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I lived in Elgin and the surrounding area for a little over two years from 2004. This small cathedral city is situated in the north east of Scotland in the county of Moray and lies mid way between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen. This cathedral city and Royal Burgh lies on the high ground of the flood plain of the River Lossie. The original city was only to the south of the river although the present day Elgin covers both banks of the river. It has had a problem in the past with flooding in its low lying areas of the city. It was first documented as a city in the 12th century when it was given its Royal Burgh status by King David I of Scotland, at that time the hill known as Lady Hill that overlooks the centre of the older parts of the city housed a castle, all that remains to this day are a few ruins to view at the top of a steep climb.

The area around Elgin has a long history in the making of Scotland; in 1040 Macbeth’s army defeated and killed Duncan I near to the city. In 1224 the land was given over for the site of the cathedral to Andrew, the then Bishop of Moray. Elgin was a site of many visits from Scottish Monarchs, David I, William I, Alexander II and Alexander III all held court there during their times as the monarch and could often be found hunting in the forests nearby.

The foundation stone was laid for the building of the new cathedral on 19 July 1224 with its being completed in 1242; it did not remain for long as it was completely destroyed by fire in 1270. The cathedral was rebuilt but the city was attacked in the 14th century and large areas of the city including the cathedral were destroyed. The building was again rebuilt but in 1536 the central tower collapsed and although work was done to restore the building all that remains today is a ruin. The majority of the remaining building is not from the last repair but stonework that survived from the 13th century.

Edward I of England stayed twice in Elgin and was impressed on his first visit. On his return in 1303 the castles interior had been burned and Edward had to stay at nearby Kinloss Abbey, this was the last visit and marked the end of any royal association for the city. Edward died in 1307 and Robert the Bruce captured and burned any castles loyal to the English. The army of the Bishop of Moray joined forces with Robert the Bruce and together they burned the castles of Inverness, Nairn and Forres on route to Elgin, they were twice held back before overpowering the English garrison. The English King, Edward II had the Bishop ex-communicated and the Bishop fled to the Orkney Isles and then on to Norway, only returning to Scotland after the Kings death.

The city was once again under attack from the English in the 17th century, this time by the army of Oliver Cromwell.

During the Jacobite rebellion Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) rested in Elgin at Thunderton House, the home of a Jacobite supporter while awaiting the arrival of the Kings army and the subsequent battle of Culloden Moor. The sheets that he slept in during his stay in Elgin he was buried in upon his death 25 years later.

During the 19th century a hospital was built and a doctor gave the cost of the building upon his return from making a fortune with the East India Company. The hospital Dr. Gray’s still bears his name today. Another Elgin resident also working for the East India Company gave a sum of money so that the city’s elderly poor and orphaned children were well looked after. Other Victorian buildings were built towards the end of the 19th century and gave the shape to much of the centre of the small city to this day. The population is still only a little over 25,000 and that only increased to that number once the railway arrived. The initial railway only ran the 5 miles from Elgin to the harbour at Lossiemouth and was the first railway in Britain north of Aberdeen. Further lines were added but since the 1960’s these have been axed and the only line now passes through Elgin on the route between Inverness and Aberdeen.

There are two Royal Air Force bases in the area around Elgin, this adds to the local economy as well as giving employment to the area. Partly due to the reliance on this branch of the services and with many of them liking this area to settle in there is now a high percentage of English people living in the area almost 15%.

There are a number of locations all across the United States with the name of Elgin, testament to many descendants of this area moving across the Atlantic,  some with little choice during the clearances to the newer location sharing the same name.





Burghead is a village on the coast facing across the Moray Firth and the further out towards the North Sea. It is in the north east of Scotland in Moray and about 8 miles North West of the city of Elgin, I moved into this village after buying an apartment there just a few minutes walk from the beach. The village is situated on a peninsular and the majority of the village has the sea surrounding it on three sides. The population of this picturesque setting is a little over 1600 people and behind the beach is a large forest with farmland further inland.

The layout of the village was built between 1805 and 1809; much of the site of a Pictish Hill Fort was destroyed during this building process. At first it was thought this hill fort was of Roman origin but it turned out to be even older as the Pictish people were in this area before the Romans arrived in Britain. The hill fort was believed to be a major centre for the Pictish people and some large carved stone slabs showing bulls were found at this site, they are now known as the Burghead Bulls. In 1809 toward the end of the rebuilding process for the present style of the village a well was discovered, it has chambers inside and its full significance or reason for use is not known.

Every year on or near to the 11th January is a festival in the village called ‘the burning of the clavie’ this annual event attracts many visitors as a tarred burning barrel is carried around the village by some of the men of the local families. This festival carried out in the early evening dates back to the 1700’s and the date is the start of the traditional Scottish New Year before the present Gregorian calendar was adopted.

The hill fort is three times larger than any other of its kind of the same period in Scotland and is believed to be the oldest Pictish Hill Fort in Europe. It was defended by banks and ditches, much of which was destroyed by the modern village being built and the construction of the harbour. The six stone slabs called the Burghead Bulls are on display, four locally, with one in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh and the final one in the British Museum in London. The doorie hill close to the site of the hill fort is where the burning of the clavie festival ends each year. The burning barrel is left to burn itself out and the cooling embers are given out as signs of good luck for the coming year.

The chambered well was at first believed to be a roman well or bath, it measures 11 feet high and the same distance across and is reached down a flight of stone steps.  It has a 4 feet deep water tank inside fed by a spring. The reasons for its use are unknown and it may have had some ceremonial purpose such as early baptism rituals by the Picts, or it may have been of some use to worship water spirits.

The modern village is dependant on two nearby Royal Air Force bases for its economy and employment. Nearly 21% of the areas workforce is employed on the two bases. Fishing was once a major employer with many boats at one time being based from the villages harbour. Now less than 2% of the local economy is through this once major local industry.

Tourism is an important part of the local economy with many small family run hotels and guest houses operating for the full year or seasonal. Just outside the village and overlooking the beach there is a large holiday park of static caravans mainly for summer use only. There was a t one time a railway line into the village but this was axed in the 1960’s, part of the route of which is now a very scenic cycle route taking cyclists or walkers alike through cuttings and past headlands with wonderful views out across the North Sea.




The English city of Salisbury is situated in southern England in the county of Wiltshire. Although small in size with a population of about 50,000 it has a city status because of its cathedral. The cathedral’s spire is the tallest in the United Kingdom and can be seen for miles on any of the approaches into the city.

Salisbury is situated 85 miles to the south west of London, close to the large heath land area of Salisbury Plain large areas of which are used by the British Army for training purposes. The city has links with two cities of the same name in the United States, one being in North Carolina and the other being in Maryland.

The site of the modern city only began in 1220 although the area has been settled since the earliest known times of Neolithic man. The nearby hilltop of Old Sarum was the original settlement with evidence of an Iron Age hill fort as one of its earliest permanent settlements. The Romans when they occupied Britain called the area Sorviodunum and after they left it was known as Searesbyrig by the Saxons.  The name evolved again when the Normans conquered Britain in the 11th century becoming Seresberi. At the time of the Doomsday book in 1086 it was known as Salesberie.

The original cathedral was built by Bishop Osmund between 1075 and 1092 at the site of Old Sarum, a larger one was built around 1120. The feelings between the clergy and the military deteriorated around this time and it was decided to move the cathedral to a new site away from its military surroundings. The new site was chosen close by on the fields and fertile valleys close to the confluence of five rivers.

In 1220 the city of New Sarum or Salisbury as it was to be known was founded and the building of the new cathedral began in the same year. The main building project was completed in just 38 years and is renowned as being a masterpiece of Early English Architecture. The spire being the tallest in the UK at 123 metres or 400 feet was added later.

Legend has it that the site was chosen by an arrow being fired from Old Sarum but the distance is almost 2 miles. Further to the story it was reputed that the arrow hit a deer and it was at this spot where the deer lay down and died. The best preserved copy of the Magna Carta is contained within the cathedral. The mechanical clock installed into the cathedral in 1386 is the oldest surviving mechanical clock in the UK.

After the building of the cathedral the town around it began to expand at a rapid rate, by the 14th century it was the largest town in Wiltshire, the city wall was built also in the 14th century. The wall contains five gates, four are original and the fifth being added in the 19th century. The four original gates are known as High Street Gate, St. Ann’s Gate, the Queen’s Gate and St Nicholas’s Gate. The composer Handel (1685-1759) wrote many of his works located in a room above St Ann’s Gate. During the Plague of London (1665) King Charles II held court in the cathedral close.

One of the problems faced by the city in the past is one of flooding, with the low lying land and the convergence of several rivers it is largely controlled by weirs and landscaping.

One bigger concern for local residents is the lack of major roads to direct through traffic away from the city. Salisbury lies on the trunk route of Southampton and Bristol and any traffic on that route must pass through the city.

There are a number of buildings in the city that are reputed to be haunted; ghost tours through the city are a popular attraction. One of the buildings reputed to have a ghost is the local cinema, the oldest building in the UK to contain a cinema. The Debenhams department store is said to be haunted by Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. He was beheaded on the site of the present day store in 1483. His crime was to lead a rebellion against the king, Richard III. After the revolt collapsed he was captured and tried at Salisbury.

The city has a number of pubs, one of which is the ‘Haunch of Venison’ this drinking house is in a building overlooking the market which dates from the 14th century. One of its ‘attractions’ is a mummified hand. This hand was said to be removed from its owner during a game of cards. Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower are supposed to have met in a room of the pub during planning for the D-Day landings.







The market town of Thirsk in the county of North Yorkshire in the north east of England was the location were I was posted in the mid 1980’s and would prove to be my final posting before I finished my career in the British Army. Thirsk is a small town of only around 5000 people and I was based a few miles to the west.

Thirsk is located to the north of the city of York and   almost 230 miles north of London. Many visitors are attracted to the area due to its being close to the North York Moors as well as supporters of horse racing with the nearby racecourse offering a number of race meetings during the year.

The town is mentioned in the Doomsday book of the 11th century called at that time Tresche and got its name from the Viking word for marsh. Many of the surrounding villages end in –by, this is of Danish origin meaning farmstead or village. The centre of the town is built around a medieval market square which holds a twice weekly market, many of the towns amenities like its hospital, town hall, cinema and swimming pool are actually sited in the village of Sowerby which is adjacent to Thirsk.

One of the town’s claims to fame is that it is the home to the veterinary surgeon James Herriott who under this pen name wrote the novels in the ‘All creatures great and small’ series. The site of the practice is now a museum of his life and works.

The founder of the Lord’s cricket ground in London (Thomas Lord) was born in Thirsk and his birthplace now houses the Thirsk Museum.

The cinema is run by volunteers and dates from 1912; it is one of the oldest cinemas still operating in Britain. The clock tower by the market square was erected in 1896 and commemorates the marriage of the then Duke of York. Many of the buildings that surround the market square date from the 18th and 19th centuries.  These buildings many of them now individually owned shops show the wealth that was in the town at that time through their design. Thirsk further prospered when the turnpike or coaching route between York and Edinburgh passed through the town, three coaching inns were noted for these overnight stops as it was too dangerous to travel overnight due to the highwaymen that operated one of these being the notorious Dick Turpin. Until the arrival of the railways and then later the motor industry the coaches were the only form of travel, slow uncomfortable and often in danger of being robbed. Many of the traditional cottage industries of the area like weaving have long since died out although the town does continue to prosper. One of my everlasting memories of this small town is the high proportion of pubs or drinking houses for such a small town. On race days (spring and summer) each of these is packed before and after the races at the nearby racecourse.



 The village of Stilton, Cambridgeshire England


The village of Stilton became famous from the 18th century onwards for the selling of the cheese of the same name, although the cheese takes its name from this village it was always manufactured elsewhere.

The earliest finds of occupation in this area date from around the time of the Roman occupation of Britain and a complete Roman clay jug was unearthed and found to be from the 2nd century AD. The Romans came to this area as it lies along the route of the ancient road connecting London to the city of Lincoln, known to the Romans as Lindum Colonia. This route was later given the title of Ermine Street and is one of many ancient roman routes that existed in Roman Britain. In later years it became an important junction with Fen Street running in an east-west direction.

In the doomsday book of 1086 Stilton is mentioned three times, all for its landowners, The King, the Bishop of Lincoln and a local landowner by the name of Eustace. The Great North Road as the route had come to be known as by the 15th century had become a busy route between London and Scotland as well as many of England’s northern towns and cities and Stilton became an important staging post for the horse drawn coaches of the day. The village had a population of about 5-600 at this time, yet there were 14 inns or alehouses to cater for the travelers on the road.

At this time in the village’s history the majority of the local income was from farming and to this day it remains a largely rural area. In the 19th century and the arrival of the railway saw the decline in the long distance horse drawn coaches and many of the inns and alehouses were forced to close due to the loss in trade. Only four of these coaching inns remain today and though they may have been revamped and modernized many times the exteriors are still largely as they would have looked back then.

Many overseas visitors will arrive in the village asking where the cheese is made only to be informed it never was made locally.

One famous visitor to the area in 1727 was the author Daniel Defoe (author of the novel Robinson Crusoe) he noted is his ‘Tour through England and Wales’ that the village was already famous for its cheese.

Although it was the road that first brought it fame and fortune it has been the modern road that has led to its undoing. When the railway arrived it didn’t pass through the village but well to the east and in 1959 when the newer North Road the A1 was built it further took traffic away from the village and many local businesses closed, the Bell Inn that sold the first Stilton back in the early 19th century did close down at one point but local interest brought it back into use.

Every year on Easter Monday there is a cheese rolling competition along the street, so maybe it is just as well the main road no longer passes through the village.




A Few Interesting Facts about Stilton Cheese


The famous cheese known as stilton first became known for its being sold to passing passengers on horse drawn coaches on the Great North Road on route between London and the north of England or further north into Scotland. The coaches would use the inns as overnight stops and to change horses. The cheese became known for the location of the village stopping point rather than for the place of its manufacture.

It is a common misconception that Stilton cheese though made famous from the village of the same name in Cambridgeshire in England is made in the village. It is a fact that Stilton cheese has never been produced in the village of Stilton.

The cheese can only be legally called Stilton if it is produced by one of the six dairies permitted and licensed to make the famous cheese. These dairies are located within the east midlands counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Of the cheese is produced outside of these dairies it is only legally allowed to be called Blue Cheese.

The distinctive feature of Stilton cheese its blue veins running throughout are added by inserting stainless steel needles. Air is then allowed to enter and turns the cheese along these channels into the blue streaks we see in the finished product.

The history of Stilton cheese can be traced as far back as the early years of the 18th century, its manufacturing procedures though modernized remain relatively unchanged since those early days.

The size of a full block of Stilton cheese weighs a full 17lb or 8 kilogram’s. It takes a 136 pints or 78 liters of milk to produce each cylindrically shaped stilton cheese.

Stilton cheese has its own certified or certification trade mark and is an EU protected food name.

The milk used in the production process must be pasteurized before use. The cheese must never be pressed, allowed to form its own crust or coat and should always be made in the cylindrical shape.

The standards of the cheeses quality and shape were set out in the early days of its manufacture around 1722. Frances Pawlett, a skilled cheese maker has been credited with being the person to issue the first quality and shape controls. Both her skill at making a unique cheese and her husband’s business skills led to the first marketing cooperative in the area. They, along with the owner of the Bell Inn (where the coaches stopped) helped to put Stilton cheese into the market place and to where it is today.

In 1936 the Stilton Cheese Makers Association was formed to protect the name and maintain the standards of the cheese. Over a million cheeses a year are made at the six dairies where Stilton cheese is authorized to be made.

Stilton cheese is exported to over 40 countries throughout the world.


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