The Romans Be Stylin’

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

As we were driving north today from the Lake District, we passed through the town of Troutbeck, and I was reminded how much of my knowledge of the UK derives from songs and poetry. In this case the song was:

D’ye ken John Peel, wi’ his coat so gray?
He lived at Troutbeck once on a day
But now he’s gone, gone far far away,
Wi’ his hounds and his horn in the morning.

It was in a book of folk songs we had as a kid, along with a picture of John Peel like this one:

do ye ken john peel

As I was living on a cattle ranch in the American West, this represented another planet to me, a world where men rode saddles without saddle horns, and used their horses to chase foxes instead of cattle … so I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to chance to go through Troutbeck on our way to Scotland. What towns in Scotland do I know from songs?

The only town I can think of is from the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens, a ballad about the ocean, which begins:

The king sits in Dumfermline town.
Drinking the blude-red wine: O
‘O whare will I get a skeely skipper,
To sail this new ship of mine?’

O up and spake an eldern knight,
Sat at the king’s right knee:
‘Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That ever saild the sea.’

We might get to Dumfermline town, it’s a bit north of Edinburgh. As a sailor, the song impressed me because whoever wrote it knew a lot about ships. In particular, they describe something only a sailor would recognize, a procedure called “fothering”. Fothering is used to plug a hole below the waterline of a ship, and I’m glad I never had to do it.

To fother a hole below the waterline, you tie ropes to the corners of a piece of canvas, and you pull the canvas underneath the ship to where the hole is. The pressure of the water pulls the canvas into the hole, and the ropes from the four corners keep the canvas from being sucked inside. Here’s the description from the ballad.

He hadna gane a step, a step,
A step but barely ane,
When a bout [bolt] flew out of our goodly ship,
And the salt sea it came in.

‘Gae fetch a web o the silken claith [cloth],
Another o the twine,
And wap them into our ship’s side,
And letna the sea come in.’

They fetched a web o the silken claith,
Another o the twine,
And they wapped them roun that gude ship’s side,
But still the sea came in.

O laith [loathe], laith were our gude Scots lords
To weet their cork-heeld shoon [shoes];
But lang or a’ the play was playd,
They wat [wet] their hats aboon [also].

Any mony was the feather-bed
That flattered on the faem [foam],
And mony was the gude lord’s son
That never mair cam hame [home].

But I digress … we rolled north through the pastoral glacier-smoothed countryside to Vindolanda, the Roman fort along Hadrian’s wall, that dates from around the first century AD. It was the perfect day for it, overcast and rainy … I can see why the soldiers might not have cared for the duty along the northern frontier of the Empire. The fort is quite impressive, covering a large area.

vindolanda 1

It’s easily distinguished from the ancient local stonework because that is mostly laid without cement, that amazing Roman invention, while the walls of the fort and the buildings were all mortared into place.

There is a most engrossing museum at Vindolanda of all of the things that they’ve found excavating the fort. For whatever reasons, much of the leather goods have survived, and are in the museum. And wandering around the museum, the thing that struck me the most is how little our basic human actions have changed in 2,000 years. For example, look at the lovely workmanship on this pair of leather shoes:

vindolanda shoes

With their graceful lines, they’d be high fashion on the streets of Rome today. What I learned was that humans, then and now, have been driven to design things, not just for utility, but also for the sheer style and beauty. Here’s the sole of another pair of shoes:

vindolanda shoes II

The Roman cobbler 2,000 years ago could have just put the nails in a random pattern, or in squares, or whatever. But noooo … he put them in a lovely, graceful pattern, so whoever walked with those shoes left lovely footprints.

Here’s an axe, from the same time. Check out the lovely lines. It could have been just an equally functional but ugly chunk of iron, but whoever made it built a thing of beauty:

vindolanda axe

From the “nothing new under the sun” department, here’s a Roman safety-pin brooch …

vindolanda brooch

… and a brass necklace with an exquisitely wrought chain:

vindolanda necklace

At one time I earned my living making jewelry, and although I’m a decent silversmith, I can assure you that the making of such a chain by hand requires someone with much, much greater skill than mine … and that although you can buy a chain made along the exact same lines today, with equally fine chainwork, it will have been made by machine.

One of the stranger finds was a ladies wig, which the label said was made out of “hair moss”, whatever that might be:

vindolanda wig

Note the combs. The design of that double-sided comb has remained unchanged until this very day.

The other thing that was amazing were the collection of letters (written on wood rather than paper) that have been excavated. The concerns of the soldiers back then are just the same as the people of today—friends, and debts, and birthdays. They’re all online here, and are fascinating in their ordinariness. Here’s a sample:

… I have sent (?) you … pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants, two pairs of sandals …”

My main conclusion from the museum was that while we have come a long way in the last two millennia, the things that impel us and drive us, the things that we value and create for our own use, the things that we care about, haven’t changed much at all—lovely objects, and warm socks …

After that we drove out to see Hadrians wall. The Romans did like straight lines … mostly though, I was impressed by the scope of their imagination. I mean, if I’d been in charge of the northern defenses, I don’t think that my first thought would have been “Hey, how about we build a giant stone wall that cuts the whole country in half, yeah, that’s the ticket … and oh, yeah, we’re gonna complete it in six years. OK, andiamo, boys, we don’t have much time … “

In any case, here’s a section of Hadrians wall …

vindolanda hadrians wall

I can understand why they abandoned it after only a few decades … heck, it’s only about a metre tall, what good would that do against even the shortest of Scottish barbarians? …

We’re up in Glasgow now, tomorrow we’re turning east, off to see the famous Falkirk Wheel. At least it’s famous to me, one of the few places in Scotland I knew much about before coming here.

My best to all, thanks for all of the support,

w.

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117 thoughts on “The Romans Be Stylin’

  1. The modern spelling is Dunfermline. Quite the high tech place. Flextronics nee Solectron had a facility there. FMC has a major facility at present.

  2. The reason the wall is not very high in places is that after the Romans left the stone was pillaged by the locals. Why not. Easier than quarrying from scratch.

  3. Willis, Dunfermline is now a town with a cinema (and even multiple ones, I’m afraid). You may not like it. But be sure to check out Culross, once you’re in the area. The Dunmore Pineapple on the south bank of the Forth and the sequoia alley next to it will certainly impress you. Also, Linlithgow and Stirling are not far away — both are spectacular places. Anyway, it’s hard to find places in Scotland that aren’t. You’ll be amazed wherever you go.

  4. If you are interested in the border country, I commend you to “The Steel Bonnets”, a history of the Border Reivers by George MacDonald Fraser (yes, that “Flashman” chap, and none better.)

    If you find yourself befuddled by the Glasgow street dialect you will need “The Complete Patter” by Michael Munro. And of course the aforementioned Fraser’s “McAuslan” series of short stories, which are filled with Keelie patter in action.

    Brian

  5. “heck, it’s only about a metre tall, what good would that do against even the shortest of Scottish barbarians? …”

    It would have kept out the Hobbits.

  6. Lol Willis, very droll :) I know you know it was a fair bit higher, the rest of the stones are lining the fields round about, recycling has been going on for a long time. You might also remember that they soldiers were there from 135 AD to about 410 AD – that is during the RCO, when you could grow grapes even further north than that. Got to give the Romans credit for their engineering.

    Thanks for your posts though, it’s like looking at England (where I grew up) through different eyes, loved your piece on Liverpool my hometown :)

  7. There’s another town mentioned in some versions of that song:

    Half-owre, half-owre to Aberdour,
    ’Tis fifty fathoms deep;
    And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,
    Wi’ the Scots lords at his feet!

  8. welcome to scotland willis ! i apologise for the amount of unsightly windmills spoiling my lovely country.enjoy the falkirk wheel,its a lovely piece of engineering.

  9. My guess is the purpose of the wall was as much psychological for both sides as physical. You have to be impressed, even if it doesn’t dissuade you from trying to breach it. And there’s a comfort in knowing you built something impressive if you’re on the defending side.

  10. Dunmore is just a 15-minute drive from the Falkirk Wheel. Thence you can cross the Kincardine Bridge and either drive west towards Stirling or east towards Dunfermline and the Kingdom of Fife. Or Edinburgh. If you visit Linlithgow, climb up Cockleroy Hill. It is one of the highest viewpoints in the area. Likewise, In Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat is worth a climb.

  11. The Romans made repeated attempts to subdue the natives north of Hadrian’s Wall, but finally decided it wasn’t worth the trouble they encountered from the locals.

    They built the Antonine Wall between the Firths of Forth & Clyde from AD 142 to 154, but that line was abandoned after only twenty years. In the next century, the Romans tried again, but gave up, withdrawing once again to Hadrian’s Wall, which as your photo shows, then became a convenient quarry for centuries.

  12. Wow! Convey my respects to umpty great grandpa Malcolm and grandma Margaret at Dunfermline,
    and, if you happen to stop there, uncle James, dean of Edinburgh, who, on reading Laud’s liturgy by appointment by Charles i, on 1637-07-23, in the Cathedral church of St. Giles, was assailed by sticks, stones, bludgeons, and stools — the “Jenny Geddes” riot… (“my bunch” had been exiled by then, for feuding with the neighbors).

    At the battle of Flodden Field 1513-09-09, at KirkNewton near Branxton, Northumberland. Lots of ancestors, uncles and cousins were slain that day.

  13. Enjoy Glasgow, my home town, and where I live. You should walk about the West End especially through Glasgow University and maybe through Kelvingrove Park. You should always look up in Glasgow, some of the older buildings have a surprising amount of detail.

    Cheers
    Paul

  14. Don’t go to Dunfermline, you’ll only be dissappointed (although I haven’t been into the Abbey which looks interesting enough).

  15. I’m sure that you’re interested in men and women of genius so if you get to Dunfermline, spare a moment to think of a little known inventor who died fifty miles away in Dundee.

    “James Bowman Lindsey was born in Cotton of West Hills, Carmyllie near Arbroath in Angus, Scotland, son of John Lindsey, farm worker, and Elizabeth Bowman. During his childhood he was trained as a handloom weaver. However at the same time he educated himself and his parents recognised their son’s potential. As a result they saved enough money to be able to send him to St. Andrews University where he matriculated in 1821. As a student he soon made a name for himself in the fields of mathematics and physics and, after completing an additional course of studies in theology, he finally returned to Dundee in 1829 as Science and Mathematics Lecturer at the Watt Institution.

    Among his technological innovations, which were not developed until long after his death, are the incandescent light bulb, submarine telegraphy and arc welding. Unfortunately, his claims are not well documented but, in July 1835, Lindsey did demonstrate a constant electric lamp at a public meeting in Dundee, Scotland. He could “read a book at a distance of one and a half feet”. However, he did little to establish his claim or to develop the device.

    In 1854 Lindsay took out a patent for his system of wireless telegraphy through water. This was the culmination of many years’ painstaking experimentation in various parts of the country. The device, however, had an unfortunate flaw. In order to maximise its effectiveness, it was desirable to lay another line on dry land, which exceeded the width of water to be traversed. Although this would have been possible across the Straits of Dover, it would not have been practicable in the case of the Atlantic. A realistic alternative the use of significantly larger batteries and terminals was never fully explored.

    Aware the difficulties in laying transatlantic cable had not yet been solved, Lindsay took a great interest in the debate, with the revolutionary suggestion of using electric arc welding to join cables, and sacrificial anodes to prevent corrosion. These ideas, though not entirely new, were not to see widespread practical application for many years to come.

    Lindsey was an accomplished astronomer and philologist. In 1858, he published a set of astronomical tables intended to assist in fixing historical dates, which he called his ‘Chrono-Astrolabe’. The same year, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Lord Derby, Queen Victoria granted Lindsay a pension of £100 a year. He died on 29 June 1862.

    Like Preston Watson, the Dundee pioneer of flight, Lindsay possessed neither the will nor the sheer ruthlessness to promote his innovations as effectively as he might. A deeply religious and humane person, he refused the offer of a post at the British Museum so that he could care for his aged mother.

    Lindsay’s chief glory lay in his vision, which helped to propel scientific advance through the 19th and 20th centuries. His Lecture on Electricity effectively foretold the development of the information society, and he confidently predicted cities lit by electricity. His concern with electric light was mainly prompted by the need to provide a safe method of illuminating the jute mills, where severe fires had devastated the lives of the workers.

    James Lindsay was buried in the Western Cemetery, Dundee. In 1901 a monument, in the form of an obelisk, was erected by public subscription, at his grave.”

    It looks as though you’ve missed Electric Brae, a gravity hill where you can take the brake off your car and think that you’re rolling uphill.

  16. Flodden Field deserves to be better remembered. Not only was it the last battle in which a British monarch, James IV, King of Scots, was killed, but his wife Margaret was older sister of the victor, Henry VIII, King of England, who wasn’t present on the field. Hence the dead king’s great-grandson James VI of Scots & I of England, became king of both realms when Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I died childless.

  17. Any place you go in Scotland, you’ll enjoy it. Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities on earth. If you’ve ever watched Rab C. Nesbitt, you might have a chance of understanding what’s being said to you. On the borders and by Glasgow, it’s undecipherable. Same for Aberdeen. Head north though, and it gradually becomes more understandable. Go all the way to Wick and it’s recognizably English.

  18. Paul Nottingham:

    You suggest that Willis may have missed the Electric Brae. I hope not. He and his ladies would have found it great fun.

    Although the effect is an optical illusion it is truly uncanny, and much fun is had watching bottles, balls and etc. appearing to roll up the hill.

    Richard

  19. I think the locals of Troutbeck spun you a line on that one,… the words are

    D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay*?
    D’ye ken John Peel at the break o’ day?
    D’ye ken John Peel when he’s far, far a-way.
    With his hounds and his horn in the morning?

  20. jeremyp99 says:
    September 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Roman Warm Period was warmer than now:

    http://www.climatedepot.com/2013/07/15/paper-finds-the-alps-were-nearly-ice-free-2000-years-ago-during-the-roman-warming-period/

    Which makes me wonder why Oetzi the Iceman didn’t decompose more during that period. Maybe already well freeze-dried & preserved.

    Conclusion from glaciers, Greenland ice sheet & other proxy data: Minoan Warm Period warmer than Roman, Roman warmer than Medieval, Medieval warmer than now. Trend is down, headed out of present interglacial toward next glacial.

  21. After that we drove out to see Hadrians wall. The Romans did like straight lines …

    Well, yeah. If what you’re setting are limes designed as much for the purpose of customs collections and export/import regulation (which were the Romans’ expectations), straight lines deliver both economy of materials in construction and optimal line-of-sight scrutiny for sentries keeping watch.

    Even with the relatively unsophisticated military capabilities of the Picts, the Romans knew that any curtain wall can be sapped, one way or another, and so they had no real expectation that the long between-forts stretches of Hadrian’s wall were going to be militarily defensible. They didn’t even attempt to build ‘em that way.

  22. Songs including Scottish town names?

    I’ll start off:
    “I belong to Glasgow,
    Dear old Glasgow town.
    But there’s something the matter wi’ Glasgow,
    ‘cos it’s going round and round…

  23. Dunfermline – home town of Andrew Carnegie. Willis: As Douglas Adams remarked about the future (in this ace relative to the Romans) “…its the same thing as now, just in faster cars and smellier air.”

    Enjoy my (original) home country

  24. mikeB: Yes, those are the words I remember from my childhood.

    Of course, in those days, “gay” had its original meaning.

  25. Philip Peake says:
    September 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Would one could still use “gay” without provoking teenage snickering.

    That’s probably the right word, since hunt coats not red are black, navy or green.

  26. Willis I really enjoy your posts, they are fascinating

    The last two referring to the “fog signals” and “fothering” brought back memories to me.
    In 1941 I was serving as a deckhand on a Norwegian tramp ship of around 2000 grt. In convoy out of Halifax we ran into fog off Newfoundland. I was at the helm following the fog signal trailing from the ship ahead when a tanker,which had gone astray hit us and ripped a huge hole in the forward hold. She only had two holds..

    The skipper talked about fothering but we did not have to try as the cargo, which was timber loaded out of Pugwash, , kept us afloat long enough to get back to Halifax .

    I do not know how you manage all these posts after your busy sightseeing days, but pease keep up the good work.

    Best Regards

    Ken Cole

  27. MikeB says:
    September 11, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I think the locals of Troutbeck spun you a line on that one …

    Dang, you had me worried there that I misremembered the song. But it turns out you’re just another person who posts before doing his homework … you should have tried a quick Google search on “John Peel Troutbeck” before uncapping your electronic pen, my friend.

    w.

  28. Wilis,

    I am enjoying following your journey.

    Regarding Hadrian’s Wall. The reason to build the wall initially was two-fold, first, Rome realized that beyond that line, they were not able to maintain any control and would likely be defeated which would have a ripple through the entire empire. Next, the troops at the edges of the empire had become undisciplined, had largely melded into the local population, and were no longer functioning as legions, and they had very little to do as far as soldiering was concerned. Hadrian saw this and decided that a vast undertaking would be a galvanizing effort from which the soldiers and legions could be placed back into the order Rome expected and had sent out to this remote outpost. The plan worked and order was restored. All in all Hadrian was a remarkable leader. As to the wall’s height, originally the lowest sections would have been 10-11 feet tall, time, ravages, etc… all lowered the wall to its present size.

    Have a great time!

    wmar

  29. If you put the ‘-ive’ ‘hind the word, inquisit
    Then prepare your door for a knock
    From a man named Willis Eschenbach
    For he may come a visit
    In a reflection from his eyes
    Above ocean waters look to see a sunrise
    For it’s said he’s a man of the sea
    But away from it at times, far inland
    On the hot desert sand
    At ‘Burning Man’ he may be

    Sorry about. Once in a while I find it imperative to embarrass myself.

    Thanks for all the great stories.

  30. Hi Willis, you must have a very understanding “other half”. How you undertake the tourist mode and still find time not only to write a travelogue but add comments to other articles I don’t know – do you sleep?
    Anyway I second other comments re “seeing my own country again through others eyes”. It has been a delight to read your thoughts about the UK – many thanks.
    My wife recently returned from a short holiday in the North East (Tynemouth, Alnwick Castle etc) and she tells me the guide advised them the wall was around 20 ft high in its pomp and was more of a “marketing ploy” than defence measure as it had gates every so often to allow trading. It was more of a statement by the Roman Commander/Emperor to say, “this is the border of my empire, see how grand and impressive we are”. The only thing missing was the Nike Swoosh!
    Enjoy the rest of your holiday.

  31. John Peel did not follow the hounds on horseback but on foot as the Lake district is rather hilly and has many obstructions for horses.

  32. Just a thought … if you wanted some “holiday scepticism” in Scottish archaeology you might be interested in the following:-

    If you were passing Elgin you might be interested to visit the site of: mons Graupius reported by the Glasgow Herald

    If visiting the Antonine wall at Rough Castle, you could consider A Proposal for the Names of the Main Stations along the Antonine Wall Based on an identification of the Nemthur of St. Patrick which suggests the seven main Roman forts were:-
    VELUNIA (Carriden), VOLITANIO (Mumrills), PEXA (Castlecary), BEGESSE, (Barhill), COLANIA (Kirkintilloch?), MEDIO (Balmuildy), NEMETON (Old Kilpatrick), with Nemeton being the Birthplace of St. Patrick and SUB-DOBIADON which is beyond the wall being Dunbarton.

    And if you find anyone anyone in Scotland claiming to be descended from the Kelts, you might be interested to know that The Scots were not Kelts

  33. wmar says:
    September 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Right about the Wall. It wasn’t primarily intended to keep out masses of invading Picts, but more for commercial or customs control & power impression. Construction & repair also kept the milites busy. Most of the time, the Romans maintained outpost forts beyond it, & often even farther north, ie the Antonine Wall & its associated camps.

    The outpost forts were usually on main lines of march (“streets”), often apparently manned by non-citizen troops, auxilia & foederati, rather than legionaries. Their remains are visible in Cumbria & Northumberland.

    • By the way, the Antonine wall passes through Falkirk in the vicinity of the Wheel. Not easy to tell what it is, if you don’t know. There is a marked spot on the south side of Tamfourhill Road, about half-way between Cumbrae Drive and Glenfuir Road.

  34. Gr, Grandma Was born in Edinburgh- and Mother’s side was from Sutherland. I want to see Scotland-on my bucket list for sure..

  35. When I was a lad, a tiny wee lad
    My mother said to me
    Come see the Northern Lights my boy
    They’ re bright as they can be
    She called them the heavenly dancers
    Merry dancers in the sky
    I’ll never forget, that wonderful sight
    They made the heav ens bright

    The Northern Lights of old Aberdeen
    Mean home sweet home to me
    The Northern Lights of old Aberdeen
    Are what I long to see
    I’ve been a wanderer all of my life
    Any many a sight I’ve seen
    God speed the day when l’ m on my way
    To my home in Aberdeen
    I’ve wandered in many far-off lands
    And travelled many a mile
    I’ve missed the folk I cherished most
    The joy of a friendly smile
    It warms up the heart of a wand’rer
    The clasp of a welcoming hand
    To greet me when, I return
    Home to my native land

  36. The wall was a lot higher.

    As every good farmer knows, well kept farms soil “uppens” over time as organic/inorganic matter and dust accumulates due to plant growth, wind, rain, and animal activity.

    • Austin: archaeologists are also privy to this knowledge. Why is it that they always have to dig their stuff up?

      There is always some sinking in rich soils, but much of it is soil-forming dust deposited on the top.

  37. Max Hugoson says:
    September 11, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Willis: The underground Edinborough city? Covered over after the black plauge? Can you visit it?

    That is the Real Mary Kings close I mentioned in a comment on yesterdays post.

    Gene Selkov says:
    September 11, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    By the way, the Antonine wall passes through Falkirk in the vicinity of the Wheel. Not easy to tell what it is, if you don’t know.

    Actually, it is quit easy to find from the Wheel. Take the footpath up the hill. The tunnel at the top of the hill passes under the Antonine wall. The tunnel and the staircase of locks on the other side of the tunnel are there because of the wall.

    Jan

  38. Scottish Sceptic says:
    September 11, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks for the Antonine Wall info, but your link on Scots & Kelts is I’m sorry to say, mostly rubbish, to use British English.

    Genetic research has largely confirmed the traditional picture of British Isles demography & anthropology. That is, an ancient base population overlain with later continental immigration. Whatever their Ice Age origin (but probably the Last Glacial Maximum refugium in what is now SW France & northern Spain, ie the Basque country), by Roman times the indigenous culture & language of Britain & Ireland were “Celtic”.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-18489735

    The Brythonic ancestors of the Strathclyde British, Cumbrians, Welsh, Cornish & Bretons (the latter supposedly refugees to Gaul from invasion by Germanic Angles, Saxons & Jutes) spoke a language or languages distantly related to Irish, Scottish & Manx Gaelic, but probably already not mutually intelligible, although in the same family.

    The Scots of course were invaders of Britain from Ireland, bringing their Gaelic speech with them into the land of the Strathclyde British and/or Picts, who probably also spoke Brythonic languages. Modern Scotland thus has disparate roots both Celtic & Germanic: Strathclyde British, Picts, Irish Scots, Lowland Angles, Danes in the SE & Norwegian Norse in the north & the Isles. I’ve probably left someone out.

    The Old English chroniclers told the tale that Anglo-Saxons were invited into Britain after the Romans left in order to help the Romano-British fight raiding Picts & Irish.

    Studies on place names in southern & eastern Britain have challenged the traditional view, but not convincingly. Etymologists can invent either Germanic or Celtic origins for many contested names of people & places. Here’s an article arguing that before the Roman invasion, Kent was occupied by Germanic speakers:

    http://www.proto-english.org/e10.html

    Traditionally, Highlanders spoke Gaelic & Lowlanders the Scots dialect of English (now considered a language unto itself). So Scots today are largely Celtic in ancestral culture, both Gaelic & Brythonic, although the Lowlands, extreme northern Highlands & Hebrides are or were Germanic in more recent language. While the Lords of the Isles were of Norse extraction, the Hebrides & bits of the Highlands today remain the last refuge of Scottish Gaelic, as you know.

    But it’s good to be skeptical. As you also may know, Francis Pryor questions the received story. I disagree, for a number of reasons besides the genetic evidence:

  39. Four and twenty virgins
    Came down from Inverness
    And when the ball was over
    There were four and twenty less

    Singin…
    Balls to your father
    Arse against the wall
    If you’ve never been shagged on a saturday night
    You’ve never been shagged at all.

    There are many more verses but they are a tad profane. Well, more than a tad to be honest.

  40. Gene Selkov says:
    September 11, 2013 at 10:20 am

    […]But be sure to check out Culross,[…]

    I’ll second that although I was wee laddy from Tullibody last time I visited 50yrs ago.

    View from my old playground, top of Dumyat, of the Firth of Forth, Arthur’s Seat and the Wallace Monument. Stirling Castle and Bannockburn too?

  41. Willis, I’ve meant to mention before now, but you should try to find a copy of Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island to accompany your tour.

    Oh, and be careful in Scotland. They’re funny people, and as far as they’re concerned the Queen is only Elizabeth I. And watch out for haggis whilst driving – they can make a nasty mess of your front bumper if they run out into the road, and the area near Falkirk is infested with them.

  42. Peter Crawford says:
    September 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    And all these years I thought it was “partner”, not “father”. That’s even worse. Except maybe for the parts about the village parson, the grannie & the Indian rubber tire (tyre). Songs I learned in Britain instead of doing what I was supposed to do.

  43. wmar said:
    “The reason to build the wall initially was two-fold, first, Rome realized that beyond that line, they were not able to maintain any control and would likely be defeated which would have a ripple through the entire empire.”

    Very far from the reality, I think. There were, as another commenter here says, outpost forts beyond the wall and there were treaty relations with powerful tribes near to the wall. It was standard Roman practice to develop client relationships with border states and it was cheaper to give them what we’d now call ‘foreign aid’ rather than take on the huge expense of full military occupation and administration. There was little point anyway in extending full control beyond the wall’s position, as little useful taxation could be squeezed from the underdeveloped northern zones, imperial control of which would be far too expensive to maintain over any long period. There may have been a bitter and difficult war in what’s now Scotland not long before the wall was built and it’s still debatable as to whether the VIIIIth legion was actually wiped out in the north, along with its auxiliaries, as a result of that warfare. Modern academic opinion is veering towards that belief again, for a variety of reasons.

    “Next, the troops at the edges of the empire had become undisciplined, had largely melded into the local population, and were no longer functioning as legions, and they had very little to do as far as soldiering was concerned. Hadrian saw this and decided that a vast undertaking would be a galvanizing effort from which the soldiers and legions could be placed back into the order Rome expected and had sent out to this remote outpost. The plan worked and order was restored.”

    It’s not at this period that the legions, who built the wall, and the auxiliary forces that actually manned it when built became ‘melded’ with the population or became ineffective. The legions, throughout the empire, were still very serious forces to be reckoned with and the auxiliaries were drawn from all over the empire, even if they intermarried with the locals if they stayed in one place for long enough. Please consider the fact that the previous emperor, Trajan, had recently successfully carried out major invasion operations in Dacia (modern Romania) not that long before Hadrian’s accession: these operations involved some ten or more legions (arguably even more), supported by equally vast numbers of auxiliary troops, never mind the mind-boggling logistics needed for such a scheme.
    The Roman army had emphatically not deteriorated in the way you suggest at this time. That happened in the later empire, a long time later. The wall is as much a customs barrier and a security line as a military structure and certainly not to be seen as an admission of failure. The forts on the wall are not primarily defences built to withstand siege or hostile attack but tactical bases from which offensive operations could be carried out against any threat from the north. The wall would have been built to increase Hadrian’s prestige as the defender of the empire and a great caretaker of the empire’s infrastructure, not to reflect any diminishing of the glory of Rome.

  44. Willis – I hope you are heading north to the Highlands after visiting the Falkirk Wheel. I suggest north via the A822 and Sma Glen to Aberfeldy, a visit to the Stone Circle at Croftmoraig a few miles west, the reconstructed Iron Age Crannog on Loch Tay at Kenmore, and then over to Kinloch Rannoch via Braes of Foss, passing Schiehallion, perhaps the most important mountain in the world for physicists. (Maskelyne used it to calculate the the mass of the Earth and the Gravitational Constant in the 18th century). The views from the north shore of Loch Rannoch are the best. Ping me and I can show you around the stone circle etc.

  45. @ Peter Crawford.

    I find that song absolutely shocking and disgusting. The verse should be

    “Four and twenty virgins
    Came down from Invermuir
    And when the ball was over
    There were four and twenty fewer.”

    (Pedants in Britain have managed to nag the supermarkets into signs that say, correctly, “12 items of fewer”. And more strength to them.)

  46. milodonharlani: to throw in a couple data points, while the toponymic mix in the south part of the island is fairly complex (for example the name of Thetford immediately leads you to such interesting topics as the names of Germany, the Dutch national anthem, Wales, Walachei and walnuts — among a hundred other things), the names of places in Scotland are predominantly Gaelic, except for the lowland areas of Aberdeenshire, Fife, and some in the Borders (where there is a mix that is even more difficult to understand than that in the south). In the Highlands, all names I can recall are consistently Gaelic. For example, there is Loch Earn with River Earn flowing out of it. That’s Éire staring you in the face. And that is a very old name.

  47. When the Romans built the wall, I don’t think they were worried about a few people getting across it. If a large, organized army wanted to cross it that was another story. The wall was a definite impediment to invasion, and would give the Romans enough time to concentrate their forces in defense. More importantly, the wall allowed the Romans to control commercial activity between Scotland and England. You could not get through the gates without paying a toll, or being taxed on your merchandise.

  48. Well we used to sing:-

    “But now he is gone, far far away,”

    Well we like being non conformists.

    Funny all that singing though Willis.

    At one time, I could sing the National Anthems of at least 25 different countries; correct words, and tunes. But that was before I was ten. Haven’t sung a word since. Long boring story.

  49. Roha,

    Maybe the ungrammatical version I learned was for Sassenachs & Yankees, Bowdlerized & expurgated. But Inverness rhymes with less, so what are you going to do?

    Gene,

    Re Gaelic & Brythonic place names in the Highlands, true, except of course for Fort William, named either for William III or Stinking Billy, the Duke of Cumberland, aka the Butcher of Culloden. Also some Celtic names in the Lowlands, such as Brythonic Glasgow.

    • milodonharlani: But, if you pay attention to road signs, Fort William is just a “translation” of An Gearasdan, if I recall. I recognise that some of the original Gaelic names never made it to road signs, but where they did, the translations are sometimes quite funny. Like, for example, “Am Blàr Dubh” translated as “Muir of Ord”

      Makes sense, right?

  50. Letters.

    If you had to stand on the wall in the Scottish winter, you’d be glad of thick socks and warm underpants as well. (Wearing socks with sandals is, of course, a total fashion fail, but if you had pointed this out to a legionary you would undoubtedly have received a reply in the sort of Latin they didn’t teach us at school.)

    When you get back to civilization (England), pop into the British Museum and look at some of the letters written in cuneiform scripts centuries before the Romans had an empire. I recall one asking the local provincial governor if he could find a job for the writer’s nephew, and another (to a different governor) asking why the writer’s three previous letters have not been answered. Scrabbling for jobs and trying to get some action out of the bureaucrats. Civilization as we know it.

    • RoHa says: “Wearing socks with sandals is, of course, a total fashion fail, …”

      And so be it. I’ve been wearing socks with sandals all my life, summer or winter. It makes people laugh, but I haven’t had a callus or a blister in a very long time, and when my socks get wet (say, from walking in wet snow), they dry up on my feet in fifteen minutes as soon as I reach a dry place. Compare that to soggy boots. Mobility beats fashion.

      The aforementioned Bill Bryson (a very wise and knowledgeable man) describes fashion in his book titled “A short history of private life” as something that was designed to manifest the total lack of necessity for the bearer of fashionable items to do any work for subsistence, because wearing such items makes all work impossible. Such a disability, of course, projects an enviable social status. So it’s status vs. ability (or, in the case of footwear, mobility).

  51. The Wall.

    And the wall itself shows a very familiar feature. It has watchtowers at regular intervals; so regular that some of the towers are in valleys rather than on the peak of a nearby hill. Clearly some high-ranking mucky-muck ordered “milecastle every mile, turret every third of a mile between them”, and the order was carried out with rigid military discipline.

    “It says a third of a mile. If we put it on the hill, there, it will spoil the whole symmetry of the thing. More than my job’s worth, that. We build it here, even if you can’t see a blasted thing from it.”

    Again. life as we know it.

  52. @milodonharlani

    Replace “Inverness” with “Invermuir”, of course. No sacrifice is too great for grammatical exactitude.

  53. No sacrifice is too great for grammatical exactitude.
    Not even my honour.

    My post on the Wall should end “Again, life as we know it”.

    I was just a bit too far to the right on the keyboard.

  54. Your posts are always stimulating. What is it in us that makes us want to make beautiful things? Is it chance that it is only humankind that indulges in: religious ceremony, figurative art, deductive science and complex grammatic language? How do they relate to each other, and if we lost one would we lose the others? These are fascinating and relevant questions to which answers are now emerging? These are the big questions of the coming decades, this and consciousness studies are going to change us all. Every scientist will find these questions are relevant to their studies and understandings.

    You have an open mind. Not everyone on this blog approves of it, but if there is one lesson to be learnt from the catastrophe of modern climate science, it is that closed minds become like blind alleys. They go no where.

  55. Dave is right to warn you of the hazards posed by wandering Haggis in the Falkirk area…the unwary visitor must take extreme care to avoid them.

    But the truly terrifying native Scots fauna is the Sporran. Once common in the Brig O’Turk area, they are now rarities. And I am told that the occasional close encounter with a low flying Sporran can be a truly memorable experience.

    Legend has it that the best way to see one of these beasties is in the wee small hours when all is still and quiet and the pubs are just closing. They are said to be particularly attracted to the smell of whisky on the traveller’s breath………

    For those unfamiliar with another legendary Scots creature, here is the Philosopher King of Scotland in typical flow.

    BTW – he is from Glasgow (Govan IIRC) not Edinburgh as another correspondent suggested

  56. Willis, if you are traveling along the east coast on the A1 towards Northumberland, a detour to Holy Island whereupon you will find Lindisfarne Priory (in ruins) and an intact Lindisfarne Castle on a large rock (currently). When the Castle was built, it was reportedly near sea level; so much for sea level rise. P.S.- Holy Island is a tidal island, so watch the tidal postings or you will get trapped for a few extra hours like me. However, it did give me some extra time to explore the village and the local pub in the local hotel. Info can be found at: http://www.visitnorthumberland.com/coast/holy-island

    Safe travels.

  57. Eat some deep fried haggis. It’s actually a somewhat difficult quest these days. It was much easier about 20 years ago when there were multiple establishments offering this and other deep fried items.

  58. @James at 48

    Try Glasgow for deep [fried] Mars Bars. I suggest Irn-Bru (without Brasso) to compliment them.

    [The mod admits being mystified about the advantages of deep-fried Mars Bars over deep-fired Mars bars… Mod]

    [The mod admits no love ever found for Brasso on ANY polished hardware. Mod]

  59. DLBrown says:
    September 11, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    The monks’ mead is also quite nice, if one wants something unhopped.

  60. Hi Willis,

    I recommend Iona on the west coast although it is out-of-the -way – I have been close but have yet to get there.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iona

    Iona has been called A Beacon of Light Through the Dark Ages.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/earlychurch/trails_earlychurch_iona2.shtml

    Regarding Celtic Metalwork, I suggest a truly wonderful exhibit I saw in the British Museum many years ago:
    Youngs, Susan, ed. (1989). ‘The Work of Angels’, Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork, 6th–9th centuries AD. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-0554-6.

    North of Iona is Eilean Donan Castle – blown up by the perfidious English in 1719 and rebuilt 200 years later by a kinsman, with English money. :-)

    http://www.eileandonancastle.com/

    We stayed at the MacRae-Gilstrap hunting lodge nearby, now a lovely B&B.

    http://www.conchrahouse.com/

    A bit further afield, I was impressed by Newgrange, north of Dublin.
    Newgrange is considered to be the oldest standing structure on the planet. It is about 5000 years old and still has dramatic solar alignment during the winter solstice.

    http://www.newgrange.com/

    Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the Winter Solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage of the mound there is an opening called a roof-box. On mornings around the winter solstice a beam of light penetrates the roof-box and travels up the 19 metre passage and into the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens so that the whole chamber is dramatically illuminated.

    http://www.newgrange.com/winter-solstice-2011.htm

    Enjoy, Allan

  61. The wall was also to cut down on cattle rustling–it had a trench *behind* it to make it harder for Pict raiders (the Scots only came from Ireland after the Vikings had ravaged the Picts) to take cattle back with them north of the wall.

  62. […] what good would that do against even the shortest of Scottish barbarians? …
    We’re up in Glasgow now […]

    Every little helps Willis (see Latimer Alder video above) . Was that a Freudian slip?

  63. RoHa says:
    September 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Invermuir is too great a sacrifice for grammar & rhyme, I’m afraid, although Inverness is indeed on the sea, ir muir.

    righttimewrongplace says:
    September 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    You’re welcome. The TV show is thought-provoking, but pure rubbish, I’m afraid to say. The presenter needs to explain why he’s presenting the history of the period in English instead of Welsh.

    The fact is that the Saxon pirates raided the coast, whether invited in or not, & over the course of centuries AD 400 to 600 established themselves in eastern England. The invasion may not have featured battles & genocide, yet the replacement was inexorable.

    • milodonharlani says: “… although Inverness is indeed on the sea, ir muir.”

      I sense a conflation of “muir” and “mer” or “mare”, the latter being from the language that gave name to the famous Weston-super-mare (locally known as Weston-super-mud).

      But “muir” is Scots for “moore”. Inbhir + muir make a strange mix. Probably a parody.

  64. As you pass from Falkirk to Edinburgh you will see the evidence of the first shale oil boom. Great rust red hills of shale waste – what was left when the hydrocarbons had been evaporated off. Good news for the whale, because before that oil for lighting and lubrication came mostly from the whale. The shale was howked out by hand underground. James, Paraffin, Young made his fortune. The discovery of crude oil in USA made mining and processing shale uncompetitive.
    Good luck with you travels and thanks for the posts.

    • Here’s the evidence WJohn mentioned:

      http://goo.gl/maps/BDDyT

      That pile of red sand is what remained after the paraffins were baked out. In it, you can recognise the same red sandstone used as a building material in the area.

  65. Anthony B says:
    Willis – the Border country south of Edinburgh and on your route back to England is very beautiful, and if you wander by Melrose you’ll want to visit Abbotsford, the home until 1832 of Sir Walter Scott, Scotland’s greatest gift to the world of letters, an imaginative genius and the only writer in English whose name can be spoken in the same breath as that of Shakespeare.

  66. When the Romans were here it was much warmer so wet gray days were perhaps not as numerous. They also grew red grape vines to the north of York so drinking the local water was not on the menu, red wine was the drink to have. The wall has a good example of the communal crapper with washing facilities.

  67. As has been mentioned, John Peel would hunt on foot, but not because horses can’t cope with Lake District fells (they can, if you get a fell pony not one of the expensive thoroughbreds, which wierdly enough is what locals tend to do). It is more because unlike in the south, hunting was not an aristocratic pursuit (or exclusively so anyway). Cumbria has long been sheep country, and the Lake District breeds (apart from the recent Leicester-Herdwick crosses) tend to lamb late (something to do with living on reasonably big and exposed hills). Foxes however have their young consistently about the same time across the UK (late-April to May, about the time the Herdwick and Swaledale lambs are gambolling about). So in Cumbria a fox might take a lamb quite frequently, whereas in the south lambs were older and bigger (generally) and a fox would never take one. Thus fox hunting in Cumbria was always an affair for the farmers, rather than those with game to protect. As Cumbria industrialised (that landscape is actually post-industrial, if not intensive, not natureal) the farmers’ neighbouring miners and smelters, quarrymen and smugglers would also joint the hunt for the ‘sport’. Hence John Peel’s popularity in song – he’s not some aristocratic huntsman, but rather a hunt leader where fox hunting was a popular activity.

  68. Where did the virgins go from Inverness? why, to Kirriemuir, as we all know; that’s where the real action was.
    While in that area try to get a copy of the poems of William McGonagall, well known as the world’s worst poet, particularly on the subject of the Tay bridge disaster

  69. if you return South, I hope you get the chance to visit places such as Fountains Abbey, Whitby Abbey -synod of whitby (wikipedia) – or Alnwick. They will give you a sense of time that is almost unbelievable for a Californian – substantial structures from a long time ago that have been ruins for 500 years.

  70. “””””””…….Diogenes says:

    September 12, 2013 at 8:56 am

    if you return South, I hope you get the chance to visit places such as Fountains Abbey, Whitby Abbey -synod of whitby (wikipedia) – or Alnwick. ……”””””””

    Well my paternal grandparents came from Alnwick (anik), which I understand is about as far north as you can be in England, and not be in Scotland. Never been there so I don’t know if that’s true.

    But Alnwick is famous the world over, as being the home of Hardy Bros; the builders of “gentlemen’s” fly reels, and rods. Of special note is the Hardy “Perfect” model fly reel, which in its original classic form, is a lot less than perfect.

    Oh it works great, but it just doesn’t like any normal fishing environment; paint wears off, and some of the metals corrode. Who would paint a fly reel. I have one; the 2 7/8ths inch model; somewhat uncommon, if not rare. Sadly I did not discover that it needs to be enclosed in a vacuum or perhaps Argon atmosphere at all times, so it doesn’t corrode. Well I still fish it; I shouldn’t even own it, since I do not fly fish for trout. Works great on White Bass though.

    Hardy recently came out with a brand new updated “Perfect” to eliminate the muck metals. Too expensive for me these days.

    But seriously, Hardy Bros, are a great name in the angling game; compared to Hardy, Orvis, is kind of a Volkswagen outfit.

    I envy you Willis on your trip. Thanks for taking us along with you.

  71. milodonharlani says:(September 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm)

    RoHa says:
    September 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Invermuir is too great a sacrifice for grammar & rhyme, I’m afraid, although Inverness is indeed on the sea, ir muir.

    righttimewrongplace says:
    September 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    You’re welcome. The TV show is thought-provoking, but pure rubbish, I’m afraid to say. The presenter needs to explain why he’s presenting the history of the period in English instead of Welsh.

    Err … because nobody outside N. Wales speaks ‘Welsh’ and so rather than having a potential audience of any English speaking individual on the Planet (billions) we would have a potential audience of about 100,000 whining gits living north of ‘Aberystwyth’. Just accept the fact that you were defeated under Edward the first about a thousand years ago and get on with your life (in English).

    I swear to my many and various deities that once we are rid of whining Jocks in 2014 we will have an England wide vote as to who else can go. Whining Welsh and Northern Irish will be out 20 minutes after voting starts. Good luck to you all in your new venture.

  72. 3×2 says:
    September 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Plaid Cymru thanks you!

    After your proposed devolution (degitification?) process of Great Britain, then what becomes of Little England? Yorkshire & Northumberland have never liked being ruled by London, in fact seemed historically to prefer Copenhagen or Oslo. Ditto Cumbria Dublin. The industrial West Midlands might want to join its neighbors to the north. The rump Littler England of the south would at least probably enjoy a permanent Tory majority in its parliament.

    Can’t tell to what extent you’re kidding, but my point was that without the Anglo-Saxon invasion or settlement, the language of what is now England would resemble modern Welsh. Or maybe Danish or Icelandic, unless you also rule out the invasion of the Great Heathen Army, leading to the Danelaw, & the Norwegian colonization of eastern Ireland & Cumbria.

  73. Hi Willis,
    glad you are enjoying the UK. Sorry to backtrack on your earlier posts about canals. Solition waves( wave packets) were first obseved in a canal in 1834. Wikipedia provides a good source for this phenomenon for those who may be interested.
    Due to your general popularity, next time you or Mr Watts are in the UK please let us know, avoiding the obvious trolls. It would be a pleasure to have a reasoned and amicable open minded discussion in a suitable setting ( i.e a pub). Looking at your following on your posts you have a large choice of such venues

    All the best
    London247

  74. Please consider, on your way back down the east side of the UK, CRAGSIDE. This is where William Armstrong lived and built an estate based on hydroelectricity.

  75. Willis,

    It was the Antonine Wall that was abandoned.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonine_Wall

    My generation of school children were taught reading, writing & ‘rithmetic by rote & reciting our tables. Thus were we equipped to enjoy novels like “Eagle or the Ninth” & learn about our history at the same time. Rosemay Sutcliffe based her book on the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana (Ninth Legion) from the historical record, following an expedition north to deal with Caledonian tribes in 117 AD.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_of_the_Ninth

    Septimius Severus was a Berber, who became Roman Emperor and had he not died in 211 AD in Eboracum (York), then the Romans might have conquered Scotland as well?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septimus_Severus

    Best regards,

    Perry

  76. As a couple of others have mentioned, John Peel’s was a foot pack – it’s impossible to hunt on horseback over the fell country; the image is therefore quite wrong. It’s a mistake made by man Brits too of course.

    Peel hunted what is now Blencathra country (the area over which a hunt operates is called a ‘country’) and some of their hounds are descended from his:

    http://www.blencathrafoxhounds.com/BlencathraLeafletbyHuntsAssociation1950.htm

    Their main web page: http://www.blencathrafoxhounds.com/

    There are several versions of the song – it would have been sung extempore, not written down, originally of course. I’ve never encountered one which mentions Troutback, I have to confess. These are the usual versions:

    http://home.mweb.co.za/sa/salbu/JohnPeel.html

    A little about Peel – there is a lot online – from a local admirer, with a portrait of the rugged farmer who hunted into his 70s:

    http://blog.mikerendell.com/?p=3365

    It’s worth mentioning that in the main, exactly the same self-styled ‘liberals’ who fanatically follow the global warming scam are just those who tried so hard to get hunting banned, in the face of all the evidence from those who actually know what they are talking about. If they had entirely succeeded, individual packs of hounds bred for their own terrain, with bloodlines traceable in some cases back to the C18th, would have been eradicated

  77. PS The version of ‘D’ye ken John Peel’ which Mike Rendell quotes, which is I believe from the original Ms, does mention Troutback in the final verse, Willis will be glad to know

  78. Never mind the lowlands. Get yourself up to Skye and a visit to the Talisker distillery.
    All will become clear after that.

  79. Bob says:
    September 11, 2013 at 5:40 pm
    “…the wall allowed the Romans to control commercial activity between Scotland and England. You could not get through the gates without paying a toll, or being taxed on your merchandise…”

    Correct, and a view that a few of the mainstream archaeologists are starting to support.

    If Hadrian was sane, and there is no reason to think otherwise, he would not have invested the huge amounts of funds needed to build his trade restricting wall without wanting a profit.

    The Romans, like the British, were a nation of traders and the toll system and the related traveller ‘comfort’ facilities on the major Scotland/England trade routes should have given him a very good return on his investment. A sceptical approach is needed when reading mainstream history, just as with CAGW, – always follow the money.

  80. Nicholas Peel says:
    September 12, 2013 at 8:28 am

    While in that area try to get a copy of the poems of William McGonagall, well known as the world’s worst poet, particularly on the subject of the Tay bridge disaster

    I sing my sad song of the Tay Bridge disaster,
    Of which William McGonagall is the undisputed master …

    w.

  81. Sam The First says:
    September 13, 2013 at 3:35 am

    There are several versions of the song – it would have been sung extempore, not written down, originally of course. I’ve never encountered one which mentions Troutback, I have to confess. These are the usual versions …

    Many, many of the versions on the web have Troutbeck in the song, and also have him riding a horse. Here’s one from the Wiltshire Council:

    Right fearless he rode, like a brave man and true,
    With his hounds on ahead, and the fox in full view,
    While the green valleys rang with his loud Whoop! Halloo!
    And the blast of his horn in the morning.

    Here’s another comment in an interesting history here:

    The Dictionary of National Biography says that: ‘Peel’s love of hunting was remarkable. For fifty-­five years he maintained a pack of hounds, and generally two horses, and had a faultless knowledge of the country and of hunting. He was a coarse, heavy­drinking, rather selfish man, but could also be generous and passionate.’9 That seems a little harsh, although no harsher than my own great­grandmother’s words. She married into the Peel family, was often heard to declare: ‘Ah divvent knaw why ivverybody meks sek a fuss aboot John Peel: he was nobbut a ne’er do well and an owld drunkard!’

    See the bit in there about the horses? I doubt that he had them and didn’t ride them to hunt.

    Wikipedia (FWIW) sez:

    Peel hunted pine martens and hares, in addition to foxes. By the end of his life (13 November 1854, most likely due to a fall while hunting) he had accrued large debts, which his friends helped him pay off.[1]

    John Peel did occasionally ride to hounds, his mount being a 14 hand dun cross bred gelding named ‘Dunny’. ‘Dunny’ would often be abandoned for hours during the hunt when the going became too rough to ride over; standing patiently waiting for his master to return.

    Unless he fell off of a cow, a fox, or a dog while hunting, that sure sounds like a fall from a horse. This was common because of the obstacles that needed to be jumped. And from an early version of the song:

    An’ I’ve follow’d John Peel both often and far,
    O’er the rasper-fence, the gate, and the bar,
    From Low Denton-holme up to Scratchmere Scar,
    Where we vied for the brush in the morning.

    Unless he and Peel could jump like Olympians, I think they might have been on horses when they went over the rasper-fence, the gate and the bar …

    So I’m not buying the idea that John Peel didn’t ride to the hunt … sorry, too much evidence the other direction.

    w.

  82. I second the suggestion of Fred Thrung to visit Cragside near Rothbury:

    http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside/

    I would check the admission prices if you’re on a budget but the house and history are magnificent.

    From the ‘nothing new under the sun’ department Armstrong powered his lights using hydroelectricity but even though he built his own lake on the moor above the crag he ended up building a gas works for when it didn’t rain often enough.

    Armstrong started as a lawyer before moving into engineering building cranes, guns, ships and almost entire navies. He built the hydraulic system that powered the Tower Bridge in London.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Armstrong,_1st_Baron_Armstrong

  83. Willis, a great old Scottish pirate song is the Ballade of Henry Martyn (Martin), which begins, “There were three brothers in merry Scotland, in merry Scotland there were three, and they did chose lots for to see, for to see, for to see, who should turn pirate out on the salt sea…” Burl Ives recorded it back when I was a kid.

  84. My 2 cents: Fothering was introduced to the English navy by Capt. Cook, who learned it from Midshipman Jonathan Monkhouse, who had worked on the merchant ships sailing to the colonies. Monkhouse’s experience saved the Endeavor from disaster: http://www.captcook-ne.co.uk/ccne/themes/shipsandcrew.htm

    After Cook had learned the word, he described it thus:

    “The leak now decreaseth but for fear it should break out again we got the Sail ready fill’d for fothering. The manner this is done is thus, we Mix ockam & wool together and chop it up small and than stick it loosly by handfulls all over the sail and throw over it sheeps dung or other filth. Horse dung for this purpose is the best. The sail thus prepared is hauld under the Ships bottom by ropes and if the place of the leak is uncertain it must be hauld from one part of her bottom to another until the place is found where it takes effect; while the sail is under the Ship the ockam & ca. is washed off and part of it carried along with the water into the leak and in part stops up the hole.” (Cook, Journals, 1, 12-13 June 1770)

    http://www.captcook-ne.co.uk/ccne/themes/shipsandcrew.htm

    Nice job, –AGF

  85. Willis if you read the links I sent – and you probably haven’t had time yet – you will see it’s known that Peel used to ride for the first part of the hunt, then take to the Fells on foot, with his pack and any followers brave enough to keep up with him. The main business of the day was done on foot: it”s impossible to ride a horse in the craggy Peak District, even now with walkers’ paths. Typically men would have ridden to the Meet – no horseboxes up there in those days! even racing trainers didn’t have them til the mid C19th – and then they used their horses on the flatter valleys. But Blencathra hunting country is is mostly ragged crags. They still hunt on foot there.

    I’ve been a hunting aficionado for 60 years, since early childhood, and come from a hunting family.

  86. Fothering was a very ancient means of repairing ships, inc in the Royal Navy. It long predates the Cook voyages

  87. Sam The First says:
    September 14, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Willis if you read the links I sent – and you probably haven’t had time yet – you will see it’s known that Peel used to ride for the first part of the hunt, then take to the Fells on foot, with his pack and any followers brave enough to keep up with him. The main business of the day was done on foot: it”s impossible to ride a horse in the craggy Peak District, even now with walkers’ paths. Typically men would have ridden to the Meet – no horseboxes up there in those days! even racing trainers didn’t have them til the mid C19th – and then they used their horses on the flatter valleys. But Blencathra hunting country is is mostly ragged crags. They still hunt on foot there.

    Thanks, Sam. Having ridden over some very, very rough turf in my time as a cowboy, that makes good sense.

    All the best,

    w.

  88. Sam The First says:
    September 14, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Fothering was a very ancient means of repairing ships, inc in the Royal Navy. It long predates the Cook voyages

    Yes, in Banks journal from 1770 it says:

    One of our midshipmen now proposd an expedient which no one else in the ship had seen practisd, tho all had heard of it by the name of fothering a ship, by the means of which he said he had come home from America in a ship which made more water than we did; nay so sure was the master of that ship of his expedient that he took her out of harbour knowing how much water she made and trusting intirely to it.

    So clearly it was well known at the time. In a nautical dictionary of 1785 I find:

    FOTHERING, a peculiar method of endeavouring to stop a leak in the bottom of a ship while she is afloat, either under sail or at anchor. It is usually performed in the following manner: a basket is filled with ashes, cinders, and chopped rope-yarns, bonette lardée, Fr. and loosely covered with a piece of canvas; to this is fastened a long pole, by which it is plunged repeatedly in the water, as close as possible to the place where the leak is conjectured to lie. The oakum, or chopped rope-yarns, being thus gradually shaken through the twigs, or over the top of the basket, are frequently sucked into the hole along with the water, so that the leak becomes immediately choaked, and the future entrance of the water is thereby prevented.

    However, the mention in the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens is certainly long before that one, and uses the modern meaning—to close the hole by putting a sail over it.

    Interestingly, there is also an old weather superstition in the Ballad, viz:

    "Late, late yestre'en I saw the new moon
              Wi' the auld moon in hir arm,
         And I fear, I fear, my dear master,
              That we will come to harm."

    This refers to the phenomenon where you are near the new moon, and you can see the darkened part of the moon by way of the earthshine. The superstition persists to this day, I’ve seen it taken as a bad omen by sailors I knew.

    w.

    • What I know of the practice of fothering had been learned first from C.S. Forester, in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1950), when he’d been given command of a French cargo ship that had been captured by H.M. frigate Indefatigable, and had discovered en route to an English port that the prize had been damaged below the waterline.

      Now he was waist‑deep in the water, and when the brig swayed the water closed briefly over his head, like a momentary death. Here it was, two feet below the waterline even with the brig hove to on this tack — a splintered, jagged hole, square rather than round, and a foot across. As the sea boiled round him Hornblower even fancied he could hear it bubbling into the ship, but that might be pure fancy.

      He hailed the deck for them to haul him up again, and they stood eagerly listening for what he had to say.

      “Two feet below the waterline, sir?” said Matthews. “She was close hauled and heeling right over, of course, when we hit her. But her bows must have lifted just as we fired. And of course she’s lower in the water now.”

      That was the point. Whatever they did now, however much they heeled her, that hole would be under water. And on the other tack it would be far under water, with much additional pressure; yet on the present tack they were headed for France. And the more water they took in, the lower the brig would settle, and the greater would be the pressure forcing water in through the hole. Something must be done to plug the leak, and Hornblower’s reading of the manuals of seamanship told him what it was.

      “We must fother a sail and get it over that hole,” he announced. “Call those Frenchmen over.”

      To fother a sail was to make something like a vast hairy doormat out of it, by threading innumerable lengths of half-unravelled line through it. When this was done the sail would be lowered below the ship’s bottom and placed against the hole. The inward pressure would then force the hairy mass so tightly against the hole that the entrance of water would be made at least much more difficult.

      Fothering was an expedient also used by Hornblower – with a sail unmodified, and no stuff to chink up the holes or sprung seams – later in his career, expediently addressing battle damage suffered by the frigate Lydia in her encounter with Natividad (see The Happy Return [a.k.a. Beat to Quarters], 1937).

  89. OED’s earliest instance of “fothering” is from 1789, from which it oddly appears they didn’t bother to consult the nautical dictionary from 1785. Cook was as fine a sailor as ever commanded an English ship, yet the merchant marine midshipman had to teach him how to fother his own ship. Obviously fothering was not included in naval officer training.

    So now the question is, how far back did it go? How old are the Scottish ballads that mention it? What are the equivalents in other languages and when are they first attested? Yes, the practice was older than the Endeavor, and so was the word. But was it “ancient”? Evidence, please. –AGF

  90. Well, the first possible case of fothering occurred shortly before Cain’s boat was found leaking by Able … 8<)

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