Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sunday, Aug 8

For those of you who wish to know what happened at Binchester after we left you can find out at . This blog was written by some of the Durham folks and has a running account of the dig from a more formal point of view, as well as covering the time before we arrived and after we left. The “pit” it refers to is the one I was working in. Turns out that for all the difficulties, I worked in one of the most interesting features found during the whole season.
I know you all want to know the answer to the question, "Will I do it again?" I decided that I would not answer that question until sufficient time had past and I had a chance to let the adventure settle in. So check back in a month or so to find out.
Saturday, Aug 7

Today planes. We fly from Manchester to JFK and then to San Francisco. We get picked up by a too curious limo driver and taken home.
Home to two attention starved cats, piles of (mostly) junk mail and better weather. It has been 38 days since I left, the longest trip away from home since I graduated from college.
It is a little weird being home again. I find I had gotten used to my little room at St. Chads (and being in a string of hotels, 5 in all) and the size of the house is going to take some getting used to again. That and the TV, which I watched for all of 6 hours (World Cup soccer) while gone and have not really missed.
However, Winston has taken all of 10 minutes getting over being mad at me for being gone for so long and now he wants attention – LOTS of attention.

Friday, Aug 6
Today trains. First from Pitlochry to York. A quick change in York for Manchester Airport. In York we get on the wrong train, as the one prior to ours is late leaving. However, we are not the only ones confused and we all manage to find seats.

We arrive at the Airport and check into our hotel. Alex decides to rest for a while so I make the requisite trip to the Hard Rock CafĂ© in Manchester. Arriving in Manchester I don’t recognize anything, although I was here a few years ago. Deciding to take a cab turns out to be a good idea as I am completely turned around and would never have found the place on my own. I must have come into a different train station the first time.
Arriving at the HRC I find I don’t recognize that either. They have closed the casino and completely remodeled the interior. I have my drink, buy a pin and take a cab back to the station, driven by an Indian driver who is too curious about life in California. Back at the hotel I try to repack a little for the flight tomorrow and then call it a day.

About the images:
1 & 2. Night views of the B&B in Pitlochry.

Thursday, Aug 5

We begin our journey towards home today with a train ride to Pitlochry, a small tourist town along the River Tummel. By the time we arrive the sky is clearing and it looks like it is going to be a very nice day. We walk to our B&B, which turns out to be a little farther than we had thought. However, the place is very nice and we get a large comfy room.
After lunch we take a cab to Edradour, which is up in the hills above the town. I have been looking forward to this visit since that first taste back in Edinburgh. Edradour is the smallest distillery in Scotland, boasting just one set of stills and producing just three casks a day. The setting is gorgeous and the now fine weather with lots of sunshine only makes it more so. I take the tour while Alex sits in the tasting room having a couple of drams.

After the tour I try several malts. They have the typical 10 year old but the real treasure of their line are the ones that spend an additional six months in a wine cask before being bottled. They have 7 or 8 different wine finished malts and I try several. I really like the Bordeaux finished one and look longingly at the bottle trying to figure out if there is a way I can get it into my luggage. The bottle is packed in a small wooden box, great for safety but not for space. Finally, I have to pass, settling instead for the names and contact info of their U.S. distributors. The whisky is expensive here; I can only imagine what it will cost back home.

Alex has a conference call she has to attend so while she is doing that I take a walkabout around the town and down to the hydroelectric dam and fish ladder along the river. The resulting loch behind the dam and the hills around it remind me of Lake Tahoe, albeit in miniature. The fish don’t seem to be using the ladder today so I take some fishless pictures.

The owners of the B&B have suggested a nice restaurant for dinner and it turns out to be a great place. What a nice way to end the Scotch Tour, a fine malt and great food.

About the images:
1. The grounds of the Edradour distillery.
2. The (only) 2 stills.
3. A beautiful Scots day.
4. The loch behind the dam in Pitlochry.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wednesday, Aug 4

Today we will be driving along the River Spey proper and visiting some distilleries that are the areas namesake.
Our first stop is Glenfiddich, a huge and well-known producer. The distillery is very large with very nice grounds and the visitor center is geared toward the tour bus crowd. We decide to skip the tour and just want to taste. This requires some negotiating and we agree to watch to promotional movie before tasting. The film is completely over the top and we have a good laugh about marketing run amuck! We are then given a tasting of three malts with a young lady who pours and gives us a description of each. I think that Glenfiddich is too smooth for my taste, an OK whisky for drinking but not for sipping.

Next up is another well-known producer, Macallan. While the volume produced by Macallan is about the same as Glenfiddich, the two places couldn’t be more different. The distillery is up in the hills above the river with pretty views of the surrounding countryside. Macallan has a much smaller feel and we are the only visitors in the tasting room while we are there. We taste a couple of 10 year olds and a ridiculously sweet liqueur. I am disappointed we can’t taste (or buy) any of their older malts, but so it goes.

We stop at Aberlour, a medium sized producer with a small tasting room. To my surprise we can taste anything we want. I try a cask strength 10 year old with an alcohol content of 57%. This is the typical strength of whiskey when it comes out of the cask after it is finished aging. It is then cut with water to bring the alcohol down to the typical 40%. The alcohol is too strong for my taste, simply overpowering the taste of the scotch itself. I also try a 24 year old, which is quite nice.

After a quick lunch, we go to our last distillery of the day, Glenfarclas. A somewhat smaller distiller, we again skip the tour and just taste. We are given the standard 10 year old, which is a little stronger in taste than what we have had today and is a nice change.

On our way back to Inverness, Andy gives us a drive-by tour of Tomatin. This was originally on our schedule but I dropped it after doing some research. Tomatin was the first distillery to be bought by a Japanese firm who then spent a lot of money expanding its production capacity. Today it is a major producer of whiskeys used in making blends and bottles only a 10 year old under its own name. The place is huge and rather soulless. We’re glad we didn’t stop.

As we are driving back to Inverness the weather begins to improve and is quite nice by the time we get to the B&B. We thank Andy for his driving; which saved an adventure that appeared was not going to go well.
We have another quiet evening as we have a train to catch in the morning.

About the images:

1. Glenfiddich.
2. Fishing in the River Spey. Look closely to see how much line he has out!
3. Macallan.
4. A display still outside Glenfarclas.
5. Nighttime in Inverness along the River Ness.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tuesday, Aug 3

We are to begin our scotch tasting tour today, with a hired car picking us up at 9.30. At 9.50 the car has not arrived and the phone calls start. After many calls a car finally arrives. I am not happy.
However, our driver, Andy, is a good conversationalist and a scotch drinker himself and things begin to improve.
We drive along the Forth of Moray, a huge inlet that basically cuts the Scottish landmass in half. The weather is mixed, with some blue peeking out occasionally, but we enjoy some nice views.
Our first stop is a now closed distillery called Dallas Dhu. A self-guided tour around the site gives us our first look at how the distilling process works.

Next up is Benromach, a small distillery where we pass on the tour and just go with the tasting. While here we ask about the ability to ship our purchases back to the States. They don’t and advise us that few, if any, will. Dealing with customs just got to be too much trouble and they have stopped shipping as a result. This is a big blow, as my plan was to buy and ship some bottles of stuff we really liked. We cannot carry this back in our luggage and the smaller distilleries products are difficult to get in the States.

It is here we learn about a company called Gordon and MacPhails, who have a shop in the town of Elgin, just up the road from where we are. We stop there and ogle the great selection of Speyside malts they have as well as some well-known Islays. In addition to being a big distributor, they also own a couple of distillers, including the just visited Benromach. We taste a couple of private labels that are only available in the shop. The malts are pretty good and we are disappointed that we won’t be able to buy any. We get the contact info for the corporate office so we can find out whom they sell to in the Bay Area.

A quick lunch and its on to our final stop, a small distillery called Ben Moray. Here I take the tour so I can see (and smell) a working distillery. It’s a good tour and we get to taste a couple of malts at the end.

This look at Speyside malts (although, technically we have not been on the River Spey today) shows whiskeys with lot of mild flavours but not the strong peat and smoke flavours of some other parts of Scotland.
Andy takes us back to the B&B and we arrange to hire him again tomorrow. I do some research on the places selected for us tomorrow. I decide to drop a couple and add some different ones.

About the images:
1. Looking thru a cask with a glass top plate.
2. The barley bins at Glen Moray.
3. The tops of a couple of stills.
4. The cooling coils inside a still.
5. Inside a maturation warehouse at Glen Moray.

Monday, Aug 2

On to Inverness today. At the last minute the railroad changes the equipment they are going to use for the run to Inverness and the train is packed and all seat reservations are canceled. Chaos ensues. There is not enough room for all the luggage but safety regulations must be followed and the poor porter spends nearly an hour trying to get it all organized. It is not a pleasant ride.
A short cab ride takes us to our B&B, a lovely house alongside the River Ness. (Yes that Ness. It is the only river that drains out of Loch Ness. We took a boat tour of the Loch many years ago and will not be trying to find Nessie on this trip.) The river is wide, shallow and fast moving. It is also popular with fly fisherman. It used to be full of salmon, but over fishing has severely reduced their numbers and fishing for salmon is now highly regulated.
I do a quick walkabout to see the center of town, and then it’s off to dinner. Generally, a quiet night.

About the image:
The River Ness from outside our B&B.
Sunday, Aug 1

We are going to spend a little time visiting tourist attractions in Edinburgh. The first one, and most important to Alex is the Elephant House where J.K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter novels.

A sign in the window and a small painting is all there is to mark the fact. While sitting at a table with a coffee Alex is thrilled to learn that This Is The Very Table She Sat At! (I am THRILLED beyond belief.)

Alex stays for a while and I wander off to take some pictures and see if I can find something nice with the family crest on it. The Boyd clan is not a top tier clan and it is somewhat difficult to locate stuff. Eventually I find a shot glass, but not the sweater I was hoping for.
I end the afternoon at a place called Rutlands Bar. This was a favorite hangout for wild nights during my corporate life. It has undergone a big makeover, going upscale with the second floor now more of a restaurant than a bar. They probably got tired of all the rowdies who frequented the place back in my day.
Tonight we go to a completely vegetarian restaurant. Oh Joy! So many choices. It has been so long I have forgotten what it was like to have good veggie food.
A couple more scotches in the hotel bar and we call it a night.

About the images:
1. The Elephant House.
2. Edinburgh during the day.
Saturday, July 31

After only a couple of hours of sleep I get up, pack and check out. I drag my stuff over to Alex’s hotel and we have breakfast together. A big improvement over the food at St. Chad’s.
Today we are taking the train from Durham to Edinburgh. It is (another) grey day so we don’t mind the several hour train ride.
We have to wait for our room to be ready and Alex’s immediately goes off to the nearest Starbucks. I wander around for a while; refamiliarizing myself with a city I used to go to on a regular basis during my corporate days.

Soon enough our room is ready. A large room with a king size bed, en suite bath, heated towel rack, etc. Ahh, what luxury! I take a nap for several hours.

We go out to dinner at an Indian restaurant I always liked and then go back to the hotel. The hotel bar has 250+ kinds of scotch and we are going to have a tasting. One of the flights is called “A taste of Speyside” and I get that one, as this is the area we are going to be in for the next several days. We have several good scotches, taking notes as we go. The last one is from a distillery called Edradour, one I haven’t heard of. It is very good and I am excited when I discover it is list of places we are going to visit.

About the images:

1. Edinburgh Castle during the day.
2. The castle in the late evening light.
Friday, July 30
The last day of our dig. It seems hard to believe it has been four weeks. Routine has come to dominate and you don’t notice the passing of the time. It is very quiet at breakfast this morning. People are tired from the work and last night’s party (or both). No one is working in the labs today and we are a full crew for the first time in several weeks.

Jonathon and I pick up where we left off yesterday, after having a good laugh about Peter’s comment from the previous evening. It is clear we are not going to get enough of the bridge removed to get down to the level of the clay pit. We do however, begin to find that the soil is changing, a clear sign that the usage of the pit at this level was different from the pit as a whole. What that might be will have to wait until next year.

In the afternoon all the supervisors are hanging around and we are getting a lot of attention. One, David Petts, who has not been on site much, notices “My Thing” and gets very curious about it. After looking at it for a few minutes he reaches down and tries to pick it up! I am shocked, as this is a clear breach of dig etiquette. He is unable to pick it up but he does move it slightly and Jonathon and I both see it.
I have waited long enough. I move over to it and begin working away on it. I am going to get it completely dug out before the end of the day and they can yell at me afterwards if they want. In minutes I have revealed a new part of it, a flat surface extending out from its circular side. The folks working around me are now watching my progress as much as working on their own sites.
After about half an hour I have it! I have dug out enough under it that it now moves easily. It appears to be one half of a bowl, probably a ceremonially basin, rendered useless when it was broken in half. I get Matt and tell him its done. He comes by to take a look at it and says he’s going to have to take pictures of it in situ and goes off to find a camera. I get my own and take several pictures. Peter comes by, looks at it, smiles, but says nothing.

It is my last bit of digging. Best to go out on top. I clean up and enjoy the attention “My Thing” gets.
Done. Finished.
Peter gives his last “What it all means” tour. We have broken through the medieval layer is some places (mostly in the vicus) and have exposed some details of the Roman foundations of the site. We have a clearer picture of how the site was used after the Romans left.

And we have finds galore. (A group visited from another Roman dig a couple of weeks ago. After two weeks of digging, they had 12 finds. We averaged that nearly every hour for four weeks.)
A group of local volunteers will come in behind us for two weeks. They will do some digging but they will also prepare the site for the coming of winter. Some of the trenches will be reburied and will have to be dug up again at the start of next season. After all of our hard work that is one part of a dig's activities I don’t want to see.
The bus ride back to the house is nosier than it has been for some time. We have finished and everyone is happy to be done, despite the end it will bring to our time together.
I quickly take a shower and race over to the big local hotel. After four weeks apart I am finally going to see Alex again! We go out to dinner at the one nice restaurant in walking distance, with me babbling about everything that has gone on.
Our reunion is too short as she will not be attending the party tonight. The idea of watching 40 people you don’t know get drunk doesn’t appeal to her.
We are going to take over a pub at the college where one of the Archeological Services folks works part time as a bartender. Stanford has kicked in some money for an open bar and everyone from Stanford and Durham that has been involved has shown up.
We start with an abbreviated game of pub trivia. The team I am drafted onto finishes third and the stacked team of Stanford and Durham academics wins. Clearly the game was rigged!
I break my prohibition on drinking anything but beer and have some scotch telling people I need to get in shape for next week’s scotch tasting tour.
A good time is had by all and slowly we say our goodbyes and break up.
My night does not end well as I find myself in the middle of another boy/girl drama in my house that takes most of the night to bring to a conclusion. Not what I wanted my final memory of the dig to be.

About the images:

1. Deep in the heart of The Pit of Mystery.
2. Before we can close up there is lots of planning that needs to be done.
3. "My Thing" revealed.
4. For the last time, Peter gives his "What It All Means" talk with a twirly stick.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thursday, July 29

Jonathon and I continue our work on removing the trench bridge. I tell Matt that at the rate we are going we will not get it all out by the time we leave on Friday. I suggest that we add more people but this is declined for practical and technical reasons. I suggest that we narrow the length that we are removing and this is done somewhat, though I know it won’t be enough.

The tension between properly sifting what we are digging and Peter’s impatience for progress continues throughout the day. As if to prove our point, I find another coin in the morning. It is the smallest of my now four coins (and it will prove to be the last). If we had been working at Peter’s pace I never would have noticed it and credit would have gone to the metal detector folks who are on site everyday sifting the spoils heap for things we have missed.

In the evening I discover that the college has cut off our wired Internet service. I go down to the main house to use the wireless, hoping to get more of this posted. While I am working, the folks at the Cathedral decide they need to practice their bell ringing and it goes on for more than an hour. Then the preteen girls choir who have moved in decide to do some practicing and they begin to clash with the bells. Finally the wireless Internet fails. I take all three events as signs from the god of archeology that I should start drinking and I go out and find the pub that the crawl is currently occupying.

Joining the crawl tonight are several of the Archeology Services people we have been working with for the last four weeks, including Peter. This is too good of an opportunity to pass up so I spend some time chatting him up. Peter is quite in his cups by this time and I finally get the nugget I have been looking for. With no prodding, or apparent reference to the topic then under discussion, he blurts out, “I don’t care about finds, I only care about cobbles!” There, I have it! It is as I have suspected for weeks!
At about midnight, the crawl prepares to move on yet again and I take my leave. There is still much work to be done tomorrow and a bigger party tomorrow night. Must Pace Myself.

About the images:

1. Tea Time on the second to last day and the crew is wiped out.
2. Jonathan & Michael discussing their next move.
3. & 4. Michael at work. (Thanks to Catherine Zagar for the images.)

Wednesday, July 28

Peter and Matt have decided it is time to entirely remove the bridge separating the two halves of the trench. The job is given to Jonathon and myself.
The first step in the process is to make a drawing showing the precise locations of all rocks, etc in the bridge before we start to take it apart. This requires running string line and a tape measure along the bridge’s entire length and then taking measurements of everything. This takes us the better part of the morning.
In the afternoon we start to remove the bridge a couple of inches at a time. The first 4 inches are the most difficult as the soil is hard packed from having been walked on for nearly two weeks and dried out as we have had very little rain in the last few days. As we go we continue to find lots of bone, broken pottery, nails and the occasional small find. Peter is growing increasingly unhappy with our rate of progress. I have joked with my digging partners that he doesn’t seem interested in finds, only in features and this tension in the digging is becoming more obvious. Toward the end of the day he really gets on us about it and we remove three or four inches of soil and don’t sift it for finds. He is happy about better progress but we are unhappy about the things that won’t get “found” and will go directly into the spoil heap.
In the evening we attend the last of our lectures, this one on Hadrian’s Wall and the way people interact with, and document, it. The lecturer, an archeologist from Durham has been working on a big project about this but is all seems rather obvious to me.
After that, I go back to the house, grab all my dirty laundry (which at his point it nearly everything I have with me) and go to the main house. While the laundry is in progress I start working on my pictures. More people show up and pretty soon we are having a huge party. Three separate tables have games of cider pong in progress, a number of us are working on computers, iPods are blaring music, etc. It is still going strong at 11pm when the house porter arrives to ask us to tone it down due to the hour. Laundry finished, I leave. (In the morning I learn the party doesn’t end until nearly 3am and is now added to the legends of the trip.)

About the image:

The bridge separating the two halves of the "circular feature" before we begin to remove it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tuesday, July 27

Another fine day for digging. Peter has become increasingly interested in what we are finding in our pit and is spending more time with us. At one point he actually spends about half an hour digging next to us and actually cleans up after himself. We all get much amusement out of this.
While cleaning at one edge of our pit I find another coin. This one is much smaller than the one I found last week and is more typical of what we have been finding across the whole site. Teddy the Younger works in a coin shop and has been keeping tabs on the number of coins we have found this season – now nearing 700! This is a huge quantity and likely means there was a hoard upended by the plowing that has gone on across the site for several hundred years and scattered the coins across the site.
Late in the afternoon it has become clear that we need to remove the large land bridge separating the two halves of the pit. Jonathon and I spend the last hour working hard and fast to take out about 30% of the bridge, leaving us quite tired at the end of the day. Unfortunately, our hard work reveals nothing new about how the two halves relate to each other. It also prevents me from doing any additional work on “My Thing”.
During the day, one of the Stanford leaders decides its time to include me in the boy/girl drama that has been going on in my house. As the drama is between two of the four supervisors it is having an impact on the management of two houses and means that I am the only “adult” remaining in my house. Oh joy.

About the image:

My digging partner Jonathon. i have no idea how the two guys with the longest hair ended up working together.

Monday, July 26

Today is a fine day for digging – mild with some sun, although the local folks I am working with start commenting on the heat as soon as it gets in the low 60’s. One of the local volunteers, a young woman named Hilli is back today. She never stops talking – conversing with the earthworms, flying creatures, her finds, her “boooket”, (she has bought her own bucket for dirt, why, I have no idea as there are plenty onsite), those working around her and the air when nothing else is available.
We are really making progress is our pit now. We have a clearly defined stone lined pit with a much smaller clay lined pit becoming clear during the day. It still remains a mystery as to what it was used for, other than something for cattle, as we continue to pull out large quantities of bone.
Today is Teddy the Youngers 18th birthday. We visit a pub but a crawl does not ensue, as we return to the house for mass consummation of hard cider. Oddly enough, this seems to have become the drink of choice among the youngest group, probably because it is sweet and a novelty as hard cider is very popular in the U.K. but not in the States. Replacing beer for cider we begin playing “cider-pong”. I pass, as I really don’t like hard cider. However eventually I agree to join a team on the condition I don’t have to drink as our cups are eliminated. It turns out I have a knack for the game, winning most of the cups for our team and soundly defeating the other team. I decide to quit while I am ahead, undefeated and champion. I RULE!
I retire a little later, as it is clear this party will go on late into the night.

About the image:

A hole in the clouds.

Sunday, July 25

Today is a repeat of last Sunday – sleeping in (oh joy!) working on pictures and enjoying the quiet. I take a walk around town for a bit of a break from pictures, but it is (yet another) cloudy cool day.

About the image:

A view of the river.

Saturday, July 24

Today is our third and final field trip where will be exploring sites along Hadrian’s Wall.
Our first stop is the fort at Segedunum. At the Eastern end of the wall it is thought of as the last fort (or, the first, depending on your point of view). Located in the modern city of Newcastle, it sits along the river, a considerable distance from where the river meets the sea. It was small; there was a much larger fort some distance to the west that regulated traffic along the road. Nothing remains today but a small outline of the foundations of the buildings. It has a huge observation tower, looming over the site four stories high. There is nothing to see, really, even the wall itself is obscured by trees and buildings – kind of boring.

Our next stop is the Roman town of Corbridge. The town sits above the river overlooking a valley. It was large by northern Britain standards and much of the lower level of walls has been rebuilt. What is most interesting is that the land has subsided in places and the walls huge the land, given it a rolling look. A great place for pictures.

In the little museum I find a small blue glass bead, just like the one I found earlier. It is much smaller than mine but the plate gives it a name – a melon bead. We have a quick lunch and then on to our next stop.
The fort and town of Vindolanda is probably the most impressive on the entire wall. It covers a huge area and work is still being done there today. We get a spirited tour of the existing dig by the co-director, who shows off some of their finds, including scraps of leather from which shoes were cut. He is positively jealous when he hears how many coins we have found.
The dig of the vicus is the largest in Britain and soon ours will be the second largest. However, what Vindolanda is most famous for is the 2000 odd writing tablets there were discovered 30 years ago. They are the only written Roman records ever found in Britain. They are famous for what we have learned about life on the wall as for what they don’t show us. The tablets are a record of daily life, long lists of things, letters home, requests, legal documents, etc. What they don’t include is a single word about the army actually fighting any battles – not one word about military activity. They have changed our understanding of what life was like along the frontier – fairly quiet.

We wander around for a long time; visit the museum, the gift shop (very popular) and everyone takes lots of pictures.
On our way to our last stop we pass by Housesteads, the other very large fort on the wall. I visited this one with my Mom on our 2000 tour of the U.K. The last stop is a miles castle on the wall. By now the weather is getting windy and cold.

The wall is one side of the castle and the land immediately to the north drops off precipitously. Even the cows don’t seem too happy here. We wander around for a while, taking pictures and being silly before gathering for a group photo. Back to the bus for the long ride back to Durham.
For dinner I convince a couple of friends to join me at the Indian restaurant across the street. Soon another group joins us.
After dinner, a big group is gearing up for a night on the town. As I have said, it seems a good idea to avoid the pubs on the weekends so a group of us sits in the kitchen of #1 and makes brownies. People come and go all night and we get to here everything that’s going on during the pub-crawl without having to actually go. Just when the brownies come out of the oven a large group arrives and the brownies disappear quickly. It has been a good night of talking without having to get involved with the bar crowd.

About the images:

1. The undulating walls of Corbridge.
2. A draining ditch at Corbridge.
3. I am going to buy this mansion, but only if I get a title of Baron along with it.
4. Vindolanda.
5. A mile castle along Hadrian's Wall.