Monday, 29 April 2013

Holding the Rock for Scotland - Dumbarton Castle

At the weekend Historic Scotland held a re-enactment of the defence of Dumbarton Castle during the Scottish Civil War. It was a cold, wet and windy day, but it was still very entertaining and the Castle was very busy.

Dumbarton Castle is situated on an extinct volcano and there are 540 steps to climb to get to the top of it. We did it twice. It is not too difficult for a reasonably fit person.

Dumbarton Castle
 On March 26th,1639 the Covenanters seized Dumbarton Castle. Dumbarton Castle was located on the River Clyde and controlling it would prevent unauthorised access to Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

Who Were 'The Covenanters'?

These were the Scottish Presbyterians who in 1638 signed the "National Covenant" to uphold the Presbyterian religion and the "Solemn League and Covenant" of 1643, which was a treaty with the English Parliamentarians.

Covenanters flag
The Covenanters made a stand for political and religious liberty that led to almost a century of persecution and their widespread migration to Ulster and the American colonies.

Covenanters used the base of  muskets to attack the enemy
The Covenanters sought to have the church organised as written in the  Scriptures. There was only one Head of the Kirk - Jesus Christ  and they refused to accept the King in that role. Charles I was a Stuart King who believed in the divine right of kings.

Covenanters on the attack
Firing muskets
Close-up of an officer refilling his musket with gunpowder
The muskets were filled with gunpowder and lit by a rope soaked in saltpeter. If it was wet, the muskets often misfired. The gunpower was kept in small wooden containers worn on a belt across the body.

The Covenanters were not taught swordfighting
The Covenanters were issued with a short sword but were not taught to swordfight. Only gentlemen were taught this. They preferred to use the end of their muskets or a small dagger to attack the enemy. The officer on the right in the above photograph is a man of substance as he can afford boots. Ordinary soldiers wore shoes instead.

Clothing of the Covenanters
The Covenanters wore clothing which they could get a hold of and did not have an official uniform. They mostly wore grey. The gentleman in red is a man of substance as he can afford better quality cloth.

A seargent
A seargent could be identified by the long wooded pole he held with a curved dagger at the top. 

Blowing the doors of the castle open
Using a charge to open the doors
To open the doors of the castle, a tripod was used to hold a charge which caused a small explosion.

Making the lead pellets for the muskets
The Covenanters had a few watchwords including 'Jesus and no quarter' and 'God is with us'.  On entering the Castle we had to say these words.

It was a very interesting day and we learned a lot about this important period in Scottish history.

Further Information

Grid reference
NS 398 744.

Historic Scotland


Saturday, 27 April 2013

Birdwatching at New Lanark and Falls of the Clyde

Today I went to New Lanark to meet up with the Lanark group of the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT). The walk began at 08.00. There are always birds to see at New Lanark and the Falls of Clyde at all times of the day. It was going to be a circular walk of around 5 miles.

New Lanark and the Falls of the Clyde are located in South Lanarkshire. The area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since December 2001. The wildlife area around the Falls of the Clyde is managed by the SWT.

It was an early start for me as I had to leave the house at 06.20 in order to get a bus to Motherwell and then the 07.10 train to Lanark. I was met at Lanark by walk organiser Josanne and her husband and they drove me the short distance to New Lanark for the start of the walk.

Meeting the Group at New Lanark

It was slightly cold at the start of the walk and everyone had to wear their woolly hats and gloves, but soon the sun came out and it became much warmer. Before starting on the walkway we took a look over the River Clyde and spotted a Dipper and a Grey Wagtail.

Dipper on the river
Birds Seen and Heard on the Walk

The walk then took us round the back of the Corra Linn Power station and up a path towards some woods.  Birds seen on this part of the walk included Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds, Goldfinch, Willow Warblers, Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Swallows. The path was well worn and easy to follow. 
Observing a bird
There were some great views of New Lanark and the River Clyde on this part of the walk, although Corra Linn (one of the waterfalls of the Clyde) had only a trickle of water running down it.

New Lanark from above
A few walkers were out at with their dogs and spoke to us as they passed. As with all bird-watching groups, it was a case of walking and stopping to look at the birds in the trees. Fortunately, the late Spring has resulted in the trees not having as many leaves as they should at this time of the year and this helped in seeing the birds more easily on the trees.

Badger Sett

At one part of the path we were able to view a few badger setts and the fresh soil outside two of them revealed that they had only been dug in the last few days. New Lanark is a favourite spot for badgers.
Badger Sett
Badger Sett with freshly dug soil outside

Badger Sett close up
Lunch Stop

The woodland meander took about 1.5 hours after which we came out onto a minor road. After a short walk along it we turned into a field with two white cart horses. We stopped for lunch and sat on some old tree trunks which had been placed in the field as seating for walkers in the area.
Lunch - who needs an expensive restaurant?
One of the horses came over looking for food but none was offered, as a sign at the entrance to the field said that they should not be fed. By this time it had warmed up and the sun was shining brightly. It was a pleasant spot for lunch.

Horse in field during lunch break
Horse in field during lunch break

After about 25 minutes we finished our lunch break and started walking through the field on our way back to the start. David, who was leading the walk, spotted a Wheatear sitting on the remains of an old tree-trunk on the adjoining field and we all managed to get a good view of this beautiful bird. One lady in the group explained that Wheatears have a white rump which makes them easy to identify.

Wheatear seen in adjoining field
The name has nothing to do with wheat or ears but is an altered white-ar*e, which refers to its prominent white rump.

We exited the field at the power station and walked to the Peregrine site at the falls of the Clyde. We were fortunate to view both the male (tiercel) and female (falcon) Peregrine. The female had been sitting on the nest all night and was on a ledge having a wee break a short distance from the nest. The male was taking his turn sitting on the nest incubating the egg. There has only been one egg laid this year.

Female Peregrine (falcon)
Female Peregrine
We were able to get excellent views of both birds through then spotting scopes provided by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Male Peregrine (tiercel) on Nest
After this, it was a short walk back to where the walk had begun earlier and we were able to get more excellent views of the buildings in New Lanark. One last bird we saw before finishing the walk was a Treecreeper on a tree beside the banks of the River Clyde.

New Lanark

We arrived back at at the start at approximately 11.30. It had been an excellent day and the sunny weather had allowed us to see a good selection of birds.

The birds seen today were:
  • Dipper
  • Yellow Wagtail
  • Wrens 
  • Wrens 
  • Blackbirds
  • Goldfinch
  • Willow Warblers
  • Bullfinch
  • Chaffinch
  • Wheatear
  • Peregrine
  • Treecreeper

Further Information:

New Lanark and the Falls of the Clyde are located in South Lanarkshire. The area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since December 2001. 

Grid Ref: NS 87587 42676

Lanark Group SWT:

Scottish Wildlife Trust
Falls of Clyde
New Lanark  ML11 9DB       
T. 01555 665 262

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Waxwings and Some Summer Visitors

On the walk to my local birdwatching area of Baron's Haugh today, I saw a flock of Waxwing. There are birds I have been looking for since last Autumn and I was very glad to eventually see them. They were sitting on the roof of a block of flats and I managed to get some photographs of them using my video camera.


Waxwing have a soft silky plumage. They have unique red tips to some of their wing feathers which looks like sealing wax and gives the birds their name.

Their main food is fruit. They are winter visitors and do not breed in the UK.

They are a beautifully marked bird.

Baron's Haugh, Motherwell

The pair of Mute Swans who had built their nest a few weeks ago were both together with the female sitting on the nest. she kept moving around and we thought that she may be about to lay an egg shortly. However, the male soon left the vicinity of the nest to swim into the Haugh. The female then started collecting more reeds and made some alterations to the living quarters.

Nesting Mute Swans
Over on the raft, two Cormorant were perched looking over the Haugh. On getting a closer look with the scope, we saw a Common Sandpiper on the raft beside them. This is a small wader with brown upperparts and white underparts. It  bobs up and down as it moves and this is known as 'teetering'.

Cormorant and Common Sandpiper (Click to enlarge)
The Sand Martins have arrived from Africa for the summer and Willow Warblers, another summer visitor,  could be heard everywhere. 

Only two of the injured Whooper swans could be seen on the River Clyde but they had been joined by a Mute Swan. It may be that the other Whooper Swan was able to fly back to Iceland and there was no sign of it anywhere on the river.

Looks like summer is around the corner.

Further Information:

Baron's Haugh is an RSPB reserve in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire.

    Sunday, 14 April 2013


    Last weekend at Baron's Haugh two Mute swans were busy building a nest. This weekend they had it finished and one of the swans was sitting in the nest briefly before taking to the water for a swim. Mute swans usually breed successfully in the Haugh and hopefully this year will see some cygnets. 

    Mute swans are resident birds in the UK but Whooper swans migrate to Iceland during the summer months to take advantage of the long summer days.

    Injured Whooper Swans

    However, there are three Whooper swans remaining at Baron's Haugh with injured wings. They have been unable to undertake the journey northwards. By April, all Whooper swams should have left for Iceland and it will be interesting to see how long these swans remain in Motherwell. 

    Injured Whooper Swans

     The Whooper swans were seen last weekend swimming quite happily in the River Clyde so they can at least hunt for food.

    Injured Whooper Swans Swimming in River Clyde
    The weather has been very cold so far and the breeding is behind what it should be for this time of the year. Hopefully everything goes well for all the birds in the Haugh.

    Further Information:

    Location: Baron's Haugh is in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire.
    Grid reference: NS756553

    Saturday, 6 April 2013

    Prestonpans Tapestry and Redcoats at New Lanark

    The Prestonpans Tapestry is on display at New Lanark until the 9th April when it will be on display at other venues in Scotland. New Lanark is a World Heritage Site in South Lanarkshire in Scotland. 

    Today I went down to New Lanark to view the tapestry and also to see a group of British Army (Redcoat) re-enactors from the Edinburgh City Guard (

    Prestonpans Tapestry
    The tapestry depicts the journey made by Charles Edward Stuart or Bonnie Prince Charlie from France to the Scottish Highlands and victory at Prestonpans near Edinburgh. The tapestry is 104 metres wide and is made up of many embroidered panels created by volunteers.

    Longest Tapestry in the World

    The tapestry is the longest in the world, took 25,000 hours of work and has 10 million stitches and was created between 2006 and 2010.

    Prestonpans Tapestry
    There is currently a fund-raising campaign to raise the 2 million GBP needed to build a home for the tapestry in Prestonpans.

    Prestonpans Tapestry

    Prestonpans Tapestry

    Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie Prince Charlie

    Charles Edward Stuart, called The Young Pretender, The Young Chevalier, and Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-88), was a grandson of the last Stuart monarch, James Vll of Scotland and ll of England.  

    Charles Edward Stuart "Bonnie Prince Charlie" or the Young Pretender, was the last Stuart claimant to the British throne. He led the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which ended at the Battle of Culloden. 

    James Vll of Scotland or ll of England was the last Catholic monarch of the United Kingdom and was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and fled to France. This was the union of English Parliamentarians and the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange). 

    (Since 1701 The Act of Settlement was passed to secure the Protestant succession to the British throne and to prevent Catholics from becoming monarch). 

    William and Mary

    William's successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascending of the British throne as William III jointly with his wife Mary II. 

    There were several attempts to restore the male Stuart line but none came so near to success as the campaign by Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender) in 1745. 


    The supporters of the deposed king and his descendants were called 'Jacobites', from the Latin for James, 'Jacobus'. Although there was Jacobite support in other areas of Britain and in continental Europe, the main stronghold was the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

    The Stuarts had ambition to reclaim the throne. In 1745, Charles travelled to the Highlands to raise the Scottish clans in rebellion against the current British monarch (King George II, of the house of Hanover). His plan was to make his father, James Stuart, the 'Old Pretender', king.

    Battle of Prestonpans

    The Jacobite force was almost exclusively made up of Highlanders. Prince Charles landed on the small island of Eriskay and gathered the loyal clan Chiefs before advancing on Edinburgh which they took without much resistance. A government army was defeated at Prestonpans near Edinburgh.

    Government army (Redcoats)
    The Highlanders only wanted to take Scotland, but Prince Charles wanted the English throne as well and convinced the army to push on southwards. They advanced to Carlisle then Manchester, and eventually as far south as Derby. It was here with three armies lining up to fight them and with no back-up support in England, as promised by Prince Charles, they decided to return home.

    Battle of Culloden

    Eventually the weary Highlanders were cornered at Culloden and slaughtered as Charles Edward Stuart made his escape. After the battle legend has it he escaped with the help of Flora MacDonald. He wandered around Europe for a few years but was never able to further his cause.

    Divine Right of Kings

    The Jacobite struggle has been romanticised ever since but Jacobitism did not really stand for a noble cause as it sought to put the Stuarts back on the throne. They stood for the 'divine right of kings' which meant they believed the king was chosen by God and should have absolute authority.

    The Stuarts also advocated the Catholic religion which many Scots were against as Scotland was a Protestant country and Presbyterianism was the official religion of Scotland. 

    Redcoats at New Lanark

    To celebrate the tapestries at New Lanark a group of re-enactors came from Edinburgh and gave an excellent display of the Government Army known as 'Redcoats'. 

    Some images from this event are shown below. The weather was nice and sunny, although a little cold, and the display was much appreciated by those who were watching it.

    Minister's wife and daughter
    Minister getting ready to preach
    Army officer
    Army food
    My visit to New Lanark was very enjoyable today and the re-enactors did make a very good job of bringing history to life.  

    More photos can be seen here

    Further information:

    New Lanark World Heritage Trust

    Edinburgh City Guard

    Alan Breck's Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment

    Prestonpans Tapestry

    Bonnie Prince Charlie