Siccar Point and Hutton’s Unconformity


When I walked the Berwickshire Coastal Path in the winter I meant to go down to Siccar Point, the site of a famous feature known as Hutton’s Unconformity, and just didn’t have time, which I was disappointed about – so recently I finally got round to going back there, because it’s not often that you get to see Enlightenment science just sitting there in front of you!

An unconformity is a gap in the sequence of rocks – in this case the older rocks are 65 million years older than the newer rocks – and if I’m understanding it correctly, the point is that this gives time for the older rocks to have been worked on in various ways – squashed and folded and worn away. And the real point is the sheer amount of time this must have taken – Hutton‘s work in the 1780s is the start of the move from biblical time to geological time.

At Siccar Point the older rocks are greywacke (and definitely grey), tipped up until the strata are almost standing on end, and the newer rocks are red sandstone, still in vertical layers – Hutton’s trip there to study the rocks was by boat, but it’s all quite visible looking down from the top of the point.

Siccar Point

It’s probably only visible if you can land by boat, and even then possibly only to an expert, but one thing that really excited Hutton was that the older rocks still show ripple marks from having been laid down in water, as well as the results of later pressure – another sign of gradual processes, not one great cataclysmic event.

Rocks at the foot

Hutton owned farms in the area, and it seems to have been work on improving the land which first raised his interest in geology – he had already been involved in chemistry experiments and a chemical business.

It wasn’t on the signs at the point, but I know I’ve read somewhere that it was the mix of red and grey stones in the field walls that set him looking in this area for what he wanted, and it’s still a striking local feature today!


Finding David Douglas

I was still very interested in David Douglas after reading about him, so when I found out that a short film had been made about his life by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, I was pleased to see that it was also available from the Scottish Forestry Commission – and actually when I contacted them to see if this was still the case they offered to send me a copy for free, which was very nice of them (I’m not sure if they were pleased someone was still interested a few years later, or just hoping to get rid of it!)

It’s a good potted history of Douglas, with the inevitable focus on the second voyage with the surviving journals, but there’s plenty to look at even if you know the story – and it includes all my favourite quotes.

It’s been beautifully made – even artistically. There’s no attempt at reenactment (unless you count a brief piece of footage from a modern sailing ship) – instead it’s a mix of modern film of places he visited, and 18th and 19th century drawings and painting and engravings of those places, with a voiceover which is partly narration and partly readings from Douglas’s own writing. People mentioned are introduced by their portraits, and plants mentioned are again a mix of modern filming and some beautiful botanical illustrations. Apart from it being interesting to see contemporary ideas of the scenes, the contrast can be quite striking – particularly the change from a busy York Factory to an isolated relic.

Mixed in with this are interviews – with botanists and forestry people in the UK, and local experts in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii, and this includes looking at specific artefacts – herbarium specimens at Kew, and accounts in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives in Manitoba, as well as visiting the sites of Douglas’s death and burial in Hawaii.

The sound is slightly out of sync with the the picture during the interviews, which makes them feel odd (possibly it’s like that all the time and it just doesn’t show during voiceovers, or possibly something went wrong fitting in the parts filmed in the UK) – and the voice used for reading Douglas’s own words is a bit disconcerting to a Scot, reminding me more of the Glaswegian Alan McManus than anyone from rural Perthshire. But it’s the right kind of voice, sounding slightly reluctant to be speaking in public, and anyway I forgave them that since they pronounced ‘Scone’ and ‘Menzies’ right!

The ending amused me – the film was made partly by the Scottish Forestry Commission, and so it finished with praise for Douglas’s trees, covering Scottish hillsides which were once bare. Forestry monoculture is not something which most people admire, although it had been done a bit better in the Perthshire landscape they were showing us than in some places (and there has been a lot of work done on more sympathetic replanting recently).

The website seems to have died just in the last few weeks, but there is still an archive copy with a lot of information about the film, including a full transcript, and short video clips – it’s well worth having a look.

Collingwood Society: Supplying the fleet

This month’s Collingwood Society talk was looking at the logistics of supplying a fleet, particularly Collingwood’s Mediterranean fleet – although it turned out to be more about naval supplies and administration in general, which was still interesting but not quite what I had hoped for.

Two books were mentioned as particularly inspiring on the subject – Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory by Roger Knight and The Command of the Ocean by N.A.M. Rodger, which is a more general naval history, as well as the logs of Cass Halliday, who was master of the fleet and in charge of its supplies. Rodger had claimed that the main developments of the period were financial and administrative rather than purely military or technical, and this was one of the themes of the talk.

We did start with a brief look at the Mediterranean fleet – the biggest at the time, with 119 ships and around 33000 men, just keeping busy – blockading the main French fleets and disrupting smaller shipping, supporting army movements and local allies, and carrying on diplomatic negotiations with all sorts of people in the area – I’d have liked to hear more about this, because I know that some supplies were bought locally, and that local allies were important in various ways, and I always enjoy details.

Despite the contained area of the Mediterranean there were still some pretty big distances involved – 1300 miles and 6 weeks to Gibraltar from the stores at Plymouth, and another 1100 miles from Gibraltar to Malta, which was the main central base by this stage of the war – and planning was going on 12 months in advance, because the victualling yards in England had to have the supplies in stock to be able to send them out. But despite the difficulties, it seemed to be working well – the fleet surgeon of the time complained that he had nothing to do, whereas there had been an outbreak of scurvy in the Atlantic.

The victualling board, based at Deptford, had responsibility for feeding the army overseas as well as the navy at home and abroad – a total of about 230000 men. Locally the Deptford yard provided fresh food, but mainly it was sending out dried and preserved food to other depots and as ships’ stores – slaughtering huge numbers of animals and salting the meat, and baking on a large scale.

Scotland was the main source of beef at the time – cattle brought down from the Highlands to the tryst at Falkirk, and then walked on south – but pigs can’t be droved in the same way, because they get thin, and so the main area for farming pigs was in South London, where they were fed on brewery waste! There was also a nice detail about the cows – they were generally shod for the long walk south, once they were walking on roads, but a cow can’t lift up one foot at a time, and so has to be shod while lying down.

In the Mediterranean there were agent victuallers at Gibraltar and Malta, where ships would be resupplied, and some food was bought locally by ship’s pursers – an example was given of bullocks being bought at Constantinople for the local fleet and brought onto the flagship, which then sent them out in boats to each ship.

As well as food and other stores, the dockyards were also sending out guns and ammunition, and taking ships back for repairs and refitting – a ship would generally serve for about three years before being sent home for a complete overhaul.

There were six dockyards operating in this period, all along the south coast to be within reach of the Admiralty overseers – mainly working on repairs rather than building, and the ships that were being built were mainly smaller ones – there was much more work for frigates than for ships of the line. (Apparently by this stage a quarter of the navy’s ships of the line had been built by other countries and taken as prizes, which is a useful way of getting new ships, although it would be interesting to know how many British-built ships were in other navies!)

The navy was the biggest user of guns and used the heaviest guns – the army tended to want lighter guns which could be moved from place to place. A new development of the period was carronades, with a shorter barrel and larger mouth – these were named after the Carron works at Falkirk which produced them, and had originally been designed for the merchant navy, as they could be fired by a much smaller crew. A more accurate type of long gun was also introduced by the Blomefield works – these were bored from a single piece of iron rather than by cast in pieces in a mould, which made the bore smoother and the shape more uniform, and the method was a closely guarded secret.

Government spending of the time was almost all either military or on loan repayment – in 1793 loans brought in about 70% of the government’s income, although this had fallen to about 20% by 1811, largely due to the introduction of the income tax and increased tax income.

This led to an interesting cycle – if trade could be increased, there would be more income, which meant more taxes paid on it – and more money could then be spent on the navy, which was needed to protect the trade routes, and promote the increase of trade. The Baltic fleet in particular was created not for any specific military purpose, but to protect the important Baltic trade.

Overall an interesting talk, even if it didn’t tell me nearly as much about Collingwood’s fleet as I would have liked.

Throwback: The Collingwood monument


For all my writing about monuments, I never seem to have got round to what for me is *the* monument – Collingwood at Tynemouth. I don’t visit as often as I once did – I don’t end up in Newcastle by myself as much – but I try to get down for Trafalgar Day when I can, and it’s still a nice place to go.

These pictures are from the first time I ever visited, in December 2009 – you can tell that by the amount of frost on the ground!

Monument inscription

As it says on the inscription, the monument was erected in 1845 – 35 years after Collingwood’s death. So on the one hand they were in no hurry, but on the other he was obviously still remembered and well thought of at the time.

The statue on the top is looking a bit weather beaten, and I’ve always found it a bit amusingly classical, but I like the way it stands looking out to sea.

Collingwood statue

The four cannon at the base of the monument are from Royal Sovereign, Collingwood’s ship at Trafalgar. The second time I visited, for the 200th anniversary of Collingwood’s death in March 2010, they had somehow rigged them up to pretend to fire.


I love this next photo – the statue stands out surprisingly well from all around, because it’s at the top of a steep bank, but I just like the idea of Collingwood casting a long shadow on his surroundings!

Collingwood’s shadow

I’m not sure why Tynemouth – it doesn’t seem to be personal connection, and part of me thinks that a memorial in Morpeth would be more appropriate (although there is one now) – but it does mean that there’s a wonderful view of the river, and the high and low lights (the old lights must also be in the picture, although they’re harder to pick out). And it also means that everyone entering or leaving the river has Collingwood watching over them, which I think was probably in the minds of the people who chose that site.

View of the Tyne



I had planned to go to the Jane Austen museum in Chawton after my visit to Selborne, but as it turned out I got to Selborne late, and decided not to rush about, and ended up only with time to look at the house from the outside – I had to walk up that far to catch the bus along the main road into Alton anyway.

The first view of the village coming up from the south is the church and Chawton House in the trees – a more imposing church than 200 years ago, because it was mostly destroyed in a fire in 1871, but the same location.

Chawton church

Chawton House was the home – or one of the homes – of Jane Austen’s brother, and features in her letters as the ‘Great House’.

Chawton House

The house where she and her mother and sister lived is on the main street of the village.

Museum sign

A plaque has been put on the house by ‘her admirers in this country and in America’ – I think this dates back to before the house became a museum.

Memorial plaque

I didn’t have time to do more than just prowl around the outside of the house – front entrances to the street, side entrances facing onto the garden, and bakehouse in the courtyard behind.

Jane Austen House Museum
Side view of the house

But I wouldn’t have had time for a proper wander round the village anyway, and I didn’t get to Winchester Cathedral, or to see the Round Table, so I’ll just have to go back another time and do all these things!

Collingwood Society: Northumberland Archives

This weekend was the Collingwood Society’s annual summer outing – less of an adventure this year than some years, as we were going to the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn, although still a bit of an adventure for me, as the easiest way to get there was train to Alnmouth and a wandering kind of bus south.

Of course, last year when we tried to meet outdoors it rained for most of the day, so this year when it was an indoor event the sun shone gloriously.

There were three different sets of records looked out for us from three different Northumberland families – letters to Admiral Robert Roddam, when he was Port Admiral at Portsmouth around 1790, along with a book where he had kept copies of letters sent and received at an earlier period when he was captain of the Colchester, letters to Francis Blake Delaval as a ship’s captain in the early 18th century, and letters from Collingwood to his father in law John Erasmus Blackett.

We were divided up into little groups and just chose a place to start – I was at some of the Roddam letters, a neat little pile folded into slips.

These were quite a variety – some plain logistics, but quite a few writing to request things, often for personal reasons – I mean, not asking things of the admiral because he was the admiral, but asking things of Roddam because he was Roddam. My favourite, though, was one which looked as if it had got in by mistake – a letter from a petty officer to a brother in Berwick, appointed to a new ship where he had had 24 shillings and a new jacket stolen from him, and wasn’t in the position where he had previously served, although he was hoping that would be remedied – maybe Roddam was to help in the remedy.

The Delaval letters were a flat pile, and mostly absolutely filthy looking – they looked like they’d been in a cellar or something for a while – but the written sides were clean enough, and mostly in good handwriting.

The part of the pile that I looked through was a nice set of practical letters, mostly instructions about a convoy to the Baltic, with orders about stores and manning, and about where to go and how long to wait for ships to join. Some of the details were wonderful – in one letter the ship was being sent ‘surgeon’s necessaries and a copper kettle’!

The Roddam letter book, which was the last thing I got to look at, was the same kind of thing, but with the captain’s requests and replies as well as the letters sent to the ship. We only glanced through it, being a bit lettered out by then, but one we enjoyed was about how the ship had requested flags that they needed to reply to signals, but when they had arrived, the commissioner had refused to let Roddam have them. I think a new set had to be sent!

The Collingwood letters I really only got to hear about – some people had collected wonderful turns of phrase from them, including a description of Nelson as ‘one of the finest creatures who ever floated on the sea’. They were also the only set of personal letters we had, so a much more general depiction of the war and the personalities involved than the service letters. But I had enjoyed the rest too much to really miss them – my problem is always with being interested in everything!



I spent my last night in the south in a place called Four Marks, between Winchester and Alton, and walked down in the morning to Selborne – I read the Natural History last summer, and was keen to see the place itself.

Not quite as early a start as I had hoped, but a fairly pleasant walk down – a slanting path on a line obviously older than the houses which squeezed around it, onto a woodland track, and then a second wood partly filled with bluebells, and minor roads leading me to Newton Valence.

From there paths lead over the hill of Selborne Common, partly trees and partly grass, and used for grazing by the National Trust who own it in an attempt to keep the old wood-pasture habitat.

Selborne common

The north-eastern edge of the common is much steeper, and the first view of the village is from well above.

The village below

The way down from the common, or at least the quickest way, is the Zigzag Path, made by Gilbert White and his brother in 1753 for easier access to the common. It definitely deserves its name!

The zigzag path

I went first to the church, where of course White was the curate – a very old church, but not at all like most of the churches I had walked past on my journey.

Selborne Church

An ancient yew stood in the churchyard, and was described by White, but blew down in a storm in 1990.

Churchyard yew

His grave is round behind the church – he had asked to be buried in as simple a way as possible.

Gilbert White’s grave
Gilbert White’s grave

From there I went on to the museum in the White family home, The Wakes – extended in White’s day, and again later.

The Wakes

The exhibition inside is a bit of a muddle – already partly about the house itself and changes made to it by White, partly about his work, and partly about Captain Oates and his uncle, another naturalist, most of the White sections were either in a severe state of refurbishment, with information boards moved and partly hidden, or being used by people connected with a wedding fair.

Wakes parlour

The gardens outside are also open for walking about – the haha and sundial were built by White.

Haha and sundial

Every self-respecting garden of his day had a statue, but when he started making his garden he wasn’t able to afford one, and instead had a painting of a statue made on a board – reasonably deceptive from a distance!

Fake statue

Chichester Ship Canal


One of my adventures in Chichester was to go for a boat trip along the canal – which was not a thing I knew anything about until I was reading about things to do in Chichester the day before.

The surviving part of the canal is part of a much larger endeavour, the Wey and Arun canal, which was in turn part of a grand plan to create an inland route by water from Portsmouth to London, without braving the dangers of the Channel. Parts of the canal works to and along the Arun are still visible on the map, as well as the channel of the Great Deep at Thorney Island, not yet closed off.

But much of the danger must already have been gone by the time the canal was completed, with the French wars over, and only the section from Chichester to the sea was still in use by the late 19th century, mostly bringing in coals for the gasworks.

At the very end of the 19th century a railway was built from Selsey Bill to Chichester which seems to have taken over that function, although the owners caused themselves some trouble by trying to build it ‘on the cheap’ as a tramway, to avoid the regulations and expenses of a railway act, only to find out that they also lost out on the benefits of compulsory purchase orders.

Canal history

The Canal Preservation Trust has a base in the canal basin, and two boats which they use for trips (as well as two battered looking barges used for shifting things about, as they have responsibilty for the banks).

Canal boat

The gas works which used up all the coal is now the Royal Mail sorting office, but two of the original buildings still exist at the basin – a pub called the Richmond, named after one of the main proprietors, and a building used as a custom and toll house.

Customs house

About half of the remaining part of the canal is accessible by water from the basin – the rest is filled with water, but blocked by road bridges, although the sea end is used as a marina. So the trip is just down to a place where the boat can turn and back, but it was a nice trip, with coots on their nests, mostly in very precarious places, and moorhens not on their nests.

Chichester Canal

There were originally several swing bridges over the canal, all to the same design, but some have been removed and some have been replaced by fixed road bridges. One still exists, near the basin, but although it’s an original bridge it’s not in its original place – it should be one further down.

Canal Bridge



I spent my Easter holidays walking the South Downs Way, and my day off from walking mostly in Chichester, home of a certain Mr Bush – but we have already established that I’m not at all above running around after fictional characters.

It’s a very Georgian city, Chichester but it has also been a very Roman city (I like that the OS map still labels it ‘Noviomagus’, just in case any lost Romans come looking) and a very medieval city – when Bush and his sisters lived there everything must have been either newly built or in a state of constant rebuilding.

Houses by the walls

The market cross is part of the medieval city, of course, built around 1500.

Chichester market cross

The Dolphin hotel just behind it, however, is very definitely imposing Georgian, rebuilt some time in the 18th century although the name is older.

Dolphin hotel

The medieval Guildhall, originally part of a friary, was used as the town hall and courthouse until 1850.


St John’s chapel, in the south-eastern quarter, wasn’t built until 1815, but the plans for it must have been the talk of the more respectable inhabitants the last time Bush was home – the building was funded by the congregation, with a fee paid for each pew.

St John’s Chapel

I was looking out for a suitable cottage, of course, but although there are plenty of fairly modest buildings, they’re almost all terraced – not that this necessarily rules out a garden, because a Georgian map shows the houses still with their long medieval yards running back behind them.

I did like this one just inside the western walls, now the Old Cottage Indian Restaurant! But for four or five of them I think we’re looking for something more like the Dashwoods’ cottage (I’ve been reading Austen ever since I got home) – living rooms downstairs and bedrooms upstairs.

Old Cottage restaurant

The museum was interesting, with a good display on local smuggling, but there was nothing very maritime until I looked up on my way down the stairs on the way out.

Museum ship

Also up above me was an admiral’s uniform, of the type that would have been worn by local hero George Murray, who served as Nelson’s Captain of the Fleet in the Mediterranean.

Admiral’s uniform

The cathedral is another famous medieval building, of course – not only a local landmark but a seamark, the only medieval cathedral in England whose spire can be seen from the sea.

Chichester Cathedral

It’s also the only medieval English cathedral with a separate freestanding bell tower, although this may be for practical reasons – subsidence had caused problems with the original building, and one of the towers had collapsed in 1635, with the spire following in 1861 and rebuilt five years later.

Cathedral bell tower

There are a few naval memorials inside, 20th century as well as Napoleonic.

Cathedral ship

George Murray’s is one of them, of course, with a depiction of the battle of Copenhagen.

George Murray memorial

The other Georgian memorials are from an earlier war – the Battle of Providien in the Indian Ocean in 1781, which was presumably part of the American Revolutionary War. Two memorials, to Captain James Alms of the Monmouth, who survived it, and his son, Lieutenant George Alms of the Superb, who didn’t.

James Alms memorial
George Alms memorial
George Alms inscription

Collingwood Society: Nautical Pub Names

The Collingwood Society had a bit of a change this month, with a talk on nautical pub names – partly a literal pub quiz, because you got to give yourself a point if you knew where the pub on the screen was, a point if you had drunk in it, and ten points if you had been thrown out of it (although no one was admitting to that) – not that there was any effort made to collect points, but it was good fun*.

We started with a brief history of pubs and pub signs, from grapes for the Romans to bushes for the English and a medieval requirement to have a sign by which your pub could be identified (and taxed), to the first pubs named for heroes (the Marquis of Granby being particularly popular).

The nautical pub names covered quite a variety, from the simple ‘Ship’, which was condemned as unimaginative, but does seem to be very common – and useful, because you don’t to change it if a new ship comes into fashion – and pubs named for types of ships.

Next came the pubs named for individual ships – from Royal Georges, Victories, Royal Sovereigns and a Fighting Temeraire (apparently now renamed plain ‘Temeraire’ because it was giving the drinkers ideas), to modern aircraft carriers and the Politician, wrecked on Eriskay with a cargo of whisky, and even Noah’s Ark!

Then there were the people, from the ubiquitous Nelsons to rare mentions like Earl St Vincent and more local heroes like John Borlase Warren in Nottingham – Wetherspoons were praised for often using local names – and a special mention for Upper and Lower Poppleton in Yorkshire, with a Lord Collingwood pub in one and a Lord Nelson in the other.

Captain Cook, however, seemed to have the widest spread, from places where he had definitely been to places like Alaska where he might have been to places like Mumbai where he had definitely not been!

A fun evening, and I will no doubt end up with a collection of signs myself – I’ve got quite a few Georgian ones already, although I’ve never tried to put them in one place…

(*I was handicapped by rarely drinking in Newcastle, and scored 7, althought with quite a nice geographical spread – I had drunk in a Ship in Holy Island, the Plimsoll Line in Redcar and the Lord Nelson in Gibraltar!)