Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bradford-on-Avon and Birds

After a very busy but enjoyable few months, my last two 'summer' visitors went home yesterday and I'm getting back to the short contemporary novel I'm close to completing. As a way of getting myself in the mood for writing I thought I'd blog briefly about yesterday's trip to Bradford-on-Avon, just a few miles from Bath. In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, Bradford was a mill town. The view below is taken from the bridge. The large building reflected in the Avon was once a mill. Built in 1875 on the site of an earlier mill, it has been converted into retirement flats.

Bradford is on the River Avon but it is also on the Kennet and Avon Canal. The photo below was taken at the Canal Wharf, a short walk from the town centre.

The towpath was a little muddy but we managed to walk along it. Thankfully the rain held off enabling me to take the photo below without having to juggle with a brolly.

What's great about Bradford is the abundance of little shops and cafes. Of course, we went in one to partake of a pot of tea and a baguette. The name had me wondering why my favourite cafes always seem to have the word 'horse' in their names. The one in Bradford is called the 'Scribbling Horse' and there's another in Dorchester (Dorset) called 'The Horse with the Red Umbrella'.

From horses to birds. At the end of August I posted a blog about garden birds, or rather the absence of them in our garden. Well, apart from the most fleeting of flock visits (ten minutes perhaps), for the blackbirds to eat a few hawthorn berries and the families of sparrows to check out their old nesting sites in the eaves of a neighbour's house, our feathered friends are still absent. Their visits always seem to take place after a cold, wet day. They eat very little from the bird table and are gone almost before I've noticed they've arrived. I haven't had to buy any bird food for about three months. It'll be interesting see what their numbers are like in the spring.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

RNA Regency Day

I would like to nominate Hermione Granger as an associate member of the Romantic Novelists's Association so that she can come with me to RNA events like the Regency Day held on Saturday. Her skills would remove the need for decision making. A panel discussion on Sense and Sensibility or a talk on Regency clothing? Regency Dancing or Regency Scents? A talk about Sex and the Georgians or Parlour Games? No problem. With Hermione and her magic medallion, I could have attended them all.

The Regency Celebration took place at the Royal Overseas League just off St James's Street, and another choice item on the agenda was the chance to go on a guided walk of the area to discover what it was like in that period. In the afternoon I, along with 50 others, plumped for Afternoon Tea at the East India Club (pictured below).

It is in this building, indeed in the room below, that the Prince Regent received the despatch sent by the Duke of Wellington announcing the allied victory over Bonaparte at Waterloo.

The story of how that despatch reached London was given in readings by novelists Sophie Page and Elizabeth Hawksley. Entering into the fray in his regimentals was despatch rider Major Percy aka Miles Barden. Below Sophie Page starts off proceedings.

For me this was the highlight of the day, and there was more than one historical novelist present who, witnessing the re-enactment, experienced a lightbulb moment regarding a certain eagle!

The day was organised to celebrate Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and their work. In an afternoon discussion the question was asked if there was something we could change about a book by either of them, what would it be? I couldn't think of anything at the time, but on the way home on the train from Paddington, the answer where Heyer is concerned was obvious - ditch the exclamation marks! I was reading 'Bath Tangle' and there were so many of them that by the time I arrived at Westbury Station I had a headache from all that 'shouting'.

For a detailed report of the events and some fantastic photos of the day, do pop over to the Romantic Novelists' Association blog. A real treat.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Georgian Bath

The historic city of Bath is beautiful and if you can get there early in the morning, before the shops open, you can really get a feel for its Georgian past. Here are some of the photos from a week ago when I managed to do just that. The lovely building below is in Abbey Street, just off Abbey Green.

Below is the colonnade in Bath Street. The photo was taken outside the Cross Bath (rebuilt about 1789) and looking towards the entrance of the Georgian bath in Stall Street.

Below is curving Hot Bath Street. The Cross Bath is on the right.

And here is Stall Street, looking towards the colonnade which forms one side of the Abbey square.

Bath Abbey is facing you. On the right are the entrances to the Roman Baths and the Pump Room.

The viewpoint for this was in the Roman Baths. An arched window looks out over the Georgian Bath and up to the window of the Pump Room where the thermal drinking fountain is located.

My next post will feature the Roman Baths.

Monday, 3 October 2011

RNA Regency Celebration 8 October 2011

On Saturday the Romantic Novelists' Association is holding a Regency Day to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the publication of 'Sense and Sensibility'. It coincides with the launch of a new biography of that other wonderful writer of Regency romances Georgette Heyer. As so many scenes in their books were set in Bath, and I live only eight miles away from the city and visit frequently, I thought that all this week I'd make it the subject of my blogs. Below is the colonnade at the end of Bath Street, opposite the Cross Bath.

Back in August, on rather a wet day, I visited No.1 Royal Crescent, the Holburn Museum, and the Assembly Rooms. Built in the latter half of the 18th Century, the Assembly Rooms is a splendid series of interconnecting function areas - ballroom, tea room, card room and the Octagon.

Also on the premises is the Fashion Museum and that day the ballroom was housing an exhibition of costumes worn in some major films, one of which was the Emma Thompson version of 'Sense and Sensibility'. Above are the costumes worn by Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman, and below those of Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant.

Another stand featured outfits from "The Duchess" (below) and there were those worn by Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'.

This exhibition, marvellous though it was, did not detract from the Georgian elegance of the ballroom, or from the glitter of the chandeliers.

To see some splendid photos of the Assembly Rooms, log on to the Bath Venues website.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Birds are Back!

It has always been a mystery to me why, towards the end of summer, garden birds vanish from urban areas. I've learned that, like guest house proprietors, they take their holidays in the autumn, either going to stay in the country or flying south to journey abroad to the sun.

Our small Wiltshire garden was abandoned some six weeks ago, leaving only collar doves and magpies to squabble over the remaining resources. Apart from one flashmob display by a flock of blue, great and long-tailed tits, small birds have stayed away, until now!

The RSPB website explains that after their young have fledged, the knackered parents moult. Being more vulnerable to predators, they keep a low profile and remain quiet. Also, there are better pickings in the countryside. Not today however. They're back, but for how long? There I was at 8am having my breakfast overlooking the garden when they all homed in on our hawthorn trees - a family of sparrows, a veritable treasure of flighty blackbirds and some blue tits. On RSPB advice, I've been keeping a little fresh food and water in my feeder so there was something for them.

Their visit might have something to do with the weather. It's been very wet of late, and the nights - particularly last night - chilly. Insects probably aren't as active in the rain and cold hence the scouring of the Wiltshire gardens for food. Twenty minutes was all I had of them and now they've gone again, along with their muted chatter, back to Farmer Giles's fields.

Friday, 12 August 2011


I've just noticed that although I've been to Scotland three times in the last three years, there's not one photo of the place on this blog. I love Scotland and foremost among my favoured destinations is Plockton, which is no great distance from the Isle of Skye. It was the location for the filming of the Hamish Macbeth TV series. So here are a couple of views looking out over Loch Carron.

To get to Plockton by car from Inverness you have to go through Invergarry. There had been heavy rain that October so the river was dramatic.

And the view below was captured when we were travelling south to catch a small ferry over to the Isle of Skye. Someone had created mini cairns from the stones near the roadside.

Last year we holidayed in Dumfries, travelling as far west as Stranraer and the Rhinns of Galloway. There are few National Trust properties in Scotland but the one below was in Kirkcudbright - Broughton House, the home of controversial local artist Edward Hornel. I wasn't enamoured of his paintings, but the garden was lovely.

Below is Portpatrick Harbour, not far from Stranraer.

One of the great naval heroes of the United States was John Paul Jones, who was born in Kirkbean, in this cottage close to the Solway Firth. From his home you can see Whitehaven in Cumbria (England). During the Revolutionary War he led a naval raid on Whitehaven. His local knowledge must have come in very handy indeed!

Below is one of the rooms in his cottage.

And will we go back to Scotland in the autumn? I do hope so!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Perfect Day

There are some days in your life when everything goes right. This was one of mine. I had planned a day out on the Isle of Portland in Dorset with friends. The itinerary was good but unforseen events made it tip-top. For a start, the weather held up and was sunny all day.

We never intended to begin our trip in Weymouth but it was lunchtime and we were hungry... Well! when we got to the old harbour, a folk festival was in full swing. There were country bands playing and morris dancers prancing everywhere.

My particular target for the day was St George's Church at Reforne on Portland which I had glimpsed on a previous visit. Built betwen 1754 and 1766, it no longer functions as a church but is run instead by the Churches Conservation Trust. The gravestones dotted about tell fascinating stories of local smuggling and shipping disasters in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

St George's was built to replace medieval St Andrew's Church at Church Ope Cove, destroyed by a landslip. Game for anything, we went in search of it. A difficult path led down past the ruined church and tumbled down graveyard and there, at the bottom, was this hidden gem - Moonstone Beach. It was the cherry on the cake, which of course we also managed to fit in, along with a pot of tea, at a cafe overlooking the 2012 Olympic sailing venue in Weymouth Bay.

A perfect day indeed.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Caerwent and Chepstow Castle

The great thing about driving to the RNA Conference at Caerleon, and staying overnight on the Sunday, is the opportunity it afforded for some sightseeing on the Monday. The area around Caerleon is rich in Iron Age and Roman remains. Caerwent, known as Venta Silurum to the Romans, is just a few miles to the east along the A48. Founded in AD75 it was the only Roman town in Wales. The view below is from close to the Parish church. It's difficult to believe that this village, these quiet fields, were once a thriving Roman town.

Further east, just above Chepstow and overlooking the mouth of the Wye, is Bulwarks Iron Age Camp inhabitated in pre-Roman times by the Welsh tribe of the Silures. There is little to be seen on the ground because the defensive banks and ditches are now overgrown. The cleared area inside is a recreation ground where local people exercise their dogs! An aerial view gives a better idea of how important it must once have been. There are several on the Internet.

Less shy about its location and heritage is Chepstow Castle (above). What a chunk that is in the landscape. The most striking thing about it is its location on cliff at a bend in the River Wye, a river which forms the border between England and Wales. Building on the castle began soon after the Norman conquest in 1066, and one of its most famous residents, just a century later, was William Marshall. This in the entrance he built.

In the picture below is one of its massive gates, looking far more artistic than it was meant to.

Opposite the Castle is Chepstow Museum, definitely worth a visit for the beautiful curving staircase and the cupola-like window above which lights it. The house was built at the end of the 18th Century. The staircase reminds me of one at Tiffany's in Old Bond Street which was once a house lived in by Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton.

This last photo is of the view from Chepstow Castle, across the River Wye.

RNA Conference, Caerleon, 8-10 July 2011

For the first time, the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference took place in Wales, at the town of Caerleon where once the soldiers of Rome's 2nd Augusta Legion had their military base.

What a thoroughly enjoyable weekend it was. There were seminars by RNA members, and talks by editors and agents who also offered us opportunities to discuss our work with them. The most memorable session was given by Freda Lightfoot who generously shared with us her experience of publishing novels on Kindle. See below.

Liz Fielding advised us on how to blend humour with emotion, Rachel Summerson on creating characters we can believe in, and Lesley Cookman, Jean Goodhind and Penny Grubb revealed how they turned to crime! Another useful workshop was given by Linda Gillard (pictured below) on the virtues and pitfalls of using description.

There were some practical sessions too. Alison King had strategies for helping us sit down and get words on the page, while Valerie Webster got us back on our feet with a dance practical!

For next year's conference the RNA will be back in the north of England at Penrith. The date has already gone in my diary.