Friday, 15 July 2011

Sweet Seventeen at Senhouse

2011 Maryport dig

Professor Ian Haynes, Head of Newcastle Archaeological Dept., explaining the 2011 dig to us

Roman trench directly seen behind the barrier

Fabulous views across the Solway

Site Director, Tony Wilmott, (English Heritage) on site in distance

Views across the Solway to Scotland

Roof of Senhouse Museum (built as a 'silent' battery)

Diggers walking across to 2011 dig

Joseph Robinson (second left) - who found a Roman temple (Mithraeum?) at Maryport

Photo of Ravenglass Bathhouse - with surviving walls

Important Altar (a part of which was found recently on the dig)
Jane Laskey, Curator of Senhouse Museum, shown holding a bit of this altar which she found in this dig - here (super photo!!!)

The only known dedication stone found in Britain to Capitoline Jupiter - has great significance
in that it is believed that there was a Capitoline Jupiter temple in Maryport. Did every town/city have one?

The mysterious Serpent Stone (which had been a Roman altar)

Horned Naked Warrior God - with a spear and rectangular shield - linked to Brigantian Northern British Tribe

Nearby Beckfoot Roman Cemetery is being excavated as part of a rescue dig - due to coastal erosion - These series of placards describes how the Romans approached and dealt with death...

A rather blurry photo of the Maryport fort and vicus - Roman village
The day before yesterday I took another trip across to Maryport (some beautiful photos in the Maryport link) to the Senhouse Museum. The day was arranged courtesy of Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd. as part of their annual Know Your Hadrian's Wall Country Programme.

I've written about Senhouse and Maryport before (when I last visited 3 years ago) here, here, here and here.

Maryport  (Roman name: Alauna - possible meaning "shining/brilliant" relating to the river) is not on Hadrian's Wall per see but forms part of the Cumbrian complex coastal frontier set up by the Romans from Bowness on Solway (the Cumbrian end of Hadrian's Wall) down to Maryport - about 26 miles of coastal defences: It's a much overlooked part which I, myself, would like to investigate and know more about. Maryport was also linked by road to Papcastle and Carlisle, and by sea to Chester, the Roman's legionary base in North West England. At Maryport there is the Senhouse Museum which houses the Netherhall Collection.

There is an incredible amount to tell you about and I don't have the time (or enough space) to tell you everything so I will provide you with the relevant links:
Senhouse Museum (which includes Tony Wilmott's archaeological blog on the Maryport digs and latest news)
and further 2011 blog info here
Plans for Development at Maryport/Senhouse Museum
Further info on multimillion development plans
Current Archaeological Digs at Maryport
Archaeological Dig 2011 Programme of Events

Quote from one of the above links: 'Among those who campaigned for the Maryport Scheme is Jane Laskey, manager of Maryport’s Senhouse Museum, which is situated in front of the fort site.
She said: “Hadrian’s Wall was only part of the frontier. The fort at Maryport was designed to stop people nipping round the wall from the Scottish side.
“The whole process of discovery here in Maryport will be an exciting process. Fortunately, the fort site hasn’t been built on."'

The Collection takes its name from Netherhall, the Maryport home of the Senhouse family, now in ruins (the ruins can be seen in the first link in this blog for Maryport). During the reign of Elizabeth I, John Senhouse began to collect inscribed stones which he found on his land. Further generations of Senhouses added to the collection, and in August 1870, 17 Roman altars were found, apparently deliberately buried  (?)* by the Romans some time in the late second or third century AD in pits north of the fort. Maryport, in Roman times would have been an extremely cosmopolitan place - due to its sea links (as would have been South Shields, Arbeia, my home town!)....

This collection is famous all around the world and a lot of scholars have paid a great amount of attention to it. The Victorian excavators, led by Humphrey Senhouse, found 57 pits - 9 of which contained altars. The conclusion by these excavators and Wennan in the 1930's was that the Roman altars were dedicated by the Roman Military and ritually buried on an annual basis.

The day we were there it was baking hot. In fact there had been little rain there for the last five/six weeks. When I left at the end of the day the temperature in my car registered 30 degrees! We were shown around the museum by Professor Haynes, Head of Newcastle's Archaeological Department (& Project Director) and the dig itself. Tony Wilmott (English Heritage), Site Director, spoke to us at the end of the tour of the dig and Jane Laskey, the Museum Curator, spoke to us about the history of the museum.

* Both Professor Haynes and Tony Wilmott explained that the dig was testing the "annual dedication and ritual burying" theory of the Victorian excavators (as this was the first time since the time of the Victorian excavators that that particular area had been re-examined). On the whole, from the evidence of the dig so far, they were tending to disagree with that theory believing instead that the altar stones had been re-used by the Romans and had been used as foundation stones for (an) impressive timber building(s) - possibly a temple? Very little domestic pottery had been found on the site so far so the exact purpose of the building has yet to be ascertained. It was built on the highest part of the ground at Maryport so it is possible that it may have been built on something which had had great significance...Could it be a conspicuous monument onto which the Romans had built? Again they emphasized that these were purely speculative theories...further digs at Maryport may reveal more information.

ITV Border Programme yesterday evening's (Monday 18th July) feature the dig and Professor Haynes talks about the pits, altars and possible building: (segment is at 11.22 - 13.37) here

All in all fascinating stuff. I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Senhouse Museum to see this marvellous collection of Roman altars and other stones. It is small and very compact but all the more delightful for it. The dig will be backfilled at the end of this season. (If you can - go and hear the talks there tomorrow night...they will be well worth it!)
N.B.: Just been over to Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd.'s offices today (Monday 18th July) and we were given another update on what is happening over there. A new state of the art museum (as per article above on planned redevelopment) is planned at Camp Farm (on the same site) with a special residential block for the archaeologists. (We saw the graphics and it does look marvellous!) Annual excavations are planned for each year and volunteers will be invited to join the digs. The site (in its new form) will look truly amazing. As there has been very little excavation there since the Victorian period - there is potentially lots to be found. They are hoping that they can get started with the whole project soon once it gets past the planning stage. Let's hope it does go ahead (they've got half the funding in place for the whole project already) it'll be another great boost for the region...especially Maryport. :)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

"For richer, for poorer, for better, for worse..."

I dedicate this blog post to my wonderful and very much loved husband, Nigel. (Just so that you know....he’s the big bearded one by the way. Many thanks also to Phil, IdahoDad, and his family for the top photo who all stayed with us recently.)

Today is our tenth wedding anniversary. We have been together for eleven marvellous years now.  Hurrah! euge! Nigel hates being talked about (and much less written about) but on this occasion he is just going to have to lump it...(!)

I’ve written other posts before about how we met through our mutual love of scuba diving at his dive centre, Easy Divers, in Hurghada, Red Sea, Egypt. If you want to know more about all of that please click here.

I’ve also recounted how I left my City banking days behind me to go and live in Egypt with him.
 The funny thing was that I felt as if I had known him forever when I first met him when I went out diving with Clidive (our London scuba diving club) back in May/June 2000. He took me for my first dive in the Red Sea determined to show me where the sea horses lived on the House Reef. I can still remember that day now...those images are vividly burned into my memory banks.

I really loved living in Egypt and setting up home with him. He had two dogs when I met him and we managed to add another one, Snowy, to our collection during our next three years there together. There is an amazing amount I could tell you about those days in Egypt but I’ll save that for other occasions.  (Coming from a seaside town I loved the fact that we were living our lives on and off boats, beside quays and marinas...but then again, mind you, the ambient temperature was slightly different – both in and out of the water!)

We got married a year after we met in Colchester in 2001. We have no family connections there (which will fox family historians in later years), nevertheless, we were looking for a place to which we could invite family and friends from around the country and from abroad, plus enjoy some superb food and splendid scenery in the process. (Indeed I think that Nigel was exceedingly clever to arrange the wedding at Colchester considering my later all consuming obsession with the Romans!!) He undertook the planning and organisation for the wedding, the reception, the guests, the flowers and the photographer for the big day, itself, as I was determined to be my usual tomboy self almost eschewing any involvement. Nevertheless, as usual, Nigel’s fabulous organising and planning skills paid off because the whole thing rolled out like a dream. Tears are coming to my eyes just thinking about it all. Those precious days were to be indescribable!

We stayed at the beautiful Dedham Hall / Fountain House in nearby Dedham (which runs residential art courses in Constable Country). We got married in Colchester Registry Office followed by the mouth wateringly sumptious Le Talbooth restaurant in Dedham for the ‘wedding breakfast’ with a family and friends. The main wedding bash took place the next day at a pub in Harwich called ‘The Pier ’ (all these establishments are/were owned by the same family) which flowed through into the evening at Milsoms Pub/Hotel back at our main base in Dedham. Thus the party went on for three, no, four days... Luckily, throughout all of this, we were blessed by exceedingly fine weather.

Over the course of our ten/eleven years together we added to the dive centres in Hurghada and Safaga...with Easy Divers ultimately moving to the Hilton Plaza in Hurghada. In 2003 once we started to have children we gradually moved away from the scuba diving business to settle in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall Country to build up our B&B business, Four Wynds, from scratch. We brought our three Egyptian dogs over (via Holland and France) to end up with the ever so loyal ED (please note the initials). 

 So, over the following 8 years we have gradually accumulated:  1 B&B business, 2 houses, 2 gardens, 2 sheds, 1 set of outhouses, 1 greenhouse, 2 BBQs (one overgrown), 2 children, 1 dog, 2 cars, innumerable fantastic memories, a splendid amount of happy and satisfied guests (from scuba divers, snorkellers, to walkers, cyclists, families, et al), certificates from various courses attended, 2 undiminished senses of humour and a great deal more. . .

Q: Are we happy? And more to the point – are we still happy together?  A: We are over the moon to still be together after all these years and are looking forward to being together for many, many, many years to come. We understand each other inside and out so those oft-quoted words “for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse” still hold true.

 No doubt there will be many more delights and challenges to come (and by ‘eck have we seen a few of those over the last few years...!!!!  A firm nod in the direction of the banks and the economy...), nevertheless, we rejoice in ourselves, our marriage, our resilience, our incredible children, and the whole flippin’ caboodle.  

I’ll finish, if I may, with some lyrics from the Eagles’song ‘Hotel California’ which we both love:

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
“Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
’this could be heaven or this could be hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Welcome to the hotel california
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the hotel california
Any time of year, you can find it here”

I have a wry smile on my face as I read these words and the rest as so many lines do resonate with us plus the fact that it mentions a hotel. The meaning of the song has long been argued over but we’re sticking to the fact that, no matter what, it is a great tune! How often have we all sung along to it in our car on our way somewhere...?

I also nominate “Local Hero”, starring Burt Lancaster alongside a galaxy of superb British actors, to be the film to represent our union as it contains all the elements which run and have run through our lives: running a small business;  a hotel, finance, families, marine life, scuba  diving, seals, ‘mermaids’, astronomy  (those big, open, unpolluted skies – wow!);  adapting to life in a small community (the marvels and eccentricities thereof); the threat of big business potentially overturning everything inside one minute ; having lots of money versus having less and being happy to ‘just be’; a super duper storyline; some fab music; some mind blowing scenery...........What more could we ask for?