55 Degrees

55 degrees North – travelling into the West from Newcastle Pam’s hometown.

1. Gretna,2. Gretna Green, 3. Doire, Londonderry, 4. Arranmore, 5. Novosibirsk, 6. Curonian Spit, 7. Danish island of Sjaelland, 8. Sylt.


A really interesting idea from Pam – to look along the line of latitude 55 degrees North (because she grew up there in Newcastle) – to see what other interesting places it passes through.  14 of us heard about 1. Gretna, one of the first planned towns, built in WW1 to house 12 miles of munition factory and accommodate the workers, mainly women, who made “the devil’s porridge”, Cordite, with their bare hands.  There were wide streets, trees, shops, a cinema, a lovely Byzantine style church and no pubs (they had to travel to Carlisle for that).   Then 2. Gretna Green (originally Graitney), the first settlement over the border, famous for elopements, following the 1754 Act in England which allowed parents to veto marriages of their children under 21.  Scottish Law is different and children of 16 can still marry there without parental consent.  In the old days the blacksmiths officiated (anvil priests).  We had the chance to examine – and feel the immense weight of – a dress tartan kilt (quite a job to leap over the anvil in that!).

Then over to Ireland to 3. Doire (oak grove) on the River Foyle, which became Londonderry by Charter from King James in 1613…..the first planned city in Ireland, walled round and much copied elsewhere.  The walls are still intact, built to protect the English and Scottish settlers and never breached, the “Maiden City”.  It is now Londonderry to some, Derry to others or Stroke City, as it is often referred to as Londonderry/Derry by those who don’t want to offend either side – “The Troubles” began there in 1969.  West again to 4. Arranmore (large ridge), a very beautiful island 3 miles off County Donegal with 1300 inhabitants, popular with tourists and Gaelic language summer schools.  In C17 the O’Donnel Clan were in charge.  It was given to Lord Cunningham, who never went there, and the people suffered dreadfully in the 1845 famine.  The Quakers saved many of them by sending a “coffin ship” to take them to America, where many settled in Beaver Island, Lake Michigan.
We followed our line though Canada and Alaska without stopping until we reached the middle of Siberia and the third largest city in Russia, with 1.5million inhabitants,  5. Novosibirsk.  This is a transport hub – the Trans-Siberian railway, the Turkistan railway and the River Ob meet here  –  and a commercial, industrial, iron, hydroelectrical, agricultural processing and administrative centre grew up here.  In January the weather is minus 14 to minus 20 degrees, Spring is short and very muddy with the melting snow,  in July it is 25 degrees, but that doesn’t stop it being a place of festivals, opera, ballet, rock, concerts, and night clubs.
The 6. Curonian Spit, 98km long, 400m to 3,200m wide, runs from Kalingrad, Russia, to North Lithuania.  It used to be German. It is a UNESCO heritage site (google it for pretty photos) with sand dunes, trees, and it holds the first Bird Observatory (it is on a Migration Path).  West again to the 7. Danish island of Sjaelland (put two dots over the ‘a’ and consult Gerd for pronunciation) also known as Zealand, the largest populated Danish island (over 2m).  Copenhagen sits on part of it, all connected to other islands by bridges.   Thence, finally to 8. Sylt, a German 25mile long sandy spit with 21k residents (many of whom have summer properties) and lots of tourists happily windsurfing, fishing, and eating Sylt oysters.  A military outpost in WW1, now sheep are grazed here (their little hooves compact the sandy soil and help to keep it from blowing away in storms or being washed off by the sea).  There has to be a constant dredging, moving and spreading the sand to stop the erosion.  Thanks Pam and your seven researchers.
We all felt that this concept could run again, selecting many places that were overlooked on this occasion.
The format of several contributors made the delivery and content so dynamic and varied. We highly reccomend this format to other groups. J Berry [member].
Report by Kathy Ward [LO]