Exploring History in the Scottish Borders Published


Exploring History book cover

At last!  The final stages took far longer than I anticipated, but my new book, Exploring History in the Scottish Borders, is now available on Amazon.

The Scottish border area is steeped in history. This is the crossroads between the north and south of Britain and the often fraught relationship between England and Scotland has left its mark.  Centuries of war and bloodshed didn’t produce Robin Hood characters, it produced a tough and often violent people, the border reivers.  In the 16th century the Scottish borderland made the American Wild West of the 19th century look like a kindergarten.

Illustrated by many full color photographs, “Exploring History in the Scottish Borders” provides an overview of the history of this turbulent area. The Borders’ past has left a legacy of splendid castles, beautiful ruined abbeys, and a depth of history few other areas can match. This book tells the story of the of the English/Scottish borderland from the time of the Romans, through the Scottish wars of independence, the turbulent 16th century and Henry VIII’s “rough wooing”, up until the reopening of part of the Waverley Line by Queen Elizabeth in 2015.

But after centuries of conflict what was once the most violent part of the UK is now one of the most peaceful. It is a great place to visit – for many visitors it has more to offer than the nearby Lake District. Like the Lake District the Borders has beautiful countryside and strong literary connections, but the Borders also has a depth of history that the Lakes just cannot rival. It is also much less crowded and commercialized.

If your family comes from the Borders, or you are interested in Scottish history, you will want to read this book.

Available now from Amazon in paperback and kindle format.  29,000 words and 33 original photographs.  The book will also shortly become available from bookshops.


A Hidden Door to the Pharaohs? And Some Exciting Personal News

We may be on the brink of the most exciting archaeological find of the decade, possibly the 21st century.  Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist who is based at the University of Arizona, has studied some very high definition photographs taken by Factum Arte, a Madrid and Bologna based organisation which works with museums and galleries to record and reproduce museum collections.

Factum Arte recently build a facsimile of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Luxor, sited about a mile away from the original, which tourists can visit without endangering the actual tomb.  To plan this, they took extremely detailed photos and scans of the original.  By carefully examining the photos of the walls for indentations and cracks, Reeves believes he has identified two sealed doorways leading from the tomb.

Reeves speculates that the doorways could lead to the tomb of Tutankhamun’s step-mother, queen Nefertiti, one of the few major figures whose tomb hasn’t yet been identified.  Initial confirmation that there is a sealed tomb or at least an area leading off Tutankhamun’s tomb could be obtained by carrying out a radar scan.  This would not damage the existing tomb.

It is wait and see.

And My Exciting News?

A project I have been working on for 18 months now is nearing completion.  I have carried out a detailed study of Scottish Border’s history, and visited and photographed the key sites.  I will be publishing the result as an Amazon Kindle book in September.  Normally I want to post once a week, but to allow me to concentrate on this project for the next few weeks I may not post again until the book is published.

The Faroes

Torshavn, capital of the Faroes
The first stop on our islands’ cruise was the Faroes, a small archipelago 200 miles (320 kilometres) north west of mainland Scotland, and 200 miles south east of Iceland.  The first people to live on the island are believed to have been Irish monks from about 400 A.D., but by about 800 they were replaced by Norsemen (or Vikings as we know them).  Archeological digs were underway when we visited to try to learn more about the history of the islands. 

The Faroes, like Greenland and Iceland, became a Danish possession.  In 1948 the Faroes were granted substantial autonomy, although Denmark still remains responsible for defence, foreign affairs, legal matters and currency.  The population is 49,000, with about 20,000 living in or around the capital, Torshavn (in English Thor’s Harbour).  The other 29,000 are spread over the 540 square mile archipelago of volcanic islands.

During our visit the weather was overcast (a very common experience in the Faroes!).  In the morning we took an organised tour to the Vestmanna sea cliffs, and in the afternoon we spent several hours walking round Torshavn.
Some of the Vestmanna sea cliffs
We took the tourist excursion to the fishing village of Vestmanna, on the west of Streymoy, the Faroes’ main island.  We left our bus and boarded a sightseeing boat with about 40 other tourists.  The cliffs rise to about 600 metres above the sea, and are peppered with grottos and caves, with sea stacks just off shore.  The scenery was spectacular, but unfortunately there seemed to be something of a scarcity of birdlife, or I missed the best shots.
A sea stack off the Vestmanna cliffs
It was an interesting experience to try to take photos from the boat though, and I soon discovered the disadvantages of a DSLR.  Several times I was wrong-footed in my choice of lens as the boat weaved in and out of the grottos and around sea stacks.  When a wide angle would have been useful to record the view on entering a grotto in the cliffs I had my telephoto lens mounted.  On other occasions when I needed a telephoto to record birdlife at a distance I had my wide angle on.  Also I was concerned that when changing lenses in the mist and spray I would get water in the camera.  I wished I had a good quality bridge camera like a Panasonic FZ1000 or Olympus Stylus 1s, which would have allowed me to cover a range of distances without changing lenses.

The guide told us that, in his words, it was a sport to climb and put lambs on some of the larger sea stacks in the spring, and to collect them fattened in the autumn!

In the afternoon we walked round Torshavn.  There were plenty of coffee shops!  In many ways it reminded me of Norway.  Some of the older buildings in Torshavn and during our bus journey to Vestmanna had grass covered roofs.  Apparently rather than cutting the grass (difficult in view of the slope) the owners put a lamb on the roof!
The Tinganes peninsula in Torshavn, site of the first Viking parliament

Tour of Scottish Islands and the Faroes

July 2015
Our tour should have started in Edinburgh’s port of Leith, but our cruise liner, the Marco Polo, was a little behind schedule, and so the tide at Leith was too low for the liner to berth.  Therefore we were bused from Leith to Rosyth, further inland and on the north bank of the Firth of Forth, but a deeper port. In fact, a large part of the British Fleet was based there during the First World War.   
Our change of port was a blessing in disguise, because it meant that we sailed out from Rosyth on Sunday the 5th July, under the Forth Rail Bridge on the day it was confirmed as Scotland’s sixth World Heritage Site by Unesco.  The other five are St. Kilda, Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, New Lanark(a mill town), and the Antonine Wall (built by the Romans further north than Hadrian’s Wall, but the belligerent Scots soon forced them to abandon it and withdraw to Hadrian’s Wall).  

The Forth Rail Bridge

The Forth Rail Bridge was built from 1882 to 1890.  It is a triumph of Victorian engineering.  In 1879, only 18 months after it opened, the Tay Rail Bridge over the River Tay estuary in Scotland had collapsed during a severe storm.  A train fell into the river and about 75 lives were lost (not all the bodies were found so numbers can only be estimated).  At that time building had started on the Forth Railway Bridge to the same design as the Tay bridge, but this was soon shelved. A complete redesign was necessary – it was essential that the Forth Rail Bridge was designed and built to a much higher standard.  It had to be indestructible.  Even so the Victorian designers went for a novel design, a steel cantilever bridge.  At 2.53 kilometres long it held the record as the longest bridge in the world for 27 years, and quickly became a Scottish icon.
In 1964 the Forth Road Bridge, at the time the forth longest suspension bridge in the world, was opened to replace the existing car and pedestrian ferry service.  Unfortunately by the early 2000s  it was discovered that the bridge was showing signs of corrosion, and the decision was taken to build a second  bridge.  The road bridge over the forth is a vital transport artery, and it was unclear how quickly the corrosion in the first bridge would progress.  The new bridge will open in 2016, and operate in conjunction with the existing bridge, which is being closely monitored.

A pier of the new road bridge under construction, with the 1964 road bridge and the 1890 rail bridge in the background

 An 1890 bridge is in near perfect condition, and a 1964 bridge showing major signs of corrosion.  What a compliment to those original Victorian designers and builders of the railway bridge!

What is The Heritage Photographer blog?

What is The Heritage Photographer blog?

This blog records my visits to places of historical interest, illustrated where appropriate by photographs.  Many of the topics covered will relate to Scotland, but the South of England where I now live, and in fact anywhere in the world I travel too, will also be covered.

In the future I wish to post at least twice a month, on the first and third Friday.  However, if other things get in the way and this isn’t possible, I commit to posting as a minimum once a month.

Please enjoy, and comment if you want.  It would be great if we could form a community of people with similar interests, and get a discussion going on some topics.

Lastly, an apology.  I am neither a trained historian or a photographer.  However, I am deeply interested in both, and am trying to increase my knowledge and skills. So please keep reading this blog – it will get better!

Brief Biographical Details

I am a retired accountant, an expatriate Scot, living in Hampshire, England.  Although not living in Scotland, I often holiday and visit family there.

My other recent published work is “A Novice Trekker in Nepal”, available from Amazon as a paperback and an e-book.  This is both a travelogue for armchair travellers and a guide for people planning a first trek in Nepal.  It tells it “how it is” for the first time trekker.

Threave Castle – The Mighty Border Stronghold of the Black Douglases

Threave Castle

Threave castle was a mighty Douglas stronghold, built on an island in the middle of the River Dee and close to the town of Castle Douglas.  The island was accessible by a ferry or by a hidden causeway just below the surface of the river.  The island has probably been used as a defensive stronghold from the year dot, but the tower that dominates it today was built for Archibald Douglas, the lord of Galloway, in the late 1300s.  At the time Douglas needed a strong castle because of the danger of attack from his two main enemies.  Those were the Gallovidians (the inhabitants of Galloway), notionally Douglas’s subjects but a wild and lawless people, and the English.
At its peak, the island on which the castle stands would also have had a whole range of buildings for retainers, and workshops for craftsmen providing services to support their Lord’s household.
Threave – The low wall in front of the Tower 
is the remains of the artillery wall.

 The castle had several layers of defence.  The River Dee itself provided a major hurdle for attackers – in the middle ages it would have been far wider than today’s channelled river, and many of the fields on its banks would have been marshland.  Secondly, there was a ditch around the tower.  Thirdly in about 1447, (the date was confirmed by tree-ring dating of timber gateposts and coin finds), a low level artillery wall was built round the tower-house, to provide protection from the increasing threat of an enemy’s artillery.  This state of the art defence included three towers where the defenders could mount their artillery.  And finally, the immensely strong tower-house itself.

King James II, having grown concerned about the Black Douglases increasing wealth and power, decided to bring them to heal. He murdered the earl of Douglas at Stirling Castle in 1452.    The Black Douglases’ power came to the end in 1455, when King James set about systematically destroying the Douglas castles, Threave being the last on his list.  When Douglas himself was abroad in France the castle withstood a siege of two months, and only capitulated when the garrison was bribed by the king.  King James, like kings do, then took ownership of the castle.
In the 1500s the castle was acquired by the Maxwells.  This was ultimately to lead to its downfall.  The Maxwells remained Catholic for far longer than it was politically expedient in Scotland to be Catholic.  Therefore a similar fate befell Threave as befell the Maxwell’s other great castle of Caerlaverock.  In 1640 the Covenanters attacked and badly damaged it.
Today it is an impressive ruin, under the care of Historic Scotland, which operates a ferry to the island for visitors.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle


Carlisle on the west and Berwick on the east coast were the two main military fortifications on the English side of the Borders in the 16thcentury.  Carlisle, just 10 miles from the Scottish border, was a walled city with a massive and strong castle.  The castle still stands, and some of the walls still exist.  However the castle lacks the romantic look of castles such as Norham or Caerlaverock; Carlisle Castle is built for business, not for decoration, and that business is war.   The city walls connected to the castle, creating a strong defensive system, with the castle the place of last resort.  The castle is on the north edge of the old town and on slightly higher ground than the town.
Carlisle has been an important military centre since the time of the Romans, and probably before that.  Positioned at the meeting point of three rivers, the main west coast road to Scotland, and the road from the west across the north of England to Newcastle, it is in a strategic position.
Carlisle and much of northern England was for many years disputed territory between the English and Scots. In 1066, when William the Conqueror won his victory at the Battle of Hastings, Cumberland and Carlisle were controlled by a chief who is likely to have considered himself a vassal of the King of Scots.  So Carlisle is not recorded in the Domesday Book – it wasn’t part of England at the time.  However, in 1092 William the Conqueror’s son Rufus invaded the area and annexed Cumberland, including Carlisle, for England.  The Normans were great castle builders, and therefore he immediately began building a wooden castle. 
The castle was rebuilt in stone in 1112.  The castle has been added to over the centuries and now consists of a large outer ward protected by walls and a strong gatehouse. Once in the outer ward, there is a further gatehouse, called the Captains Tower, which controls access to the inner ward, the centre of the castle.  In front and below the Captain’s Tower is the Half Moon battery, a semi-circular artillery fortification, build in the 1540s to provide additional firepower to control access to inner ward. 

The Captain’s Tower with the Half Moon Battery below. 

In more recent times the ground level in the outer ward was raised to create a parade ground.  Before that was done the Half Moon battery’s field of fire allowed it to control the outer ward, and would have turned it into a killing zone if invaders had breeched the outer ward’s walls.   At one time there was an inner moat and drawbridge, in front of the Captain’s Tower and Half Moon battery, assisting in protecting access to the castle’s inner ward.  Within the inner ward is the castle’s keep, the centre of the castle and its last redoubt.

The Scots retook Carlisle and controlled it from 1135 until they withdrew in 1157 because they recognised they were up against overpowering English force.  The Scots captured the castle again for a short time in 1216.  However ninety nine years later in 1315, a year after the Scots major victory at Bannockburn, even Robert the Bruce was unable to capture the castle in an eleven day assault.
  Around 1541, because of increased concern about an attack from the Scots in alliance with France, the castle’s and town’s defences were modernised on the orders of Henry VIII.  This involved strengthening some walls to withstand artillery bombardment and to enable them to carry defensive heavy guns.  At the same time the keep was lowered and its roof strengthened to take heavy guns, and the Half-Moon gun battery was built in the outer ward.
During the time of the border reivers, the castle was the centre of power in the English West March, and used as a prison for Border reivers.  Another famous prisoner was Mary Queen of Scots, who fled to England in May 1567 following what was effectively a civil war with her Protestant subjects.  She was held in the castle for several weeks after landing in England following a journey across the Solway Firth.
The castle’s last hurrah was in 1745, during the Jacobite rebellion.  Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army made its way into England via Carlisle, and the town and castle surrendered to them.  When the Jacobites retreated via Carlisle, they left a garrison of 400 men to delay the English army’s pursuit.  However the castle, which was designed to resist attacks made with the military hardware of the 1500s, proved no match for the artillery available in the 1700s, and after a few days bombardment it surrendered.
The castle we see now was remodelled a little in the 1820s as a military barracks, but very extensive amounts of the earlier castle remain.  It is now under the protection of English Heritage.

 Whilst in Carlisle it is worth visiting the Cathedral, England’s second smallest cathedral.  The cathedral has a long history going back to the 1100s, and is situated in the cathedral precinct which has an attractive gatehouse, and a building called the Fratry, which was the dining hall for the monks, and is now partly used as a restaurant. 


Carlisle Cathedral and stain glass window.