Friday, August 31, 2012

Bolton Castle Part I--Living/Working Areas

Bolton Castle sits in the middle of the Wensleydale countryside. The castle's history begins in the 1300s, when Sir Richard, the first Lord Scrope and a loyal knight, obtained permission from the king in 1379 to "crenellate" his manor house. This meant that he could build battlements (called "crenellations") and thus have a substantial private fortification. The castle was completed in 1399. The building was quite extravagant, featuring two kitchens, eight halls, numerous bed chambers for family and visitors, and rooms for all the support functions (stables, guard rooms, brew house, etc.) to maintain the house through any hardships. Many garderobes or loos were built throughout the castle and the plumbing was so ingenious that it was not surpassed till the Victorian era. It was modernized in the 16th century after a fire. In the 17th century it was besieged by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War. Eventually they surrendered and Cromwell's forces "slighted" the castle, leaving only the Southwest Tower undamaged. In 1761, about a hundred years later, the Northeast Tower collapsed. The other walls and towers are still standing almost to their original height.

Bolton Castle

Today it's an impressive site and is well-maintained inside. They have the standard tea room and gift shop. Most of the rooms are furnished with period or period-like accoutrements that give a real sense of the castle as it was in the distant past. We enjoyed wandering through the castle.

Tea room, offering modern refreshments

What was the Malting House and Granary is now set up as a kitchen. We had fun exploring the various stoves, fireplaces, and other equipment. The kitchen workers would roast or smoke various meats brought into the castle. This room had a crafts table for kids. The castle has crafts spread throughout, a nice feature for those visiting with little ones.

Working on a craft in the kitchen

Kitchen workers

Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen sink

Large fireplace

Down a long hallway was a surprise--the loo! The castle has extensive plumbing and plenty of facilities for those in need. Of course, they are not in use now, but it is amazing to see how much thought was put into making the castle a living and workable place.


We took the stairs down to see the ground floor of the castle. The spiral stairs are an odd feature in the castle. Most spiral stairsin  the medieval period run up in a clock-wise direction. This gives defenders the advantage of height and freedom to use their right arms to fight attackers. Bolton Castle's staircase run mostly anti-clockwise. There is no record of why they were built that way.

Winding stairs, like Jacob loves

The ground floor is where a lot of the work was done to support the castle. The Threshing Floor and Mill is where the local grains (mostly rye and oats) were ground into flour for bread.

Threshing Floor with grinding wheel

The flour was taken to the Bake House, where bread was made throughout the day. Bread was a staple in the castle's diet.

Bake house

Additional ovens!

Another staple in the castle's diet was beer, ale, wine, etc. Medieval water being somewhat terrible and extremely unhealthy, it would be boiled and fermented. A large vat would do the job of brewing and barrels would be stored nearby in the Brew House.

Brew House

The Armourer's Workshop had all the equipment needed for any metalwork in the castle. Besides weapons and armor, the armourer would have worked on the lead roofs, the leading for the windows (including any stained glass windows like in the chapel), and on the portculises.

Armour in the Armoury

Next to the workshop were several stables where horses would have been kept. Other livestock would also be brought in, especially in case of siege. One of the stables has been converted into an Archers' Room, showing how the bowmen would have lived.

Stables as stables

Stables as Archers' Bed Chamber

The wide variety of arrowheads used to cause maximum damage on impact

Off on the east wall the wine cellars and several storage spots can be found. The castle's well is found nearby. The well shaft is quite older than the castle and probably served the manor house that was here previously.

Well, where Lucy asked for a coin. If only it was a wishing well!

Around the corner from the well was a little hole in the ground called the Dungeon. The dungeon is a little oubliette (from the French oublier, to forget) that was used as the dungeon. It was hewn out of rock and is very small inside. Anyone put in there was lowered by ropes. Rations may have also been lowered, though possibly the "oubliette" name comes from the neglect such prisoners received. A human arm bone was found in this dungeon. It was still chained up to the wall.

Stocks on the way to the dungeon hole

Looks like a drain, right?

It drains your will to live!

Up above was where the Great Hall was located. The floors and ceilings have collapsed. I was interested to hear in the audio guide's description of the Great Hall that the Lord's dinner would typically have meats and breads and fruits, but vegetables were considered "common" would have been minimal. The room was quite enormous, two stories high and about 45 feet in length.

Where the Great Hall used to be

The Northwest Tower, though an empty shell now, had extensive guest apartments for visiting dignitaries or family members.

Guest accomodations

More of the ruins of the Northwest Tower

Going up to the second floor, many of the living rooms for the family are found. Also, the chapel is here. The chapel was dedicated to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. Completed around 1395, the dedication may have been in honor of Richard II's wife Anne of Bohemia, who had died recently. It was fairly opulent and included side rooms for three priests. Priests offered more than just prayers. Being educated, they would teach the sons of the Lords. Also, they were trained in medicine at the monasteries and probably tended the herb gardens to have what they needed when they were tended the sick.

The chapel remains

Holy water font

Monk's room

Seeing how long this post is getting, I will save the family accommodations and their stories for the next post.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Movie Review: Journey into Fear (1943)

Journey into Fear (1943), directed by Norman Foster

Sound like a good title for a horror movie right? Also it must be a good title for a World War II espionage thriller, since that is what this movie is. The screenplay is co-written by Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten (who both star in the film) from the novel by Eric Ambler. Most of the cast from the Mercury Theater (Welles's troupe that did the War of the Worlds radio broadcast and Citizen Kane) play the various characters, so the acting is top notch. Welles is a little bit hammy in his role as a corrupt Turkish cop but not too much. Cotten as Howard Graham is the star of the show.

Graham works for an American weapons manufacturer and is in Istanbul on his way home from a conference. He's met by the company's local Turkish agent, who browbeats him into going out for some drinks, leaving Graham's wife at the hotel. At the seedy cabaret they visit, Graham is dragged up on stage for a magician's act. The lights go out and a shot is fired. The magician is dead; everyone gets dragged off to the local constabulary to get things sorted. Here, Graham meets Colonel Haki (Welles), who recognizes that the bullet was meant for the "arms dealer" (as everyone else thinks of Graham) and decides Graham needs to leave town by the midnight boat rather than the morning train with his wife. Otherwise he won't escape the Gestapo assassin who is after him. He's still worried about his wife but Haki says he'll reassure her and get her to meet him at the boat's next port of call. Graham reluctantly agrees. He meets some of the performers from the cabaret on board. Who can Graham trust and did the assassin make it on the boat too?

This is an interesting though not great thriller about the Nazi menace. The story is more built around the cat-and-mouse pursuit of Graham and the tension is built around the question of who can be trusted. The ending is a bit of Hollywood standard fare but doesn't ruin the film. At 69 minutes long, a lot is packed into a short running time.

Unfortunately, it's not available on DVD in the USA. I saw it on BBC's iPlayer, where many movies that air on TV are viewable for a week or so afterward. As I write this, the week is already up, so good luck in searching for it!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lotherton Hall Bird Garden

A unique feature of Lotherton Hall is the extensive bird garden. They haven't planted birds in the ground. Rather, they've collected specimens from all over the earth and have them on display for the enjoyment of visitors and the preservation of endangered species. We enjoyed our stroll through the garden and saw many birds that we had never seen before.

First up is Demoiselle Cranes, native to grassland in Asia.

Demoiselle Cranes of Lotherton Hall

Next we saw a familiar sight. Pink Flamingos are common enough in Florida, though they are found in plastic versions all over the United States as tacky lawn ornaments. It's nice to see the real thing.

Poolside relaxing

White storks were glowing with the sunshine (or possibly poor photographic skills). The sign nearby said that the legend of white storks delivering babies originates in Europe. The storks would drop the babies down chimneys for expectant families. Wives who wanted to be mothers left out sweets on the window sill to signal where the storks should make deliveries.

Glow of bad photography or glow of pregnancy?

This next beautiful bird is the Superb Starling (no, I did not make that name up. Maybe someone else did and wrote it on the sign). Native to eastern Africa, these fellows are being bred to establish a diverse group at Lotherton for a future Africa exhibit.

Superb Starling (no ego problems for the bird since it doesn't understand English)

These White Faced Whistling Ducks must be a a dangerous lot since they are kept securely in their cage.

White Faced Whistling Ducks

Horned Owls are another American bird. They have an early breeding season, usually in December and January. They generally don't build their own nests but take over other birds' abandoned nests.

Horned Owl looking very sleepy; he's probably nocturnal

Speaking of laying eggs, the rheas must be in their breeding season because we saw these two characters in their yard with their clutch of eggs.

Rhea running

The eggs

The rheas and their eggs

Nearby we saw another caged bird who probably would cause lots of trouble if he got out, an Andean Condor! In ancient South American Andes culture, this bird of prey was honored as a sky god. Now the condors are endangered.

I think he's a sleepy god!

Uh-oh, I think he heard me and is not happy!

Slightly shorter than an ostrich (which is the tallest bird) and hailing from Australia is the emu. Though a flightless bird, an emu can run up to 30 miles per hour, which is very impressive and probably helps to escape predators.

Emus, which we have mistaken for ostriches before

Another pretty African bird is the Lilac Breasted Roller. They get the name from their courtship flights, a fast and shallow dive from high above with a lot of rolling maneuvers and loud calls.

Top Gun of Africa

From Asia is the Black Francolin, a game pheasant who only flies as a last resort. Like the emu, he's pretty fast on the ground.

Ready to run, as soon as he wakes up

The African Grey Crowned Crane comes from southern Africa and is the national bird of Uganda, featured on the country's flag and coat of arms.

You lookin' at me?!?

Less aggressive neighbor

We spent so much time admiring the birds, we didn't have time to see the actual hall at Lotherton Hall. Maybe on the next visit. I'm glad we got to see this unusual and delightful feature of the estate.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lotherton Hall Playground

We went to visit Lotherton Hall near Leeds when Maryellen, Ed, and Autumn were with us. As with most historic houses, the first stop the kids wanted to go to was the playground. I kept an eye on the young ones while Maryellen and Ed scoped out the rest of the area.

While not overly large, the playground did have some of the fun equipment we love and some of the equipment we never see back in Maryland.

The climbers were excellent and colorful. The kids always like climbing up to and sliding down from the high slides.

Jacob and Lucy cross the perilous rope bridge

Fun covered slide

This little wall of play panels got little to no love from any of the children at the playground.

C'mon! Tic-Tac-Toe? Musical instrument? Where's the love?

What did receive a lot of attention was the zip line. Luckily the line to ride the line moved quickly, so Jacob and Lucy and Autumn got their fill of flying through the air. Jacob and Lucy still want me to run alongside them as they go. I guess I don't mind, it's almost as good as riding.

Jacob zips!

Lucy zips!

Autumn zips!

Jacob also enjoyed one of the spinning poles though he couldn't quite figure out how to make it work. I guess I can't blame him since I couldn't quite figure it out either.

Trying to get the hang of it

Also, a random box of flowers was placed in the middle of the playground. Not sure why they put that there.

Time to stop and smell the flowers?

After getting their fill, we headed off to the bird garden, where a lot of avians from all over the earth have been gathered. But that's a story for the next post!