Posted in Cumbria, History, Local stuff, Monday Mystery

Two walk by the river

It’s a Bank Holiday here in England and we thought the traffic in the Lake District might be horrendous, so we went the opposite direction and ended up in Kendal. Rather than just mooching round the shops, we headed for the river and had a lovely walk all the way from Abbot Hall park to Gooseholme park and back over Miller Bridge.

This whole area of the town is absolutely stuffed with history. Walls and buildings are festooned with heritage plaques and there’s always something new to see, even in roads we’ve walked along many times before. Today we spotted the impressive Victorian frontage of Tower Building (?) on Stramongate with gables, a turret, some fun ornamental windows and a coaching arch, most of which are hidden from view if you’re walking along the same side of the road.

And on the way back to the car we spotted these cute little mice carved into a paving stone. It’s something of a visual pun so I’ve turned it into a #MondayMystery and you can find the answer, and some more information, over at my Instagram account. Squeak!

Posted in History, News

A Roman joke?

This little fellow (picture above, from the Guardian) was discovered at Vindolanda Roman fort, on Hadrian’s Wall, amongst a collection of discarded leather offcuts. Unlike the other bits and bobs, it was deliberately styled as a mouse – something the experts believe is quite unusual. Roman Britain would have been over-run with mice and they would probably have been seen as utter pests, getting into the granaries and chewing through the grain. So why make a model of one?

The article about the discovery, also from the Guardian, mentions two possibilities. Either it was a toy made for some wealthy Roman child to play with. Or it was a practical joke – something to leave lying about in a dark corner ready for one of the servants to find, perhaps, and shriek the place down. Which says something about the Roman sense of humour if it’s true!

There is also a third possibility – it could have been a votive offering to be left at the household altar, to appease the gods into warding off a destructive plague of mice. The Romans were very down-to-earth and often made votive models of parts of their body afflicted by illness, for very much the same reason. We saw a big collection of them in the Wellcome Galleries at the Science Museum in London a few years ago, with everything from heads to single toes.

We’ll probably never know what this particular mouse was for, but it must have been a lovely discovery for the Vindolanda museum staff to make in amongst all the scraps.

Posted in History, paranormal

A bunker full of ghosts?

A friend pointed me in the direction of a wonderful resource yesterday – this list of the 100 most haunted places in the UK. Unusually, it isn’t just a standard list of haunted houses but has been researched with each entry ranked (in reverse order) according to the number of sightings and how long they’ve been going on for. I’ve only scratched the surface so far, but I was intrigued to see the entry at number 93 – Hack Green ‘secret’ nuclear bunker in Cheshire.

Dave and I visited the bunker on the way back from a weekend away last year. It was an unsettling experience. Formerly a World War II air base and then part of the anti-nuclear defences during the Cold War, it now houses a large, fascinating (if you like that sort of thing) and staggeringly well-stocked museum on the site’s history, and nuclear warfare in general.

Fair enough the subject matter alone would make anyone uneasy, with references to the effects of radiation on the human body, how survivors of a nuclear blast would have had to live, and surprisingly graphic pictures of the H-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fact that most of the building is underground, dank and poorly lit adds to the overall impact. But from the moment I entered I was deeply uncomfortable, and I’m not sure it was just because I was upset about the displays. There was a really strange, oppressive atmosphere throughout the building which left me feeling ‘haunted’, even though I didn’t see any ghosts. It’s interesting that the article mentions a “general feeling of unease”. I thought it was just me, but apparently not!

Luckily, there were mice. Not real, scurrying mice, but small fuzzy, stuffed and knitted Secret Spy Mice, placed around the exhibits in a trail designed to appeal to children who might otherwise have been distressed by the displays. And let me tell you, those mice saved my life! In every room we came to, I zoned out and simply concentrated on spotting all the mice. Without that, I think I’d have had to turn around and run. As it was, we didn’t stay for lunch, and I was pretty glad to get back out into the fresh air outdoors.

Don’t let me put you off. It’s a brilliant place to visit for anyone interested in the Cold War, the history of the RAF, nuclear warfare – or, presumably, ghosts. But I don’t think I’ll be venturing back…

Photo nicked from the museum’s own, excellent, website.