Gotland, Sweden

[ Photo Gallery # 82 }

Gotland is Sweden’s largest island.  It is (approximately) 176 km (109 miles) by 52 km (32 miles), with a coastline of c. 800 km (500 miles) and a population of round about 58,003,  over 23,000 of whom live in Visby, the island’s main town.  The island has had a long and colourful history, due in large measure to its strategic position in the Baltic Sea.  Gotland’s main activities today centre around agriculture, food processing, tourism, and information technology services.  There is a small amount of heavy industry, particularly associated with concrete production from limestone which is mined on the island.

My photographs below were taken on a visit to the island in 2004.

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Gotland’s position on the Baltic Sea

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View across the roofs of Visby towards the Baltic Sea, with the ruins of the Saint Catherine church on the left. 

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View towards the Cathedral in Visby

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Visby Cathedral, now known as St. Mary’s Church

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View of Visby Cathedral’s towers from outside the city wall

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On the Baltic shore near Visby

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Interior of a reconstructed Viking Longhouse on Gotland

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Further view of the Interior of a reconstructed Viking Longhouse on Gotland

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Västerhejde Church on Gotland

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The Iron Age Stone Ship burial place at Gnisvärd.   Such stone ships are burial places for the chieftain of a village, built of many large stones, placed in the shape of a ship. The persons remains are cremated in a large bonfire and then placed in a vessel in the centre of the stone ship.  This one at Gnisvärd is Gotland’s second largest ship at 45 metres in length

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Another view of the Iron Age Stone Ship burial place at Gnisvärd. 

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Zakinthos

[ Photo Blog  #68 ]

Zakinthos

Zakynthos, or Zante,  is a Greek island in the Mediterranean’s southern Ionian Sea. The island’s capital is the coastal city, which is itself called Zakynthos.  It is centred around the waterfront area of Solomos Square.  I visited the island in 2006 and include below some of the photographs of the island and its capital which I took at that time.

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Approaching Zakinthos from the sea

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Rainbow over the island

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Rainbow

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Cypress trees in the wooded hills above the island’s capital

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One of the island’s many tourist beaches

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Harbour side – Fish fresh from the sea

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Colourful fishing nets

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A Bougainvillea-clad house in Solomos Square 

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Bronze bust of a Greek Orthodox bishop outside the Church of St Agios Dionysios, Zakynthos

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Statue of Liberty on Solomos square in Zakynthos city 

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Close-up of ‘Liberty’

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Jason’s long-lost and battered Argo perhaps !?

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Zante’s turquoise sea

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P&O ‘Arcadia’ at Zakinthos

 

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The Isle of Ghia

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I have eulogised in previous blogs about the Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland.  Today I include a gallery of photographs which I took, some years ago now, on the southernmost Inner Hebridean island of GHIA.  Ghia has one of the warmest climates in Scotland and is a beautiful destination, with sandy beaches, the renowned Achamore Gardens, good food, history and wildlife, a golf course, quiet roads and friendly people.

One of the main attractions of this small island is the ease with which one can reach it from the mainland.  It lies just four miles from the Kintyre peninsular and the ferry, from Tayinloan, will take just 20 minutes to reach the small landing at Ardminish.  The island’s one hotel is close by and I had a delightful few days based there whilst I explored the island.

The population of Ghia is approximately 160.  The island is just over 6 miles long.  Its single-track main road runs from north to south covering almost the whole length of the island which is nowhere more than two miles across from east to west.  The highest mountain on the island is Creag Bhan in the northern part of the island which is exactly 100 metres in height.

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Isle of GHIA – marked with the red pointer

Find out more about the island at:  GHIA’s website

PHOTO GALLERY . . .

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20 minute ferry ride from the mainland of Kintyre

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Ardminish Bay and the island’s one hotel

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Bikes for hire will take you the length of the island’s one north-to-south road

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Scene at the island’s south Pier

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Many birds on the island’s foreshore

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The island’s Manor House and magnificent gardens

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Roadside flora

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More roadside hydrangeas

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Sheep roaming the foreshore

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Shade under the palm tree

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Ancient Runes

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… and ancient tombs

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View of the Paps of Jura looking west from Ghia

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Our Viking Forefathers

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The Vikings . . . Embroidery by Eileen Phelps – 2013

OUR VIKING FOREFATHERS

(Or perhaps it should be ‘FiveFathers’?)

Kirk, Ulf, Dag, Garth and young Sven,
Five fierce and intrepid Norse men,
All were keen for a spot of adventure,
And some philand’ring as well now and then.

These five Vikings set off from their fiord,
Their longboat just bristling with gear;
Spangenhelm, chain mail and hatchets,
They thought they had nothing to fear.

But the North Sea didn’t prove easy,
They rowed until practically dead,
Till at last they spotted the Orkneys
Then got ready some Scots’ blood to shed.

They’d set out equipped to do battle,
To plunder, to pillage, despoil,
But they could not decide where to settle,
Where best to create more turmoil.

So they carried on rowing southwards
And kept their eyes skinned for a village;
For any old Saxon encampment  
With people and pastures to pillage.

Before long they came to an island
That was covered in seaweed and priests;
They decided to stop and replenish,
While the priests signalled, clear off you beasts.

At first they weren’t kind to the natives;
They took all their women and corn,
But they could not abide all the chanting
And treated the abbot with scorn.

But in time they took to the island,
Found some fair Saxons to wed;
Even started attending the chapel,
Word of their atonement soon spread.

When I think of my Norsemen forefathers
Now I don’t see foreign insurgents;
I think of them solely as tourists,
Who created a bit of disturbance.

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I am indebted to the artist, Eileen Phelps, for permission to use a photograph of her embroidery, first exhibited at the Barn Arts Centre, Surrey, in 2013.

Because Eileen’s embroidery on which I based these verses is clearly light-hearted, jocular and whimsical, I have followed that approach with my verses.  I apologise to the historians of the period of British history for seemingly making light of the violence and deprivation which the Viking raids wreaked on coastal communities in and around Britain.

The Vikings first invaded Britain in AD 793 and last invaded in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England after the Battle of Hastings.

The first place the Vikings raided in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small holy island located off the north-east coast of England. Some of the monks were drowned in the sea, others killed or taken away as slaves along with many treasures of the church.

Following many years of incursions by the Vikings, eventually, King Alfred of Wessex was able to confront the Viking ‘Great Army’ at Edington, in 878, when his victory enabled him to establish terms for peace, though this did not put a complete stop to Viking activity which continued on and off for several more generations.  Alfred had to concede the northern and eastern counties to the Vikings, where their disbanded armies settled, created new settlements and merged with the local populations.  Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Leicester became important Viking towns within The Danelaw (or ‘Scandinavian England’), while York became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York, which extended more or less over what we now call Yorkshire.

These areas were gradually reconquered and brought back under English control by Alfred’s successors, but not before the Scandinavian influence had been locally imprinted to an extent which is still detectable today in place names as well as the DNA of many of its inhabitants.

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