Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
After heavy rain during the night, we rolled south from Edinburgh in sporadic showers through the land of the giant bird shredders … I stopped to look at them. I’d not been up close to one in a decade or so, and like my daughter, oh, my how they’ve grown in that time.
I assume that it contains all the stuff necessary to clean up the blood spilled by the birds and bats killed by the blades, but who knows? … I saw a raptor of some kind that was tragically intrigued by the wind lifting and swirling around the blades, so I pointedly looked somewhere else and found another curious sign warning of two more separate dangers I hadn’t even considered.
Gotta love the climate spinmeisters at work, it even extends to the signs … folks, those are not “WEATHER WARNINGS” as the sign claims.
They are “WIND TURBINE WARNINGS”, and very real ones. The maximum tip speed on those blades is on the order of 200 miles per hour (320 Km per hour). Think about the damage that say a 20 kg (44 lb) chunk of ice moving at 200 miles an hour might do to a house or a car or a child … and they build these near highways, schools and homes?
Suitably impressed and depressed, we rolled on south to visit Matt Ridley and his family. Matt is an amazing guy, he was the Science Editor for the Economist magazine, is the author of several books, writes a blog called “The Rational Optimist“, and is a member of the House of Lords. He graciously had invited the Clan Eschenbach to stay for a couple of days and offered to show us around the countryside.
One of the places Matt took us to was Northumberlandia, the “Goddess of the North”, reputed to be the largest sculpture of a woman on Earth. You can get a sense of the size by noting the cars in the car-park at the lower left, it’s a million and a half tonnes of earth …
This picture was taken soon after it was completed. It was lovely and green on the day that we visited, with people walking all over …
Why is this significant? Well, because it’s a reclaimed open-pit coal mine. I was impressed.
Here’s another one, about six months after being refilled with the overburden (or the “muck” as it’s known in Northumbria, and pronounced “mook”):
I was quite amazed by the coal ex-mines. I had thought that a) an open-pit coal mine would leave a horrible long-term scar and b) that there wasn’t much you could do with the land after mining. I was totally incorrect on both counts.
From there Matt took us to visit the Chillingham Wild Cattle. Wild cattle in England? That’s what I said. Well … it turns out that somewhere around the year 1200, the local ruler in Chillingham Castle put a stone fence around several thousand acres, to wall in a herd of wild cattle said to have been introduced to the area by the Romans for their sacrifices. These wild herds thrived throughout England but were dispersed with the arrival of Christianity—all except the Chillingham herd, which was kept as ‘unstealable meat’. Chillingham Castle has passed down through the various family lines to an amazing couple, Sir Humpry and Katharine Wakefield. Sir Humphry was good enough to accompany us to see the herd. As Sir Humphry explained, you can’t drive away wild animals with big horns, and so the near-by Scots raiders went away hungry. The herd was then enclosed around the year 1200 for sport hunting, and since then … well, other than being given a bit of hay in the depths of the winters, and being hunted back in the day, they’ve been left totally alone since. No veterinarian visits. No injections. No castration. No ear-tags. No branding. In fact, they are untouched by any human hand throughout their entire lives, and they are indeed very wild. Sir Humphry said that some time back in the past, it was noted any calves that were handled by humans were generally immediately killed by the herd, so they haven’t been man-handled in centuries. Here’s the sign on the gates, kinda sums them up:
And they’re not kidding. Now, I grew up on a cattle ranch, I’ve seen most all of the breeds, and I have a reasonably good eye for cattle … and these are not your average brain-dead moo cows. They are awake and alert, and unlike regular cows, you definitely get the sense that there is a wild and wise creature looking back at you from the other side of the horns:
The Warden of the Cattle, Richard Marsh, accompanied us and answered all of our questions. I noted that unlike domestic cattle, they are stronger in the forequarters and lacking the large rear ends, so I asked him about their unusual build. He said that they are all like that, built for speed and for fighting rather than for meat. Overall they are an amazing herd, about a hundred bulls, cows, and calves, and the warden was obviously proud to be their champion.
Someone asked the Warden about inbreeding, and the lack of predators. He said that there was a curious custom that the herd invariably followed. The Warden said that the herd has one “King Bull” at any one time. And whenever a calf is born, when it is about a week old, the calf is brought to be introduced to the King Bull himself. He sniffs and licks the calf and checks it out. Usually it is accepted by the King Bull into the herd.
But sometimes, the King Bull says no, not good enough. No one knows why. The smell? Bad taste? In that case, in another few days the mother will try again. And it may or may not be accepted that time.
If not, then the mother will try once more, third time’s the charm.
And if the calf is still rejected … then she will go off into the woods with the calf, and leave it there. She will prevent it from returning to the herd, and it will die.
What a remarkably intricate world we live in, where a bunch of cows figures out how to keep a small genetically interbred herd strong in the absence of predators. Astonishing.
As I mentioned above, we were accompanied on the cattle-viewing expedition by Sir Humphry Wakefield, who lives with his wonderful wife Katharine in Chillingham Castle. After our trip to see the cattle, Sir Humphry gave us a guided tour of the Castle itself.
I find it difficult to describe either Sir Humphry or the castle, so let me start with the castle, it has hundreds of rooms, so it’s less complex than he is. Chillingham Castle started out life somewhere around the year dot as four watchtowers with a fence connecting them. Then at some point the towers were connected with stone walls to make a palace for a visiting Scottish King. It had always belonged to the Grey family line since that same year dot, but was abandoned in 1932. Here’s the castle, and a resplendent Sir Humphry in formal hunting attire:
And from the same source, here he is looking much more like the man who put on his boots and accompanied us to the Chillingham cattle field and told us fascinating stories about the history of the herd.
Sir Humphry’s wife, Katharine, came from nearby Howick Hall. Howick is yet another Grey property and once part of the Chillingham Estates. So they have brought Grey blood home to Chillingham Castle once again. Sir Humphry bought the lands around the Castle but was gifted the ruined building which had never been sold in its thousand-year history.
He then set about rebuilding it and then filling it with the most amazing, idiosyncratic, eclectic collection of objects that one could ever imagine … tripled. For example, we walked into one room to find an antique tripod-mounted (and doubtless inactivated) Vickers machine gun mixed in with a variety of medieval weapons. Bizarre. Inside and outside the castle you can find … well … everything and anything. For example, there are two cannons in the courtyard that Sir Humphry said were stamped with the markings of Nelson’s favourite flagship, the “Foudroyant”, captured from the French in the 18th century with the name retained to add gall to subsequent attack.
Intrigued by old naval guns, I asked how he’d gotten them, and he said he’d found them in the Crimea. I asked “How does one do that? Did you wander around the Crimea going ‘I say, you wouldn’t happen to have seen one of Lord Nelson’s cannons, would you, he seems to have mislaid it’ “.
Sir Humphry laughed his marvelous laugh, and said, “You know, I have only two skills in this life—riding horses, and recognizing quality. I saw these in a bunch of old rubbish behind a shop in Crimea, and bought them and brought them back.” Well, naturally, how foolish of me not to have guessed. Of course, being Sir Humphry, he had exact replica period wooden cannon mounts made for them.
The interior of the castle is poorly lit for photography, but here is one of the inner rooms:
There are curved brass Viking horns on the table, along with a variety of halberds and pikes and medieval weapons on the wall … but in true Sir Humphry fashion, mixed in with the horns and plates on the table is a very lovely and apparently authentic antique Fijian war club … who knows why? “Because Sir Humphry”, my daughter said … that made sense to me. I take my hat off to the man, he indeed has the eye for quality. At the end of the hall above you can dimly see a fully caparisoned horse and rider, here’s a closeup. It’s full-size, and up on a stand but doesn’t even start to dominate the huge hall … like all of Sir Humphry’s works, from the exquisite gardens to the windvane on top of one of the towers with the golden bat that is the symbol of the Grey family, the hall and all of its contents was very, very impressive.
During the tour Sir Humphry told us the story of the Battle of Flodden Field, which happened almost exactly 500 years to the day before our visit. He is a most accomplished raconteur, giving us all of the details large and small, describing the position of the armies and how they moved, how they dressed, and what they were thinking. At one point when he was describing a skirmish in astonishing (and likely accurate) detail, I said, “Sir Humphry, where on the field of battle were you standing at that moment when they charged?” It took him a moment to bring his mind forwards out of the mists of time, and then he laughed, shook his head, and said “It may surprise you, Willis, but I actually wasn’t there!” as if it were surprising to him as well … and then he was off again with tales of a hunted criminal forced to serve as a guide after his brother was captured and threatened with death, and the disposition of the archers in a line off of the left flank, and, and … I now know a whole lot more fascinating facts than a man should ever know about that battle, which took place about ten miles from Chillingham Castle.
After the tour, we were treated to a lovely dinner in an equally eccentric and equally impressive family dining hall in the private section of the castle. The evening had turned cold, and I’ll tell you, the castle would be a nightmare to heat. It’s not much more than a drafty pile of stones, and in this case the stone walls are about four foot thick. Well, except for the walls on the vulnerable north side, which Sir Humphry said were built out from 8 foot to 20 foot thick in the early 1500s, to protect against cannon fire. That’s great for cannon fire … but not for heating fires, build a fireplace on one side of those walls and see how long it takes for the other side to get warm … brrr.
But the food was hot and delicious, and the fire in the fireplace was warm, as was the convivial atmosphere. The other dinner guests were the head of one of the Colleges at Cambridge and his wife, and the conversation ebbed and flowed with passion and pleasure. My greatest thanks go to Sir Humphry and Lady Katharine for their hospitality, for their stories, and for restoring a marvelous piece of English history.
The next day, I got the chance to go salmon fishing with Matt Ridley and my gorgeous ex-fiancée. We went to a stretch of the River Coquet, here’s Matt and Ellie on the river.
Now, I’ve caught a lot of salmon in my day, but it’s all been commercial trolling and commercial net fishing. Once I was in the airport leaving Alaska and I got to talking with a guy carrying some rods. I asked how the fishing had been. He said it was great, he’d caught 18 silver salmon. “How did you do?”, he asked. Almost shamefacedly, I admitted that during the season I’d caught about 120 … tonnes … of silver salmon. So it was a first for me to try my hand at casting a fly for salmon in a river. Matt and a local guide did their best to school me in the arcane art, and I’m proud to say that at no time during my rather alarming experiments did I actually hook either a tree, the guide, or my ear.
I also didn’t hook a salmon, in fact Ellie was the only one to get a bite, but ask me if I care … I was out in the sun and the wind, on a lovely stretch of a river with boon companions, and the chance to learn a new kind of fishing was just a bonus. What’s not to like?
In the evening we had dinner at Matt’s house with his good lady Anya and their son Matthew. Anya is another one of those amazing folks, a neurobiologist with both a PhD and an MD, and the dinner guests were there for a neurobiology conference. Glamorous surroundings, glistening candelabras, and glittering conversation made it a most memorable evening.
In the morning, sadly, our time with the Clan Ridley was over. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality, which was of the best kind—effortless despite the effort, generous despite the cost, and without apparent limit.
From there, we rolled on south and had lunch with James Delingpole. James writes a blog for the Telegraph which I would describe as witty, incisive, and acerbic … and that’s just how he is in person as well. He fed us to the brim with his patented cheese toasties in the old country house where he resides, and then led us on a lovely countryside walk to a hill where we could see the old local manor house and the church. But all too soon, we were off again, heading back to Heathrow and a morning flight with only one final bright spot in view.
The bright spot was that we got to have dinner with Josh, who does the often hilarious weekly cartoons for WattsUpWithThat and the Bishop Hill Blog. I’m a cartoonist as well, here and here are my livetoons of the 2010 ICCC. But like everything else in my life, my cartooning is totally self-taught, and Josh is the only real-life cartoonist I’ve ever met. He turned out to be a lovely man, with the same warm personality that shines through in his cartoons. He’d brought along his sketch-books, so I got to see how a real cartoonist does it, even his simplest sketches are full of joy and laughter.
Then yesterday, up early, off to Heathrow, the joys of security, the long, long ten and a half hour non-stop flight back to San Francisco, the two-hour bus ride, then forty-five minutes by car to our house at the end of a dead-end road in the redwoods. This morning I woke up at 4 AM, which is noon GMT, and couldn’t sleep … now that the sun’s up, here’s what the view from my place looks like … warm, lovely, and very peaceful.
So our long and wonderful hegira through the British cities and countryside is all over, and for me it’s back to pounding nails on Monday. The gorgeous ex-fiancee returns to being a Family Nurse Practitioner, and the summer is over for our college lady, she’s jumping in her car and heading off to Uni today.
Not much more I can say, except to offer my thanks to all of the WUWT readers who have been so supportive, offering advice and information and encouragement and stories and support. I wish that I could have taken up on everyone’s invitations for food and drink and lodging. My apologies that I did not have time to respond to everyone’s invitations, comments and ideas, but I definitely read them all, and followed many of them. Here’s the team, enjoying the UK to the max on a sunny day in a secret, undisclosed location:
In addition, I give my greatest appreciation and thanks to those people who I was lucky enough to actually meet and spend time with. These included Benny Peiser; Tim Daw; Nick Luke; the Old Seadog; the “Bishop” Andrew Montford; Christopher Monckton; Matt, Anya, and Matthew Ridley; Sir Humphry and Katharine Wakefield; Richard Marsh, the Chillingham Game Warden; David the Northumberland fishing guide; James Delingpole; and Josh the cartoonist. If I’ve forgotten any, my apologies, you’re included too. All of them without exception gave freely and generously of their time and energy to show the marvels and mysteries of their local countryside to three rather benighted and bemused Colonials … you all have earned a special place in my pantheon of heroes, come and visit us when you have the chance and we’ll return the favor.
Always more to come, I’ve been doing some science in the spaces in between the places, and I have until Monday to write it up … life goes on.
Best regards, and thanks for all the fish, including the salmon that got away …