On the Trail of Pythons and Bandits

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As a lifelong Monty Python fan, I had always liked the idea of visiting the locations used in their films. It would also be a  good excuse to explore various parts of the country and enjoy dramatic landscapes that look magnificent regardless of the weather.

The most obvious location is Doune Castle in Scotland. Most Python fanatics know this is the main location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Due to the Scottish Department of the Environment deciding at the last minute not to allow the Pythons to use their castles (apparently making a comedy film there would “not be consistent with the fabric of the building”), the privately owned Doune Castle saved the day, and by using different angles, appeared as several locations in the movie. So the first time I made the Python pilgrimage, Doune was the obvious first target. But not everything was shot as far north as you might think.

In the opening scene, Graham Chapman as King Arthur and Terry Gilliam as Patsy are galloping with their coconuts and arrive at a mud mound on London’s Hampstead Heath. They then appear to look at a castle swirling in the mist.

This castle clearly does not match the profile of Doune, so I could see a little detective work was required. I had read that the production had grabbed some pickup shots outside of the main shoot. So, armed with a screen capture from the film, I began trawling the internet for castle databases to match against what was shown on screen. Eventually the match was found in Wales in the form of Kidwelly Castle, located west of Swansea.

The Kidwelly location is only used for the establishing shot of the first castle. It is shown just before King Arthur rides closer and a cinematic sleight of hand makes the switch to Doune, just before they get famously taunted by the French on the battlement: “I fart in your general direction,” etc. This discovery meant I was off to South Wales to tick this more obscure film location off the list. Aside from the fun of solving the puzzle, it was also nice to visit a small town that I may not have otherwise encountered. I was also aware that these lesser known (or unknown) locations are still an essential part of the movie, but are far beyond what the casual film goer would be interested in. I was determined to go for both a sense of completion and the novelty value of a trip that most people would never muster the enthusiasm to make.

Grabbing establishing shots in Wales would not be the last time that members of the Python team would use the country. Terry Gilliam visited Chepstow and Pembroke Castles for his wonderfully grimy production of Jabberwocky. The design for Gilliam’s Brazil was partly inspired by Port Talbot’s early 1980s seafront (when it was in much worse condition than it is today), and the battle finale of Jabberwocky was filmed in a slate quarry close to Bosherston, near the Welsh south coast. As a fan of much of the related work, I installed in myself the ambition to solve some of the other film location questions that had a Python connection.

Gilliam’s Time Bandits was the first movie I saw as a youngster that really blew my mind. It showed amazing locations and the characters were so unlike what was normally presented onscreen in terms of what kids can be like (on the excellent DVD audio commentary for Time Bandits, Gilliam makes a point of saying how much he hates traditional movie children, because they rarely behave like real children). Also the sheer inventiveness and spectacular fun of jumping through time to different periods in history to cause mischief made for an ever-changing and exciting cinematic adventure.

As an adult, I sought out the illustrated script book for Time Bandits that was published during the original release. Aside from the screenplay, it contains lots of photographs, including images of scenes that no longer appear in the final cut. One deleted sequence shows the gang stealing a wooden crate from a bridge to use as a boat so they can sail downstream and encounter Napoleon (at another Welsh castle in Raglan). The released version of the film shows a single shot of the bridge before one character suggests they can use the river. In high-definition versions you can make out the gang under the arc of the bridge in that single shot, the remnants of that mostly excised scene. The location of the bridge is not mentioned in the DVD materials or the press kit, but I was determined to find it.

Employing the same methods that took me to Kidwelly, I started to look for bridges on the Internet and worked out that this type of bridge was known as a packhorse bridge. The use of a countrywide bridge database allowed me to begin the process of location elimination and meant the majority of candidates could be quickly discounted. Eventually one image seemed to look familiar. It was not taken from the same angle used in the movie, but something about it looked right. However, I needed to see it properly to be sure, and unfortunately, there was no other pictorial evidence. At least it was captioned with the river that flowed under it and maps showed it hosted a functioning road. It is often easy to check traffic locations using the excellent Google Streetview, but many minor country roads are not covered. This discovery meant I was off to Keynsham, near Bristol. The target lane was more of a dirt track than a road, but as I approached with echoes of Kidwelly in tow, I felt a sense of achievement in solving a seemingly impossible location task.

A few months later I had the opportunity to ask Terry Gilliam in person why none of the deleted scenes shown in the screenplay for Time Bandits had appeared on the various DVDs or Blu-ray releases of the movie. He said that unfortunately the original footage seems to have been lost and that the only imagery that exists are those in that published book.

Read another story from us: Monty Python and the Holy Grail was mostly shot on historical locations in Scotland and England

Although I still hope that the lost sequences may turn up somewhere, at least I satisfied my own curiosity of not only working out where the location was but also going to visit it for myself. The location trail has taken me on some fun little trips, but I was also determined to solve some of the other remaining Python locations, including a rare one from the Holy Grail film that would take me back to Scotland…

 David Wilson

(Dave Wilson lives in Cornwall, has written film review columns for Cornish newspapers and has met all but one of the surviving members of Monty Python. He spends a lot of his spare time in the cinema and is quite happy to ask questions in auditoriums packed with people when it is on a subject he is passionate about.)

Tintin, the subject of 200 million comics sold, was likely based on a real 15-year-old …


In the overcrowded world of fictional characters, there are few faces as adorable as Tintin’s. Unlike Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman, Tintin, the young investigative reporter, is not a household name in America, but he is definitely one of the most beloved figures in Europe.

With no specific magic powers, he is the antithesis of a superhero, but that didn’t prevent him from being widely admired by both children and adults. Charles de Gaulle once declared that Tintin is his only international rival, saying that “nobody notices, because of my height. We are both little fellows who won’t be got at by big fellows.”

Tintin and his fox terrier, Snowy, appeared for the first time on January 10, 1929, in the children’s supplement of the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siecle. What started as the subject of a supplement went on to become a symbol of the 20th century, appearing in an inde­pen­dent comic book, on television, and even on the big screen in Steven Spiel­berg’s animated movie The Adven­tures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Tintin is one of the most beloved figures in the comic book world.Author: Joi/Flickr-CC By 2.0

Georges Prosper Remi, known by the pen name Hergé, is the man behind the creation of Tintin. With almost no formal training, Hergé began drawing the legendary comic-book character in 1929, but little did he know that by doing so he would give birth to an entire European comics publishing industry.

Tintin and his fox terrier Snowy appeared for the first time in 1929. Author: karrikas/Flickr CC By 2.0

Since 1929, Tintin comics have sold more than 200 million copies, and over the years, this beloved character served as an inspiration for many people and influenced the ways comic book readers perceive the world around them. But what actually inspired Hergé to create the iconic character?

Debate still exists on what exactly inspired Hergé to come up with the snub-nosed teenage reporter, but most people agree that it was a real life person known by the name Palle Huld. It is one of the most original of origin stories in the comic book world.

Less than a year before Tintin made his first appearance, in the children’s supplement of  Le Vingtième Siecle, a 15-year-old Danish Boy Scout named Palle Huld won a competition organized by a Danish newspaper to mark the centennial of Jules Verne.


Palle Huld, during his trip around the world in 1928, almost certainly influenced Hergé to create Tintin.

The winner of the competition would re-enact Phileas Fogg’s voyage from Verne’s famous novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Strangely enough, only teenage boys were allowed to take part in the competition, and the 15-year-old was the perfect match. There was another twist: The winner had to complete the journey within 46 days, without any company and without using planes.

Hundreds of Danish teenagers applied to participate in the competition, and Palle was lucky enough to be chosen. He started his journey on March 1, 1928, from Copenhagen and traveled by rail and steamship through England, Scotland, Canada, Japan, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Germany.

His journey made the headlines at the time and when he arrived in Denmark, he was already a celebrity. Over 20,000 admirers greeted their hero when he came back home.

The next thing he did was write a book about his journey, which was quite popular among his admirers, and published in several languages. That book also came into the hands of a Belgian cartoonist known by the name of Hergé and that same year, when Huld’s book was published, Tintin made his debut.

Huld himself suggested on several occasions that he was the inspiration for Tintin. However, others believe that the inspiration behind the character was actually the French travel photojournalist Robert Sexe, whose journeys were exactly in the same order as Tintin’s first three books.

With no specific superpowers, Tintin is the antithesis of a superhero. Author: Hicham Souilmi CC By 2.0

Nonetheless, true Tintin fans couldn’t care less. For them it is all about the character, a hero they all know and love, representing something that others don’t have: uncompromising vigilance and the need to succeed no matter what the cost.

Tintin proves that a hero doesn’t need to be big or strong, he or she just needs to be tenacious and stubborn enough to do what needs to be done.

By Goran Blazeski

Seventeenth-Century Shopping List Discovered Under Floorboards of Historic English Home

400 year old shopping listAmong other necessary items, the list includes “greenfish,” a “fireshovel” and two dozen pewter spoons.(Image courtesy of the National Trust)


Pewter spoons, a frying pan and “greenfish”—these must-have items were scribbled on a shopping list 400 years ago. The scrap of paper was recently discovered under the floorboards of Knole, a historic country home in Kent, England.

As Oliver Porritt reports for Kent Live, Jim Parker, a volunteer working with the archaeology team at Knole, discovered the 1633 note during a multi-million dollar project to restore the house. The team also found two other 17th century letters nearby. One, like the shopping list, was located under the attic floorboards; another was stuffed into a ceiling void.

The shopping list was penned by Robert Draper and addressed to one Mr. Bilby. According to the UK’s National Trust, the note was “beautifully written,” suggesting that Draper was a high-ranking servant. In addition to the aforementioned kitchenware and greenfish (unsalted cod), Draper asks Mr. Bilby to send a “fireshovel” and “lights” to Copt Hall (also known as Copped Hall), an estate in Essex. The full text reads:

Mr Bilby, I pray p[ro]vide to be sent too morrow in ye Cart some Greenfish, The Lights from my Lady Cranfeild[es] Cham[ber] 2 dozen of Pewter spoon[es]: one greate fireshovell for ye nursery; and ye o[t]hers which were sent to be exchanged for some of a better fashion, a new frying pan together with a note of ye prises of such Commoditie for ye rest.

Your loving friend

Robert Draper

Octobre 1633


Discovering the letterJim Parker, a volunteer working with the archaeology team at Knole, discovered the 1633 note during a multi-million dollar project to restore the house. (Image courtesy of the National Trust)

How did this rather mundane domestic letter come to be stashed in an attic at Knole, which is some 36 miles away from Copt Hall?  As the National Trust explains, Copt Hall and Knole merged when Frances Cranfield married Richard Sackville in 1637. Cranfield was the daughter of the Earl of Middlesex, who owned Copt Hall; Sackville, the 5th Earl of Dorset, had inherited Knole, his family’s home.

Household records indicate that large trunks filled with domestic items—including various papers—were moved from Copt Hall to Knole at the time of the marriage, and subsequently stored in the attic. Draper’s note may have slipped under the floorboards.

The marriage of Cranfield and Sackville was important for Knole, according to the National Trust Collections, because Cranfield inherited a trove of expensive paintings and furniture from her father. Draper’s letter certainly was not among the more prized items that Cranfield brought to the marriage, but for modern-day historians, it is exceptionally valuable.

“It’s extremely rare to uncover letters dating back to the 17th century, let alone those that give us an insight into the management of the households of the wealthy, and the movement of items from one place to another,” Nathalie Cohen, regional archaeologist for the National Trust, tells Porritt. She added that the good condition of both the list and the two other letters found at Knole “makes this a particularly exciting discovery.”

By Brigit Katz


The History of Mincemeat Pies, from the Crusades to Christmas

MinceTake a bite of history on National Mincemeat Day (Darian Stibbe / Pixabay)

“Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” The reference to “baked meats” in this scene from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” may sound odd to the modern ear, but the mince pie was a popular dish of his era in England. However just a few decades later, these savory treats came under the scorn of Oliver Cromwell and his religiously strict government and were reportedly banned as part of a crackdown on celebrations in general. On National Mincemeat Day, one can look back on the interesting history of this quintessentially English dish.

Religion and mince pies have a long history together—their origins in English cuisine appear to date back to the 12th century and the Crusades, according to J. John in his book ”A Christmas Compendium.” Middle Eastern cuisine had long used a variety of spices to make meat dishes that were both sweet and savory, sometimes with fruits mixed in. By the late 14th century, a recipe for a kind of mince pie had already made its way into one of the oldest known English cookbooks, “The Forme of Cury,” historian Katherine Clements notes. The ominously named “tarts of flesh” were a decadent creation, with the recipe calling for boiled pork, stewed bird and rabbit, eggs, cheese, sugar, saffron, salt and other spices all piled into a pie shell. “An extravagant dish, surely meant to be eaten at times of celebration,” Clements writes of this recipe. Other tarts in the same book included figs, raisins and similarly exotic fruits mixed with salmon and other meats.

Mince pies (the “mince” comes from a Latin word meaning “small”) soon did become a dish associated mainly with festivities, namely the celebrations of the Christmas season. During the twelve days of Christmas, Clements notes, wealthy rulers and people often put on massive feasts, and an expensive dish of meat and fruit like a mince pie made a great way to show off one’s status. Furthermore, the pies were often topped with crust shaped into decorative patterns.

It was this extravagance that allegedly drew the ire of Cromwell’s Puritanical government. For the Puritans of the era, the birth of Christ was a solemn occasion, not a cause of raucous feasting and celebration. While Clements has also cast doubt on Cromwell’s personal role in the matter, it is true that the Puritan-dominated parliament of Cromwell’s era of rule did crack down on Christmas celebration in England, including banning feasts of mince pies and other “gluttonous” treats. However, the people wanted their pies, and these bans were quickly rescinded when Charles II assumed control of England after Cromwell’s government fell.

By the Victorian era, the meat of mincemeat began to be dropped from the dishes, making them more akin to the fruity pies we’re familiar with. The treats also shrank in size, becoming more like individual snacks than extravagant dishes. Their popularity remains, however, with the Daily Mail reporting this month that more than $5 million worth of mince pies have already been sold this season in the United Kingdom, with Christmas still two months away. Take a bite and enjoy!


From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

The United Kingdom may be known for its kings and queens, football teams, and fish and chips, but across the British Isles, churches have made a lasting impression on the culture and architecture of the country.

Here are 10 of the finest abbeys, churches, and cathedrals that you can see while visiting the United Kingdom.

1. Marvel at St. Paul’s Cathedral, an impressive example of English…

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From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

The United Kingdom may be known for its kings and queens, football teams, and fish and chips, but across the British Isles, churches have made a lasting impression on the culture and architecture of the country.

Here are 10 of the finest abbeys, churches, and cathedrals that you can see while visiting the United Kingdom.


1. Marvel at St. Paul’s Cathedral, an impressive example of English Baroque architecture.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

St. Paul’s Cathedral has quite an extensive history. The first version of the church was founded in 604 AD. But due to viking violence and ferocious fires, the church was rebuilt time and time again. Finally, in 1087, the longest-lasting church structure was constructed, and would remain for over 600 years.

By the 17th Century, the church was falling apart. Many architects were brought in to figure out how to best rebuild the church. And then, in 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed most of St. Paul’s. Christopher Wren, England’s most famous architect, created a blueprint of a cathedral with a dazzling dome—the dome that you still see during your visit today. The cathedral famously survived being destroyed in World War II and was a symbol of hope.


2. Witness Westminster Abbey, where queens become queens and royals are wed.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

Arguably the most famous church in the United Kingdom (and maybe the world), Westminster Abbey holds a long history of coronations, jubilee celebrations, and royal weddings. In fact, it has held every coronation since 1066. Many notable people are buried there, including Elizabeth I, Isaac Newton, and Geoffrey Chaucer.

Westminster Abbey regularly holds services and all are welcome. These include choral Evensong at 5pm on weekdays and 3pm on weekends. Tours are given Monday through Saturday, but not on Sundays and religious holidays. However, services on those days are free and open to the public. The newest initiative is Wednesday Lates, where you can tour the Abbey for half-price on Wednesday evening and enjoy a meal in the cafe.


3. Learn about the history of Methodism in Wesley’s Chapel.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

John Wesley was an Anglican minister who had a life-changing experience on May 24, 1738. He described the event in his journal:

“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

As the number of lay-preachers grew, he was required to register them as non-Anglicans in 1787. Wesley’s Chapel was built in 1788, designed by the architect George Dance. It’s an excellent example of Georgian architecture. John Wesley’s home is next door, and is a fascinating place to learn more about Wesley’s life and ministry. Tours also include the
Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, across the street, where you can see graves of non-conformists such as William Blake, Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susannah Wesley.


4. The Round Church of Cambridge is now a Christian Heritage Center.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

One of Cambridge’s most beloved landmarks is now the Round Church, formally known as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Round Church. It was built in 1130 as a replica of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem and is one of only four round churches in England.

It houses the Round Church Visitor Centre, which includes a display about Christian history in the UK, an excellent movie (Saints and Scholars), and guided tours of Cambridge.


5. See the church pastored by John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

St. Mary’s, the church of John Wycliffe, is in the small town of Lutterworth, north of London. In the 14th Century, John Wycliffe was the first person to translate the Bible into English from Latin. William Tyndale also translated the Bible into English—the difference was that his version was translated from the original Hebrew and Greek.

Wycliffe’s Bible made the Lord’s Word accessible for everyone, not just the scholars and clergy. John Wycliffe trained “poor preachers” who lived a simple life and travelled around the countryside teaching the Word of God to the common folk of England in their own tongue. They were called Lollards.

St. Mary’s is still an active church today and can be toured whenever visiting the Leicestershire region, and groups can have tea and cake if requested in advance.


6. Durham Cathedral is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

No, that’s not Hogwarts you’re looking at (though they did film some scenes here!). It’s Durham Cathedral, an outstanding example of Norman architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Built in 1093 to house the shrine of Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral originally served as a monastery for Benedictine monks. St. Cuthbert had ministered in the Northeast of England and had died on the Island of Lindisfarne. Durham and Lindisfarne make a great tour combination.

The new exhibition experience Open Treasure showcases the Cathedral’s fascinating history and heritage, allowing access to some of the most intact medieval monastic buildings in the UK, including a fourteenth-century Monks’ Dormitory, and a monastic Great Kitchen.

Visitors always enjoy seeing the Lego model of the cathedral, for which £10.9m was raised by purchasing Lego bricks during the 3 years of construction. There are some fun Lego videos sharing the history of the cathedral.


7. Tour one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe—York Minster.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

The earliest form of York Minster was a wooden church, quickly constructed in 627, for the baptism of King Edwin of Northumbria. While it was soon replaced with a stone structure, a fire later destroyed it, and no one knows its exact location.

Around 1080, the Norman Minster was built, but this version was also destroyed, only to be rebuilt in 1472, which began the basis of the structure that can be seen today. The Reformation did alter the structure of the church in some ways, including the destruction of St. William’s shrine.

Over the centuries, the Cathedral went through massive changes, both inside and out. From Protestant to Catholic to Protestant again, the church was ever changing. One thing that never changed—how spectacular of a building it truly is.


8. Iona Abbey catalyzed Christianity’s spread in Scotland.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

Off the northwestern coast of Scotland lies the Isle of Iona. In 563 AD, an Irish monk, St. Columba, came to the island and founded Iona Abbey as a monastery. But beginning in 795, vikings continually attacked the island, murdering monks and destroying the abbey many times over. It is said that the Book of Kells may have been started by the Columban monks, who escaped to Ireland during these attacks.

After the Reformation, the abbey was left in disarray. It wasn’t until 1899, that the ruined abbey was considered as a location for the Church of Scotland. These days, the church exists as a place of worship and popular pilgrimage site.


9. The Church of the Holy Rude isn’t trying to be insultive—”rude” means cross!

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

Yes, at first, the name of this church might seem a little… different. But in Scotland, it’s actually quite normal. There’s even “Holyrood” in Edinburgh, meaning “holy cross” as well.

The Church of the Holy Rude was founded in 1129 during the reign of David I. However, this church was almost completely destroyed in 1405 due to a large fire. Over time, it has been rebuilt, with different parts constructed over the many centuries. Scottish coronations have taken place in this church as it is connected to the castle, and it is one of the only churches still in use that has hosted such royal ceremonies. In 1566, the infant James VI was baptized, and John Knox preached the sermon. James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots, grew up to be James 1 of England, and sponsored the King James Bible.

Interestingly, this church spent many years divided into two parts, East and West. In 1656, the congregation built a huge wall that ran across the width of the church, as a result of an argument between Rev. James Guthrie and his assistant. The church had two congregations led by two priests. In 1936 the dividing wall was finally demolished and the church was restored.


10. St. Giles, in Edinburgh, once was the church home of John Knox.

From London to Edinburgh: 10 Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals You Won’t Want to Miss!

One of the city’s most famous landmarks of Edinburgh is St. Giles, situated on the Royal Mile, half-way between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. A church has existed on this spot since 854 and it was officially founded in 1124. The church is named after St. Giles, a hermit in France, who was apparently wounded when a local king shot a deer that Giles had befriended. Deer motifs can be found in the carvings.

Scotland became a Protestant country in August 1560, and John Knox was persuaded to come out of exile to be the minister. He was responsible for removing the medieval altars. The Church of Scotland is presbyterian in government, and St Giles’ Cathedral is often called the Mother Church of World Presbyterianism. There are regular services, including the St. Giles at 6 program of music on Sunday evenings.


24 OCT 2017  Reformation Tours Blog