The Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland (a northeast region of England) taught me about the chemical properties of many common plants. Here is a sample list from the notes I took.
The beautiful poppy flower is the source for opioid medications as well as the dangerous illegal drug heroine.
Willow tree bark contains salicylic acid, an ingredient of aspirin. This compound is a natural pain reliever, not a poison.
The Rhubarb leaf and about 3″ of the stem near the leaf contains oxalic acid, which in enough quantity can cause liver failure.
Laburnum has a pea-like berry. Four of them could kill a child. However, the entire plant is toxic.
Periwinkle lowers your blood pressure, and is now used to treat childhood leukemia.
The seed of berries of the Yew are toxic, yet are used in chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Giant hogweed, Heracleum, causes a horrible rash that can last up to four years when skin that has contacted the plant is exposed to sunlight.
The bitter honey of the common Rhododendron is poisonous.
Foxglove can give you heart palpitations if you handle it. All parts of the plant are poisonous, even deadly, if swallowed.
Break a laurel leaf and smell the almond scent at your own risk. You are inhaling cyanide, which prevents oxygen from bonding with your blood. People who trim laurel or handle the trimming must be careful.
Rosemary oil and Juniper berries? Avoid them while pregnant. They can cause miscarriage.
After touring Edinburgh Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne Castle, Durham Castle and Alnwick Castle in North England and Southern Scotland, my favorite one (hands down) was Alnwick Castle in England. All of them are interesting and worth a visit, and there are even more to see in the region — Stirling, Duane and more. I’ll tell you why I enjoyed Alnwick Castle the best.
Upon arrival on the castle grounds, I quickly joined the film tour where I heard fascinating details of the filming of Downton Abbey (Christmas scenes) and Harry Potter. Those are the recent ones, but other films include Mary Queen of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave, Elizabeth I, Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, and Hollowed Crown.
Soon after, I joined the History Tour where the guide explained which parts of the castle were built at what time, and the purpose of each. After the Norman Invasion of 1066, the English built huge stone castles. A substantial stone castle was built here in 1133. This castle was never taken by force.
Next, I joined the tour of the castle interior where the Percy family has lived for the past 700 years. The interior was updated in 1750 and again in 1850. Current residents are the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, who life here five months of the year, starting in October. The public may only tour Alnwick when the Duke and Duchess are not in residence, in the summer months. (No photos allowed of the inside). I took copious notes throughout each tour, just so I could remember the information.
About 5 pm, I was still feeling curious and walked down to the gardens, just in time to join the last tour of the day, the Poison Garden. The fenced in section contains numerous poison plants, and the guide shared even more fascinating stories.
With no break for lunch, I was hungry, and luckily was able to buy fish and chips near the garden around 6pm. What a full day!
Pittsburgh PA, you have met your match. Newcastle, England, like you, is a city of bridges and a former coal and steel center making a successful transformation into a technology center with an entrepreneurial spirit.
This innovative pivoting pedestrian bridge is a great symbol of the new Newcastle. Admire the Gateshead Millennium Bridge connecting pedestrians on the wharfs of sister cities Newcastle and Gateshead. These are two university towns with an abundance of pubs, many of them taking full advantage of the riverside waterfront.
The pedestrian bridge closes to foot traffic and pivots, lowering the high arch and raising the lower arch when a large vessel needs to pass through. Have you ever seen a bridge like this?
Before you have ever been to Edinburgh, Scotland, people will tell you, “Edinburgh is a beautiful city.” You think to yourself, “why does everyone say that?” I wondered if I would come away from my trip saying the exact same words to others. I do.
My simple explanation is that the architecture is beautiful. As you walk the city, you may find yourself pausing to admire architecture right and left. Before we even left our hotel, I was enchanted with this view out our window.
The curve of the street leading to the Cathedral in the West End makes lovely leading lines. This photograph was taken in late evening dusk, around 10pm.
*With apology to E. M. Forster for using the name of his book title.
Edinburgh Castle towers over today’s modern city of Edinburgh, Scotland from its perch atop Castle Rock. From the top on a clear day, you can enjoy a beautiful vista clear over to the harbor at the Firth of Forth.
The Castle holds within its walls numerous buildings built from the 12th century to the 20th century. The oldest building is the tiny Saint Margaret’s Chapel, just large enough to hold about 10 people, if they aren’t too large.
The newest building is the Scottish National War Memorial, built after the First World War to commemorate the Scots who gave their lives in wartime.
The Upper Ward and the huge cannon “Mons Meg” represent the 15th and 16th century, a period when the castle was the site of battles.
There is much more to discover in Edinburgh Castle, including the Crown Jewels (which may not be photographed), the Great Hall, a suffocating old prison and a military history museum.
Buy your tickets ahead of time online, and allow yourself plenty of time on what will hopefully be a clear day.
Visiting Edinburgh Scotland for the first time, we had a wonderful time walking the cobblestone streets, admiring the architecture, having a pint in the pub and exploring its castles and cathedrals. Naturally, photography helps to preserve those memories. Shopping for a bit of the culture to bring home will too.
The Scots are known for the colorful plaids that traditionally represent different clans, woven into woolen kilts or warm scarves. Today a dizzying array of plaids sold on soft, cozy scarves and wraps make it very difficult to choose one — or two or three. What will match my winter coat? What will my daughter like? They are all so beautiful!
Roaming around Durham Cathedral in Northeast England, I was busy learning about Norman architecture, the imprisonment of the Scots in the Cathedral and the bishop-princes appointed by William the Conquerer. But there was over a thousand years of history made here, and scores more facts to absorb.
Then, my attention was drawn to some unmarked tombs just outside the Cathedral.
Later research on the web provided the names of a bishop, a priest and a dean of the Cathedral buried outside the walls, but there are many more tombs than three, leaving the mystery of the tomb’s identity or date unsolved.
Perhaps it is better to consider this site a place for meditation and prayer. The questions raised by death and the what happens to each of us after death have vexed the human mind for millennia. It may benefit us more to reflect on the human condition and our questions about life after death than to seek the identity of any one particular grave.
Touring the majestic Alnwick Castle in Northeast England, I expected to learn about the twelfth Duke and Duchess of Northumberland who currently live here and the history of the castle. What I never expected to learn was the story of their ancestors, which includes the gift that founded our American treasure, the Smithsonian Institution.
During the summer months when the Duke and Duchess live in their summer home near the Scotland border, the public may tour the Castle inside and out. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed inside the private quarters. The Dining Room walls are filled with large painted portraits of the Percy family, one of whom is Hugh Smithson.
Hugh Smithson became the First Duke of Northumberland and with the Queen’s permission became a “Percy.” Only the legitimate children of Hugh Smithson/Percy could take the name “Percy.”
James Macie, born in 1765 in France, is the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Keate Macie and Hugh Smithson. His mother had royal roots in France. At his mother’s death, James inherited her fortune and took his father’s name “Smithson.” James devoted his life to academia, studying science at Oxford University. When James died in 1829 without an heir to his fortune, his will revealed his wishes: to donate his estate to found an educational institution in a country that does not have an aristocracy and would never have a monarchy.
Here are a few more details about the founding of the Smithsonian from the Smithsonian Magazine:
Unsure of whether or not he had the authority to accept the gift, President Jackson sent the issue over to Congress where a spirited debate ensued.
“This is pre-Civil War, 1830s, and states rights versus federalism is a hugely hot issue,” Henson says. “Southerners vehemently oppose this because they believe it’s a violation of states’ rights to create such a nation entity but John Quincy Adams, really takes this on as his case and pushes it through and he eventually triumphs.” Congress authorized the U.S. to accept the bequest on July 1, 1836.
If agreeing to accept the money was complicated, deciding what to do with it was almost impossible. Smithson, who had never set foot in the United States while living, apparently never discussed the provision in his will or his plans for the Institution with anyone. So, for ten years, Congress debated what “increase and diffusion of knowledge” meant and what such an establishment would look like. Several ideas were suggested, including: a scientific institute, a teacher’s training institute, a school of natural history, a university for the classics, a national observatory, a national library and a national museum. Eventually, a political compromise was reached, which provided for many of the different ideas suggested, and the Smithsonian Institution was founded, signed into law by President James K. Polk on August 10, 1846, and funded.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/this-day-in-history-remembering-james-smithson-1765-1829-23450134/#gFQuEVceuvJi4Amz.99
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If you would like the full experience of eating and sleeping within a Norman Castle, then Durham Castle is for you in the summer time. You can enjoy the magnificent Cathedral and the charming town with its many shops and pubs while you call Durham Castle your home away from home.
When you compare the meaning of “sanctuary” in 12 c. England to 21 c. America, you might wonder about 21 century America under President Donald Trump. This year migrants are cross the American border from Mexico, seeking sanctuary from unsafe conditions, and are met with incarceration and separation from their children. Many of us Americans oppose this policy and wonder what has become of American values, in particularly freedom, individual rights and the pursuit of happiness. With these current events in mind, I was particularly touched by the mercy demonstrated in this tidbit of history from Durham Cathedral.
In 12th century England, criminals could seek sanctuary in Durham Cathedral by knocking on this bronze knocker and hanging on to it until they were admitted. “Fugitives were given 37 days to organize their affairs. They had to decide with to stand trial or to leave the country by the nearest port.” (Quote from a sign on the Cathedral wall.)
Please note, the Cathedral provided sanctuary to criminals, not migrants, but the concept of sanctuary and mercy is cause for reflection.