time to experience the aircraft aspects.

From early 1909 aircraft:

To 10 years later in 1919

and at around the same time.

During our visits to motor museums we were fascinated by the rapid improvement of motor cars from 1890s to 1920s and the same development clearly happened in aircraft as well.

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Ros as the controls of a VC 10, one of the longest serving aircraft.

While at Brooklands one has to admire the concord, parts of which were built on site.

Trying out the seats.  Where all the concords are now.

On the Road to Goodwood, Even More Cars: Morgan Factory

Continuing along our ‘car theme’ here are the details of the next outing we enjoyed.

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I expect that the Morgan Factory is a must do on every car nut (and semi-nut’s) tour of the British motor industry. Here cars are still hand made, made to order with as the result that each car distinctive and unique.

The start of the tour is in the museum containing some models that are no longer produced.  the standard Morgan 4/4 goes back to pre war days

Our tour guide was excellent: a Morgan nut himself (2 Morgans, 1 wife) who comes in a few days a week to take tours around the factory and impressed with knowledge of all the ins and outs of the cars. He seemed to know everyone on the factory floor.

Three wheelers finished and in production

I will not get the models correct, but as well as the 3 wheeler, there is the 4/4 (skinner tyres and a Ford 1600cc engine), the Plus 4 (wider tyres and Ford 2 litre), the Roadster (Ford 3.7 litre) and the Plus 8 (BMW 4.8 litre). Also the Aero. And it seemed as we walked around each of these models is built in a slightly different way, including different chassis and woodwork.

In the factory, the chassis starts in one part of the building collecting its motor, gearbox etc

The car then meets up in the middle with the tub, having been made up from raw wooden parts made by guys still using hammers and plains.

The two are then put together.

The aluminium body work is then hand made to each car, again using hammers and tin cutters to get the exact fit.

Once built up the car rolls (literally) across the road to the paint shed where it is dismantled and the parts individually painted, before meeting up in the trim shop to be put together along with carpets, windscreen, seats, dash etc

Until a final individual made to order car is taken out for a test run around the local streets.

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On the Road to Goodwood, Even More Cars: Williams F1 Museum

A beautiful warm morning (something unusual as we even took the roof down) and a quick drive to the Williams F1 Museum set in the middle of the British technology area.

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The museum has Sir Frank Williams’ private Grand Prix Collection spanning all the cars from 1978. I will not go into the team’s history, suffice to say they had heady years in the 1990s, tragedy when Senna died and have since had podium finishes but no championships.

Early Cars

The winning years

The day was made even more enjoyable due to our guide, Simon’s, extensive knowledge. Although in his 30s he clearly had followed F1 from an early age, watching with his father and now combines his hospitality degree with the job of a ‘life time’. We could have spent hours longer just hearing the history of the team, the successes / failures of each car on display and his anecdotes about people, places and events.

The family car steering wheel.  The last podium car

Goodwood Tour Part 1

We are now starting our last 2 weeks in England with a tour ending with the 3 day Goodwood Revival. This is the twentieth year of the Goodwood Revival, a classic motoring event over 3 days on the Goodwood racing circuit attracting a crowd of 30,000 on each of the three days.

Not only are classic cars on display but they are also to be seen racing around the circuit. Also, the visitors dress up in classic clothes of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Around the track are over 400 stands selling anything motoring, heritage or just stuff that will appeal to the attendees.

The Goodwood track was a premier circuit until the 60s when cars simply got too fast for it and the track was closed for safety reasons. Thirty years later, the Earl of Marsh founded the Revival, enticing a wide range of classic cars for the three days of racing and parade.

Anyway, more on the Revival when we write it up. First we will cover some of the visits we made on the 8 days leading up to the event. This entry is about 3 car museums: Gaydon, Hayes and Beaulieu.

First Gaydon, which is the British Motor Museum plus the Jaguar collection. Really fascinating and helpful in pulling together all the information swimming around my head about different English car brands and their development.

Starting of course with Old Number One in the entry foyer:

Moving on to design and concepts cars:

Then a few more MGs:

The last of the run:

Plus a full collection of MG speed record cars:

A fascinating table of where British car manufactures have gone:

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Finally a line up of 100 jags, including a long row of XJ models from 1968 through to the current: amazing to see how the lines changed over time, but only very slightly, up until the current model.

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So, from Gaydon, on to Haynes:

the opening three cars, a 1890s Mercedes, a 1903 Oldsmobile and a slightly later Humber show the rapid development of cars in a very short time.

If you cannot decide how to display cars in any particular order, then go by cloud: the Red Room 50 sports cars:

Some more Morrises MGs

An MG TA: in a museum, should be on the road!

Or, if you cannot think of a better name, go for the obvious:

An finally the car we owned in Chicago 35 years ago:

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Now on to Beaulieu, an eclectic collection started by Lord Montagu as he was one of the first enthusiasts of cars:  here is his Daimler that he drove from New Forest on the South Coast to London to attend Parliament:

Some more examples of how quickly cars made an impact:

In France too, a taxi cab in 1908:

Including the unusual: the inside of an early garage (remind you of any that you know?) and a lego caravan!

Not forgetting that Japan was making cars in the 1930s as well: was this a take off of an Austin 7 or a Morris?

And finally, not in the museum, but one of the party borrowed a Bristol for part of the trip, giving Goldie some competition!

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That’s it for now, we’ll try to upload some more visits and yes, even some more car photos shortly.

A few days in Devon

Old cars always seem to need something replaced so when a friend sourced a TA exhaust manifold in Devon, plus some other bits and pieces for his TC, it became apparent we would need to head down to Devon for a couple of days to pick these things up for transporting back to Australia.

The drive down from Windsor was pretty uneventful as we chose to take the motorway most of the way. However, the GPS then took us along every tiny back road it could find to get to the village of Broadwater Kelly where we had booked a B&B for a few nights. Tall hedges, one lane roads with very few passing places and English drivers who know the roads and who travel at speeds which are rather intimidating when you are not really used to these roads.

On the way south we visited the National Trust property, Knightshayes, a Gothic Revival house with extensive gardens, including a fabulous walled flower and vegetable/herb garden. We opted to walk around the walled garden first, it was sunny but threatened to become overcast, so enjoying the sunshine while we could seemed prudent! This was the first sighting of the ruby red apple called Pendragon – just an amazing colour.

The house, a Gothic Revival building, was built by Sir John Heathcoat Amory, the grandson of John Heathcoat, creator of the mechanised bobbin lace making machine and owner of a lace factory in Tiverton.

The foundation stone was laid in 1869, but it was not until 1873 that the elaborate interior designs were completed. William Burges, designer of Knightshayes, had a rocky relationship with the family and was fired half way through the project, leaving his imaginative vision incomplete.

Burges was replaced by another reputable designer, John Dibblee Crace, who turned out to be another ill-fated choice. Much of Crace’s work was covered up by the family, but later restored by the Trust.

Visiting the house is to step back in time as you explore the ‘medieval’ hall, complete with minstrels’ gallery. From the gallery you can get a closer look at the elaborate ceiling patterns and admire the chivalrous banners and shields. The house is fascinating and well worth a visit.

Then it was on to Broadwater Kelly, which turned out to be not really close to anything at all, but very rural and charming. We had booked a one bedroom cottage, very old (crooked staircase, low beams and exposed timber) and quaintly decorated and quite a haven for a few quiet days. And some home cooking!

 

The next day we drove south to the village of Broadwoodwidger and Buddle Farm where Roger Furneaux, a maker of MG parts for T Types, lives. We were picking up some parts to take back to Sydney and had an interesting time talking with Roger, having a look at the many and varied parts he had for sale as well as looking at a couple of restoration projects he had in a barn. Even Roger admitted they may have got beyond being restoration projects. However, I have seen worse!

From Roger’s we drove south to visit Cotehele, a medieval house and gardens now in the hands of the National Trust. So many of the National Trust properties we have looked at have been handed to the Trust in lieu of death duties! It is fabulous for the wider public to gain access to these extraordinary properties, however it must be distressing for families to just give away the family home of centuries.

Built in medieval times, the current house is mostly Tudor. When visiting the house you make your way through four floors of history to learn stories about the Edgcumbe family who owned it for 600 years.

This fortified manor house is set on a high bluff on the Cornish bank of the River Tamar, which gave it natural protection from skirmishing armies approaching from the east.

Inside the rambling stone walls is a fascinating collection that reflects the antiquarian taste of the Georgian Edgcumbes. The family developed the interiors between about 1750 and 1860 in a deliberate attempt to evoke a sense of nostalgia and recreate the atmosphere of the ‘good old days’.

Particularly interesting at Cotehele were the huge tapestries which covered virtually every wall in the house. Tapestries were, of course, used not just for decoration but also for insulation, keeping out draughts and generally keeping the house warmer.

The house also had fabulous grounds with a huge orchard and, of course, more gardens including a kitchen garden. We came across the Pendragon apple again, this time there were so many on the trees and ground that we felt ok sampling one and taking a few back to the cottage to make apple sauce from, to complement that night’s pork loin chops!

As the house is set high above a river it also, within the grounds, had a small harbour where river trade boats used to dock to bring supplies as well as take away for trade the products of the mill. This mill was powered by water and is still in use today.

Next day, while still in Devon, we also visited Exmoor National Park. First stop was Dulverton where we walked around the town, bought dinner at the local butcher and went for a short walk up the hill from the village through some woods.

From Dulverton we drove across the moors, a vast expanse of treeless, heather covered landscape.

Next stop was Tarr Steps, a 17 span clapper bridge (a bridge made of unmortared stone slabs), the longest of its kind in Britain. It was first mentioned in Tudor times but may be much older. The river has silted up over the last century and often now comes over the stones in times of flood. The bridge has had to be repaired several times as stones of up to two tonnes have been washed up to 50 metres downstream during severe flooding. We had visited this spot with Sue and Nigel (Cape to Cairo and Tango) in 2013 and it is both scenic and fascinating. There were families and kids playing everywhere as this is a holiday weekend and the sun is out!

From there we drove through the National Park, past grazing ponies, sheep and highland cattle to the area of Watersmeet, where John went walking. Watersmeet is one of England’s very deepest river gorges and is an area of ancient woodlands and beautiful waterfalls. His walk took him along a winding track alongside a bubbling brook and past old tree stumps into which people have hammered coins!

Ros opted to stroll around the twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth as it had turned cold and was threatening rain, again! We are experiencing a true English summer, cool to cold and rainy!

Lynmouth is a village on the northern edge of Exmoor which straddles the confluence of the West Lyn and East Lyn rivers, in a gorge 700 feet (210 m) below Lynton. Lynton developed when Lynmouth outgrew its harbour side site as this was the only place to expand to once Lynmouth became as built-up as possible.

Both villages are connected by the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway, a water powered funicular railway which has two cable-connected cars connected by a continuous cable with the cars being ‘driven’ by gravity by using the weight of water to pull one car down the cliff face which in turn raises the second car. When the heavier car reaches the bottom the water is emptied out of it and water added to the top car and on it goes.The cable car has been running continuously since 1890. Two fascinating a pretty villages. And, one of the charity shops had a perfect hat for Salon Privé for just £3!

Then it was back to Broadwater Kelly for the last day where we washed and polished Goldie(!) and John enjoyed a walk through the fields while Ros finished off the September edition of Opposite Lock, the MGCC Sydney magazine.

 

 

London

August 17 to 21

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Here we are in London, thanks to our neighbours in Mosman.  We are staying right in the City just off Fleet Street in a great apartment.

Apartment near the river

So we took full advantage of visiting all the London tourist sights:

First stop the British Museum were everything that that we could not see on our travels is: some Greek statue! the old Egyptians, the rosetta stone and the Lewis chess men

The Tate Modern

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Another day at Newmarket races, this time watching Charlie’s horse

The Royal Mews: the Jubilee Coach (made in Australia) and the coronation coach

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The Portrait Gallery

The V&A with more glass and ceramics than you can imagine, plus a display on veneer and the Lewis chairs!!

The National Gallery

Changing of the Guards 

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The Science Museum (amazing that different standards were used not that long ago: read the sign)

Golf at Richmond Golf Club were John was entertained royally by the members.  Dinner with friends

Diana memorial and one to some guy in Trafalgar Square

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St James’s Park

That’s all and we had a great time.  Onward to distant parts of England!

Wiltshire

August 16, 17 and 18

We stayed the night just outside Cirencester in a B&B and had dinner in the (very) local pub, with good home cooked food. Next day we visited Cirencester Cathedral and did some clothes shopping. Our travelling clothes are looking a little worn after 4 months on the road: indeed I even agreed with Ros that her denim skirt would be better in the rag bin than in her suitcase.

Onwards to Charlie and Annette to send some time on an English farm. We both rode in the harvester while bringing in the barley. We learn more and more about English farming every time we visit.

Plus Ros really enjoyed the opportunity to walk the dogs morning and afternoon.

And to take some doggie pictures

We also visited Bath to buy a car cover for Goldie; the car will be staying here for the winter.

circ 4Then a drive to Windsor to leave the car and a train into London for the next week.

Northumbria

August 13, 14 and 15

We are now in Northumbria visiting MG friends, Geoff and Pam. We arrived late afternoon and that night Pammy put on an exceptional dinner with invited guests Shelia and John who also own a MG. Indeed the world is small: John’s MGB GT, which he has now restored, was sold to him by Dave Godwin and, embarrassingly but also interestingly, John has followed our blog across the Silk Road. Hi John!

Geoff and Pam have renovated a run down church in the village of Newton and have brought new life to the building, capitalising on the amazing view over the rolling Northumbrian hills.

Geoff took us to visit Cragside, a country house near the town of Rothbury. It was the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power.

The electric lights, the butler’s pantry/office

Lord Armstrong was an industrialist in Newcastle, manufacturing naval ships and armaments. His customers included the Japanese (hence a Japanese room in the house) plus many other countries.  He invited his customers (and prospective customers) into his house and hence built many impressive rooms including a Turkish Bath and an enormous gallery for his art collection, all to just outrightly impress while at the same time putting into use many of the ideas he developed as an industrialist of note.

A Turkish bath for the guests (this is 1870’s) and the inglenook in the drawing room

The new drawing room and the morning room

Built into a rocky hillside above a forest garden of just under 1,000 acres, it was initially the country home of Lord Armstrong and then his primary house after he convinced the railways to build a railway to the local village. It has been in the care of the National Trust since 1977.

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A field covered in heather in the grounds of Cragside

A traditional Sunday lunch followed, in a restaurant located in walled garden. Families were out together on this sunny Sunday and this young girl entertained us with her cartwheels!

As we drove south we visited Hadrian’s wall: no pictures of Goldie this time.

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Goodbye to Scotland

August 11

Today we took our last drive around the west coast of Scotland, including the extremely scenic drive out to Applecross, a village almost entirely cut off from the world except for 2 x 20 mile long single lane roads in and out! Great ocean views on the way in.

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After a great seafood lunch in the Applecross pub (I expect that they are flat out for 5 hours during the middle of the day with all the day visitors, but dead at night) we headed south and east along a different but just as scenic drive across the 2,000 foot high Bealach na Ba (the Pass of the Cattle) hill. Well worth the extra 2 hours drive.

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As we neared our destination at the Glencoe Hotel on Lock Leven, the traffic in Fort William was a mess taking everyone 1 hour to travel 2 miles. There is no doubt about Scotland, there are very few roads and no alternatives to the main roads. Nothing to do but sit the traffic out.

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August 12

A sparkling and sunny day greeted us for our last day with the MG CC Caledonian Centre with the view over the loch at breakfast simply stunning.  We set out on a quick drive into Stirling and then on to Edinburg were we visited HM Yacht Britannia, now moored dock side and a tourist attraction.

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Officers drawing room and dining room

Royal drawing room and dining room

Her Maj’s bedroom.  Duke’s bedroom

Always take your ‘Roller’ and your tender with you!

On board and the Royal sun lounge 

Scotland West Coast

August 10

Before setting off today Ros and I climbed up to Varrich Castle, on the high point overlooking the town and The Kyle of Tongue.

A pretty climb up through the heather all in flower with magnificent views once we got there.

Back to the car to follow the recommended route for the day which took us out along the B869, a winding, single lane, up and down track around the coast line with numerous view points over lochs and rivers.

However, it rained most of the way so we did not stop to admire too many views. One upside of the rain was that the waterfalls and creeks were running at full capacity! One fisherman was taking full advantage of the flow (although his basket looked quite empty).

A lunch stop at the remote town of Lockinver (with a 2 hat restaurant!) where we stopped at the pie shop which had numerous pies and potatoes, including a haggis filled beauty!

Tonight’s stop was at the Dundonnell Hotel, a huge edifice standing all alone on the side of Little Loch Broom, which in this case was a tidal loch and hence with a remarkable tidal belt of mud and grass mounds.

North Coast of Scotland

Wednesday August 9

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As on many MG events, the cars were lined up this morning for a photo.

With Lock Stennes as background, David directed the cars to be driven onto the lawn and the photographers raided one of the higher bedrooms for ‘the photo’! Embarrassingly, David asked that we move Goldie to the front of the photo (John had parked at the back to start with).

We were then waved away for a short drive to the ferry back to the mainland. On the way we were able to visit the Italian Church. The church was built by the Italian POWs  involved with building the Churchill Barriers. The church was built by joining two nissen huts lengthways with a stone front facade and then the church was painted inside. The church has been preserved and is still used once a month for a catholic service.

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Leaving the ferry we drove west and then out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain.

Cold and windy is the best way to describe the headland, although the views were 210 degrees and the bird life soaring on the drafts, magnificent.

Along the north coast with vistas over beaches, lochs, heather and winding rivers

to the town of Tongue to a hunting lodge turned hotel for the night. Before dinner drinks were served in the small bar attended by the owner and then followed a three course dinner. We are finding the large Scottish breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms and fried bread will last us all day until we sit down to delightful dinners with wine along with our 46 travelling friends.

Two Days in the Orkneys

Day 2 – Neolithic Orkney

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We began the day with a visit to Maeshowe, a Neolithic tomb. From the outside Maeshowe looks like a grassy knoll, though a very perfect one! However, on one side there is a low entrance, not much more than a metre high. This entrance leads to a six metre long tunnel which ends in a large central room about five metres in height. In the four corners of the room are what look like ancient standing stones, reused for decorative purposes. They serve no functional purpose. Three sides of the square room contain an embrasure cut into the wall. These embrasures were used to house the bones of the people entrusted to the tomb. In Neolithic times (could be 5,000 years ago) bodies were left outside for nature to clean the bones before they were interred. In the 1153 the Vikings, sheltering from a storm broke into the tomb and graffitied the walls: this graffiti is now almost as important as the Neolithic construction of the tomb.

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Then it was off to the Ring of Brodger, a very large ring of standing stones (hecne the hotel name as it looks over the stones), Ness of Brodger, a recently discovered (2002) Neolithic ‘village’ which is currently being excavated, and also Scara Brae, a Neolithic village which was built underground.

It was interesting to see work being done on an actual archaeological dig. Work began in 2005 and one couple who were here a few years ago was astonished by how much had been accomplished in the intervening time. The site is only active during the summer months when universities are on break and academics and students have the time to invest in the actual work of excavating the site.

Scara Brae is extraordinary. Eight houses were discovered after a fierce storm stripped the turf from the top of one of the houses exposing the remains of the underground house below. The houses are all built to a pattern with a hearth in the middle, two beds on facing walls, a stone dresser for storage and display. There is one building which does not fit this pattern and, as a result of the artefacts found there, it is thought to be a workshop for the village. All the houses were connected by underground tunnels.

We also visited Skraille House where William Watt of Skaill, the local laird lived while he led the excavation of Scara Brae and which was his family’s home until recently.

It was a beautiful sunny day so it seemed the perfect time to take the top down and go for a scenic drive. So, from Scara Brae we drove north through some magnificent countryside to visit the memorial to HMS Hampshire.

The memorial was built in memory of the HMS Hampshire and the men lost when, with Lord Kitchener, then British Secretary of State for War, on board it struck a mine and exploded. The seas were wild and many of the men who survived the explosion subsequently died from exposure.

On the way back to the hotel we visited the town of Stromess which has a very large working harbour. The town had a pleasant pedestrian precinct which we strolled along while John enjoyed an ice cream. The sun is out, it must be summer, so ice cream.

This is summer in Scotland, and so the beaches are in use with people swimming. This day was sunny and inviting, but still it was only about 17C! However, the really cold water flowing down from the Arctic has not yet arrived. We have not been tempted to go swimming!

Two Days in the Orkneys

Day 1: Wars and modern history

We are in Orkney, staying at the Standing Stones Hotel in the township of Stennes, on the Orkney island known, confusingly, as the Mainland.

This morning a quick drive took us to another ferry to travel across to the island of Hoy to visit the Scarpa Flow museum. The museum comprises the entire area once used by the Royal Navy as a base. The Scarpa Flow harbour sheltered the British fleet in both WWI and WWII. Now decommissioned, the base is one large outdoor museum, with some of the remaining buildings housing both video and static presentations.

There is a wealth of information here and the two and a half hours we had here was simply not enough. Had we known the scope of the information contained in the museum we would have tried to stay longer. The old pump house houses the biggest collection of information ranging across the two wars.

Even though the display covered these two wars, Scarpa Flow was important even during the Napoleonic wars!

John’s comment, as a colonial, was that he did not realise the significance of this harbour on the far north of Scotland. Basically from this point the British were able to keep an eye on the French and then German North Sea fleet and keep them ‘boxed in’ on the coast. Of course, the Germans still had Atlantic access via the Baltic, but stopping activity directly onto the North Sea was critical.

In WWl the British Fleet, named the Grand fleet, met the German fleet, named the High Seas Fleet, in the Battle of Jutland (May/June 2016) where, although the British lost more tonnage of ships, they still maintained supremacy of the North Atlantic. A couple of further skirmishes occurred, however the High Seas fleet was effectively kept in port. Having advance warning of the German sailing intentions certainly helped!

A further notable event in the history of WWl was the loss of the HMS Hampshire on 5 June 1916 with Lord Kitchener on board (see below!)

After the Armistice in November 2018, the German fleet was corralled in Scarpa Flow for the time it took to negotiate a surrender (held up by the British demanding reparation for the costs of the war) and were still there in June 1919 just days before the armistice was due to mature. The German fleet was held in the harbour with no shore leave and German boats delivering supplies to the captured ships. As the British Fleet prepared to sail in June and the Germans, thinking that the truce had failed and in order to ensure that their ships did not fall into enemy (ie British) hands, scuttled the fleet in the evening of June 21. In all 52 of the 74 ships were sunk in what became known as the Grand Scuttle.

Following the war, the biggest salvage operation in then naval history took place. Ships this big had never been salvaged before and so the salvage company had to invent new salvage methods to effect retrieval of the vessels.

Also on display was a model of the harbour at Scarpa Flow with 1:250 scale models of the German fleet. These accurate and to scale models were produced by a German citizen and donated to the museum.

Move forward to WWll: of particular interest to us is the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in October 1939 during WWII while it lay at harbour in Scarpa Flow. Block ships had been sunk in four of the possible entrances to the harbour and this was thought to be sufficient to protect the fleet from German U-boats. However, this turned out to be incorrect and a U-boat did sneak in and torpedo the Royal Oak. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, visited Scarpa Flow and immediately ordered the closure of the four entrances by means of dumping huge concrete blocks across the channels, effectively closing them. These barriers became known as Churchill’s Barriers. Today, they carry road traffic and effectively link the separate islands.

Due to a shortage of manpower, the British utilised the Italian POWs captured in North Africa to build the barriers. The Italian prisoners strongly felt the need for a place to worship. The British made this possible by providing them with two Nissan huts which were joined together. The Italians then decorated the church and it remains to the present day, still used for worship, as a record of their presence.

There were other items from the war on display and I found the fold up bike of particular interest. This bike was parachuted behind enemy lines along with soldiers infiltrating enemy territory. Land, retrieve the bike, unfold it, hop on and ride way! Ingenious. First manufactured in 1942, 70,000 folding bikes were produced during the war.

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We then returned to the main island and visited Highland Park Distillery. The distillery has been operating in the Orkneys since 1798 by Magnus Eunson and is one of the few distilleries which still has its own traditional malting floor. We were taken on a tour of the distillery, which was interesting if a bit glib (we have certainly been on better on Islay and Jura and at Glenfiddich), before being given the chance to try their twelve year old whisky and to compare it to the ten year old, which we had tried before the tour. We did learn a few things, especially about the ‘length’ of whisky, but you did feel as if the next tour was about to begin and your time was up.

We then drove into Kirkwall to look at St Magnus’ Cathedral and wander around the pedestrian precinct and shops. The Cathedral was founded in 1137 in honour of Magnus Erlendssson, Earl of Orkney, who was killed by his cousin. Magnus’ nephew, Rognvald, came from Norway to claim the earldom and commenced the cathedral in Magnus’ honour. At this time the Orkneys were part of Norway and did not return to Scottish ownership until 1468 when they were pledged as the dowry of his daughter Margaret to James III: dowry not paid, islands became Scottish!

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It is a magnificent building. Made from the red sandstone which is endemic to the area, the outside and inside of the Cathedral are striking with some striking stained glass windows contributing to the overall beauty of this amazing building. There is an A3 double-sided guide to the Cathedral which is laminated and which you can carry around with you as you explore the building. This makes a visit to the Cathedral that much more interesting and informative. This includes  information about the various tombstones, liberally adorned with skull and crossbones ad the panel pd beautiful paintings done by students.

Back to the hotel where, after dinner John and I were asked to give a short presentation about our Silk Road trip. We kept it to 10 minutes and were overwhelmed by the interest our fellow travellers took in our trip.

 

 

Lewis and Harris to the Orkney Islands

Leaving Lewis and Harris

We had to be up very bright and early to catch the 7.00am ferry across to the mainland.

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Arriving in Ullapool after a very uneventful crossing, we turned north and headed for Tain on the east coast.

We will be joining the MGCC Caledonian Chapter tour of the Orkneys and Northern Scotland. Most of the cars were leaving on the Saturday morning from Stirling, however as this was south of Ullapool where the ferry docked we took a short cut and headed straight for Tain.

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Ullapool harbour in the early morning light

The west coast is a fabulously wild, rugged and beautiful part of Scotland, however today it rained making the trip just that little less beautiful. The heavy rain let up after about 20 minutes but light showers plagued us throughout the day. We did see a very unusual road caution sign along the way, one we had not seen before.

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We did stop once at the little village of Bonar Bridge in order to have a cup of tea and shortbread. We found a pleasant café overlooking the river and enjoyed a wee break! Scotland seems to be covered in a beautiful purple/pink flower. I have yet to learn it’s name, but great swathes of it growing by the roadside are striking.

Then it was on to Tain. Tain is the home of Glenmorangie Whiskey and, as we had plenty of time, we dropped in for a wee dram. We declined the distillery tour as we had done about five of these in 2013 and have one booked on the Orkneys, but we did try three of their whiskeys. It is really amazing how toasting the malt differently or using a different cask to age the whiskey can result in completely different flavours.

Glenmorangie has the tallest stills in Scotland, so their mascot is the giraffe. John couldn’t help himself, he bought a Glenmorangie giraffe wood cover. I do wonder about the comments he will get on the golf course!

We arrived early in Tain so spent some time driving around the streets and walking the main street to see what there was on offer. It is Saturday afternoon, so most of the shops were closed, though we did visit a glass blowing workshop which had some beautiful pieces. Unfortunately all were totally unsuitable to taking home in a MG!

Then off to the hotel to await the arrival of the rest of the tour group: twenty eight cars in total coming from all over England and Scotland and two from Canada. Goldie felt totally at home amongst a gaggle of MGs again.

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The Caledonian MGCC are a delightful bunch of folk, who immediately welcomed us to their tour. We met the organisers over a pint (or 2) before dinner and then spent a very relaxed evening meal with further tourers. The accommodation is DBB, so we sat down to a three course dinner with Scottish main course specialties of salmon, huge lamb shanks or chicken stuffed with haggis, of all things (plus of course the vego option). This was followed by very sweet desserts, or cheese. All this set us up well after a long day with nothing to eat since morning tea!

To the Orkneys

We set off just after 9.00am and headed for Dunrobbie Castle, about 20 miles north. When we arrived we discovered it did not open until 10.00am and we have a ferry to catch so we could not wait. We did, however, have a walk to the ocean to view the castle perched up on the hillside.

The drive up the east coast to the ferry terminal took us through some beautiful scenery with cliff top views over tranquil seas and contented cows having a rest – with all that green grass I am sure they can have their fill by 10am and spend the rest of the day relaxing sniffing the breeze or what ever cows do (that’s right, chew their cud). Cows were mixed with sheep so there was always a mixture of little white dots and bigger brown ones on each side of the road. Out to sea we could spy oil rigs sucking up all the North Sea oil, but not a sign of their activity on shore at all. Very pristine.

We were lucky that the weather was crystal clear with blue skies (well mostly) but more importantly, no rain. So what a drive up the coast to John O’Groats, the most northerly inhabited point in the United Kingdom. Goldie has now travelled from Land’s End, the most southerly point, to the most northerly point.

From Land’s End it was onto the ferry at Gilles Bay for the one hour trip to the Orkneys. Of course, while waiting for the ferry someone put a bonnet up an immediately there were interested  onlookers. This is after all an MG event, there always has to be at least  one bonnet raised!

Boy, do they know how to use every square centimetre of space when they pack these ferries full of cars, trucks and buses! The sun is shining, finally, and everyone chose to sit out on the top deck.

When we arrived John took the roof down, which was great as we really appreciated the view plus, with the sun shinning and the heater on full blast we almost didn’t notice that the air temperature was no more that 14 degC! When in the sun it was warmer as the radiant heat quickly warms you up, but with a little wind it sure feels a lot colder.

A pleasant crossing with a very interesting rip in the water where two tides met and created significant turbulence that even the heavy ferry couldn’t entirely smooth out. As we approached Orkney harbour it was very easy to see the gun emplacements left over from WWll. The Orkneys often sheltered the British fleet during the war and both the gun emplacements and Churchill’s Barriers are a stark reminder of that war.

Off the ferry and then it was time to drive over some of Churchill’s Barriers. The barriers were erected, at the direct orders of Winston Churchill when Lord of the Admiralty, after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak at her mooring in the natural harbour of Scapa Flow in a night time attack by a German submarine. Previously the sunken block ships had seemed protection enough for the harbour, but this attack proved otherwise. The four barriers now carry traffic between the islands.

The islands now attract cruise ships, sometimes with 3,000 plus people descending on the island when a big cruise ship docks. There is a ship visiting currently, however she is only carrying 1,000 passengers.

These islands, at first glance, with their gently undulating green hills are vastly different to the Hebrides. we had left w day ago.orkney_9

Lewis and Harris: Day 6

August 4

So, we are now at the end of our week on Lewis and Harris and we are having a ‘domestic’ day.  Washing, packing (again) and some tender care for Goldie.

Last night I found that the boot was wet again (I guess if we drive in rain it will get in).  So out with everything in the boot (how I don’t enjoy the unpacking and repacking of everything into their nooks and crannies) and bring the boot carpet inside to dry in front of the heater. Yes, we had a heater on in mid-summer but found it quite comfortable.

Ros vacuumed the car and discovered that the floor mats were also wet, so more drying in front of the heater.  I have tried to tape over every hole or nut I can find in the floor of the car and boot for the third time, let’s see if maybe I have got it now.

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After washing we even did some ironing.  Will feel different wearing ironed clothes as the last iron we saw was at least nine countries ago!

We are eating the last of our food: nothing like a mixed bag for lunch and dinner but also nothing like cooking for ourselves and eating at leisure rather than in a restaurant.

Ros has started on the September issue of Opposite Lock, the MG Car Club Sydney magazine which she edits.  She just said that it’s amazing how you forget quirky things about InDesign after not using it for four months.  While we have been away an amazing friend, Veronica, has been preparing Opposite Lock for Ros and even did an extra month without needing to.  But now it’s back to Ros to prepare on-the-fly.

And I seem to have spent half the day blogging, but nothing feels as good as being up to date!

Tomorrow we join the MG Car Club Caledonian Centre’s week trip out to the Orkneys and so we will be back to daily drives with someone else arranging the tour without, we hope, any starts earlier than 10 or 11am!

Almost packed now as we are leaving on the 7am ferry, with a check in time of 6:15 and a half hour drive to get there.  At least the ferry offers breakfast so we can relax and dine for the 2.5 hours the trip takes.

We have loved our time on Lewis and Harris, fabulously wild, rugged and beautiful islands,  and if you are very coming this way we can highly recommend Moorpark Cottages, where we have been staying.

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Lewis and Harris: Day 5

August 3

At last a day with a weather forecast that sounded reasonable: morning showers and perhaps even some sun in the afternoon, so we headed off down to the Harris end of the island.

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It was about an hour and a half drive to Tarbert, the main town on Harris, with the climb over the low mountains between Lewis and Harris being most spectacular.

As well as the mountains, the two parts are divided by a loch on each side of the hills: Seaforth and Resort.  In Talbert we stopped for morning tea with cakes and scones.

We then set off on the circular drive (yes, another one) around the island, going down the west coast first, past some very beautiful beaches that would be at home at Pacific Palms.

There was even a guy giving surfing lessons: we did note that everyone had on head to toe wet suits as the water was a bit too chilly to encourage us to dive in.

All along the coast there are inlets and coves, many providing a toe hold for villages or just lone crofts with a few farm implements scattered around. We got used to telling if a water way was loch or ocean: the ocean has tides and kelp, the lochs steep banks and grass to the edge.

At one stage we came across a tidal bay with patches of grass between the channels of seawater: alright for the ducks, but we did wonder about the sheep getting stranded.

Harris golf course was the next stop. Situated on a cliff over the ocean this was a fabulous wind swept course with amazing views.  Duncan, I have the card for you to admire.

Across the road were some new houses which looked to have been designed in the style of black houses: stone walls and turf roof.  Even the club house was backed into the hill and had a turf roof.

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Finally, we made it all the way south to Rodel. Once the major port for the island, it’s now just a settlement as the ferry port to the next island south, North Uist, is just up the road at Leverburgh.

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Various MacLeods have attempted to build up the town, fishing in the 1790s, grazing, and improvements such as the impressive St Clements church.  The church was started in the 1520s, and is hence medieval in design, and completed in 1540. It contains three tombs with sculptured scenes of Christ, apostles, children and bishops, plus a hunting scene and a galley under sail.

We returned up the east coast on a road known as the Golden Road, so named because it cost so much to build.  And they only built half of it, as it’s a single lane the whole way with the regular passing places: a spot where the bitumen widens out to 4 meters wide rather than the normal two.  No guard rails or warning signs for curves so Ros, today’s driver, was on careful watch the whole way while I enjoyed the spectacular views over the ocean and lochs. Apparently the road was only built in 1897 and before that the locals had to walk to their villages: up to miles to some crofts.

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Once off the Golden Road we came to Aline Community Woodland, an area that had been rehabilitated and a wooden walk way built to see the scenery.  A walk way is such a good idea as it allowed me to get up close to creeks and greenery without getting my feet water logged! Everywhere there is water and wet feet (or wellingtons) are part of life.

So, overall great scenery, wonderful views and the rain held off until we were driving home!

 

 

Lewis and Harris: Day 4

August 2

John decided to play golf and, rather than be completely bound to the cottage and walkable surrounds, I decided to drive him to Stornoway and so have the freedom of the car.

Having dropped John off I had intended to drive into the shopping area in Stornoway and get a couple of things I needed. However, it was such a beautiful day that the Eyre Peninsula beckoned and I decided to explore this area instead. The Eyre Peninsula runs east off the coast from Stornoway and is not long, about 15 miles from Stornoway to the lighthouse so an easy drive.

The first section is through what you would term suburbs, houses relatively close together along streets. Only in Stornoway does this sort of housing appear. Most houses on the island are scattered as they are generally crofts and so have some acreage with them. Once out onto the furthest section of the Peninsula that the sun came out, blue skies appeared and the scenery became more open and interesting, with water all around. There is a lighthouse at the end of the peninsula and it has, along with all other lighthouses, been automated. The buildings here are now used as kennels and a cattery. The sound of barking dogs was pretty continuous as I walked up the hill behind the lighthouse and then along the path to a spot designated as a good whale and dolphin watching point. None in sight today, unfortunately.

Then it was back into Stornoway for a cup of coffee and cake overlooking the harbour before walking around the few interesting shops over looking the harbour.

As the sun was now really hot and lovely I took myself off to the Lews Castle grounds for a walk along the harbour edge. The castle is rather grand to look at but has been turned into a hotel and function centre (It would be a lovely setting for a wedding!) so there is not much to see inside. However, the grounds are wooded and provide lovely walking tracks with great views back towards Stornoway.

Collected John from golf and as the day was still sunny I even suggested taking the roof down for the drive home (well we needed to do this at least once while on the island!).

John’s comment: enjoyable round on a very hilly course.

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Harris and Lewis: Day 3

August 1

A wet day so not much impetus to jump out of bed and head into the rain.  However we did, even if only to drive the ‘Little Circle’ from Loch Roag to Uig.

This drive, known especially for its beaches and popular with campers and trekkers, took us through a variety of scenery from vistas over beaches, into hills and through small villages.

We learnt a bit about crofts: basically crofts are small farms (a word from before the clearances in the mid 1800s) generally on long term lease hold from the absentee landlord.  The occupiers’ rights are well protected as he cannot be removed and has the right to stay indefinitely provided the rent is paid each year. For a small 7-8 acre croft we were told the rent was STG17 pa.  Occupiers have the right to buy out the lease for around 20 years rent (ie STG350 in the example) however as well as the purchase price there are the survey costs, land registration and legal fees (both sides) that are far more expensive that the purchase cost.  Once purchased, the occupier no longer needs to request permission to change the site (build a building, move a fence) although these request by leaseholders were rarely declined.  This is all a hang over from the clearances, the Land Wars (there are a few monuments around for this) and then the changes to agriculture from subsistence to sheep grazing, to kelp burning (to make potash for ammunition), to forests, to cattle combined with the effects of emigration and potato famines.

The land is not really very productive at all, with water everywhere (not just in the form of rain, but with so much rain there are creeks and lochs everywhere) and what’s left is pretty marshy.

The town of Uig has seen better days: no cafe anywhere and just an engine in the main street!

Tonight we celebrated Ros’ birthday at the best restaurant on the island: Forty North, named simply for its address.  Great food and a very congenial host, Bruce, who provided us with a bit of local knowledge.

For example the ferry we came across on does two return trips a day in summer for cars and passengers, from 7am to 9:30pm with each one way trip being about 2.5 hours.  Then at night it does a third trip for the trucks.  Mostly empty leaving the island (except for those carriers lucky enough to carry the some of the export of 500,000 tons p.a. of Harris Tweed: 40% to Japan!) and return in the early morning with supplies (making the ferry so much heavier that the trip takes 4 hours!).

Way up north on the islands there is a lot happening in the night: which by the way does not come until around 10 or 11pm. Which brings me to latitude: we are at 58 deg North, which is comparable to nowhere south in Australia (Hobart is 42 deg S) and even off the end of New Zealand (Slope Point is only 46 deg S) so we are a long way north of anywhere comparable to  south in Australia. Even further north than Goldie has even been south when we were in Ushuaia, Argentina (54.8 deg S).

 

 

Harris and Lewis: Day 2

July 31

Today we set off to drive ‘the circle’: around the middle of Lewis that takes in the most important sights on the island.

First up the Black House, an original stone and turf roofed house occupied until the 1960s and now pretty much as it was when the occupants left.  These cottages have stone walls to about 1.5 metres high and about ½ metre thick with a pitched roof (rafters of drift wood or broken up boat timbers) which is then covered with peat and straw.

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Basically there are four rooms: the barn for storing potatoes, straw and implements; the cattle room with the cattle tethered to the wall and spending the winter inside (extra heat!); the living area with a peat fire in the centre  of the room and then a second living area with curtained alcoves for a few beds with straw filled mattresses.

When spring comes the end wall of the cattle room is opened, the cattle let out and the winter’s worth of fertiliser taken out to the fields.  The straw roof is also taken off (lots of rotting materials plus the peat smoke) with the straw also spread across the fields as fertiliser.

Inside, a peat fire is alight all the time.  With no chimney, the smoke of the fire just hangs around until it finally finds a way out through the straw roof.  A kettle hangs over the fire and food cooked in open pans.  The room can be wall papered (the one we saw was originally, though no longer) with a bench along the wall and even an extra bed hidden in the corner.

Living area and bed area. Quite small isn’t it!

At the Black House Visitor Centre and shop we met our cottage hostess, Marlene, along with her daughter, who were on duty today.  Later in the day we met her husband, AK, when he delivered fresh cod fillets, which he had caught that day, to us. Living on the island is a closely related family affair. Marlene and AK’s son works in the local store and AK’s father, who lives across the road from the cottage, is a Harris Tweed weaver and sells scarves and table runners from his house.  Oh yes, and two days later we met AK’s sister.  A very friendly place this island.

Next the Whale Bone Arch: speaks for itself.

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We stopped at a home of a weaver: a small sign out the front and drive around the back to a shed where Anne was at work on her loom.  So, the story of Harris Tweed: the wool, obviously from sheep raised on the island, is dyed with natural dyes and, to be called ‘Harris Tweed’, the cloth has to be had woven on the island.

The looms are like many others but of course powered by hand (or indeed foot pedals) with the shuttle whizzing backwards and forwards on each throw. A weaver typically weaves around 30 meters a week: they are supplied with a pattern (which needs to be fed into the machine by way of clips on the side) and the yarn and then left to their own timetable.  Weavers can thus weave during the day while the children / grandchildren are at school, or when the work in the fields is finished or any other time they like.  A great variety of patterns and colours, not all too tweedy, but very distinctly Harris Tweed.

And then Taigh Mor, a broch from at least 100BC and likely occupied until 700AD. It is a round stone building about four stories high with slopping walls on the inside that enclose a wooden living area climbing up through the levels: level 1 the cattle; level 2 the work room; level3 the living / cooking area; and level 4 the sleeping area.  To think that this had been built in BC times and was still standing showed how well it was constructed with each stone fitting in to the next with no mortar, just the quality of construction holding it up.

Next on the circle were Standing Stones of Callanish, a prehistoric site with huge stones in a circle upright on the top of a hill with four more rows radiating out from the centre.  Again, no definite answer as to why they were erected: a temple? A village meeting place? A burial ground? An astronomical site? Or even a beacon over the ocean?

Not to worry, it was fascinating to visit something that was probably built in 2900BC. Equally interesting to me was that, although the stones today are upwards of 3 metres out of the ground, they were only discovered in 1857 when the build-up of peat around them was cleared and the stones clearly seen.

Time for a coffee and cake as it was now starting to rain a bit too heavily for too many more ‘outside’ activities.

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Will we be able to do this at Stonehenge?

A quick drive into Stornoway to see what the town had to offer (not as much as we had hoped) and a run through the supermarket to stock up.  We noticed that we have not seen a green grocer in Scotland: vegies come in pre-packaged containers, as indeed does meat, although we have found butchers in most towns. We do like the off-licence approach where every supermarket, local store and even petrol station sells wine, beer and stronger stuff.

Home to a great fresh cod dinner.