Monday, 21 December 2009

Snowy Steamy Santa Salutations!

A very snowy Sunday (i.e. yesterday) we decided to risk a drive up to the highest market town in the UK (i.e. Alston). Normally a thirty minute drive from where we are.

We were advised to go via Haydon Bridge and then up through Whitfield.

Northumberland County Council (just turned into one unitary council) is counting its pennies (our old Tynedale Council had a £20m surplus). Roads are now not being gritted...and this one across the moors is high, windy and can be dicey....

We saw a Land Rover on its back in a ditch beside the road upended. It did look sad, lost and abandoned.

We got there in the end....and we were some of the last people in 2009 to have a ride on the steam train up at Alston on the South Tynedale railway. (Northern Britain's highest narrow gauge railway...)

In one of the can see a snowstorm up on the moor closing in...

A view from the car of Alston. The railway is manned entirely by volunteers. When we arrived at 1.40p.m. little did we know that we would catch the last train journey (to see Santa) for 2009!

A view of the fields from the Buffet car...complete with tinsel!

A lovely shot looking up at fields which contain the buried Roman fort of Whitley Castle (known as Epiacum in Roman times). It is thought that the Romans built the fort on the Maiden Way so that they could quarry the local mines for lead and silver. The Romans dreamt that Britannia contained untold mineral riches and in the main they were right...

And again with a little more sun...

The train stops at Kirkhaugh where they turn the locomotive around. It is a short train ride of about 45 minutes all told. We all get out at Kirkhaugh and realise how cold it is outside the train...but oh, how snowy, festive, wintry and breathtakingly beautiful....! We feel honoured to be there and to be able to experience it all.

The loco "Helen Kathryn" is reversed back on to the "front" of the train.

We're back at Alston station and the platform is deserted. The next train ride was cancelled due to severe weather conditions and because the staff had to get home before the darkness and ice slithered in.....

Santa's grotto is in the engine sheds. They also have a German model railway complete with a little Santa Claus driving the train.

Who's been good this year?
Will Santa get stuck up a chimney?

The elves have been busy...

Here's Santa waving to everyone and wreathed in steam, soot and snow...

Wishing everyone once again a very merry Christmas! A very special Christmas salutation to all my regular readers/bloggers. I'm hoping to visit everyone's blog over the coming weeks.
May 2010 bring us all lots of laughter, joy and fun!!!
Merry Christmas in the best tradition of Slade....altogether now....." it is...Merry Christmas...everybody's having fun. Look to the future's only just BEGGGGUUUNNNNNUNNNNNNNNUNNNNNNNNNNNNN!"

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas Greetings from the Wall

Yesterday I spent a very pleasant day at The Great North Museum in Newcastle with two fellow Hadrian's Wall volunteers. One of them will also be guiding at The Great North Museum soon so she gave us a mini guided tour. (By the way, the volunteer-led tours at Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum were runners up in the Tynedale Awards 2009 Tourism category. Hurrah! You can find more details of that in the "Latest Roman News" on the sidebar.)

The Great North Museum (formerly The Hancock Museum) was opened this summer to massive crowds. The Roman artefacts used to be housed in The Museum of Antiquities. (I am quite sad that I never got to see that museum...much as the GNM is instructive..I have the impression that there were many more Roman artefacts on display at TMofA.)

Above is a section of Hadrian's Wall as it once would have been. The animated picture (there - not here!) shows the rain falling on it and the initials of the soldiers (legionaries and sailors) who built the Wall.

There are various altars there which were taken from sites along the Wall. (This all happened years and years ago when various antiquaries were exploring it. They either found or unearthed Roman objects (including altars). They were then collected and usually put into private collections - eventually they all found their way to museums such as this one.)

We found a piece of technology which listed all the different Roman inscriptions and gave the English translations. The Latin inscriptions are also read out by a speaker at the touch of a button. I gave an impromptu Latin lesson.

Each dedication on an altar ends with
(more often than not)

V.S.L.M. which is an abbreviation for:

votum solvit libens merito "Willingly and deservedly in fulfillment of a vow" (Another place to see some magnificent altars is over at The Senhouse Museum in Maryport.)

To the left is a cross section of a turret on the Wall. It reminds me of a nativity scene to some extent!

We were surprised to see the signs of the zodiac (as below) around Mithras (the Eastern God to whom all the soldiers prayed and worshipped) appearing out of a cosmic egg. This link here explains why these zodiac signs are linked to Mithras.

Here is the building stone and inscription (from Milecastle 38) which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the Emperor Hadrian who gave orders to build the Wall. (Until it was had been disputed as to which Emperor had built it.)
IMP[eratori] CAES[ari] TRAIAN[i]HADRIANI AVG[vsti]LEG[io] SECVNDA AVG[vsta] (fecit)A[vli] PLATORIO NEPOTE LEG[atvs] PR[o] PR[aetore]

To the emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus,the Second Legion Augusta (built this)for Aulus Platorius Nepos, his pro-praetorian Legate

In my last post I talked about Knarsdale and St. Jude's Church.

Here are the photos of the surrounding countryside plus the cosy and welcoming Kirkstyle Inn.

The end of the Christmas Fayre at St.Jude's Church. You can see Santa lurking. You can also just catch a glimpse of some very delicious sandwiches, cakes, mince pies and more besides! The Christingle Service followed...

Graveyards (this one is at St.Jude's) and churchyards, such as these, always remind me of that gripping, grim, seminal scene between Pip and Magwitch in "Great Expectations".
"The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down, and emptied my pockets. There was nothing in them but a piece of bread. When the church came to itself - for he was so sudden and strong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet - when the church came to itself, I say, I was seated on a high tombstone, trembling, while he ate the bread ravenously."
I also remember that grisly encounter as being misty (probably from David Lean's 1946 film of the same book) and so there have been a great deal of chilly, foggy nights up here of late. Thus this Christmas has a potent Dickensian feel to it...

And to finish...
I would like to wish everyone an extremely festive Christmas and a peaceful New Year 2010! (You can see that Santa is already hard at work practising the handing out of all those pressies...) May 2010 bring you many joyful things .....!
"He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk. And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!"
"He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"