Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


25.5.12
  Towns and Nature Along the Baltic Sea Coasts - Part 1

I'm back, as usual with a truckload of photos. So here's the traditional overview post of the places I've visited.

Visby and Gotland's west coast

A Medieaval town that belonged to the Hansa League and to the Gotland Trade League before, with some well conserved town fortifications, a cathedral, nice old houses (trade made for rich merchants who in turn built pretty houses to show off), and a few ruins.

Visby, the town walls

I took a bus tour along part of the west coast of Gotland so I could catch bits of the landscape, too. We had some interesting stops. The flip side to guided tours are the other people in the group, but I managed to keep their appearance on photos to a minimum.

Bronze Age ship setting

Stockholm, and Stockholm Archipelago

I've lived there back in the 80ies. It was nice to revisit the place. The sun played along, too, as it did most of the tour. No grey and stormy Baltic Sea photos, I'm afraid. Well, we got some of those along the Norwegian coast last year.

Stockholm, the town hall

One place was new to me; the Vasa Museum where Gustav Adolf's flagship, which had sunk in Stockholm harbour in 1628 and was resurrected in the 1950ies, is now displayed in full splendour after years of conservation and reconstruction work.

Vasa Museum

Our ship, the Albatros, cruised the archipelago in the evening which made for some great motives There are about 2400 islands of all sizes from several square miles to 'just a boulder with a fir tree', and on the larger ones, many Swedes have summer houses.

Romantic islands in the evening sun

Helsinki and Porvoo

Helsinki is a rather young town, compared to places like Visby, but there was a tour to nearby Porvoo, a small Mediaeval town with pretty timber houses which, albeit not exactly Mediaeval (those had a habit of burning down during history), give the place an old fashioned, charming flair.

Helsinki Cathedral

St.Petersburg

We stayed in St.Petersburg for two days. It's the time of the white nights now when it doesn't get fully dark but a twiliight remains. It was unusually warm, too. Petersburg is a town of golden-cupolaed cathedrals, splendid palaces, and cars. London has nothing to the chaos on the roads in St.Petersburg.

Church of Christ's Resurrection

The town is also bascially built on a swamp (by Peter the Great) and it's a place with a history of assassinations. The above church was erected on the spot where Tsar Alexander I got killed, and Tsar Paul wasn't safe in his pretty palace below, either.

Palace of Tsar Paul

I took an evening cruise on the many canals that cut through Petersburg which was a nice change to the road traffic.

(More in the post below)

 


  Towns and Nature Along the Baltic Sea Coasts - Part 2

Back west from the easternmost stop in st.Petersburg, we visited some more places in the Baltic States and Poland.

Tallinn

This one's in Estonia. Another Hansa town, known as Reval when most of the territory of todays Baltic States was in the hands of the German Hansa and the Teutonic Knights.

Tallinn, view from the Upper Town to the Old Town

Riga

And on to Latvia. It is amazing how fast those towns managed to repair their historical sites that often had been damaged or destroyed during WW2 and neglected during the Sovjet area. Tallinn, Riga and Gdansk all have World Heritage status today. And the beer is still cheaper than in Germany. *grin*

Riga, House of the Black Brotherhood

Curonian Spit and Nida

The Curonian Spit (Kurische Nehrung) is a 98 km long dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. To prevent the dunes from covering everything, a reforesting program had been established in the 19th century, and today there are birch and pine woods, but still a lot of sand, too.

The Geat Dune

And some pretty villages like Nida (formerly Nidden) which had been a summer residence of rich Germans post WW2. The writer Thomas Mann spent some time there, and it would still make a good writer's retreat today; the place is very quiet, with the lagoon on one side and only a mile or so to the Baltic Sea.

A fisherman's hut in Nida

Gdansk and Marienburg Castle

Gdansk is another town with a great Hansa tradition and lots of beuatiful old houses as well as an interesting cathedral. It's also a centre of amber working and amber trade, in good Medieaval tradition when amber was one of its main export articles. Yes, I got me a bracelet.

Gabled houses in Gdansk

Amber trade was in the hands of the Teutonic Knights, and boy, did they build a whopping big castle a bit inland. Sorry, Edward I, but your Welsh castles have nothing to the Marienburg (Malbork Castle). I was lucky to be able to spend several hours there, exploring at least part of it.

Marienburg (Malbork) Castle, middle and inner bailey

Kiel Canal

Better know as Nord-Ostsee-Kanal in Germany. Since the Albatros sailed off from Bremerhaven at the North Sea, we had to cross the canal to get to the Baltic Sea (it's much shorter than rounding the entire peninsula), and on the way back it took place mostly during daylight. It was almost like a river cruise.

Traffic on the Kiel Canal

Bremen

On the way back, I stopped in Bremen for a few hours, to add another Hansa town to my collection. Its Renaissance town hall is one of the most beautiful in Europe, and there's a cathedral and some narrow streets with old houses as well.

Bremen, the town hall

Blog fodder for months to come, and I haven't even finished all posts about the Welsh castles from 2008. *sigh*

 


10.5.12
  Crossing the Weser and soon to Cruise the High Seas

I've mentioned before that one way to cross the Weser river are cable ferries that are still operating in some places.

A Weser ferry

We went that way a week ago because we found this on the other side. *grin* (Well, I found it on a website and we went there on purpose).


Castle Polle

It's Castle Polle, one of the castles in possession of the Counts of Everstein about whom I blogged when I had visited one of their other castles. Other than the Kugelsburg which was held by a chatellain, Polle was actually inhabited by the family.


View to the palas and the Weser, from the top of the keep

You can't blame them because they got those views from the windows of the palas (which today is sadly lacking two walls, a roof, and an upper storey) and the keep.

View to the other side
The river actually makes a turn in the left corner; the houses in the background sit along the shore

This post is also to announce that I'm going the cruise the high seas - the Baltic Sea, to be exact, in the wake of Vikings, cogs and cathedrals of the Hansa Leage, as well as some pirates and Teutonic Knights, with the shiny splendour of Russian palaces thrown in for more fun.

Outer curtain wall with the Weser beneath

The itinerary will encompass Visby and Gotland, Stockholm (I've lived there but it should be nice to return to some of my favourite haunts with a digital camera), Helsinki, St.Petersburg, Tallinn (which was known as Reval until WW2), Riga, Klaipeda / Nida (Lithuania) and Gdansk with a tour to Marienburg / Malbork Castle. And time enough at every stop to really explore the towns.

Zoomed in view from the castle keep to the Weser

I'll got as far east as last year (Kirkenes in Norway), but this time we'll cross two actual time zones to St.Petersburg which is the easternmost point of the voyage. The Baltic Sea is very different from the North and Arctic Seas, and the coasts are different as well. I'll hope for a good photo booty to share upon my return.
 


8.5.12
  Dunstaffnage Chapel

Not much is known about the chapel that lies abut 150 metres from the castle, except that is was built by Duncan MacDougall of Lorn, builder of the castle, as well.

Way from the castle to the chapel
(maybe the place of Lord John's assassination?)

Duncan must have had access to some really good masons because the stonework and the decorations are quite outstanding for the time. The guidebook even says that no other chapel on the Scottish mainland from that time (~ 1220) can rival it.

View into the nave from the west entrance

Well, even its ruins make for some nice photos, and so this is more or less a 'photo spam' post. :) And the last to deal with Dunstaffnage and its history. I really need to sorta 'cross out' some of my sites; the list of future posts is way too long and getting longer.

View to the chancel with the former altar site

The chapel is single naved and about 20 metres long (6 metres wide); the chancel was divided from the main room by a timber screen. Paired lancet windows on all three sides illuminated the chancel while only two single windows in the south and north wall let some light into the main room. The altar was thus bathed in light - at least on sunny days.

One of the double lancet windows

The windows show some fine dog teeth decorations and widely splayed arches. The three entrances also were decorated, but only some fragments remain. They likely had arched doorways. Nothing is known about possible murals though my guess is there may have been some, going by the overall quality of the building.

View from the (former) altar into the main room

The chapel served as family chapel for the lord of the castle, though services there could well have been attended by visitors of the lords and / or keepers as well, including maybe King James IV. Its former splendour certainly may have appealed even to a king.

View into the nave from a side entrance

But the chapel already was in ruins in 1740 when a burial aisle was built to the east end that would serve as cemetary for the Campbell captains of the castle.

 


6.5.12
  Dunstaffnage Castle - The Campbells Are Coming

For some 150 years, Dunstaffnage Castle remained a crown possession. It appeared in the spotlight of history a few times, like in 1431, when King James I took the castle and hanged about 300 rebels who had sheltered there after the battle of Inverlochy. James had taken Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross prisoner and that of course, led a number of Scottish clans to rebellion. They were successful at first, but as so often, the rebellion disintegrated and Alexander only came free with King James' death in 1437.

Another view of the battlements

Another sad affair took place in 1463. The keeper of Dunstaffnage at the time was John Stewart 2nd Lord of Lorn. He had a rival in Alan MacDougall, my guess is about the woman John was going to marry and who already was the mother of, or pregnant with, his son. I could not find out her name, maybe she was the 'unknown MacLaren' cited in the Peerage (10798). Alan and his men attacked John on the way to Dunstaffnage chapel close to the castle and fatally wounded him. But John managed to crawl to the altar and complete the marriage vows before he expired. You could not find a better opera scene, lol.

Angus MacDougall took the castle, but King James III re-seized it and gave it to Colin Campbell 1st Earl of Argyll in 1470. The castle and the keepership which also was hereditary held by a Campbell, remained in the hands of the family until 1958.

Remains of the 'new house' from 1725

The Campbell keepers were obliged to keep the castle in good repair and garrisoned with 'six able and decent men with armour and arms sufficient for war', as well as a porter and a watchman. That was only a peace time garrison, of course, it would need more men to defend the place.

Some changes in the gatehouse and the north-east living quarters date to the 15th century. The castle did need some prettying-up since kings sometimes sojourned there, so James IV. Dunstaffnage also served as base for military forays into the Hebrideans against the MacDonald Lord of the Isles.

During the Civil War, the castle held out against the forces of Montrose in 1644, and three years later managed to capture Montrose's second-in-command, Sir Alexander MacDonald, who was then hanged from the castle battlements; his body buried outside the chapel. There's a pattern here; it seems Bannockburn was the last time the MacDonalds and Campbells, both fighting at the side of King Robert, got along.


The 'new house', the fireplace

The Campbells fared less well when both the 8th and 9th Earl of Argyll were executed for treason. Partly due to the machinations of his enemies, partly maybe the to power he held,, the 9th Earl, Archibald Campbell, had incurred the wrath of James Duke of York (the later King James II of England and James VII of Scotland), was imprisoned and put to trial. But Archibald escaped from Edinburgh. A few years later, he got involved in the 1685 rising against King James who had converted to Catholicism - while the Campbells were Protestants. But his small host was overcome, the earl captured and exectued, while Dunstaffnage Castle was taken and burned by royalist troops, though not completely destroyed.

But the family was back during the Jacobite Risings in 1715 and 1745. Dunstaffnage at the time was occupied by government troops. Flora MacDonald, the woman who hepled Bonny Prince Charlie to escape out of Scotland, stayed there briefly on her way to prison in England.

A view from the battlements to Loch Etive

A new house was added to the castle in 1725 in the place of the old kitchen house. The captain lived in the castle until 1810, but it started to decay so badly that he found a better house to live in and left the castle to a tennant.

The Duke of Argyll started to undertake restoration work prior to WW1 (esp. the gatehouse) but it was delayed during the war, and later plans for a complete restoration were never fulfilled. After WW2, the roof of the 'new house' had collapsed, thus leaving the only still habitable place - besides the gatehouse - in ruins as well. In 1958, both the Duke of Argyll and the hereditary captain (the 21st) agreed to give the castle into the care of Historic Scotland.

 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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