Travel Trales

A journey through time across our wonderful planet

Church of Panagia Kera

The beauty of hiring a car when you are on holiday, is that you can explore places ‘off the beaten track’. Stefanos, who owned the B ‘n B we stayed in, on the Greek island of Crete, recommended we visit the Eastern Orthodox Church of Panagia Kera in the village of Krista, which wasn’t too far from where we were staying.

This remarkable Cretan Byzantine church is huddled in the Dikte Mountains and is a wonderful little treasure.

The age of the church is not known, but is evident in the structure as well as the frescoes, which, even for an untrained historic ‘eye’, revealed Byzantine art with vivid colours and clarity. It is believed that the oldest part of the church is probably 13th century, but other than that, the only other information available is that a local family renovated the church in the early 1700s, so some of the art is not original.

My biblical knowledge is not very good, but the interior of the church was incredibly beautiful in its simplicity.  The frescoes on the dome and the walls told of some of the most important stories from the bible, mostly form the New Testament including the Second Coming and Judgement Day. But the central theme is of the Virgin Mary which is in the name of the church (‘Panagia’ is one of the names given to the Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox Church) and in dedications inside the church.

I am acutely aware of how a place makes me feel, and although I am not religious, I am deeply spiritual, and sadly this little church felt ‘empty’. It didn’t move me spiritually, but I am always touched by the history, the artistry, the passion and the love that oozes from a religious site, and for this reason, the Church of Panagia Kera is a delight to visit, even if you are not a big church fan.

As one of the finest-preserved Byzantine-era frescoes in Crete, the island is understandably proud of this little church.


Numis vs the Euro

It was 1,700 years before the introduction of the Euro that a single currency was being used across the Roman Empire. The numis coins were recognised and used by merchants in Constantinople and citizens of the Eternal City to soldiers stationed on Hadrian’s Wall.

So, in January 2002 when seventeen European nations formally adopted the Euro after scrapping their own currencies, a single currency was not something new. The purpose of the Euro was to simplify trade across the European continent. Under the Romans, the coin was used as part of the Roman conquest, not for conquest sake, but to help subsidize the Empire and their bartering system and to standardise taxation. The value of the coins was based on government decree and not on the value of the content used in the creation of the coinage. This lead to a very high number of coins being minted and inflation was inevitable when too many coins entered the system.

Diocletian’s tried to deal with the inflation by introducing price controls when things got a bit out of hand, which sadly failed, but his introduction of coin denominations, helped to streamline the system as much as possible.

As with the Euro, the Roman coinage had a standardised design on one side and some kind of representation of the country the coins came from on the other.

The Roman single currency was used for centuries, and the Euro has only, to date, been in circulation of just over a decade. The main reason for this is that only one government, the Roman Empire, controlled the Roman single currency. Today the situation is much more complex as more governments are involved in the management of this financial concept that is, as it was in Rome, tightly linked to politics and global economics.

In 400AD the Roman Empire started to crumble. The Romans retreated from across the Continent and took with them their coinage. This was devastating for the British economy. The currency did not just collapse, it was completely removed from Britain. No money meant no trade. It was the biggest financial disaster Britain had ever, and probably ever will,  be a victim of. People abandoned the cities and the whole country became vulnerable to invasion from all angles.

This ushered in a period of instability and darkness which later became known as The Dark Ages.

Irish Happy New Year

“May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks,
May your heart be as light as a song,
May each day bring you bright, happy hours,
That stay with you all the year long”

Ludlow Food Festival

September in Shropshire is a time of plenty! Bordering Wales, it is one of England’s most rural counties and so when the town of Ludlow hosts its annual food festival at the beginning of autumn, the market town attracts people from across the area. Everyone joins in to celebrate local and seasonal produce. Besides the pressing of apples for the making of cider, the local meats are proving a hit in the area and internationally, and there is a revival of an ancient fruit.

The meat from the local pigs compete with any European meat.  Up in the Clee Hills the pigs do very well, but it is in the Wye Forest that local pig farmers are working closely with the Forestry Commission in a symbiotic relationship.

The Commission is struggling to control the bracken that is taking over the forest.  They are committed to reverting the areas of conifer back to broadleaf.  The bracken just keeps coming and it swamps the natural regeneration.  The farmers have agreed to bring their pigs in to graze in the forest.  Grazing pigs disturb the ground and help rid the ground of the root structure for the bracken to survive. The pigs don’t tend to take away from the regeneration of the trees and the key factor is not to keep the pigs in the forest for too long at any one time…finding the right balance.

How does this benefit the farmers? Pigs are happier and because they have to actively find their food in the forest, they are stronger.  This means they produce a well-muscled carcass with good, dark meat. The pigs are matured for twelve months, as opposed to the four months in other commercial ventures.  The meat has had time to develop and is far tastier, especially for the making of salamis.  It is a win-win situation!

Pdean%20Alderman%20bumAnd in other areas of farming, the Shropshire is England’s oldest pedigreed sheep.  Breeding them is good commercially as they produce good meat and have a well-known fleece.  Forty years ago the Shropshire sheep fell out of favour and numbers of breeding ewes dropped to below five hundred. The breed was put on the Rare Breed Survival Watch List and through hard work and determination, the numbers at the beginning of 2013 had risen to over four thousand.

The sheep are also a great asset for conservation.  They are tree-friendly sheep.  Other breeds nibble branches and even strip bark off trees, but the Shropshire grazes in plantations of small trees and are great to manage the undergrowth.  ‘Special Agent’ is a large, handsome sheep who is used locally to breed the Shropshire and his offspring seem to have the tastiest meat.

The Shropshire prune is a local fruit.  It is of the damson family and sadly, over the years it too fell out of favour. Part of the problem was that the trees were put into hedges to feed the animals and act as more effective wind-breaks. But the locals are doing what they can to save them.

The fruit looks similar to a sloe of the plum family.  It has the same colour just slightly different in shape and in fact the Shropshire prune is a cross between the sloe and the cherry plum.  It is not native to Shropshire or even the United Kingdom as the damson originally came from Damascus, hence its name. It is believed that the tree, with its obscure fruit arrived in the country about 2,000 years ago, and possibly by the Romans.

Not many people really know what to do with them – they are flavourful and have a plummy sweetness.  A local farmer refers to the fruit as a “plumb with an attitude”.  They are great to make syrup for desserts, jam, vinegar, liqueur (wine) and a fruit paste, which is called a cheese.  It is not really a cheese, but more a jam-looking accompaniment to enjoy with dairy cheese or add to a gravy for gamey meats.  A local chef has used it to make a ravioli, which was part of the food on offer at the food festival.

ludlow-food-festivalPart of the festival is held in the grounds of the Norman castle, which was built to protect the border from the invaders of the ‘Wild West’, or Wales. Today the only invaders are the tourists. Since 1995, when Ludlow became one of the first towns in Britain to hold a farmers’ market, the revolution began. And the culture of buying food properly and supporting local produce since medieval times has been revived in  the annual Ludlow Food Festival.

Image sources: &

The Cheviot Hills

The rolling hills that straddle the English-Scottish border are pronounced without the last syllable and the pocket for land here that was used for hunting was known as a chase, thus Chevy Chase.

The Earl of Northumberland, who was based south of the border, would often hunt in the area.  The Earl of Douglas, who was north of the border had banned hunting, so when the Earl of Northumberland crossed the border into Scotland for his hunt in 1388, it was interpreted as an invasion. The ensuing battle cost 110 lives, and was believed to be the basis for the Ballads of Chevy Chase, which tell the story of the famous clash.

The Cheviot Hills are divided into the northern and the southern hills. Most of the higher ground is in the north where the highest hill is 2,674 ft (815 m) above sea level.  The hills that lie north of the Scottish border have traditional rights of access and south of the border it is known as ‘open country’ under the Northumberland National Park.

Chevy Chase is a city in Maryland USA named after the area and the ballads, and the actor with the same name changed his name from Cornelius Crane Chase, just because he liked the sound of it.

Image sources: Across the Britain & Fan Pop

Welsh Introduction

Wales is Anglo Saxon for “foreigner” and has a population of just under 3 million. Two thirds of the population live in south Wales and ten percent of births are to mothers born outside her borders.

Flag_of_WalesThe country boasts a magical coastline of 1,200km which includes spectacular beaches and national parks. The Blue Flag award celebrates beach quality and Wales is proud to have numerous beaches fly this flag annually. Snowdonia National Park stretches over 2,000 square kilometres and Snowdon is the highest peak –  over 1,000m above sea level.

Celtic Britons began a long history of mining during the Iron Age, but the true Welsh identity only really developed after the Roman withdrawal in the fifth century.

Although Wales falls under English Law, there are aspects of the legal system that fall into the category of devolution which gives the Welsh some legal and political autonomy.

More than 20% of the country speak Welsh and many will agree that the “Land of Song” is a title well deserved. This and rugby form the symbol of modern Welsh identity and some of history’s most respected singers and rugby players were born and raised on Welsh soil.

And of course the changeable weather gives the incredible scenery a sense of history, intrigue and mystery…as the American actress Piper Perabo said, “In Wales, it’s eight different weathers in a day”.

“Bob’s Your Uncle”

Arthur Balfour
Arthur Balfour

Nobody is really sure where this expression came from, but it was first heard publicly in the 1880s.

Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, Robert Arthur Gascoyne-Cecil, noticed his impressive young nephew making his mark on the Conservative government. Arthur James Balfour showed great promise and Salisbury appointed him to a range of positions including Chief Secretary to Ireland, Secretary for Scotland, First Lord of the Treasury and leader of the House of Commons.

Balfour then replaced his uncle Robert as Prime Minister in 1902.

It seemed that Balfour was capable of almost anything and gained all sorts of positions. The ‘word on the street’ was that “nothing is a problem” when “Bob’s your uncle”.

Kings & Queens of Scotland

“Malcolm Two began the line.

Duncan, next, was doing fine

Till Macbeth seized bloody power.

Lulach lasted half an hour;

Malcolm Three in battle slain

(Four of his own sons would reigh).

Donald Three was told to stop;

Duncan Two received the chop;

Edgar, Alexander, Dave;

Malcolm Four, William the Brave;

Alexanders Two and Three;

Margaret, Queen in infancy.

John of Bllliol was next,

Crowned on England’s sly pretext;

Then came Robert’s House of Bruce.

David Two was not much use

In the procreative bed,

So the Stewarts reigned instead.

Roberts Two and Three, then James,

After which , no other names

Till the fifth one in succession

Left poor Mary in possession.

James the Sixth and last, her son,

Would be England’s No. 1!”

By James Muirden

Author of “A Rhyming History of Britain (55BC – AD1966)”

The Weather

“When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather”


Samuel Johnson

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