Friday, August 28
Ever since we landed in England I’ve wanted to go for a walk the way the English seem to do. They appear tireless in their pursuit of an outdoor stroll. It’s no surprise, then, to discover Tourist Information offices selling colorful printed maps for their county’s area, which is where I purchased for £2 at set of seven all within an hour’s drive of Amble.
Since we’re where King Oswald of the Northumbria managed to get himself killed and sainted, there’s a walk called St Oswald’s Way; however, that one being 97 miles, I convinced Max on a beautiful Friday morning to take a stroll based on one of the “Short Walks Around St. Oswald’s Way”. At 7.5 miles this one began and ended in at Rothbury, 40 minutes from Amble.
To make a 3-1/2 hour tale short, the first hour was delightful as we walked along a country road and then through a forested path.
Interestingly we saw posted ‘Farm Watch’ signs,
which did wake us up from thinking we were immersed in a storybook countryside complete with a gaggle of geese
and spotted ponies (or, with those sonar tubes maybe donkeys?).
But, we quickly stepped right back into our reverie as we walked in the beautiful, sun-lit day.
That was the first hour. The second hour, not so hot… as we discovered the route was taking us through a ‘rough field’, one full of sheep, their leavings, and really no clearly defined path.
Finally making it through one ‘rough field’ we found we were only in the warm-up of crossing unmarked fields as the third hour found us trying to discern the difference between a sheep hoofing a trail and a human (and Max tends to get lost anytime he loses sight of the ocean).
At this point this Bo Peep was not quite enjoying the scenery or exercise; and, if a lousy, flea-bitten, mutton-chop, baaa’ing, four-footed, cud-chewing creature had crossed my path, I’d be envisioning it laying on a plate with a big branch of rosemary. Good thing they kept their distance.
At last we came to a spot where we gratefully spotted our destination from a hill top and
stepped over our last stile.
Cue the music: once more our heads filled with lyrical tunes as we poetically gazed upon the wind-swept, heather-bedecked moors. Now, this was much more to my liking.
The final thirty minutes was a cinch, especially since it was downhill.
As we peered at luscious, English gardens hidden behind elegant stone walls
and watched some little girls play in the babbling stream,
I thought it wasn’t so bad after all, this walking venture. Matter-of-fact, there just may be another “Short Walks Around St. Oswald’s Way” in our future; but, this time I may carry some rosemary.
Thursday, September 3
Max had read about Melrose being where Robert the Bruce’s heart was buried, and, as you may know, he’s keen on disaster tours. If they include a desiccated body part, all the better (if you’re unlucky, one day I’ll relate the tale of the thumb in Sienna). To be fair, Melrose Abbey played a significant role in Scotland’s medieval history, so even if it was heartless (bad pun), it would still be worth a visit.
We were heading to Edinburgh airport and a stop at Melrose place would only add another twenty minutes of driving; so, it seemed like a no brainer to tour the Abbey, or ruins of the Abbey.
The drive, alone, along country roads was beautiful as we made our way up and down and around fields and through towns. Landing in Melrose I realized, once again, how many quaint settlements there are in Great Britain, and we were fortunate to, once again, find ourselves surrounded by a lovely town.
We made our way to the reception area where the woman asked if we were members of Scottish Trust. We said no, so she charged us the full ticket price. After we had paid Max casually mentioned that since we were based in England, we had joined English Heritage instead. (We had joined last year thanks to some good advice from cruising friends, and the membership has more than paid off due the many sights we have visited.) The cashier immediately said there was an arrangement between English Heritage and Scottish Trust and we get 50% off the admission fee. Hmmm, I think we should have read our membership brochure more carefully.
Out through the ticket office/gift shop we stepped into the imposing ruins of Melrose Abbey, at one time the wealthiest abbey in all of Scotland.
Melrose Abbey actually owes its initial glory to the Scottish King David I, the same guy who got Max’s ancestors up from France and northern England to support his rule. In 1136 he invited a group of Cistercian monks to settle on the border between England and Scotland. The monks, who strictly followed the Benedictine Rule of poverty and manual labor (evidently, more so than the Benedictines themselves) founded this Melrose a mile from where St. Aidan and later St. Cuthbert had established a monastery in the mid-600s. (FYI: Not being very well educated in monkville terms, I finally looked up the difference between an abbey and a monastery: an abbey is a monastery that has evolved from just living a monastic live to actually being part of a religious community, led by either an abba, for monks, or by an abbess, for nuns.)
The white monks, so-called due to their undyed woolen robes, secluded themselves from the outside world, and they were able to do so in large part because of an in-house group of manual laborers or lay brothers. The latter lived alongside the monks but prayed and worked separately, with an emphasis on work. Between being a monk or a lay brother, I think I’d pick being a wooly sheep as I imagine there wasn’t a whole lot of fun going on behind the abbey’s walls. And, I sure as hell wouldn’t be doing this:
The abbey thrived, peaking in the 14th century thanks to ownership of the largest sheep farm in the region and the rise of the wool trade; but, then this community began to decline due to the Bubonic Plague (a diminished labor pool meant lay brothers found higher wages elsewhere), the Scottish Reformation (1525-60 when the firebrand John Knox’s protestant preaching coincided with influential nobles’ interest in weaning themselves from the age-old Scotland-France alliance), and Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries (1536-41). In 1590 the last monk died. Melrose Abbey lingered on but finally ceased to be in 1810.
But, back to the earlier days… Originally starting out with very simple lives and surroundings, the monks eventually became richer and richer thanks to the ‘pay-for-pray’ business (nobles paying for a better afterlife) and those ubiquitous sheep. Consequently, the buildings became more elaborate resulting in some of the best stone masonry work from those times.
We saw evidence in the delicate tracery of some of the windows (horizontal iron bars were only added during the 20th century for additional support)
and the whimsical carving adorning the exterior walls and roofs,
including the famous flying, bagpipe pig.
Not only was the masonry exemplary but also, in some instances, signed by one of the masons who worked on the Abbey around 1400:
We also saw one of the Abbey’s patrons who is possibly related to some friends back home in Virginia Beach:
Unfortunately, the little museum was closed but the audio guide provided plenty of information that helped us follow the history and lifestyle of those who had inhabited these grounds all those years ago.
It was becoming just a bit crowded (a bus must have dropped off a group) as noon approached but the grounds were large enough to accommodate those of us walking around with our ears glued to the audio guide.
Just outside the cathedral’s walls we were directed to a stone marker where the infamous heart resides. The heart had been found in 1921 buried under the floor of the Chapter House, the abbey’s administrative office, and then excavated again in 1998 where a plaque identified it as Robert the Bruce’s; however, it’s equally likely it belonged to one of the abbots or a rich nobleman as the king’s heart probably would have been entombed at the high altar. Since no DNA exists for Robert the Bruce there’s no way to test if it’s his or not. But, it makes for a good story and a nice marker.
Regardless of whose heart is buried at Melrose Abbey, it’s definitely worth touring. Just getting another glimpse of life way back when is fascinating, and, by now, you must realize I’m a history junkie. :)
and AMBLE MARINA itself
Tuesday, August 25, to Sunday, September 6
When we landed with Iain and Sarah last May, We really enjoyed the people and the area; so, we had been looking forward to making a return visit on our way south to our winter port in Ipswich.
Heading into a familiar port means the mental list of questions you may have had prior to your first visit (from ‘how’s the docking?’ to ‘where’s the washing machine?’) are checked off so all that remains is watching weather, winds, tides and ensuring there is a berth.
The 24-hour passage was rough but what a great place to land. It was nice being back and listening very, very carefully to Ben and Mick in conversations conducted in Geordie accents, accents derived from the ancient Germanic and Scandinavian language of the Angles.
Some memories of Amble will be…
The marina folk make you feel truly welcomed, even hoisting the country flags for all visiting boaters.
The place is loved by birds, as well as boaters, as we discovered when waking up to a scene from Hitchcock’s movie THE BIRDS.
And, the tide was truly something to watch. The sill marked by the red-and-white pole at the marina’s entrance (on the left in photo below) kept water in during low tide, keeping the boats inside the sill afloat as if they’re in a bathtub,
while high brought us fairly close to parking-lot height.
One regret was not seeing some Orr’s Island friends, Cindy and Brad, who were in Ireland and later Scotland. Meeting up with folks from home makes our travels that much richer. And, their wanderings will be pretty spectacular considering the connections to Ireland and Scotland.
As we watch for weather, winds, and tides for sailing south we’re getting closer to our winter home, Ipswich; and, just like we had some great sailors heading north to Amble (Iain and Sarah), we’ll have another one aboard (Rudy) heading south to the Orwell River.
Soon we’ll be off pause and on play… after we check weather, winds, and tides… :)