Castles, Sheer Cliffs, Sheep Poo

27 10 2013

…and other Awesome yet Scary Adventures in Novel Research
Castle Ruins 1

A guest blog from Trisha Wooldridge

“Give me a shove dear?” Fast Castle in on the coasts of Berwickshire requires a wee bit of athleticism to actually get to. Or a strong partner to give you a shove up the fallen stair or wall or something after the narrow land bridge.

And plenty of courage hope you don’t fall off the nearby cliff into the churning ocean.

I understand why all the locals tell tourists not to come out here.

Frightening, but it was So. Totally. Worth. It.

My husband and I took a tour through the Borders of Scotland, the area that borders England (fancy that, considering the name). I picked where we were traveling based on the research I’d done for my novel, The Kelpie, because, really, there’s only so far you can go with the Internet and Google Maps. And the Husband-of-Awesome was traveling for work already, so such a trip was in our budget.

One of the trips was to Traquair House, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, which is very castle-like. I found it in my research of what it might be like to live in a national monument as my protagonist, Heather, does. Catherine Maxwell Stuart, the 21st Lady of Traquair, even granted me an interview. That trip was a crown jewel in the trip. But not the only one.

After leaving Traquair in Innerleithen, where we explored every hiking trail and garden we could, we headed out to St. Abbs and Eyemouth in the Berwickshire region. I’d found this place on Google Maps and the satellite pictures, the driving times, everything was just as I’d pictured and planned it in my novel.

I had to see if it was as good as it seemed. And I was terrified I might have gotten it all wrong!

I didn’t get it wrong. It was better than I’d hoped.

There is an old farmhouse right where Heather’s family’s castle would be. And near there, we knew, there were actual castle ruins. However, no one would tell us how to get there. In fact, they quite discouraged us. Our wonderful B&B hosts at Rhovanion (Yes, fellow geeks, just yes!), who were awesome about ever other thing I wanted to pick their brain about regarding culture and what might happen if village kids went missing, told us there was really nothing to see there. In fact, I paraphrased Mike in the book when Heather describes the ruins she sees hiding the faery castle, “I see the old foundation of the old castle and old piles of rocks where there used to be old walls.”

There was nothing for us to see.

Yeah. Right.

We started our day hiking about twelve miles of coastal trails were we truly felt “awe.” The cliffs, the fog rolling in, the crashing waves, the hills where the ancient church of St. Abbs once stood, the flooded loch and its family of swans, the thousands of nests of tens of thousands of sea birds… Truly. Awe.

Exhausted, we decided to continue exploring and find that castle everyone was trying to get us to avoid.

Even the trail map conspired against us, leading us on for about an hour and a half through sheep fields.

Sheep. Yeah. One of my editing notes-to-self was to include more annoying, stupid sheep. And the severe amount of poop they leave behind everywhere.

Eventually, thanks to smartphones and GPS, we found the proper sheep path to follow. After we tracked through the first curve in the path, the castle ruins loomed ahead, shrouded in mist with the stone corners poking through. Like an ancient ghost awaiting our arrival.

Wow.

The path, in fact, take us along this narrow cliff where the H-of-A, who went first, landed his hand on a massive tuft of stinging nettle and nearly lost his balance…warning me of doing the same. After that stretch of cliff, there was a long and winding staircase built into the cliffs with wood to help navigate down. It was not an easy hike by any means, and the locals were fair in warning us.
Trish at castle ruins

After the staircase and another winding curve, we made it to a narrow land bridge with only rusted chains keeping us from falling off the sheer cliffs into churning ocean on either side. A steep scramble of what might have been a wall or an upturned stair met us on the other side of the land bridge. I was neither tall enough nor fit enough to make the scramble, which was why I needed the boost.

On this remote, tiny, peninsula of a cliff, it felt different. It felt magickal. The stones seemed to hum beneath our fingers when we brushed them. Hundreds and hundreds of years old stones that were once a castle. Foundations, abandoned windows, corners. Most were shorter than me, but a few towered above us, clinging to their old life still.

And it was so quiet. It was like a heavy curtain of mist dampened the screaming birds, the bleating sheep, and even the pounding of the ocean.

Definitely magick.

It was magick how much it was like what I imagined. I cried (totally blaming the mist or allergies…or something.) There was very little I had to add into my draft to make it as real for my readers as it was for me. I just needed to add the stairs, the sheep…and the sheep poop.

Because, believe it or not, there’s even magick in sheep poop.

Happy Halloween!

thekelpie_front_only

T. J. Wooldridge’s debut novel, The Kelpie, from Spencer Hill Press, will be available through all bookstores (request it if it’s not on the shelf!) and Amazon on December 3rd. You can pre-order your copy today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite local bookstore!

The Wicked, Weird and Whimsical Words Halloween Blog Tour runs every other day October 23-October 31. Join us all five days for Halloween fun! Be sure to say hello on any post to be entered in a giveaway at the end of the tour!

Be sure to check out the entries on other participant’s websites:
Elizabeth Black (blog may contain adult content)
A Novel Friend (Trisha Wooldridge)
Whimsical Words (Vonnie Winslow Crist)
and L.C. Hu at elsiewho.com

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2 responses

27 10 2013
Mary Jolles

I loved your description of the hike amid the old castle ruins! It reminded me of a hike I made last year into “the Devil’s Hopyard” here in northern New Hampshire. The path led through an ordinary hardwood forest for about a half mile before crossing a stream and then entering a narrow valley, or notch, filled with tumbled, moss-covered boulders. Sunlight did not directly reach the floor of the valley, due to the steep, high cliffs on either side. The diffused sunlight brought out the rich green of moss, lichens, ferns, and many other plants. The silence was eerie, broken only by tiny bird calls and the rumble of an underground river flowing beneath the stone-paved trail. I felt I had entered the realm of the fairies and expected any minute to see a gnome or pixie peeking out from behind the many rocks I clambered over. The valley ended in a bowl, flanked by slides of crumbled rocks. An experience to spread the shivers down your spine!

27 10 2013
sameel1990

i like that also like ur pic.

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