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A Photographic Appreciation of Castles

The ancient mudbrick Citadel of Bam, Iran " The castle has always been a formidable image, a powerful intimidating fantasy of the...

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

A Photographic Appreciation of Castles


The ancient mudbrick Citadel of Bam, Iran

"The castle has always been a formidable image, a powerful intimidating fantasy of the human imagination. The fortress, the citadel, the craggy tower dominating the landscape: it is older than history, as natural to man as the eyrie to the eagle. To defend oneself, to attack others, to live in guarded pride: these are its laudable aims. Until they are ruined, no one but their owners and those who live under their protection has liked them; once they are shattered and dismantled, admiration supervenes; they become pets, the most esteemed ruined objects in a landscape, curdling the blood with awe, delighting the soul with majestic beauty.

Castles have always inspired the imagination,  evoking images of medieval armies carrying scaling ladders, supported by ballista, mangonels and boar-headed battering-rams, charging up to crenellated  battlements, braving arrows, spears and boiling-oil, to hopefully scale the walls, and breach the gates. Such visions have, in recent years, been promoted by movies such as the 'Lord of the Rings', and 'the Hobbit' trilogies and the lengthy 'Game of Thrones' TV series. While these movies and TV series are fantasies, the 'real' castles of the North Hemisphere have a history just as exciting, if not more so, as any Hollywood can produce. I have detailed here just a few of the castles and fortresses that I have visited.

Ancient Troy has always stirred my imagination, ever since I first read Homer's Iliad. I have visited the ruins a number of times over the years, and each time archaeologists have uncovered more of this ancient fortress. While not a castle in the true sense of the word, Troy was a fortified city dating from the third millennium BC, and rebuilt many times. To look upon this place of legends, across the plains of the River Scamander to Aegean Sea where the Greeks left the famous 'Wooden Horse', or to walk beneath of walls where Achilles pursued the Trojan champion Hector three times before killing him, has always inspired my imagination: 

The massive walls of ancient Troy, around which Achilles chased the luckless Hector
'While Hector stood engrossed in inward debate, Achilles drew near him, looking like the god of War in his flashing helmet, girt for battle.  Over his right shoulder he brandished the formidable ashen spear of Pelion, and the bronze on his body glowed like a blazing fire or the rising sun.  Hector looked up, saw him, and began to tremble. He no longer had the heart to stand his ground; he left the gate, and ran away in terror. But the son of Peleus, counting on his speed, was after him in a flash.  Light  as  a mountain  hawk,  the  fastest thing on wings,  when he swoops  in chase  of a timid dove,  and shrieking close behind  his  quarry, darts  at  her time and again in his eagerness to make his  kill, Achilles  started  off in hot pursuit;  and like the dove  flying before her enemy, Hector fled before him under the walls of Troy, fast as his feet would go.'  Homer - The Iliad.

In the UK, after the Norman invasion of 1066, castles sprang up throughout the countryside, often dominating a town such as the castle in Ludlow, Shropshire. Often the home of the local lord, the castle provided protection to the town's inhabitants, usually in return for various services the townsfolk would provide their 'local lord'.

The remains of the 11th century Norman castle dominates the Shropshire town of Ludlow 
Castles and fortresses are scattered throughout Europe and Asia and one of the most spectacular I have visited is the Mehrengarh Fort in the Rajasthani city of Jodhpur in India, which dates from the 15th century. The stark, sheer, impregnable  walls dominate this desert city. Within the fort is the Palace of the Maharajahs of Marwar, now a Museum. The fort was constructed on the hill aptly named the 'mountain of birds'.

The massive Mehrangarh Fort dominates the city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, India
The Middle East has many interesting castle ruins which date back to the First Crusade, particularly after the capture of and the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Crusaders established other feudal Kingdoms in the Middle East, most notably that of Oultrejordain, based in the great castle at Kerak (Crac des Moabites) in modern day Jordan. A small subsidiary castle of Oultrejordain was Montreal, in the small town of Shaubak. The castle sits upon a hill overlooking the semi-desert countryside and is a fascinating place to explore. 

The battlements & the ruins of Montreal, Shaubak, Jordan


One of the most romantic castles I have visited is the small 12th century Armenian castle near the Turkish town of Silifke on the Mediterranean coast. This is Kızkalesi, or the Maiden's Castle, and sits on a small islet just offshore.

Kızkalesi, the Maiden's Castle, in the Mediterranean Sea near Silifke, Turkey
There are very few fortified cities now remaining intact, but two of the best examples are La Cité, the old town of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region of France, and the hilltop fortified town of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India. Both are well preserved and are fascinating places to explore.

The towers of the French city of Carcassonne & the fortified town of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan
While most castles and forts have a history dating back over centuries, Fort Saumarez on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel was adapted to serve as a defensive position by the German occupiers of the island during World War 2. This latter day Martello Tower. with its machine-gun slits, dominates a section of the Guernsey coastline, but did not see any action.
  
Fort Saumarez on the coast of Guernsey, Channel Islands

Text & photographs  © Neil Rawlins

Friday, 21 June 2019

The Native Flowers of New Zealand

It has often been said that New Zealand native vegetation lacks colour; is just a mixture of many shades of green with no distinctive flowers, but although there might not be so many of the large, showy flowers of the tropical rainforests, there is a large variety of delicate, colourful and interesting flowers which extend from the coastal plains up to the extensive alpine regions of both islands.  Over 80% of our natives plants are endemic, which means they are unique to these islands. Many of New Zealand native flowers are white, catering to the numerous night-flying moths which are among the main pollinators. New Zealand only has around 15 butterfly species, but over 1500 species of moth!

In this photographic essay I highlight a few of the unique and beautiful flowers found in the various environments of this isolated land.
Kowhai ngutu-kaka, or kaka beak; kowhai & rewarewa
Perhaps New Zealand's most showy flower is the rare, at least in the wild, kowhai ngutu-kaka, or kaka beak (Clianthus puniceus) which is classified as critically endangered by the Department of Conservation. Fortunately this plant grows well in a controlled habitat and is popular in gardens. The yellow-flowering kowhai (Sophora tetraptera) is distinctive throughout New Zealand when it flowers in the spring. This small tree is semi-deciduous and the yellow flowers - kowhai is the Maori word for yellow - is regarded as New Zealand's national flower.  One of the more unusual, and frequently overlooked flowers of the New Zealand bush is that of the rewarewa (Knightia excelsa). This tree can grow up to 30 metres in height and although sometimes called the New Zealand honeysuckle, it is actually a protea, and is the first of the larger trees to reappear with the bush regenerates.
Puriri, kiekie and kamahi flowers
Found only in the North Island, the Puriri (Vitex lucens) tree is a hardwood related to teak. The showy flowers can be found on the tree all year round, a popular food-source for the nectar-feeding  tui, and the berries are popular with the kereru, or native pigeon. The climbing kiekie (Freycinetia banksii) is a member of the tropical pandanus family and can be seen clambering over larger trees throughout the country. The leaves were used by the Maori for weaving and the large flowers of the male kiekie consists of beige-coloured stamens, surrounded by white bracts, a delicacy to the pre-European Maori. The prolific, candle-like flowers of the kamahi tree (Weinmannia racemosa) produces excellent honey.
Taurepo; toropapa & kotukutuku (tree fuchsia) flowers
Some of the lesser known flowers of the New Zealand forest include the attractive red flowers of the taurepo (Rhabdothamnus solandri) shrub, also known as the New Zealand gloxinia, found only in the North Island. Like the puriri, the taurepo can flower for much a the year and its main pollinators are the nectar-feeding native birds.  The long tubular flowers of the toropapa (Alseuosmia macrophylla) emit a strong sweet very distinctive perfume noticeable in the forests in late spring, early summer. Particularly common in the forests of South and Stewart Islands is the kotukutuku, or tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata). This tree is the largest of the fuchsia family and is one of the very few New Zealand trees which are totally deciduous. Flowers are small and can be hard to see, unlike their more showy South American counterparts. The fruit produced, known to the Maori as konini, is sweet and certainly not unpleasant, if you can get to them before the native pigeons!

Greenhood orchids, veined sun orchid & spider orchids
New Zealand also has an interesting array of small orchids, not always easily identifiable. One of the most common is the tutukiwi, or greenhood orchid (Pterostylis banksii) which can be found alongside forest tracks throughout the country. This veined sun orchid ( Thelymitra venosa) looking rather like a pixie was photographed on Stewart Island, as were these ground-hugging spider orchids (Corybas macranthus).
Mt Cook lily, or giant buttercup, giant spaniards, New Zealand eyebrights
The Alpine regions of New Zealand have many showy flowers but perhaps the best known is the so-called Mt Cook lily which is really a giant buttercup (Ranunculus lyalli). This large-leafed plant flowers prolifically in Mt Cook National Park and in other alpine areas of the Southern Alps and Fiordland. The giant spaniard (Aciphylla scott-thomsonii) is a speargrass and is actually a member of the carrot family. There are many species of speargrass found throughout all islands of New Zealand.  The New Zealand eyebright (Euphrasia cuneata) is another showy flower found  alongside tracks and stream beds in both lowland and alpine regions, particularly in the North Island.

Poor Knights lily & tecomanthe flowers
Two of New Zealand's rarest flowers, although both now found in gardens, are the Poor Knights lily (Xeronema callistemon) which originally grew only on the Poor Knights Islands & Hen Island off the coast of Northland, and the spectacular climber Tecomanthe speciosa, one of the world's rarest pants, which is known from just a single specimen, discovered in 1945, growing on Great Island in the Three Kings group off the tip of Northland.

The spectacular red mistletoe growing on a southern beech at Lake Ohau
To finish this photographic essay I feature the endangered (popular food for possums) red mistletoe (Peraxilla tetrapetala). Like its northern hemisphere counterpart, it flowers spectacularly in limited locations in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Text & photos  ©Neil Rawlins
My travel books 'One Foot in Front of the Other' are available in paperback & ebook from Amazon Books 


Monday, 3 June 2019

A Walk in the New Zealand Rainforest





The bush grows dark, dank and mysterious. Trees and shrubs tumble around, over and under each other in an impenetrable barrier. This is the typical New Zealand native bush, which is in fact rainforest, quite different to what the Australians call ‘bush’.
New Zealand has many different types of ‘bush’, as the country extends from the sub-tropical to the temperate zones of the Southern Hemisphere.  In Orewa, just a few hundred metres from where I am writing this, is Alice Eaves Scenic Reserve, a small relic of the original coastal rainforest near Auckland city. The forest here is primarily of stands of nikau palms, large gnarled hardwood puriri and small healthy stands of young kauri, the giant tree of North Auckland which was decimated for its excellent timber in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.  
Nikau palms & ancient puriri trees in Alice Eaves Reserve, Orewa

In Northland there are still a few areas of the original dense rainforest where the giant kauri trees still flourish.  Te Matua Ngahere, a forest giant with a girth of over 16 metres, resides almost unseen in the dense sub-tropical Waipoua Forest.

The ancient giant kauri tree, Te Matua Ngahere, 'Father of the Forest', Waipoua
On the West Coast of the South Island there are the swamp-forests where the predominant tree is the kahikatea, the New Zealand white pine, often referred to as the dinosaur tree as this species is said to have changed little since the age of the dinosaurs. The swampy vegetation surrounding these trees adds to the primeval atmosphere.

Swamp forest at Ship Creek, Westland
In the higher more temperate country of the South Island are the beech forests, the ancient nothofagus species whose ancestors had colonised much of primeval Gondwanaland, and now exist naturally only in parts of Australia and South America. These are no relation to the beech trees of the Northern Hemisphere - fagus spp.

Southern beech trees in the temperate rainforest at Makarora, Otago
With the lack of browsing mammals, the New Zealand forest can grow extremely dense, with clumps of the twisted liana vines known as supplejack, making the bush all but impenetrable. The bright red summer berries of the supplejack, along with those of the karamu, were a source of bush-food to the pre-European Maori. The karamu is of the Coprosma species whose Latin name means, to use the vernacular,  'smells like shit' ... or dung in polite society, which shows that some botanists did have a sense of humour!  One of the species, Coprosma foetidissima, known to the Maori as hupiro, was called stinkwood by Europeans, hence the name for the entire family.

A tangle of supplejack - Ripogonum scandens - an the red berries of the karamu -  Coprosma robusta
While the New Zealand rainforest lacks mammals, with birds and insects also being very scare, there is an abundance of interesting smaller plants which the average bush-walker can easily overlook. Flowers can be small and many are white, catering for the large numbers of night-flying moths - native butterfly species only number around 15. 
The beech forests harbour some interesting specimens. In some areas a thick black sooty mould covers the bark of certain beech trees. Closer inspection will reveal thin tube-like apendages protruding through the mould, secreting tiny droplets of honeydew, These are the anal tubes of a primitive scale insect which feeds on the sugary sap of the tree. The sooty mould grows on the discarded honeydew. Other insects, particulalrly the introduced wasp and native birds in turn feed on the honeydew, an important link in the forest food-chain.

Also in the beech forests, particularly in the Spring or early Summer, the so-called beech strawberries appear. These are a parasitic fungus, Cyttaria gunnii, that appear on some of the smaller brachlets of the beech trees in temperate areas. They are not always obvious, except when the yellow honeycomb-like fruiting bodies have fallen to the forest floor.

Scale insects anal tibes with droplets of honeydew, & the fruiting bodies of beech strawberries.
While the New Zealand rainforest is normally regarded as being benign to human intruders - no ferocious mammals, snakes, scorpions, and even a lack of biting insects - there is a lurking hazard for some of the lower insects. This is the stuff of nightmares, something out of a Kafkaesque dream. Several species fungi take over the bodies of living insects, feeding on or altering the structure of the victim. Best known is probably the awheto, or vegetable caterpillar - Cordyceps robertsii - in which the fungus will perfectly retain the shape of its victims. This unfortunate was also used as a tattooing pigment by some Maori tribes. While I have never found the awheto in the forest, I have come upon its close relative, the vegetable cicada - Cordyceps sinclarii. This fungus will attack a buried cicada nymph, feeding on its tissues. An indicator is white, powdery fruiting heads in the forest undergrowth and when uncovered, the remains of a cicada nymph becomes visible. Another of these parasitic fungi is the sugar icing fungus that will attack living cicadas, stick insects, mantids, and wasps, coating the vunerable parts of the body with 'icing', while it feeds on the unfortunate insects internal organs.
The vegetable cicada - Cordyceps sinclarii - fruiting bodies among liverworts, & an exhumed nymph
Finishing on a less macabre note, in certain areas of the forest is found the giant moss, Dawsonia superba, which is one of the world's largest mosses. The first time I found this, was in the Coromandel rainforest. I was with an American botanist. She looked at the plant, stood back and said: "it can't be." I looked at her, somewhat puzzled. She said "it looks like a moss, but is far too large."  A few days later I received a fax with the moss identified as Dawsonia superba.

The giant moss, Dawsonia superba


Text & photography © Neil Rawlins










Thursday, 9 May 2019

Capt. James Cook & William Hodges in Vanuatu


Sparkling waters push a coconut further up the coarse, reddish sands. Pink-tinged Barringtonia flowers add a splash of colour to the leaf debris flotsam of the high-tide mark. Palms sway in the gentle tropical zephyrs that blow in off the blue Pacific.
Barringtonia flowers on the beach at Malekula
The beach is deserted except for a couple of figures at the waters edge at the far end of the beach. All is serenity, so far from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. The coconut will, perhaps, sprout & eventually add to the swaying verdant fringe of this pristine shore.
Sanaliu Beach, Malekula
This is a scene that would be recognised by Captain James Cook, as he sailed down this coast, on his second voyage of discovery, in the Resolution in 1774. Cook was in need of fresh provisions and no doubt his men looked longingly at the pristine beaches, seeing the natives who waded into the warm waters waving green branches, a sign of greeting, to the European intruders. Eventually a safe anchorage was found in what Cook named Port Sandwich, at the southern end of Malekula.  The British sailors’ first encounter with the Malekulans was tenuous to say the least. Initial tolerance soon turned to intolerance: the Malekulans believed the Europeans to be the ghosts of their ancestors, who could sometimes be malevolent, and in return the Europeans did not understand the Malekulans attitude to private possessions. Tensions became strained and the uncertainty of Cook’s landing was accurately captured by his onboard artist, William Hodges, in a colourful canvas entitled ’Landing at Mallicolo’. Firearms are displayed by Cook’s men while one or two Malekulans brandish spears.
Landing at Mallicollo by William Hodges  1744-1797

          William Hodges is, perhaps, the most under estimated landscape painter of the 18th century. As he was on Cook’s 2nd voyage of discovery he was under contract to the British Admiralty, so many of his magnificently coloured paintings of the 18th century Pacific remained, for many years, in the Admiralty archives. For that reason,Hodges was relatively unknown even in his time, a sentiment admirably described by his friend, the poet William Hayley, on his epitaph:   
                       
 “Ye men of genius, join’d to moral worth,
                           Whose merits meet no just rewards on earth.'

                             “ To active Hodges, who with zeal sublime
                                 Pursued the art, he lov’d, in every clime;
                                 Who early traversing the globe with Cook,
                                 Painted new life from nature’s latent book.”

          As Cook sailed on through other islands in Vanuatu,  which he named the New Hebrides, Hodges conscientiously recorded the landings. On Erromanga, Cook’s reception was hostile and led to the death of several locals.
Landing at Erramanga by William Hodges
The Williams River on Erromanga, named after the Missionary John Williams who was killed her in 1839
Cook did not stay at Erromanga and as he sailed south, passing Aniwa, he and his men noticed what seemed to be a large fire on an island to the south-west. By the time Cook sailed into the bay he named Port Resolution, he had realised that what they had seen was, in fact, the volcanic fires of Mt Yasur.
A recent photo of the eruptions on Mt Yasur, island of Tanna
As on other islands, Cook’s reception on Tanna was initially tense, and the ship’s cannon had to be fired several times to warn off the natives. An added complication was the realisation by Cook’s men that the islanders had several distinct languages and that there was little relationship and co-operation between each tribe. There are 110 distinct languages in Vanuatu and 3 extinct languages.
          William Hodges detailed Cook’s landing at Port Resolution in a canvas utilising magnificently the atmospheric effects of bright tropical sunlight & the dark brooding smoky fires of Mt Yasur, which forms the backdrop to Cook‘s confrontation with the Tannese.
Cautious Landing at Tanna by William Hodges
 If Cook was to return to Tanna  today he would immediately recognise the fires of Mt Yasur, which still dominate the southern area of the island, periodically blowing mineral-rich volcanic ash across the island, adding the  natural fertilizer which nourishes  the excellent Arabica coffee trees that  grow on Tanna, producing one of the world‘s best coffees.

William Hodges was also to paint the first images of Easter Island and some of the first oil paintings of Tahiti and New Zealand.  Hodges story and photos are admirably illustrated in the book, William Hodges 1744-1797: the Art of Exploration published by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich - see link below. 
 Text & photography © Neil Rawlins

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Sign Spotting: a brief World Tour



What's in a sign?    Quite a lot when one looks beneath the surface. Signs can be straight forward, pointing to somewhere interesting; they can impart interesting, or not so interesting, information, or they can serve no practical purpose at all. It is for all these reasons, that photographs of signs will enhance any photographic collection, be it photos in an album or a visual presentation.
Over the years, as I have walked around a town or a city, or even in the country, I have always kept my eyes open for interesting signs. It is surprising what one sees,

Many years ago I was travelling through central  Africa and had reached the town of Garoua on the Benoué River when a poster at the local Post Office caught my eye. It couldn't be, but it was; a picture of an old Maori woman with a moko (chin tattoo). It was advertising the colour film Nouvelle-Zélande, Terre des Maoris; sponsored by Cameroon Airlines and the French Airline UTA, which then flew into Auckland. It was bizarre to see one's homeland advertised in the heart of Africa.
A surprising discovery in the town of Garoua in the Cameroon; Queen Elizabeth stepped ashore here & a Wyoming mud flap & bumper sticker.

On another occasion, I was walking along the coastal path from Mrs Macquarie's Seat in Sydney's Botanic Gardens, when I stepped on a worn, dusty plaque. Closer inspection told me that 'the Queen Stepped ashore here'. It didn't say when, but subsequent investigation told me that it was in 1954 and she was the first reigning monarch to visit Australia. So I can say I was following in the footsteps of Her Majesty, although I wasn't coming in from the sea!

On a later trip to Wyoming in the USA, I spotted a mudflap and bumper sticker on a local truck. To be honest I did know the owner of the pickup truck, and the bumper sticker was appropriate as he was always wearing a cowboy-style hat.



Beware of dog sign in Port Vila; 19th century dentist's door, Blists Hill; neatly printed gas station sign in Bikaner.

In Vanuatu the local lingua franca is known as Bislama, a form of pidgin comprising a corruption of words from English, French and the local languages. Some of the results are hilarious. A Beware of the Dog sign becomes 'Lukaot wan spesil Dog' (Lookout, one special dog!). Special because it bites!!

In the Blists Hill open-air museum in Shropshire in England is the glass-door to a dentist that tells me, waiting in anticipation, that, my teeth will be 'carefully extracted'. A daunting prospect in that pre-ether era!

In Bikaner in the Indian Stae of Rajasthan I came upon a neatly painted brand new sign at a petrol station, telling me that if I doubted the honesty of the dealer, a 'duly authenticated capacity measure' was available on request.

Sign to the 'One & Only Octopus restrauramt of the vorld, Bodrum & the Holy Water sign at churcTralee

In Bodrum in Turkey there was a sign which pointed to "The First and Only Octopus Restaurant of the Vorld' - in English, Turkish and German. I wonder if it is still there?
And in Tralee in Ireland, I rather liked the idea of Holy Water being on tap at the Church of St John the Evangelist.

             The South Sea Liquor Lugger on Stewart Island & the information sign in Montana's Bad Rock Canyo

Signs are not always of the conventional type.  In Half Moon Bay on New Zealand's Stewart Island, an old Bedford truck served a very practical purpose.It was the local hotel's 'Liquor Lugger', then gainfully employed lugging booze from the Mainland ferry to the island's only hotel. 
But the descriptive information on a board beside the Flathead River in Bad Rock Canyon in the U.S. State of Montana, gives an amusing local history of the derivation of the Canyon's name, painstakingly written.in the vernacular,

A Benefaction board in St Andrew's Church, Nether Wallop, Hampshire & the Fijian Devonshire Tea sign at Rings Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Not all signs have to be outdoors. A benefaction board in the small parish church of St. Andrew in the village of Nether Wallop in Hampshire records for posterity  how much local benefactors have bequeathed to the poor of the community. I wonder how far £4 per annum went in 1559? 

But then, not all signs are serious. At Rings Beach on New Zealand's Coromandel Peninsula, I used to pass this sign regularly. The Fijian Devonshire Teas were always going to be available 'tomorrow'!

A sign outside of local grocer shop in Leh, Ladakh; Queen Victoria's vacation sign in Auckland & the sign to Alzon in France from Waitangi in the Chatham Islands

I have already mentioned that signs in India can be interesting.  Some years ago I was in Leh, the main town of Ladakh in the Indian State of Kashmir, when I noticed this sign outside a grocery store. I know what mixed pickles and toilet paper are but what is Aji-no-moto?  (P.S. just googled it - seems it is MSG  - monosodium glutamate!)

A few years ago the statue of Queen Victoria in Auckland's Albert Park went missing. On her plinth a note was left stating that Her Majesty had gone:  'On Vacation for some much needed beauty treatment'. I wonder if she was amused?

Next to the courthouse in the settlement of Waitangi on the remote Chatham Islands is a sign pointing straight down, 12,800 kms, through the centre of the earth to the small town of Alzon in southern France. There is a similar sign in Alzon saying it is the Antipodes of the Chatham Islands, - Situation Unique en France..



Seems that privacy can be a necessary requisite on an island for whatever reason. I came across this ominious sign while walking along a back road on  New Zealand's Stewart Island. Needless to say, I didn't trespass, if I did, I wouldn't be writing this article today!

Small, remote Islands may have their advantages, but they can also have disadvantages, disadvantages that we Mainlanders take for granted. This sign appeared on the bowser of the only fuel station on  the Chatham Islands during my stay. Fortunately the weather calmed down and  the supply boat, which had been delayed, arrived a couple of days later!



But I think the last word can be safely left with this plaque, in the Windsor Reserve in the Auckland seaside suburb of Devonport - On This Site in 1897, Nothing Happened.

Text & photography © Neil Rawlins

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Anzac: the Turkish Monuments on the Gallipoli Peninsula

As Anzac Day comes around once again, there is a tendency to forget that this is an equally important event from Turkey. Rightly or wrongly, the Ottoman Empire had been drawn into an alliance with Germany and the Astro-Hungarian Empire in the First World War, and for Britain, France and Russia, this posed a threat, both to Russia’s access to the Mediterranean and, hence, to the  rest of the World, and also  to Britain’s sea routes through the Suez Canal and, consequently to India, then the jewel in the British Crown. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, had devised a plan, maybe ill-concieved but certainly ill-executed by the War Office, to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula which would give the Allies control of the Dardanelles and hopefully lead to the capture of Constantinople taking Turkey out of the War – what could be more simple? The plan did not take into account the tenacity of the Turkish defenders who were, after all, defending their homeland from foreign invaders, some of whom were from ‘the uttermost ends of the earth’.
Banners on the Grand Eceabat Hotel, Eceabat
 Turkish Martyrs Day, on the 18 March, commemorates the defeat of the first Anglo-French attempt to force the Dardanelles on 18 March 1915 using, purely, a naval force. Many of the Turkish forts were badly damaged, but the Allies lost 3 battleships sunk and 3 seriously damaged, before turning back and re-thinking their invasion plan, which saw the invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsular on the 25 April. The Turks had their hero on the 18 March. Corporal Seyit who, in the heat of battle after a shell elevator had been put out of action, single-handedly carried three 275kg shells to his gun which, in turn, badly damaged the ill-fated HMS Ocean. After the action, he was asked to lift a shell for a photograph but was unable to do so. He is then said to have uttered “If war breaks out again, Ill lift it again.”
Statue of Corporal Seyit with  a shell, Eceabat

 As one crosses the Dardanelles from Çanakkale, the Dur Yolcu Memorial, above the fort at Kilitbahir, can be seen. An image of a Turkish soldier holding a firearm, points to words by Necmettin Halil, a Turkish poet, The words translated mean:
                                   Traveller halt!
                                   The soil you tread
                                   Once witnessed the end of an era.
This is a reference to the many soldiers who lie buried on the Peninsular and the end of an era, probably refers to the Otoman Empire of which the Gallipoli Campaign was one of the last major battles before the Empire finally collapsed.
The Dur Yolcu Memorial overlooking the Dardanelles

 The ferry from Çanakkale arrives at Eceabat on the European shore of the Dardanelles, the town closest to the Gallipoli Battlefields. On disembarking attention is drawn by a very large, detailed memorial to the bloody battles fought on the peninsular. The memorial is in several parts. There is a large collage of sculpted images of soldiers, both Turkish and Anzacs, topped by Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish commander, who, as Kemal Atatürk, became the ‘Father of modern Turkey’, a weeping woman, symbolising the grief for the battle-dead,  sits beneath. There is a fascinating representation of both the Turkish and Australian trenches, complete with sculpted figures of soldiers in action as well as the dead and dying, all in interesting detail. Maps along the pavement show the Peninsular and where the important battles were fought. Instructive as well as a memorial.
Details of the large Gallipoli War Memorial at Eceabat
 Near Cape Hellas, on Hisalık Hill, is the Çanakkale Martyrs Monument, a huge monolithic structure of four huge columns topped by a large concrete slab.  Friezes of battle scenes decorate each of the four columns and a large Turkish flag adorns the bottom of the capping slab. In the shadow of the Monolith are other memorials, particulalrly to Atatürk, and graves of the Ottoman soldiers who fell in the defending their Homeland. The Çanakkale Martyrs Monument is a prominent landmark seen from across the Dardanelles and from much of the southern Gallipoli Peninsular.

The monolithic central feature of the Çanakkale Martyrs Monument

Text & photography © Neil Rawlins

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Franz Josef, a Landscape on the Move

I watched with amazement, on a news clip on my iphone, as the one-lane bridge at Franz Josef washed away in the flooded Waiho River. It was only a week before that I had crossed this bridge with a coach load of British tourists. I had commented at the time that the river was very low, but it could rise very quickly. I was able to show my clients, before they left New Zealand, the destruction of the bridge on my iphone.
This photo was taken several years ago when the Waiho was in flood. Note how high the river is
When the river is in flood, large chunks of glacial ice tumble down the river along with the river boulders.

Franz Josef is a small tourist village on New Zealand’s South Island West Coast. The town takes it’s name from the nearby Glacier, named after the 19th century Emperor of Austria-Hungary by the German traveller and geologist, Julius von Haast. Along with the nearby Fox Glacier, these two icy rivers are a major tourist attraction.
The Franz Josef Glacier as it was in March 2008
Climate change has, of course, taken its toll on these two Glaciers over the last few years. I first visited both the Franz Josef and the Fox Glaciers in 1975, when they were in retreat. Then, during the 90s, both Glaciers advanced spectacularly, and I did read a report that the eruption of Mt Pinatuba in the Philippines was partially responsible. In this report it stated that the large amount of ash pushed into the atmosphere by the volcano, cooled the average temperature in this part of the world by only about half a degree Celsius, but it was enough to increase the snowfall in the glaciers’ névé areas to push these rivers of ice forward.
The névé, or snow catchment area of the Fox Glacier
 During this period of advance I led many groups to Westland where a hike on the Fox Glacier was an included highlight. This was a most popular inclusion as most of my clients had never been on a glacier before. The Fox was our preferred Glacier and for a time access was through the surrounding stunted rainforest which we had to hike through before dropping down onto the glacier ice. A unique experience.
Hiking thorugh the stunted rainforest to the Fox Glacier. A unique experience.
 Each time Ivisited both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, things could be different. Sometimes rain had washed out the access track, or ice movements had altered the access points to the ice. It was an ever-moving landscape with no two trips being the same. If the access road to the Fox was washed out, which was not uncommon, my groups would hike up to, and onto, the Franz Josef Glacier. This was usually considered a bit more difficult and was certainly steeper.
A group hiking on the Fox Glacier 
Among the ice crevasses & pinnacles of the Fox Glacier 2008

The two glaciers reached their peak advance in 1998. From 1999 until 2003, there was a recession of the glaciers which soon became noticeable, then there was a further advance until 2008. Since then both Glaciers have receded, and the amount of melt has been rapid. Hikes onto the glacial ice can now only be done using helicopters, and the Franz Josef has disappeared from view from Sentinel Rock, which used to be a main viewing platform for non-hikers.
A large ice cave was visible from the main access track to the Fox Glacier in 2007
A large slip has cut all access to the Fox Glacier, and now the Waiho River bridge has been destroyed, although this is being replaced and should reopen within the next few days, restored the main highway between Franz Josef and Fox Glacier and on through the Haast Pass to Wanaka and Queenstown. These recent events have most definitely emphasized how much this really is a landscape on the move.

Text & photography © Neil Rawlins