Monthly Archives: September 2013

Murder at Corfe Castle

Steam train

The Locomotive above was built in 1955. It now transports tourists on the 6-mile stretch from Norden to Swanage in Dorset. In the background the eerie ruins of Corfe Castle can just be made out in the mist.

Corfe Castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century. However, the site had royal fortifications on it long before the Normans came to England. The Castle was one of the last remaining Royalist strongholds in the English Civil War until it eventually fell in 1645. It was demolished by order of Parliament and has been a stately ruin ever since, towering above the village below.

Corfe Castle

On 18 March 978 the young King of the English, Edward, rode his horse up the mound (above) to the hall that preceded the castle. He was apparently greeted by his step-mother, Ælfthryth, with a cup of mead. As he took the drink and dismounted, the Queen Dowager’s attendant stabbed the 16 year old Monarch in the back.

The Keep

Edward’s even younger half brother, Æthelred (Ælfthryth’s son) took the throne. The boy king struggled to unite a suspicious country (grieving the loss of Edward) against the threat from the Danes. He fled to Normandy when the Danes invaded and has been known as Æthelred the Unready ever since. His murdered brother was remembered far more kindly by history: he was sainted and is known as St Edward the Martyr.

Hall

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Fame and fauna on the Farne Islands

Seahouses is a large village on the Northumberland coast. Looking out from the shore you can see the Farne Islands in the distance…

Farne Islands from Seahouses

The Farne Islands do not have a permanent population any longer. The Longstone Lighthouse (below), however, used to have occupants…

Longstone Lighthouse

In the early hours of 7 September 1838, a 22 year old woman – the daughter of the lighthouse keeper – was kept awake by a storm. She looked out across the sea and saw a horrific sight. A paddlesteamer called the Forfarshire had been smashed against the rocks and broken in half. Given the gale force winds, the woman and her father realised that it was too dangerous for a lifeboat to be launched from Seahouses, but embarked on what would become one of the most famous actions of heroism in British sea-faring history. Grace Darling and her father, William, took a small row-boat out into the storm. Grace rowed the boat about a mile against huge waves while her father hauled survivors out of the water.

42 people lost their lives that night, but the figure would have been over 50 had Grace and William Darling not shown enormous bravery and expert seamanship. They were awarded numerous medals but, tragically, Grace died four years later from tuberculosis at the age of 26.

Today, rescues are often performed by helicopter…

RAF Rescue Helicopter

The islands were first recorded in history in 651 when Saint Aidan went to live on them as a hermit. He was followed by Saint Cuthbert who lived alone and died on Inner Farne in 687…

Inner Farne

Saint Cuthbert is believed to be the first person in world history to have set up bird protection laws. In particular he was aiming to protect the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)…

Eider

The islands are indeed famous for wildlife, and in particular for being home to one of the largest colonies of (around 6,000) Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus). The latin name means ‘hook-nosed sea pig’…

Grey Seal

Lounging Grey Seals

The islands are also known for their huge colony of Puffins. Unfortunately, August (when we visited) is not a good time to see these amazing little birds in their burrows as the chicks have fledged and they are far out at sea. In fact, this is also the case with many other species found on the islands. I did manage to snap a few of the bird species, though, that are late breeders or that just like hanging around on the island. These include…

European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

Shag

and Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Kittiwake

The Kittiwakes nest on crevices on pretty sheer cliffs and make an absolute racket by calling out their names with a shrill ‘kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake’…

Kittiwake pair

Cliffs

During breeding season, tourists and birdwatchers are regularly attacked by dive-bombing Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) protecting their nests. On our trip, however, there were hardly any remaining and I only got distant shots…

Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern is one of the truly incredible travellers of the animal kingdom. They experience almost perpetual summer as they circumnavigate the globe flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic each year.

I also captured another distant shot of its relative, the Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)…

Sandwich Tern

Apart from the seabirds, the island also attracts passing migratory birds such as the Barn [or according to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the European] Swallow (Hirundo rustica)…

Swallow

and finally, one of the wildlife wardens netted, ringed, and released this beautiful little Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) quite possibly on its way back to Sub-Saharan Africa…

Willow Warbler

Northumberland landscapes

The northernmost English county is a beautiful and wild place.

Northumberland road

Northumberland 1

wall and hill

Stream

We spent time in a remote valley for a wedding, only two weeks after our own (the main reason for Iago80’s recent online silence).

Lily

My wife and I were not really equipped for walking in the hills, but that didn’t stop us.

James

As we walked, I attempted to photograph some of the valley’s avian residents…

A female Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

Female Whinchat

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

Meadow Pipit

Female Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Chaffinch

And Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) fishing in the streams

Grey Heron

It was also rare to look at the sky and not see (unusually) noisy Buzzards, hovering Kestrels, and circling Ravens (although I didn’t get a good enough shot of any of them to share). Seemingly oblivious of the predators, the sky was also often rich with our summer Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and House Martins (Delichon urbica).

Swallows