Books, Writing Reviews and Confusion.

Confused (from Pixabay)

This is just a quick post to express my recent confusion . . .

As most writers, I love getting reviews of my books. Whether they’re good or bad, the comments can be helpful as I pursue future writing projects. I’ve been fortunate in having many great comments, as well as one or two that have made me stop and think. But I do keep in mind that all readers are different. What appeals to one may be something another reader dislikes. Even the most popular novels – the best sellers – have a wide range of reviews and ratings.

There now. I’ve just said the word that is causing me to be confused right now. Notably, the Amazon Rating System.

I noticed two more reviews of Book 1 of my trilogy Shadow of the Raven on the Amazon UK site over the weekend. One is great (5 stars) and I couldn’t ask for better. The other has left me scratching my head! It’s a short review, but the wording is nice and complimentary. This is it, word for word:

Excellent. 

Couldn’t put this book down. If you like Bernard Cornwell you will enjoy this author who writes in the same exciting way.”

I’m delighted with the comment, of course. Many similar comments have been accompanied by a rating of 4 or 5 stars. But this one came with a rating of 2 stars, so I’m sure you’ll see why I’m bewildered by it.

When all’s said and done, a 2 star rating means you didn’t like the book at all!

So the wording of the comment and the rating contradict each other. Could the reader have simply misunderstood the rating system – or clicked the wrong star symbol? Or is it me who doesn’t understand the star ratings?

If anyone can offer some explanation about this, I’d really appreciate it.

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That Goddam Portal – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. It encourages us to comment, constructively, on other entries, so supporting each other’s writing. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.

I must apologise for my late entry this week, PJ. (I’ve been very busy eating my Easter eggs. 😀 )

This is the prompt, kindly provided by Uday on his blog, Udayology.

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. . . and this is my story:

That Goddam Portal

‘Two minutes, guys, and yer butts are through that goddam portal!’

Sam Blake surveyed his white-faced crew. ‘If y’ain’t quick enough, yer’ ll be left to face them mean critters following us.’

Billy Briggs, the newest and smallest crewman, glanced at his nodding mates: fifteen of them, all desperate to leave this hostile world. The thought of staying here was too terrible to contemplate.

‘Quit that pushin’ and a shovin’, Billy,’ Commander Blake hissed. ‘No one moves till I give the signal.’

The loud whistle sent the group hurtling for the circular doors. Unaccustomed to the procedure, Billy was thrust aside, only managing to stumble to the portal as it swung shut in his face. He turned, horror-struck at the words he heard:

‘Thought yer’d run off with them skiving kids, did yer m’ lad? There’s yer bedroom ter clean, and yer pa wants ‘is car washin’.  Get back t’ yer chores . . .  Now!’

Billy silently cursed. Next time, he’d be first through that goddam portal!

***

Word Count: 169

If you’d like to read other entries, or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

Yum . . . Easter Eggs!

eggs 3 (2)

I’d intended this post to be purely about Easter eggs, but decided I couldn’t just plunge in and talk about ‘eggs’ without first saying a little about the celebration of Easter itself. So that’s what I’ve done . . .

Easter is a Christian holiday which falls in the spring, the time when the earth renews itself after a long, cold winter. The date of the holiday is not fixed, as it falls on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox (March 20/21). This means that Easter will fall sometime between March 22 and April 25. In contrast, Christian churches in the East, closer to the birth of Christianity, celebrated the resurrection of Christ long before the word Easter was used. The word they used for the celebration was Pascha, which is derived from and linked to the Jewish festival of Passover.

The origins of the word, EASTER have been traced to the Scandinavian/Norse word Ostra and the Germanic words Ostern or Eastre. Both of these come from the names of mythological goddesses of spring and fertility (e.g. Eostre) whose festivals were held at the time of the spring equinox.

Ostara (Eostre0 bu Johannes Gehrts, 1901. Ostara flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman inspired putti, beams of light and animals. Germanic peoples look up at the goddess from below. Public Domain.
Ostara (Eostre) by Johannes Gehrts, 1901. Ostara flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman inspired putti, beams of light and animals. Germanic peoples look up at the goddess from below.
Public Domain.

Despite being a Christian celebration, many of the customs associated with the holiday are linked to far older, pagan traditions – including the Easter egg and the Easter bunny.

The egg is an ancient symbol of fertility and new life which has long been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring. In Christianity, for the celebration of Eastertide, Easter eggs symbolise the empty tomb – or the stone of the tomb – a reminder that Christ rose from the grave.

The decorating of eggshells was practiced long before Christian traditions. Decorated ostrich eggs that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa, and representations of ostrich eggs in gold and silver were often placed on the graves of ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5.000 years ago.

Ostrich egg shell with painted red lines. Punic artwork from Iron Age II. Current location: National Archaeological Museum of Spain. Photographer: Luis Garcia (Zarqarbal). Commons.
Ostrich egg shell with painted red lines. Punic artwork from Iron Age II. Current location: National Archaeological Museum of Spain. Photographer: Luis Garcia (Zarqarbal). Commons.

The Christian custom of the Easter egg can be traced back to the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ shed at his crucifixion. The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the symbol as the resurrection of Jesus. In modern-day Greece, the custom of painting eggs blood-red is still practised:

Painted eggs from (present day) Greece. Author: Tony Esopi from el. Commons
Painted eggs from present-day Greece. Author: Tony Esopi from el. Common

In the earliest days, people gave each other gifts of eggs carved from wood or precious stones. The decorating of eggs for Easter is a tradition that is believed to date back to the 13th century. It is thought that the custom arose because eggs were a forbidden food during Lent, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting. The eggs would then be eaten at Easter as a celebration.

By the 18th century, pasteboard or papier mache eggs were given, holding small gifts, and by the 19th century, cardboard eggs covered with silk, lace or velvet and fastened with ribbon, were fashionable. More exquisite and costly eggs were also being created in the 19th century from materials such as ivory and porcelain, and often inlaid with jewels. The most spectacular of these was perhaps the one made by Carl Faberge in 1887 for the Russian Czar and Czarina. Today this, and other such elaborate creations, are museum pieces.

Imperial Coronation egg, photographed at an exhibition in Rome.. Author: Miguel Hermoso-Cuesta. Commons.
Imperial Coronation egg photographed at an exhibition in Rome. Author: Miguel Hermoso-Cuesta. Commons.

Chocolate Easter eggs have developed from a simple type wrapped in paper to the more elaborate  ones in bright foil, packed in a fancy box or basket. The first chocolate eggs were produced in France and Germany in the early 19th century. Some of the earliest eggs were solid, and the first hollow eggs were very difficult to make as the moulds had to be lined with paste chocolate, one at a time!

John Cadbury began making his first ‘French eating chocolate’ in 1842, and by 1875, the first Cadbury’s Easter Eggs were made. But it was a slow business until a method was found of making the chocolate flow into the moulds. (I won’t go into the process by which this was done here!)

John Cadbury, founder of the Cadbury chocolate making company. Photo taken prior to 1889. Public Domain.
John Cadbury, founder of the Cadbury chocolate making company. Photo taken prior to 1889. Public Domain.

The earliest Cadbury eggs were made of dark chocolate, with a plain, smooth surface and filled with dragees  (hard, bite-sized, colourful forms of confectionery, with a hard, outer shell, and sometimes used for cake decoration. Unlike those in the picture below, many are spherical. Small, silver dragees are often used to decorate wedding cakes).

Jordan almonds - a form of dragees. Photographer: Alex Kasperavicius. Public Domain.
Jordan almonds – a form of dragees. Photographer: Alex Kasperavicius. Public Domain.

The outer ‘shells’ of the Cadbury eggs were decorated with marzipan flowers and chocolate piping. But more  decorative designs soon followed and by 1893, Cadbury could boast 19 different lines. The ‘crocodile skin’ finish of the shell came from Germany – a technique that was ideal for disguising flaws in the smooth surface of the chocolate. Nowadays there are many distinctive designs from different manufacturers.

It was the introduction of the famous Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate that made the greatest contribution to Easter egg sales. Today, the Easter egg market is predominantly milk chocolate.

The traditional decorating of eggs for Easter (both chicken eggs and artificial ones) continues in many countries today. Most are incredibly beautiful. This post would be far too long if I were to show some of these here, so I’ll leave the topic of Easter eggs with a link to a wonderful post by my blogging friend, Amanda (forestwoodfolkart) over at Something to Ponder About. As someone very much into art and decoration, Amanda knows what she’s talking about.

Me . . .? I just adore Cadbury’s chocolate!

Check out the link to Amanda’s post:

Easter Eggs – Traditional Art in Eastern Europe

There are many other interesting Easter traditions, such as egg-rolling, eating hot-cross buns, Easter parades, and Easter bonnets. Not to mention the Easter Bunny! But I’ll  leave those to talk about next year.

Easter postcard c early 20th century.Author: ItsLassieTime. Public Domain
Easter postcard c early 20th century. Author: ItsLassieTime. Public Domain

A Visit to Hadrian’s Wall

186 Walltown Crags (2)

Last August, Nick and I spent some time up in the North of England in order to visit one of my all-time favourite sites . . . Hadrian’s Wall. I’m totally smitten by this structure and the wonderful, open scenery around it, but I can well imagine what the Romans felt about manning it, particularly in the cold, wet, or icy winter months. It really is quite desolate up there, with nothing to see for miles other than the odd farm and plenty of sheep.

 

Sheep around Hadrian's Wall

We took lots of photos of the various forts and museums, as well as several of the Wall itself. I thought I’d do the first post about Hadrian’s Wall in general and follow it with a couple about the forts we visited along its route. To start with, here’s some information about the Roman Invasion and the building of the Wall:

The Romans first invaded Britain in 55 BC under Julius Caesar, but this was not a success, and permanent occupation of the island only began in AD 43 when the Emperor Claudius launched an invasion…

Statue of Claudius in the Vatican Museum. Author: sailko. Creative Commons
Statue of Claudius in the Vatican Museum. Author: sailko. Creative Commons

Even then, the invasion was not as easy as Claudius had hoped. The Celtic tribes were savage  and warlike and most had no intention of succumbing to Roman domination. Some did, of course, including the Brigantes – whose queen, Cartimandua, I mentioned in my Chester post. It was only once the Boudicca uprising of AD 60-61 had been quelled that the Romans were able to move out and establish control over the rest of the country.

The fort of Roman Chester (Deva) was established by AD 70. The great fortress at York, Eboracum – which became the provincial capital of ‘the North’ – was also founded at this time, and shortly after AD 100 the most northerly army forts stretched between the Tyne and the Solway. These were linked by a road now known as the Stanegate, which provided good communications between Corbridge towards the east and Carlisle in the west. It was along this line that, in AD 122, the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the Wall.

Hadrian

Hadrian’s Wall is the most important monument built by the Romans in Britain. For 300 years it was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. According to Hadrian’s biographer, it was intended to separate Romans from the barbarians further north. But in many ways, the Wall is the recognition of Rome’s abandonment of its intentions to conquer all of Britain. Having originally intending to conquer further north the Romans had now become more interested in controlling goods in and out of their empire and focused on their frontiers.

Location of Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall. Author: NormanEinstein. Creative Commons
Location of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall. Author: NormanEinstein. Creative Commons

Hadrian’s Wall stretched for 73 miles (80 Roman miles) across country, from Bowness-on-Solway in the west to Wallsend-on-Tyne in the east, and forts were located about every five Roman miles. It followed the natural contours of the Whin Sill Ridge:

0551 Whin Sill

It was built by the soldiers themselves, mostly the legionaries:

Legionaries building The Wall
Legionaries building the Wall. Photo from Housesteads Visitor Centre.

The Wall is thought to have been up to 3.1 meters thick and about 4-5 meters high. At the top was probably a protected walkway for soldiers on patrol. At first, it was built either of stone or, in the western third, of turf and timber and replaced by stone after 30 years.

Milecastles were  gateways, placed at every mile between the forts, as legal crossing points:

The remains of Castle Nick, Milecastle Milecastle 39, between Housestaeds and Onve Brewed Visitor Centre for Northumberland. Author: Adam Cuerden. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons
The remains of Castle Nick, Milecastle Milecastle 39, between Housestaeds and Once Brewed Visitor Centre for Northumberland. Author: Adam Cuerden. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons

Turrets, or small watch towers, were built into the wall at intervals of a third of a Roman mile (equivalent to 541 yards) i.e. two turrets between each milecastle. The reconstructions below are from Vindolanda (the site of one of the forts along the Stanegate road, already in existence before the Wall was built.):

087 Wooden milecastle
Wooden turret at Vindolanda
086 Stone turret
Stone turret at Vindolanda

Below is a reconstruction of a Roman soldier on watch over the Wall – probably at one of the milecastles or turrets. It wasn’t the most pleasant of jobs during the cold northern winters – especially for soldiers used to Mediterranean climes.

011 Soldier on the Wall (2)

During the building of the Wall, it was decided to build an additional 12 or 13 forts actually on the wall line. South of the Wall, a great earthwork known as the Vallum was completed. This consisted of a ditch with a mound set back on either side stretching the length of the frontier from the Tyne to the Solway. Crossings through the Vallum were only at the forts. There was also a ditch on the northern side, except in places where the high ridge or the Solway coast made it unnecessary. Material from this ditch was used to make an outer band on the north side.

Cross section of the works. Author: Ujap.de. Creative Commons
Cross section of Hadrian’s Wall. Author: Ujap.de. Creative Commons
Vallum at Hadrian's Wall. Photographer: Optimist on the run. Creative Commons.
Vallum at Hadrian’s Wall. Photographer: Optimist on the run. Creative Commons.

Soldiers from three legions of Britain (Legionaries) came north to build the Wall, with soldiers from the provincial army (Auxilliaries) and even sailors from the fleet to help. In the ‘overbright’ picture below from The Roman Army Museum, the Auxilliary soldier is the one with the oval-shaped shield:

Legionary and Auxilliary

It took them over ten years to complete. But on Hadrian’s death in AD 138, his wall was abandoned on the orders of the new emporer, Antoninus Pius, who ordered the building of a new wall almost 100 miles further north, acoss what is now known as the Central valley of Scotland. It stretched for 37 miles, from the Forth to the Clyde estuaries and, unsurprisingly, became known as the Antonine Wall. After 20 years, it was abandoned in favour of a return to Hadrian’s Wall.

Outside of the forts, civil settlements (vicus) became established, where the soldiers’ families lived. There were also shops and inns in these settlements, seeking to make a living from the soldiers, who were relatively well paid compared to the farmers of the frontier region. l’ll say more about these settlements in my next two posts.

Since the Roman withdrawal from Britain in AD 410, Hadrian’s Wall has gradually reduced in size due to local people plundering the stones, for a variety of purposes. Many churches, farms and field walls, as well as several castles contain stones originally found in the Wall. Plundering continued until the 19th century when archaeological excavations began and interest in the preservation of heritage sites took on an importance. The agricultural revolution of the 18th century also led to further destruction of the Wall as the land was cultivated. Today, although the actual Wall has disappeared in places, it survives in place-names such as Wallsend, Heddon-on-the-Wall and Walton – amongst several others.

I have visited most of the forts along the Wall, as well as The Roman Army Museum at Carvoran. There are several sites I really like, but intend to do posts only about a couple of them. Each site has something different to offer. To finish with, here’s a photo of a Roman Legionary we met at Birdoswald Roman Fort. He was very chatty and friendly and put on his special scowl just ‘for the camera’:

015 Bird Oswald Soldier (1)

Three Quotes Challenge – Day 3

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I’ve  been nominated again for the Three Quotes Challenge, this time by Nitin Chandran Nair on his blog, Nitin Nair Writes. Thank you Nitin! I know Nitin mostly through the flash fiction challenges, even though I have time for very few of those nowadays. Unfortunately.

Here are the RULES for this one:

1. Post on three consecutive days

2. Pick one or three quotes per day

3. Challenge three different bloggers per day

4. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

For this challenge I’ve decided to post three quotes a day, each day on a different topic.

For Day Three I’ve chosen three inspirational quotes (well, I hope they sound inspirational to you). I think we all need inspiration at times, whether it’s to make the right decision or take the right course of action about something, or in order to pursue a piece of creative work, like writing or painting etcetera. Sometimes it can seem as though all inspiration has deserted us – perhaps only patience will ensure its return.

Anyway, here are the quotes:

Quotes Day 3

Quotes Day 3 (2)

Quote Day 3 (3)

It strikes me as funny that I should have (coincidentally) chosen three images with the background colour of blue for these quotes. Well, I suppose the sky is blue and that ‘great blue yonder’ definitely holds infinite possibilities – as does the vast, blue ocean. Gazing at the sky (or the sea) seems to inspire calm and thoughtfulness in a person -as well as a good dollop of awe – and perhaps it can put us in the right state of mind for inspiration to strike. Of course, inspiration can come at the strangest of times . . . when we’re taking a shower, lying in bed, swimming a few lengths at the pool or just watching TV, for example. But there’s just something about a cornflower blue sky and azure ocean.

As for the quotes, I like them all, but find the second one to be the most thought-provoking and open to interpretation. The last one begs the question of why “perfection is not attainable”. Do you have any views on that statement?

These are my three nominees for today:

Ann – on her blog at Anroworld

White House Red Door

Prabhatks on his blog, Inkyfire.

Three Quotes Challenge – Day 2

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I’ve  been nominated again for the Three Quotes Challenge, this time by Nitin Chandran Nair on his blog, Nitin Nair Writes. Thank you Nitin! I know Nitin mostly through the flash fiction challenges, even though I have time for very few of those nowadays. Unfortunately.

These are the RULES for this one:

1. Post on three consecutive days

2. Pick one or three quotes per day

3. Challenge three different bloggers per day

4. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

For this challenge I’ve decided to post three quotes a day, each day on a different topic.

So, here goes with Day 2. As you may well have guessed from the above picture, I’m posting quotes about families today. Those of you who know me, will know that I have six children. Yes, I probably am a glutton for punishment. They’re all well grown up now, the eldest being 43 and the youngest 32. We certainly had a fun time when they were all young, especiallly on those ‘special’ days of the year and holidays together.

As for the quotes, there are dozens out there on this topic, most of them applauding the value of a happy, loving family – the togetherness and support kind of thing. I can’t dispute any of them, but for my quotes today, I’ve tried to pick three quotes that give a slightly different or quirky view of the family unit.

Families Quote 3

Children 1988 (2)

Family Quote 3

The second of these pictures was taken in 1988 on a Norfolk beach. Our eldest daughter didn’t want to play ‘let’s bury Richard and Neil’ on this occasion, so there are only five children in the photo. Louise is the one in the middle, piling up the sand. (Perhaps she was looking for fairies for her future blog. :)) It’s a photo of an old photo, so the quality is awful  – sorry about that – but it was the nearest picture I could find to suit the quote.

I can relate to the first two of these quotes very well, but the last one not so much.

Here are my three nominees for today:

Antonia – on her blog, Zoale

Cameron – over at The World’s Biggest Fridge Magnet

Lynne – at Lynne’s Recipe Trails

Three Quotes Challenge – Day 1

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I’ve  been nominated again for the Three Quotes Challenge, this time by Nitin Chandran Nair on his blog, Nitin Nair Writes. Thank you Nitin! I know Nitin mostly through the flash fiction challenges, even though I have time for very few of those nowadays. Unfortunately.

So . . . here are the RULES for this one:

1. Post on three consecutive days

2. Pick one or three quotes per day

3. Challenge three different bloggers per day

4. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

For this challenge I’ve decided to post three quotes a day, each day on a different topic.

For Day One I’ve chosen to do quotes about Books and Reading. Books have featured hugely in my life as far back as I can remember (and my memory goes back as  far as the early 1950s). My father was a big reader and introduced us – myself, my sister and brother – to the joys of the library from a very young age.  A day never goes by when I don’t read at least a few pages.

shutterstock image The joy of reading

There are so many good quotes about, I was stuck for choice, but I eventually settled on the following three:

Reading Quote 1 (2)

Reading Quote 3 (2)

Reading Quote 3 (3)

I can relate to all three of these quotes . . .

The first one happens to me a lot. Characters are so important in a story; we become engrossed in their stories, their ups and downs, their loves and hates  . . .  As we read on, we begin to feel as though we know them personally. Is it any surprise that when the book ends, we feel as though we’ve lost a friend (or two?).

As for the second quote . . . all I can say is that I daren’t walk into Waterstones, or any other bookstore, if I’m in a hurry. How could anyone resist browsing the shelves for several wonderful hours . . .  or spending a lot of money?

I find the third quote the most thought-provoking of the three. To me, reading brings ‘enlightenment’ – by which I mean a better understanding of people and the world in which we live. Whether the story is set in the past or the present, human nature is revealed in a way that we can relate to in one way or another. Understanding of so much is closed to anyone denied of books.

I would love to hear other people’s views on any of these quotes. I know that plenty of you share my love of books and reading.

There are my three nominees for today:

Simple Dimple

Snow Brooks

Farraday’s Candle

A Look at Roman Chester

Plan of fort and location of ampitheatre

Last June we had a few days in Chester, mostly to visit my aunt and uncle in North Wales but also to visit some of the castles along the North Wales coast. We managed to do all that, and I posted three ‘castle posts’ once we got home, as well as one about Bodnant Gardens. We were staying at a hotel in Chester, so we also spent one of our days in the city – but I never did get around to posting about it. So today I’ve duly written it up.

Chester is located in the county of Cheshire in the north-west of England, south of the River Mersey and the much larger city of Liverpool. The River Dee flows through it in its way to the Irish Sea:

Map of Cheshire showing location of Chester. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion, Creative Commons
Map of Cheshire showing location of Chester. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion, Creative Commons

Chester’s a lovely old city, with evidence of settlement throughout various periods since Roman times. The town centre is known for its many ‘black and white’ buildings and galleried shops, or the ‘Chester Rows’.

Bridge Street, Chester (2)
Bridge Street, Chester.  Author: Crashlanded. Creative Commons

There is a lot about this city I could talk about – including the Anglo-Saxon period and the medieval castle and city walls . . .

Chester's City Walls -Bridgegate to Eastgate (2)
Chester’s City Walls – Bridgegate to Eastgate, Source: geog.org.uk. Author: John S. Turner. Creative Commons

In the ‘Dewa’ Roman museum, there are cellar remains showing settlement at various levels/strata – through Roman, Saxon and later medieval periods. Buildings around the city also provide evidence for these periods, as well as later times.

Cellar remains showing levels of settlement at Dewa Museum
Cellar remains showing levels of settlement at Dewa Museum

But today I want to focus on the Roman settlement at Chester (Deva or Dewa).

Dewa/Deva stood on a ridge of red sandstone in a loop of the River Dee. This photo shows a ‘cut’ through the ridge for the Chester – or Shropshire Union – Canal:

Triassic Sandstone along canal

The settlement began life as a mostly wooden fortress built by the Second Legion, Adiutrix, in AD 70, and was named after the local name for the goddess of the river, Dewa. The site was perfect for several reasons. It controlled the newly occupied and hostile areas of the Welsh as well as those of Northern Britain, and the River Dee was navigable up to the sandstone ridge, providing good harbour facilities and good protection on the southern and westerly sides. It is also possible that the fortress was intended as a supply base and embarkation point for the intended conquest of Ireland.

At the end of the 80s, the 2nd Legion was sent to Germany and the Twentieth Legion, Valeria Victrix, moved into the fortress:

Moulded antefix roof tile showing badge and standard of the Lefion XX - from Holt, Clwed, Wales. Author: AgTigress. Creative Commons
Moulded antefix roof tile showing badge and standard of the Legion XX – from Holt, Clwyd, Wales. Author: AgTigress. Creative Commons

The Twentieth replaced the wooden buildings with stone and stayed in the fortress until the 5th century.

Remains of a wooden jetty have also been found. Exports would have included tin, silver, hides, oysters, wooden products, basketry, slaves and hunting dogs. Despite Britain’s mineral wealth, Rome gained little from the country and needed to import far more goods in order to meet the demands of the Roman soldiers stationed here. According to the Roman writer, Strabo, imports included ivory, amber, gems, glass vessels, wine, olives and olive oil, figs, pottery, papyrus and spices.

Here are some photos of some of the artefacts, plus a few replicas, of Roman items we saw on display at the Dewa Roman Museum:

Deva had the typical ‘playing card’ design of all Roman forts. The outer edge was a tall, thick stone wall, five courses high, and with four gatehouses to enter:

Plan of fort and location of ampitheatre

Outside the fortress wall, as well as the civilian settlement (canabae/vicus) were a bath house and an amphitheatre. Evidence of the amphitheatre was first discovered in 1929 but it wasn’t until 1993 that excavation work started on it. To date only half of it has been excavated. It is thought to have been the biggest amphitheatre in Britain and seated 7,000 spectators. There were four entrances, the main one being on the northern side.

Model of ampitheatre

A small room at the east entrance may have held the beasts – which would most likely have included stags, bulls and bears, not the lions and elephants etc seen in Rome.

The entrance to the passageway shown is thought to have led to area where the beasts were held
The entrance to the passageway shown is thought to have led to the area where the beasts were held

A shrine to the goddess, Nemesis, was discovered beside the north entrance and an altar dedicated to the centurion, Sextius Marciano. The walls of the arena were painted a reddish brown to give a marbled effect and the arena floor was covered in yellow sand to stop combatants from slipping. It could also be easily cleaned.

Gladiator fights were popular and aroused great passions. Gladiators were often prisoners of war or condemned slaves reprieved from execution and specially trained. Combat gave them a chance to win a ‘new life’ by showing skill and courage. The killing of beasts would have reinforced the belief in man’s dominion over nature – important in a world in which wild animals still posed a real threat.

Gladiator info.

Gladiator fights

All in all, Chester is well worth a visit. Many tourists also come to see Chester Cathedral, too, which belongs to the later medieval period. Built of the local red Triassic sandstone it was opened in 1541.

Here are some photos of the cathedral to finish with:

Blackpool Out of Season

 

Blackpool Promenade looking south (2)

Last week I wrote a post about our day out to the pine woods and sand dunes at Formby, a few miles down the coast from my hometown of Southport. It was fantastic for me to be by the sea again. I can’t tell you how much I miss it…

The following day, we decided to be totally reckless and head off to Blackpool:

Location map of Blackpool (2)
Map of Lancashire with Blackpool highlighted. Source: OS Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons.

I don’t mean any disrespect to the town in saying that, it’s just that in February many seaside towns are notoriously ‘dead’ and, on this occasion, Blackpool proved to be no exception.

Here are a few photos of the Promenade as we walked along it. Admittedly the absence of sunshine didn’t help . . .

Like most seaside towns around Britain, Blackpool’s heyday has been and gone. The 1950s and 60s saw these towns thriving – until a mix of factors, including cheaper air fares, longer holidays, higher pay etcetera – led to the great increase in Brits heading abroad in the following decades, mostly to Spain and other Mediterranean countries. The British seaside towns saw a gradual decline, many looking very sorry for themselves and sadly neglected. (But it’s good to see that many are now undergoing a ‘rejuvenation process’.)

Blackpool got its name from a historic drainage channel called Spen Dyke, which ran over a peat bog. Blackened water was discharged into the Irish Sea, forming a black pool on the other side of the sea. Dublin (or Dubh Linn) comes from the Irish name for ‘black pool’.

The area behind the town, known as the Fylde, was once inhabited by a Celtic tribe called the Setantii, a sub tribe of the Brigantes (whose most famous queen was Cartimandua, who stayed loyal to the Romans at the time of the Boudica rebellion).

Cartimandua delivering Caractcus to the Romans
Caractacus, King of the Silures, being delivered to the Roman general, Ostorius, by Cartimandua. Author: Francesco Bartolozzi (publisher, printer: 1728-1815). Public Domain

The area developed very slowly for hundreds of years, some of the small, coastal villages eventually becoming part of Blackpool. But it wasn’t until the 18th century, when the practice of sea bathing to cure diseases became fashionable with the wealthier classes, that Blackpool really began to grow.

By 1781 a private road was built to the town and a regular stagecoach service to Manchester and Halifax started. A few amenities, hotels, an archery stall and a bowling green developed – and the town steadily grew By 1801, the population was 473. But the most important factor in Blackpool’s early growth was the arrival of the railways. By 1851 the population had reached 2,500.

With the sudden increase of visitors came the need for more accommodation, and more attractions. Gas lighting was introduced in 1852 and piped water in 1854.

By this time, the Lancashire cotton industry was thriving and it became the practice among mill owners to close for one week a year for servicing and repairing machines. Many mill workers would stream into Blackpool. Fortunately, each mill closed for a different week, enabling the town to keep a steady flow of visitors throughout the summer.

Between 1863 and 1893, three piers were constructed out over the sea (North, Central and South Piers) – and Blackpool proudly became the only town in Britain with three piers.

Blackpool North Pier opening. Author: Mr. W. Woods of Liverpool, 1863. Public Domain
Blackpool North Pier opening. Author: Mr. W. Woods of Liverpool, 1863. Public Domain

The Winter Gardens (a larger entertainment complex including a variety of venues, including a theatre and ballroom and conference facilities) was opened in 1878.

1024px-BlackpoolWinGar

And the town’s most famous building, the Blackpool Tower, was first opened to the public in 1894.

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Blackpool Tower, general view. Author: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ingythewingy/ Creative Commons

Inspired by the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, Blackpool Tower was built at a total cost of £290,000 (for design and construction). It is now a Grade 1 listed building. It houses several attractions, including the famous Blackpool Tower Circus and equally famous ballroom:

Jazz event in the Tower Ballroom. Author Lukasz Nurczynski. Creative Commons
Jazz event in the Tower Ballroom. Author Lukasz Nurczynski. Creative Commons

At 518 feet high, it is the 103rd tallest freestanding building in the world. On clear days it can be seen from as far away as North Wales and the Lake District. At the summit is a flagpole and buried beneath the foundations is a time capsule. How exciting! (No, I’m not being sarky.) The picture below is looking south from the top of the Tower.  The Central and South Piers can be seen.

Blackpool's ' Golden Mile' viewed from the top of the Tower. From geog.org.uk. Author: Mike Hartley. Creative Commons
Blackpool’s ‘ Golden Mile’ viewed from the top of the Tower. From geog.org.uk. Author: Mike Hartley. Creative Commons

Two years after the Tower was completed, the Pleasure Beach (amusement park/fairground) was founded and has become one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK and one of the top twenty most visited amusement parks.

Blackpool 'Pleasure Beach'. Author Gambitek. Creative Commons
Blackpool ‘Pleasure Beach’. Author Gambitek. Creative Commons

It holds the record for having the most roller coasters in Europe. Of the ten it has, five are wooden.

In 1897, Blackpool became the first municipality in the world to have electric street lighting as long stretches of the Promenade were wired. This lighting, and the accompanying pageants, played a big part in the development of the Blackpool illuminations in the autumn – a Lights Festival which runs for around 60 days.

Illuminated Trawler at Blackpool. Author Mark Jobling. Public Domain
Illuminated Trawler at Blackpool. Author Mark Jobling. Public Domain

Blackpool has seen many changes in fortune over the years, but it still has the reputation of being one of the UK’s most well known seaside resorts. The following picture (which is looking north) shows what the Promenade was like in 1898:

Blackpool Promenade c 1898. Author Detroit Publishing Co. under license from Photoglob Zurich. Public Domain
Blackpool Promenade c 1898. Author Detroit Publishing Co. under license from Photoglob Zurich. Public Domain

Today, Blackpool manages to maintain a steady stream of holidaymakers and day trippers during the summer, and the town still has a thriving tram route, which runs from Starr Gate to the south of the town to the fishing port of Fleetwood to the north – a distance of 9.9 miles:

Tram at Tower tram stop. Author: Chris Wharton. Creative Commons
Tram at Tower tram stop. Author: Chris Wharton. Creative Commons

Large numbers of people visit the illuminations every year. In 2016 they will be ‘on’ from September 2nd until November 6th (66 days). As a child, my parents took us to see the illuminations on several occasions, and I found the lights, the Disney characters and all the other features totally magical.

Blackpool Illuminations and Tower. Author: Mark S. Jobling. Public Domain
Blackpool Illuminations and Tower. Author: Mark S. Jobling. Public Domain

References: a variety of Wikipedia pages (for images other than my own, plus additional historical detail).

Happy Mother’s day

Like Christmas, Easter, birthdays and a host of other anniversaries, Mother’s Day comes but once a year. And like all of the others, that’s part of the reason why it’s so special. I’ve had a wonderful day with the family so far, and have so many flowers that the house looks like a Garden Centre! Mother’s Day in the U.K. has an interesting history, and as I’ve nothing extra to add to what I wrote last year, I thought I’d simply reblog.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mums everywhere. ❤

Millie Thom

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It’s early morning and I’m enjoying some peace and quiet before my tribe of six offspring (plus partners and grandchildren) invade for Sunday/Mother’s Day lunch. We tend to spend Mother’s Day here, at our house, because we have the biggest dining table for seating everyone. Besides, I love to cook for them all. I’m also looking forward to receiving my selection of lovely cards, flowers, chocolates and whatever other knick-knacks they decide I might like this year. I’ve never asked it of them, but I sincerely appreciate all that they bring. It’s like Christmas all over again. And to think, my birthday’s less than a month away, too.

Well, today I thought I’d have a think about what Mother’s day actually involves in the U.K. and how it originated. I won’t delve into how the celebration started in the U.S. in 1908 – which, I believe, is celebrated in May…

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