Travels / Research

Raglan Castle and the English Civil War
Plymouth and the English Civil War
Scotland
Japan
“The Scarlet Kimono”: Champion Sumo Wrestler Chiyonofuji
“Trade Winds”: The Sailing Ship “Götheborg”

Raglan Castle and the English Civil War

Raglan CastleWhen I moved to Herefordshire, I discovered that I lived fairly close to Raglan Castle.  As I can never resist anything like that, I went to have a look and became captivated by the sad tale of how a once magnificent castle became what it is today – a beautiful ruin.  It inspired me to write The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight which I hope gives an accurate account of the castle’s final days before it was destroyed forever.

It all happened at the end of the English Civil War, in 1646.  At that time, Raglan was owned by the Marquis of Worcester, a staunch Royalist who had supported King Charles I throughout the war, both by giving him lots of money but also by sending troops.  The Marquis was an elderly gentleman, nearly 70, but still formidable and very stubborn.  As most of the Royalist forces and strongholds had surrendered to the Parliamentarians by the beginning of the summer, he must have known he was fighting a losing battle, but he still decided to make a last stand.

Raglan Castle - The New Gate

Raglan Castle – The New Gate

The Parliamentarians came to lay siege to the castle, and the Marquis and his garrison of 800 men (and some women and children) held out for nearly ten weeks.  In the end, however, they had no choice but to surrender, and on the 19th August 1646 they marched out through the gates for the last time.  Lord Worcester was taken prisoner and escorted to London (where he died soon after of natural causes so was never tried), while everyone else was allowed to leave unharmed as long as they promised not to bear arms against Parliament again.

Raglan Castle - Oriel Window

Raglan Castle – Oriel Window

Just to make sure no one else could use the castle against them, the Parliamentarian troops did their best to destroy the buildings but there is enough of it left for visitors to get a good idea of what it must have been like.  I love it and find it very atmospheric – well worth a visit if you’re ever passing!

Plymouth and the English Civil War

Plymouth seems to have been the only west country town to have held out for the Parliamentarian cause throughout the English Civil War, and I found it very interesting to research this period of the town’s history. Personally, I have always favoured the Royalists (well, I am a romantic novelist and what could be more romantic than the Cavaliers?), but for this story, I had to argue the case for the opposition, as it were, which was fascinating.

Plymouth Merchant’s House

In order to study the layout of the town, I visited Plymouth several times, and in particular the so called Merchant’s House, which is from the 17th century. I was able to use it as the setting for my heroine’s relatives and seeing it firsthand made it much easier to envisage her reactions upon arrival.


Me in leather at 1646 Torrington

I also researched lots of other things to do with this period, of course, and among other things I had a very enjoyable day out at 1646 Torrington, in Great Torrington in Devon. There they have a permanent exhibition about the time of the English Civil War. Visitors are given talks on things like clothing, weapons and medicine for this period and I had a wonderful time imagining myself back in 1646. Although I didn’t get to try on the women’s clothing (someone else did that), I wore a man’s leather jerkin (which was amazingly heavy due to the fact that it was made of thick buffalo hide!), a Puritan style felt hat and I was given a musket to hold.


How to wield a pike

How to wield a pike

Later, I learned how to load and fire the musket (in principle only, I didn’t actually shoot or anything) and how to fight with a pike as part of a “hedge-pig” formation.
Finally, I had a lesson in medicinal plants, which came in very handy when my hero and heroine needed medical treatment!

Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

I enjoyed all aspects of researching Highland Storms, because I love Scotland and all things Scottish. It was a great excuse for visiting the Highlands and taking my daughter to see Loch Ness, where she hadn’t been before. Urquhart Castle, Eilean Donan and all the other sights we saw were breathtaking.

Meeting Highland Cattle with my daughter

We also enjoyed getting to know a small herd of Highland cattle (which are also mentioned in the story), owned by a friend of mine. The calves were adorable and some of the bigger animals allowed us to go near and even comb them! (I was a bit wary of those horns though.)

We drove around to look at the Highlands in general and had a look at several places which I later used as background for my fictional Scottish estate. I also stuck my hand in a loch to make sure the water wasn’t too cold for swimming in (it wasn’t, although I’d prefer not to try it for myself).


Inside a hut from the era of Highland Storms

There really is no substitute for actually visiting a place if you can in order to see the setting and I was lucky enough to find an open air museum where you could sit next to a real peat fire in an old-fashioned hut to see what it was like. Brilliant! (I would never have realised how much my hair stank of smoke afterwards if I hadn’t done that.)

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Japan

Tokyo

The Tokyo “main street” leading to Asakusa temple

Japan is a fascinating country and I feel very lucky to have lived there, albeit only for three years. I recently went back, ostensibly for research reasons, but a little retail therapy was of course also necessary (although perhaps five suitcases full might be considered just a little bit OTT?).

I love everything about Japan – the food, the people, their orderly way of doing everything – and Tokyo is a great place to start. I’m always amazed at the way skyscrapers and modern buildings co-exist happily with traditional places like temples and shrines. You never know what you’re going to encounter next, which makes every excursion exciting. The Sensoji temple at Asakusa is definitely worth a visit, as is the fish market at Tsukiji, Harajuku with all its crazy shops (and shoppers!) and Yoyogi Park where one can find anything from 50’s style boppers jiving to their favourite music to heavy metal bands playing to an audience of three. Great stuff!


Asakusa Temple

Asakusa Temple

Another favourite place of mine is Kyoto, which seems to be an entirely different kind of city. Here the pace of life is slower and one is enveloped by a feeling of “old Japan” and the sense of tradition. Spectacular temples (Kiyomizu-dera up on the hills overlooking the town and Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavilion – set in perfect landscaped gardens for example), the old town where real geishas can be seen strolling around and in the centre of Kyoto, Nijo Castle, one of the former homes of the Shogun. This is well worth a visit if only to walk on the so called ‘nightingale floor’.


Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

While in Japan, I also had the great pleasure of visiting one of the most wonderful castles in all of Japan – Himeji. I felt transported back to the age of the samurai. Of course it helped that we timed it just right and our visit coincided with the cherry blossom season. The views were quite literally breathtaking!


Dejima

Dejima “main street” with modern Nagasaki in the background

Finally, I also went to Nagasaki and specifically Dejima, the tiny man-made island near the harbour there. It was built in the shape of the Shogun’s fan and was the only place the Dutch traders were allowed to stay from 1641 to 1853. They couldn’t so much as set foot on the mainland, which must have been extremely frustrating for them. After having been lost for years due to landfill all around it, the Dejima site has recently been excavated and some of the original buildings reproduced in order to show visitors what it used to be like. It was wonderful to see it, having read so much about it, and I can thoroughly recommend a visit if you are ever in Nagasaki.

In fact, any part of Japan is worth visiting, it’s simply a wonderful country!


Me with Model of Dejima

Me with Model of Dejima

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“The Scarlet Kimono”: Champion Sumo Wrestler Chiyonofuji

Chiyonofuji Mitsugu, the 58th Yokozuna (champion) of Sumo wrestling, nick-named “The Wolf”.

This unusual wrestler revolutionised the sport by doing weight training – he was known for being able to literally lift much heftier opponents out of the ring, some as much as twice his size! He became a champion at the age of 26 (in July 1981) and was one of the most successful sumo wrestlers ever. His explosive speed and muscular body helped him to secure victory after victory and the slightest hesitation on the part of his opponents always resulted in a loss for them. When he retired in 1991, aged 35, the sport lost one of its undisputed stars.

Like all sumo wrestlers, he lived and trained at a so called “stable” in Tokyo and I was lucky enough to visit once, together with a group of family and friends. We were allowed to sit at the edge of the training hall and watch their morning routine, and Chiyonofuji was amazing. Despite his size, he was able to do the splits and we were fascinated to see his training methods. Afterwards, he graciously came to say hello and allowed us to take some photos. It was a day I’ll never forget.

Chiyonofuji

Chiyonofuji

To read more about “The Scarlet Kimono” please click here.
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“Trade Winds”: The Sailing Ship “Götheborg”

Gotheborg

The “Götheborg” moored at West India Dock in London

The original East Indiaman “Götheborg” was built in 1738 and made three journeys to China, two of which were very successful. The third one, however, ended in disaster. On 12th September 1745, the ship ran aground just outside Gothenburg, right in front of all those who were waiting expectantly for its return. Fortunately no one was killed and some of the cargo was rescued, but it was still a terrible shame when they were so close to their goal after having been away for more than two years.

The investors at the time can’t have been very pleased, but thanks to this accident, modern day shipbuilders were able to build the replica. This was done using traditional methods and the same raw materials as the original ship, although the new “Götheborg” contains modern equipment for navigation, cooking and so on, things a 21st century crew couldn’t do without.

I really enjoyed going onboard to look around. Here are some photos of my visit to the ship:-

Gotheborg Stern

The aft, beautifully decorated with carvings

Christina on the Gotheborg

Me standing on the sundeck

Gotheborg figurehead

The figurehead, a rampant lion

To read more about “Trade Winds” please click here.
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