A 16th-century fortified Scottish castle was invaded and ransacked by a tiny masked marauder—a badger

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Never mind armored knights, mounted troops, heavy artillery, or massive cannons. A 16th-century castle in Scotland was recently invaded, ransacked, and held hostage by that most fearsome of modern foes—a “very angry badger.”

The tiny masked marauder entered a cellar tunnel at Craignethan Castle in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, in early April. Staff tried to lure it out with cat food, honey, peanuts, and bananas. They posited that the badger had become confused and lost in the castle’s network of tunnels, trying to seek a way out.

Historic Scotland, the caretakers of the castle, sent the news out via Twitter on April 13, causing a storm of response. “Beware the #AngryBadger!”

“If you’re heading to #CraignethanCastle over the next few days you might find the Cellar Tunnel closed due to the presence of a very angry badger,” Historic Scotland said. “We’re trying to entice it out with cat food & send it home to #chilloot.”

Craignethan Castle was a strong tower castle built in the 1500s to sustain heavy military bombardment, if not nibbles from the weasel family.

The land on which the castle was built was originally a property of the Black Douglases, but was granted to the Hamilton family in 1530. Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, a trained architect and the King’s Superintendent of Palaces, designed the castle on a knoll above a bend in the River Nethan to show off his talent for military architecture. The last great private stronghold constructed in Scotland, it has steep downward slopes on three sides, but on one side it is overlooked by higher ground, a vulnerable flaw in design. The castle and ramparts sit on a traditional large rectangular keep.

In 1536, Hamilton of Finnart hosted King James V for his daughter’s wedding celebrations at the castle. Alas, this did not keep him in royal favor for long. Hamilton was beheaded in 1540 for treason, though his son still managed eventually to inherit the land.

Mary, Queen of Scots is said to have spent a night at Craignethan after her abdication and before she was forced to flee to England. Folk legend has it that her headless ghost haunts the hallways.

 By 1579, the main towers of Craignethan were destroyed by royal decree to render it defenseless. The Hays bought the castle in 1665, and constructed a two-story house in the southwest corner, which still stands today.

Craignethan Castle was given over to state care in 1949, and turned into a tourist attraction. The surrounding ancient woodlands are home to kestrels and sparrowhawks, according to Castles of Scotland website. Not to mention very angry badgers!

“We’ve had to temporarily close Craignethan Castle’s cellar tunnel due to an unexpected guest,” a spokesman for Historic Environment Scotland told the Guardian on April 19. “The tunnel was closed around midday on 12 April. The castle is surrounded by woodland and we believe the badger may have become lost. Staff have been in contact with local wildlife authorities.”

Staff first noticed the tiny masked marauder’s path of destruction. It had dug through loose soil in the stonework, causing a mess. They later saw the culprit. By the weekend, the badger had found its way out of the castle. But it had left enough damage to the stone masonry to cause concerned castle minders to keep the tunnel closed to public.

Historic Scotland reported on Twitter: “While our furry friend left the building over the weekend, we can confirm the #CraignethanCastle cellar tunnel remains closed this week. Our work team on-site need to repair some of the stone masonry the badger damaged. The rest of the castle is open for visitors.”

One of Craignethan’s large rectangular main towers still stands, as does the squat base of another alongside a gatehouse. Inner and outer courtyards are mostly surrounded by massive ramparts.

A ditch in front of the west wall—over which a drawbridge once lay—protected the original castle. In 1962, excavators discovered there a caponier—or a roofless below-ground fortification with firing steps and rifle portals that was connected to the castle via tunnels.

When you consider the badger’s natural proclivities, however, it is actually not all that surprising that one found its way to the castle tunnel.

“Badgers have strong limbs and sharp claws that help them dig burrows and find food underground,” according to Live Science. “They make their homes by digging tunnels and caves and use grass and leaves for bedding. A badger’s home is called a sett.”

Badgers typically consume earthworms and spider larvae, which presumably a nearly 500-year-old castle tunnel would hoard in abundance. We might ask, what took the badger so long to call the castle its home?

 E.L. Hamilton

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Scotland’s Isle of Skye reveals landmark dinosaur footprints dated to the Middle Jurassic era

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Footprints belonging to two different kinds of dinosaurs, discovered on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, have revealed new details of how the now-extinct creatures evolved and moved during a period of the Jurassic era. Traces of the dinosaurs were found both as part of trackways and as isolated marks, scientists said.

The fossils were spotted in April 2016 by researchers Davide Foffa and Hong-Yu Yi. The following year, paleontologist Dr Stephen Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh and his student Paige dePolo came back to the site to take a closer look at the prints and find out more. They are not so easy to access, located in the wave-pounded tidal zone of a headland called Brother’s Point. A collaborative study of the footprints by the University of Edinburgh, Staffin Museum, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by dePolo, was presented on April 2, 2018, in the Scottish Journal of Geology, along with a full catalog of images of the 50 footprints.

The team has dated the tracks at about 170 million years of age, and conclude that they were made by the gargantuan animals as they waded through a shallow lagoon. In the distant past, when these tracks were made, Earth was a very different place. It was shortly after the time when Pangaea started to break apart, and our planet was transforming into the continents we know today.

In those days, experts believe that the area of Skye was positioned somewhere in the subtropic belt, with a much warmer climate. According to Brusatte, “This was a subtropical kind of paradise world, probably kind of like Florida or Spain today.”

The latest find of dinosaur prints in Scotland is a source of great excitement in the worlds of paleontology and geology because they are from the Middle Jurassic epoch. As Brusatte explained to National Geographic, this was an important time in dinosaur evolution. It is probably the era when the first birds appeared and the largest species of sauropod were thriving, but dinosaur fossils from this period are scarce compared to other periods. The recent find follows hot on the heels of the discovery in 2015 of hundreds of Middle Jurassic sauropod tracks at another location on the Isle of Skye, Duntulm beach. The Brother’s Point prints were found in older rocks than those of the 2015 discovery.

The study has increased knowledge of dinosaurs from this era significantly and offered some valuable insights: for instance, sauropods were roaming this corner of the globe for a greater period of time than previously thought.

Sauropods were the largest land-dwelling animals at that time, and despite their size, they were plant-eating creatures. The field team not only mapped tracks from sauropods; scattered among them are distinctive three-toed prints belonging to theropods, a distant and more primitive relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. These meat-eating dinosaurs were able to grow to about 6.5 feet in height.

The largest sample of theropod footprint left on the Isle of Skye was about 19.6 inches across, which is still nowhere close to the largest belonging to a sauropod–one example of these was reportedly some 27.5 inches across.

The endeavors of the researchers were not without challenges. As the area is continuously hammered with cold winds and rain, the team could not easily proceed with mapping the area. Another challenge was the high tides that regularly reclaimed the footprints, hence the team were constantly clock-watching while they measured and inspected the tracks on the rocky ledges. They also had to improvise with cameras and equipment, but in the end, it paid off, as 3-D images of the terrain were produced.

Part of the dinosaur traces found were actually hand prints, Brusatte explained, a clue that it was a huge creature in question, like the sauropod. This enormous animal, which could grow up to 50 feet long, needed all four limbs to support itself while lumbering around. The theropod tracks indicate that these dinosaurs walked only on their hind legs.

Sauropods were previously thought to have been purely amphibious creatures, the Smithsonian notes. Paleontologists of the early 20th century believed that sauropods could not walk on the land because of their weight. Evidence that was acquired later on proved the contrary. And the recent finds coming from Scotland suggest that, while some representatives of the species were able to move comfortably on land, others opted to wade through waters near the coast.

In fact, Brusatte remarked to National Geographic, sauropods “were so dynamic and so energetic,” meaning it is likely that they were abundant in various environments as their species spread around the world.

Brusatte also acknowledged that more Middle Jurassic era dinosaur fossils could lurk hidden on the Isle of Skye, hence this might be only the beginning of what this Scottish island has to offer to knowledge of dinosaurs in the world.

 Stefan Andrews

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

Scots haggis exports to Canada to resume after 46 years

Scots haggis exports to Canada to resume after 46 years

haggisImage copyrightPAImage captionHaggis producers have been working on new recipes to get around regulations in Canada and the US

Scotland is to start exporting haggis to Canada for the first time in 46 years, it has been announced.

Canada lifted a ban on imports of red meat from Europe in 2015 but still does not allow imports of offal.

This has left Scottish producers, including Macsween of…

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Scots haggis exports to Canada to resume after 46 years

haggisImage copyrightPA
Image captionHaggis producers have been working on new recipes to get around regulations in Canada and the US

Scotland is to start exporting haggis to Canada for the first time in 46 years, it has been announced.

Canada lifted a ban on imports of red meat from Europe in 2015 but still does not allow imports of offal.

This has left Scottish producers, including Macsween of Edinburgh, working on new haggis recipes to meet local regulations there and in the US.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown welcomed the news during his tour of the US and Canada.

Scottish food and drink exports to Canada are now worth more than £94m, following increases in recent years.

‘Iconic symbol’

James Macsween, managing director of Macsween of Edinburgh, said he was “delighted” that his family’s firm would be the first to sell haggis in Canada for almost 50 years.

He said: “My grandfather, Charlie, would be very proud to see how far we’ve come from his original butcher’s shop in Bruntsfield, which he opened back in 1953.”


Selling haggis in Canada

Simon Bentall
Image captionThe authorities will raid shops to look for illegal imports, according to Simon Bentall

Simon Bentall, at the Scottish Loft in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme he was delighted about the change in the rules.

“We had haggis from the States, which was OK, but it’s not the same is it?

“We pride ourselves in having Scottish stuff; something from the States is not Scottish.”

Simon said there is an established demand for haggis in North America.

“The other day I sent it to California. Two tins of haggis to California.

“Florida once too. Sent a can to Florida. That was last November.”

The regulations can be rigorously enforced. Another shop specialising in imported goods was recently raided by the authorities.

“The Customs check all the time. Not my shop, but a friend has a shop about 20 miles away and he got raided.

“Some of the stuff was thrown away. Probably about £1,000 to £2,000 worth of stuff.”


Mr Brown, who is currently in Toronto promoting Scottish food and drink to Canadian buyers, said haggis was “a truly iconic symbol of Scotland”.

He added: “After waiting 46 years, I’m sure there will be many Canadians and ex-pat Scots looking forward to having Scotland’s national dish at the centre of their table at the next Burns’ supper.

“This development is an indication of the increasing interest in, and love of, Scottish food and drink produce in North America.

“As a government, we have supported Macsween to grow their business and will continue to support Scottish companies in unlocking the significant opportunities to be found in this fast-growing market.”