October 2003

Wednesday 1st October – Barnsley Canal – Thirty or more Goldfinches fly over calling excitedly. A Robin sits atop the Hawthorn hedge singing lustily. An autumnal mist hides the horizon.

Thursday 2nd October – Fleets Dam – A pair of Grey Herons are squabbling around the lake. It seems they both want to occupy the old jetty so the occupier has to keep chasing the interloper away. A Great Spotted Woodpecker darts overhead and disappears into the depths of an Ash. A Kingfisher arrows up river – a flash of turquoise that is gone in no time. Again, it is misty and autumnal.

Monday 6th October – Barnsley Canal – Mistle Thrushes and Starlings strut about a horse paddock seeking insects in the dung. The paddock lies in the triangle formed by an old abandoned road to the pit, Smithies Lane and the canal. A ruined concrete lamp standard is all that remains of the road. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies over. Blue and Great Tits move to and fro in noisy flocks. A Sparrowhawk soars high above on buffeting winds. Great grey storm clouds are building.

Wednesday 8th October – Barnsley Canal – My first Redwings of the season wing overhead. A flock of six that disappears off over the River Dearne. Most trees are still in full leaf and are being buffeted by strong winds. Great swathes of Willow leaves alternate green and grey and they are blown about.

Sunday 12th October – Barnsley Canal – Blue, Great and Willow Tits are all calling along the canal. A large group of Russula toadstools are growing in the leaf litter down a steep slope away from the tow-path. A Grey Heron flaps up from the bottom of Willowbank and over the trees towards the river. A brilliant green-yellow rump flies up from the edge of the canal and into the Silver Birches – an odd place for a Green Woodpecker to be. A few minutes later it flies along the top of the slope, calling loudly. A Kestrel drops off a telegraph pole, opening its wings as it falls and disappears behind the willows.

Monday 20th October – Barnsley Canal – The air has the chill of autumn. Leaves flutter down. House Sparrows, tits and Blackbirds chatter. Numerous Wood Pigeons are feeding in the winter wheat. There is a musky fungal scent; nearby Fly Agaric emerge from the Silver Birch leaf litter.


Tuesday 21st October – Heading North – We head west along the M62 and then north up the M6. Past the signs for the numerous Lancashire towns whose names recall Saturday afternoons with Eddie Waring commentating on the Rugby League – Wigan, St Helens, Warrington and Widnes. Other names now mean football – Bolton, Blackburn and, of course, Manchester and Liverpool. These are left behind and then past that centre of working class holidays and political conferences, Blackpool. Not too long and the Cumbrian Mountains of Lake District rise on the skyline. To the east the westernmost slopes of the Dales. Common Buzzards are indeed common. After the flatness of the borders, the hills rise again as we head up the M74. Then eastwards along the Clyde dales. It is now raining, then sleet and suddenly heavy snow. The hills are quickly capped. Sheep with snow on their backs keep chomping at coarse grass. We then cross the great estuary of the Forth over the 1930s Kincardine Bridge. East now along the tourist route beside the Forth.

Culross – A small village on the Firth of Forth. From the seawall, the estuary looks over to the industrial plants spewing smoke at Grangemouth. On the shore are Godwits, Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew and Shelduck.

Wednesday 22nd October – St Andrews, Kingdom of Fife – St Andrews sits in a bay looking out over the North Sea. The area is still called the Kingdom of Fife despite the last king being a Pictish one back in the 9th Century. At that time, the city was called Kilrimont from Cillrigmonaid – “church of the king’s mount”. It is almost like an island, cut off to the south by the Firth of Forth and to the north by the River Tay. The town is home to the third oldest university in Great Britain, so despite being well away from any major conurbation, it is alive with young people. The main street starts at an old town gate and leads down to the ruined cathedral. A second street of shops runs parallel to the north. There are the usual high street chain stores, but also many old establishments such as a cheesemonger, kilt makers and a butcher with carcasses hanging in a store room next to the shop. Haggises take pride of place in the display.

St Andrew’s Cathedral – It is windy and raining as we enter the grounds of the ruined cathedral. There was a monastic community here during the reign of Oengus, King of the Picts as Irish annals record the death of its abbot in 747. Oengus was probably Angus I, who reigned between 729 and 761. King Constantine II abdicated in 943 to lead a monastic community. About this time, Kilrimont became the headquarters of the Scottish Church as Norse raiders had made the centres on the west coast unusable. About 1127, Robert, Prior of Scone, became Bishop and built St Rule’s church on the site. The hundred foot tall tower still stands. We hauled ourselves up the seemingly never ending spiral staircase and came out at Pictishthe top. Here the views over St Andrews and the surrounding area and sea were awe-inspiring. St Rule (or Regulus) was supposed to be the guardian of the relics of St Andrew at Patras in Greece. Legend tells how an angel warned him that the relics were to be moved to Constantinople. Rule fled with the relics and his boat was eventually wrecked off Fife and the bones were brought to Kilrimont and interred in a sarcophagus. (A more likely story for any possible relics is that Bishop Acca of Hexham, who was exiled to Pictland in 732 – the relics having been brought to Hexham by St Wilfred from Rome – moved them here.) Whatever the truth, there is still a magnificent sarcophagus in the cathedral museum with some of the finest examples of Pictish sculpture in existence. St Rule’s Church proved too small for the Augustinian Canons now in residence, and Bishop Arnold started a new cathedral in 1160. The Wars of Independence with England prevented the new cathedral from being consecrated until 1318, four years after the great victory of Bannockburn by the Scots led by Robert the Bruce. A fire caused extensive damage in 1378. The rebuilding was further delayed by a great storm in 1409 when the gable of the south transept was blown down. However, the death knell of the great cathedral was in 1560 following a sermon by John Knox during the Reformation of the Scottish Church. The populace were moved by Knox to tear down the rich medieval trappings of “popish” worship. The Archbishop and his canons abandoned the cathedral and it soon became little more than a source of stone for local builders.

St Andrews Castle – The ruins of the castle stand on a headland to the north of the town. It was the main residence of the bishops and then the archbishops of St Andrews. Building started in about 1200, although there was probably a fortification on the site before this. In 1296, the castle had fallen into English hands. It was damaged when the Scots retook it in 1314 and repaired by Bishop William Lamberton. By 1330, the English had retaken it, but after a major siege in 1337, it was retaken and rendered indefensible so the English could never again use it as a garrison fortress. It was rebuilt as the home of Scotland’s leading churchmen. In the 1520-30s Archbishop James Beaton reinforced the defences to withstand gun-powder artillery. Scotland and England were in open conflict again. Two massive gun towers called blockhouses were built but they were extensively damaged in the siege of 1546-7. Part of the western blockhouse remains. In 1537, James Beaton arranged for his nephew, David Beaton to be his successor. Already a powerful figure in the church, he had many enemies both in Scotland and Protestant England. His opposition to the proposed marriage of the infant Mary Queen of Scots to Edward, son of Henry VIII of England was a major factor in bringing about renewed warfare between the two countries. In 1546, Beaton had the Protestant Preacher George Wishart burnt at the stake. He made even more enemies and a few months later, a group of Fife lairds entered the castle disguised as masons and killed Cardinal Beaton. The siege of 1546-7 has left one of the most interesting relics, a mine and countermine. The Earl of Arran dug a mine under the castle walls and the defenders, after several false starts dug a countermine to stop the attempt. Both were filled in after siege and were only discovered again in 1879. Like the cathedral, the Reformation of the Scottish Church brought about the end of the castle and it fell into disrepair some time after the church. However, its fortunes were revived in 1612 when James VI returned it to Archbishop Gordon Geldstanes who carried out repairs. In 1638 the assembly of Glasgow abolished the office of bishop within the church and although Charles II restored it in 1661, it was finally abolished by William and Mary soon after they came to the throne of England and Scotland in 1689. Thereafter, the castle fell rapidly into ruin. Although the remains are limited, there is still the feeling of power about the castle. The strong wind and frequent showers add a feeling of bleakness to the site. On the rocks below, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatchers and Redshank are feeding. Rock Pipits flit around the walls and grassed area.

Ceres – We are lodging in this village. The name is probably from the Gaelic Sairais meaning “western place”. It was a ferm toun grown up around Ceres burn. The large number of tracks that converged on Ceres, probably because the river was forded here. By 1620 it was of a size that a burgh of barony was created for Sir Thomas Hope of Craighall. The population peaked at 3000 by 1841. The town went into decline in late 19th century. However, it has now become more Falkirk Wheelpopulous with commuters, holiday and retirement homes and visitors.

Thursday 23rd October – Falkirk Wheel – Union and Forth & Clyde Canals were joined by a flight of eleven locks from Port Maxwell on the Union Canal to Port Downie on the Forth & Clyde. The locks dropped the canal 33.5m over a distance of 1.5km. Due to lack of use these locks were closed and filled-in in 1933 and a road now follows the route of the old locks. However, as part of the Millennium projects, a huge boat lift was built to lift canal boats between the two canals. It is an awesome sight. A boat moves into a large basin at one level. Doors are closed and then the whole structure rotates to take the boat up or down to the other canal.