Category Archives: Photography

Why the devil helped to build a church

I was going through some old holiday photos the other day and came across this cheeky little fellow:

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I posted him on my Instagram account, but couldn’t remember much about him, except that I’d snapped him in the northern German town of Lubeck several years ago.  (There’s an umlaut on that ‘u’, by the way, but my WordPress account doesn’t stretch to non-British punctuation. Sigh.)

So I turned to Google for a bit of research, and found this charming post which explains the myth beautifully.

Apparently back in 1250 the townspeople of Lubeck were starting work on their new church, the Marienkirche (St Marys).  The devil saw all the commotion and believed they were building a tavern, so came swooping down to help.  It wasn’t until the building was quite well advanced that he realised he’d been tricked.  Needless to say he was a bit cross, but was prevented from destroying the church when the people promised to build a tavern across the road instead!

The church, the tavern, and a boulder that the devil threatened to destroy the church with, are all still there.  As is this little statue, perched on a stone at the side of the church.  As the author of the blog I quote above says, he may very well be the cutest devil in the world.  He certainly brought a smile to my face.

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Two go exploring in Kendal

Saturday was a day of what’s optimistically described as ‘intermittent showers’, which means it alternates between thick drizzle and bucketing.  We didn’t fancy kicking our heels round the house all day, so buzzed into Kendal with our brollies to do a bit of poking about.

Although the town is only around 10 miles away, and although we pop in and out like the sun on a showery day, we’re usually too busy heading for appointments, or rushing round the shops, to bother exploring.  However, every now and again it’s worth taking the time for a closer look, as this is an ancient and fascinating place.

There was a settlement on the River Kent nearby in Roman times, and the town easily dates from the early Middle Ages.  The market charter dates from 1189, the church is over 800 years old, and the town (often called the ‘auld grey town’ because of its beautiful soft grey limestone walls) still retains its medieval street pattern of high street, market place, and dozens of old ‘yards’.  The latter are a real feature, often opening up into hidden spaces containing old warehouses, cottages, or alms-houses.  And everywhere you look, there’s intriguing details: artwork, old milestones, intriguing signs and plaques, and a plethora of blue, green and brown plaques placed by the local heritage society to mark places of special interest.

This time I deliberately took my camera, and spent a morning (in between showers) happily snapping away.  I took around 30 photos and have barely scratched the surface, so there’s plenty more material for future visits.  Here’s a couple of pictures to give you some idea of the town.  Top is the steep section of Branthwaite Brow; middle is the ‘New’ Shambles!  And the third is the Highgate Hotel, with its wonderful inscription which reads in full ‘To the dwellers in this place God grante peace’.  I’ll be posting more soon, on my Instagram account.

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Two go exploring in Coniston

For the last week or so I’ve had a heavy cold, and been viewing the world from the sofa, and the wrong side of a box of tissues.  Yesterday I finally felt well enough to venture outdoors, so we set off for Coniston, early enough to avoid the summer crowds.  Actually we arrived so early none of the coffee shops were open, so we headed off up the back lanes, to an area we’d never really explored before.  This involved a lane past the Sun Hotel, and then a track which led off past the old farm of Dixon Ground (which apparently dates back to the 1760s) towards Church Beck and the fells.

The whole area was fascinating.  There were old wells, vast stone barns, strange architectural features, a footbridge over the beck that we’d never seen before, and piled everywhere, bits of industrial salvage from chimney pots to digger buckets – possibly, in many cases, left over from the local mining industry.

It made for an enjoyable potter about – and some spectacular photographs.  Sadly my legs were still too jelly-like to do a proper walk, but we’ve bagged and tagged the route for another time and will be seeing if we can use it to get as far as Levers Water and Low Water, the two tarns on the slopes of Coniston Old Man.

By the time we got back down to the village the cafes had opened so we could dart in for a cuppa.  And after that we discovered a huge vintage ‘shop’ (really more of a market) in Coniston village hall, simply bursting with goodies at amazingly sensible prices, and I treated myself to a trio (cup saucer and plate) and a pretty little perfume bottle.

Here are some of the pictures showing the farm itself, various outbuildings, a strange low door with a sign that says ‘Bend or Bump’, and some of the weird industrial bits and bobs.

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Four seasons in a day at Peterhead

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little there – we didn’t get snow and we didn’t get a heatwave.  But we did get pretty much everything else, from flat grey skies to pouring rain, and then when that cleared, sunshine and a gale force wind.

Interestingly, it was quite a choppy trip down from Lerwick overnight but this time the ship behaved itself.  Given that we saw open hatches in the hull during our stop the previous day, we’re thinking the crew took the opportunity to make some fairly hefty mechanical repairs to the ship, the thrusters, the stabilisers, and possibly even the heating/air conditioning, which didn’t seem to have been working properly before that.  Thank heavens for a much more comfortable night’s sailing; what a pity they left it to almost the end of the holiday before fixing things.

Peterhead is a nice old fishing town with impressive docks, some interesting old harbour buildings, and quite possibly the world’s smallest museum!  The ship moored up at an industrial harbour just outside the town, but there was a regular shuttle bus service back and forth to the centre which avoided a two-mile hike.

First stop was a café for coffee; the ship was devoid of decaff so I’d been drinking tea all week and was desperate for a coffee… any coffee…  and very nice it was too.  I felt rather like the old adverts for the Bisto kids.  Aaaah!

By the time we’d emerged again the rain had arrived so we had a quick wander round then headed for the Arbuthnot Museum.  Our cruise literature had mentioned this as being a fascinating, in-depth look at the town’s history, the fishing trade, whaling, and goodness knows what else, so we were expecting something at least the same size as Lerwick.  What a difference!  For starters it was balanced above the town’s library.  Then it turned out to be not much more than one room, with a gallery of paintings to one side.  It was interesting, with some unusual exhibits (pretty Inuit whalebone carvings, a stuffed musk ox…) but it was very, very small and even poring over the displays only took us around fifteen minutes.  So we headed back outdoors again.

By now it wasn’t just pouring, it was absolutely hammering down, with the sort of rain that bounces six inches off the pavements and soaks you to the skin.  And the wind was getting up.  We mooched around some more, explored the main harbour/fishing port area (neatly avoiding two huge seagulls fighting over a dead frog), and then found a Wetherspoons pub where we dripped, squelched, and wrapped ourselves around a chilli nachos platter to share.  And it just shows how poor the food on the ship was when I say that that was easily the best meal we’d had all week.

The rain gradually eased off and the skies brightened, but by now the wind was so strong it was blowing the camera off the level in my hand, so I couldn’t take as many photos as I’d have liked.  We tramped over to the bay on the other side of the spit that Peterhead is situated on, stared at the lashing waves, and then caught the shuttle bus back to the ship to start our packing.

Overall, the cruise was a disappointment, especially given how much we’d paid for it.  Locations, excursions and on-board lectures got a nine out of ten.  The ship, about two.  We’d happily travel with National Trust for Scotland again sometime, but we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled and won’t be setting foot on the MV Berlin.

Pictures this time include a couple of nice statues hidden around the town, and an amusing cake in the local baker’s front window!

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A Wet Friday in Lerwick

A quick bounce down the coast saw us moored up in Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands, on Friday morning.  We grabbed a quick breakfast, donned boots and waterproofs and set off to explore.

The weather wasn’t particularly kind – pouring with rain and blowing what I believe is known as a ‘hoolie’ north of the border.  Amusingly, when we popped into a café to dry out and wrap ourselves round a coffee, a friendly local told us that “at least it wasn’t windy”.  Well, if that’s flat calm, I’d hate to see the place in a gale!  Damp feet and inside-out brollies notwithstanding, we had a really good mooch round the town, discovering some old fishing cottages and warehouses, the Napoleonic fort (later used during both World Wars), and the dry and fascinating haven of the town’s museum.

This was an absolute revelation – quite possibly the best small museum we’ve ever been in.  It told the story of Shetland from its geological beginnings, through early man, and into the modern age of fishing and, eventually, the discovery of oil.  Laid out in a series of rooms with things to look at, listen to, and prod, it was a fascinating journey both literally and figuratively, with some memorable exhibits: the reconstructed face of a Stone Age woman which looked startlingly modern; another reconstruction of an 18th or 19th century crofter’s house which didn’t seem to have changed much from the days of Skara Brae on Orkney.  And after a nice lunch (in the next-door arts centre, since the museum restaurant was bursting at the seams) we returned to explore the boat sheds, where experts are currently conserving one of the lifeboats from HMS Oceanic, one of the White Star line ships (think Titanic).

All in all Lerwick seems like a lovely little town and we really enjoyed poking about, and would love to come back some day for a slightly longer call.  Of course, the minute our ship set sail the rain stopped, the clouds rolled away, and the sun came out – but at least that gave us a taste of what the place could look like on a decent day.

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Thursday: Discovering Fetlar

Things gradually calmed down overnight after our exciting trip to St Kilda, as we chugged steadily north-westwards for our first ever visit to the Shetland islands.  The heavy swell still had the last word, though, as we were three hours late getting to our destination: the small, northern Shetland island of Fetlar.

This was a real shame as we’d been looking forward to exploring the place, which is known for wildlife and beautiful scenery.  What should have been a pleasant afternoon tramping around the coast turned into a two-hour zoom with a good deal of clock-watching to make sure we got back to the ship in time for dinner.

Even so, we managed a walk along the Urie coastal path: three miles of fields, stiles, beach, and bog with amazing views, ancient stone burial sites, and a whole ruined village thrown in for good measure.  It was lovely just marching along in such an unspoilt place, watching for signs of otters and seals (several of the latter lazing around on a small islet just off Urie loch; no sign of the former apart from lots of dismembered shellfish littering the shore) and listening to a host of unfamiliar bird calls.  One of these, a low hooting cry that seemed to spring up out of the ground itself, turned out to be a short-eared owl – something I’d never come across before.

The footpath was described in local leaflets as ‘challenging’, but was actually quite a gentle affair with a few complicated stiles and one brief, stiff climb that brought us out at the top of a small hill next to a heap of dead sheep.  Moving swiftly on, we found our way back to the harbour road all too soon, with a feeling that we’d barely scratched the surface of this very special place.

The seals were too far out to get good photos but here’s a taster of the landscape, and evidence of some surprisingly artistic otters:

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Cruising Orkney, Shetland & St Kilda

We set off last Sunday on a week’s cruise courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) around the islands of northern Scotland: Orkney, Shetland and St Kilda.  This was a bit of a dream for both of us since we’d never been to Orkney or Shetland before and were really looking forward to it.  Sadly, although all the places we visited were amazing, the ship was a major letdown in all sorts of ways.

Obviously, the NTS don’t run a fleet of cruise liners themselves, so when they want to organise their once- or twice-yearly cruises they charter a ship from somebody else.  Four years ago we did another trip with them, to the Western Isles, and they borrowed a boat from Saga for the week.  This worked really well.  The ship was small enough to be intimate (and to get into some otherwise unreachable ports), and the Scottish captain and crew knew the waters like their own high streets and were able to improvise when necessary.

This time, we were on a ship called the MV Berlin, owned by a German outfit called FTI Cruises and staffed by a motley crew from a dizzying array of countries.  We’d never heard of them before, but bolstered by previous NTS experience, were perfectly happy to give it a go.  Bad move!  The first inkling that everything might not be perfect came when we saw our cabin – small, drab, and so lacking in storage that I lived out of a holdall all week.  Then the food at dinner was unappetising.  Of course, those are only niggles (although, at the price we’d paid for the holiday, expensive niggles), but worse was to come when the ship had to be lugged out of Leith harbour backwards by not one but two tugs – one yanking, the other shoving.  This didn’t bode well for the state of the ship’s thrusters, and other equally important bits of equipment proved not to be working later on, as you will see!

It got worse.  The crew seemed to be either inexperienced or poorly trained and didn’t function well as a team, whilst the captain made some decisions that could only be described as bizarre, like taking the ship through the Pentland Firth (a notorious strip of water between Orkney and the northern tip of Scotland) in a force eight gale without working stabilisers, and allowing passengers ashore on St Kilda without checking the local tide timetables first.  Both of those had Serious Consequences; more details in the next few days…

In the end we’ve seen some wonderful places that we wouldn’t otherwise have managed to get to, so from that point of view the trip was a success.  Hoy and Skara Brae in Orkney; Fetlar and Lerwick in Shetland; and the fishing port of Peterhead on the Scottish mainland were all fascinating in very different ways, with archaeology, museums, shops, scenery, and coastal walks that we absolutely loved.  We took hundreds of photos, and have made a mental note to go back to both Kirkwall and Lerwick again in the not-to-distant future, perhaps even with the NTS.

We won’t, however, be setting foot on the MV Berlin again!

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