C is for Castles and Country Houses

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c1is for castles and country houses. When I was at school we went on a trip to Helmsley Castle and Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. I’ve never forgotten that day. The sun shone. I had a brand new camera – a present for my tenth birthday – which I used to take endless photos of the buildings and the nearby villages. I remember all the laughter and chattering of my classmates, the packed lunches, the seemingly endless coach ride, the bossy teachers, the muttering and groaning as we had to take our pencils and paper out and make notes about our visit. But the other thing I remember is the sense of awe. I helmsley castleremember laying my hand upon the ruins of Helmsley Castle and feeling the cool stone beneath my palm and imagining the people who had stood on that very spot centuries before me.  I remember staring in amazement at the remains of the abbey and thinking about the monks, wandering those grounds, deep in contemplation, and I remember wondering what they would make of the crowds of school children running amok on the site now, playing tag and doing their best to hide from their teachers.

Old buildings have always fascinated me. I love the brooding, mystical ruins of Whitby Abbey, standing high and proud Whitby Abbeyon the cliff top; the beauty of Fountains Abbey; the inspiring, legendary remains of Glastonbury Abbey; the wonderful Knaresborough Castle, the mighty walls of Richmond Castle, and Scarborough Castle which dominates the town’s skyline. But I also love the country houses. Chatsworth is amazing and I always look forward to a visit there. Nearby is the extraordinary Hardwick House, home of the formidable Bess of Hardwick. Then there’s Castle Howard, Burton Agnes Hall and Burton Constable Hall – and they’re just some of the ones within a reasonably short drive from my home. The British countryside is adorned with jewels like these, and of course I had to feature some of them in my Kearton Bay books – although some have been renamed and disguised!Chatsworth_House_032

Whitby Abbey remains just as it is, standing atop the cliff overlooking this beautiful coastal town, reached by a flight of one hundred and ninety-nine steps. Kearton Bay is set just a few miles south of Whitby, so, of course, my characters visit the town and mention the abbey. Helmsley Castle is also featured, but its name has been changed to Helmston Castle. Helmsley is a lot further away from the real life Robin Hood’s Bay than Helmston is to my fictional Kearton Bay, but in other respects it’s very similar. I couldn’t leave out the castle which played such an important part in forming my interest in and fondness for these beautiful old buildings.

1024px-Burton_Constable_HallKearton Hall is a big old Elizabethan house, owned by the Boden-Kean family. In reality, it was modelled on a mixture of various country houses that I’ve visited. There are elements of Chatsworth and Hardwick in there, and also Burton Constable Hall which is much closer to my home, and is more on the scale of Kearton Hall in my mind. The occupants and future of Kearton Hall will play a much bigger role as the series goes on and I’m very much looking forward to writing about the beautiful house that I can see so clearly in my mind’s eye.

There are so many wonderful old buildings in this country. I’m hoping to discover a lot more of them in the coming years. Something else to add to my to-do list!

Have a great day xx