A Special Place

There are many special places which touch us in our lifetime. From the family home to holiday destinations, favourite walks by the sea or hills we’ve climbed, we can all pinpoint places which, as we remember them, bring  a tingle of pleasure down the spine.

For a writer, those places may also be the source of inspiration and that is certainly the case for me. Nestling in the Eden Valley, yet close against the Eastern fells, the village of Kirkoswald is a place I’ve known all my life. Ever since my aunt taught in a tiny fell side school and my uncle was the village policeman in the late 1950’s, we spent family holidays there. When my grandparents moved there in 1963 it became a second home.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it was also to have an influence on my writing. In fact, looking around at the scenery and taking in the history, how could it not? There is the ancient church of St Oswald of course, with a well beside it, fed by an underground spring. Still today, to get water for your flowers, you lower a metal cup on a chain down into the spring; a simple unchanging ritual. The church is hidden below a hill and the villagers solved the problem of how to hear the bells, by building a tower atop the hill, and it remains a significant landmark as you approach the village.

Beyond the hill with its bell tower, stand the ruins of Kirkoswald castle. A crumbling tower, surrounded by trees, the home now of incessantly cawing rooks, is all that physically remains of the castle, but history and legend linger too. Is there a tunnel between castle and church? Did a certain Sir Hugh De Morville, once lord of this castle and one of those who slew Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral,  bury his sword here? Oh, it is a wonderful tale! Of which more later…

There is something comforting about a place which, in many ways is unchanging. Following the course of the Raven beck, which runs through the village, I can retrace paths I walked as a child. Through field and woodland, watching for Dippers, Grey Wagtails and maybe a Kingfisher; spotting red squirrels, absorbing the scent of wild garlic, the colours of wild flowers and all against the soundtrack of the countryside; the chuckling beck, wind in the trees, sheep in the fields…

That quiet, sensitive child is someone I’ve tried to recapture in the character of Lin, who is central to a story I’m immersed in now. A child drawn, along with her friends, into the legend and history of a village, where the ghosts of centuries past want those children to put right the wrongs from a turbulent time in our island’s history. Which brings me back to De Morville’s sword. Legend, yes, but like all good legends, there is a trace of truth. What could have happened if De Morville had returned to his castle? What did happen to the sword if so? And where could all this take me as a children’s writer, working within the setting of a place I know so well?

The story starts in the summer of 1970, almost 800 years after the murder of Thomas Becket, and the heat is building over the fells…

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