Friday, 2 June 2017

Adventures in time and space

We got back from Buenos Aires just under two weeks ago. Most of Burke in the Land of Silver is set there and it's a place I love to visit, enjoying walking the streets that the real James Burke would have known in 1806.

The Manzana de los Luces is one of the oldest buildings in Buenos Aires

Almost as soon as we were home, I was off to Windsor (admittedly not that far from here). There, practically in the shadow of the castle's 12th century Round Tower, I gave a talk on James Brooke (1803- 1868), hero of The White Rajah. 

Me and James Brooke: he's the one on the left
The next day we were off to Wales, where we worked our way north to Fort Belan. It's the only fort dating from the American War of Independence to have survived in Britain. Why a fort in Wales because of a war in America? Because American privateers had been known to raid towns on the West Coast of Britain (notably Whitehaven) and a fort to protect the approach to Caernarvon seemed like a good idea.

The battery at Fort Belan, guarding the Menai Strait.
I'll be writing a lot more about Fort Belan and the Napoleonic re-enactors I met there in future blogs.

Hijinks with the Anglesey Hussars at Fort Belan

For now, though, we briefly move a couple of thousand years back, with a flying visit to the Iron Age hill fort at Dinas Dinlle.

Iron Age ramparts at Dinas Dinlle

Dinas Dinlle is only a couple of miles from Fort Belan. Looking at these two fortifications, so close together in space but so distant in time, was fascinating.

Over the Menai Strait in Anglesey we were able to explore yet another fortification. Edward I's Beaumaris Castle was started in 1295 but never completed. It is, though, very beautiful and has World Heritage status because of the perfection of its design.

Even without the castle, Beaumaris is a spectacularly pretty town, though a local told us that almost a third of the houses are now holiday homes. Still, they are very colourful holiday homes.

A visit to Anglesey also gave me the chance to call in on Plas Newydd, the home of the Earl of Uxbridge, who led the charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo (as featured in Burke at Waterloo). He lost his leg in the battle and his wooden leg is on display at Plas Newydd. It is supposed to be the first articulated artificial leg ever made and the Earl (by then a Marquess) was said to have walked seven or eight miles a day on it into old age.

After Beaumaris, I wanted to have a look at Conwy Castle, also built by Edward I, but, unlike Beaurmaris, completed. Conwy not only boasts one of the finest castles of the period (like Beaumaris, a World Heritage site) but also a nearly complete town wall. The town was cleared of the native Welsh and became almost an extension of the castle. Even today there is remarkably little development outside the old walls.

Some of Conwy's walls, as seen from the castle
Conwy has prospered over the centuries and the Elizabethan merchant's house at Plas Mawr is a remarkably well-preserved and beautiful building.

Even as we drove south from Conwy, our trip through history was not quite over. We turned off the main road at Llanelltyd to find Cymer Abbey, built in 1198 and closed as part of Henry VIII's Reformation. It was always a small place and little remains, but the ruins of the Abbey church give a tiny glimpse into a long-vanished world.

A few days away in Wales have taken me from around 2,500 years ago, through an era of castles and abbeys into the world of Burke and the Napoleonic wars. Living in Britain, I tend to take all this for granted, but this break has highlighted just how lucky a historical novelist is to live here.

I'm back in London now, with no plans for more than the odd day away for a few months. I'll be trying to catch up with everyone I've neglected since the beginning of April and blogging about Argentina and my talk on James Brooke and the efforts of the Anglesey Hussars at Fort Belan. For now, though, I have post to catch up with and novels to write. I'll be back on-line soon. Until then, why not buy a book about James Burke or one of the John Williamson series? Just click on the covers for links to the Amazon pages.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't have such an extensive visit to Wales-- we stayed mostly in the country. Wales is beautiful. It is enjoyable to see more of it.