Creating a sense of place

I have only once written a novel set in a real place as opposed to an imagined setting, and that was Flipside, which was set in Oldham. I worked really hard to makes sure that it was correct (I was living there when I wrote it) and I would time how long it took to get from place to place, describe actual buildings and pubs, make local references, as well as inventing some locations by extending already existing roads, squeezing imaginary pubs into actual streets, building a whole new fictional mill, and adding some new back streets to an area.

However, most of my novels are set in complete fictional location; the main city is Strand which has its own airport named after a Viking, Ingar Silverskin, who supposedly settled the area, a smaller coastle town, and Camel Wood, and ancient forest which once spread the length of the coast, but is now reduced to small pockets of woodland.

In one of my children’s books, The Story of Rufus Redmayne, ther is a guide book entry abotu the forest:

. . . Camel was once rich in minerals including lead, silver, zinc, tin, copper and lupusite[1] and there are many disused mines and shafts in the area. Lead, silver and lupusite were the main ores mined. There was, in earlier times, some zinc, tin and copper mining but the deposits of these metals were poor and not worth excavating. Some of these mines date back to Roman times although most of the older ones have long since collapsed or fallen in or been filled by spoil from other workings.

There was industrial scale quarrying and open cast mining as well as pits in the area, the remains of which can soon be detected once you have learned to read the landscape.

A warning! Although most shafts are capped there are many undiscovered in the area and when walking or exploring one must always be aware that there could be deep and very dangerous shafts uncapped and unmarked. Some of these shafts are many hundreds of feet deep, the deepest recorded one (now capped) is Old John (see map) This was named after John Copthorne who died after falling into the disused mine-shaft; he had worked there as a boy and in his old age returned and fell to his death. His ghost is said to cry for help from the bottom of the shaft.

Still visible are the remains of adits[2] if you know where to look or what to recognize. You may see hollows and depressions, which indicate where the mine shaft may have run-in or collapsed or bumps and uneven ground which may hint at collapsed walls from buildings at the workings.

Ponds and spoil heaps[3] are another good indication that mining was once the main source of local employment. Water was necessary in many industrial processes including washing the galena[4]

Names of geographical features are also a good clue to the historical detective in reading the evidence of the past. Horsetrough (see map), for example, is not named after a watering hole for horses but after the gin circle which was an important feature of shaft mining. It was a horse driven winding mechanism vital in the days before steam power.

Although there are traces of dangerous metals such as antimony[5], cadmium[6] and arsenic, their presence is at such a low level that for the casual rambler there is no danger. However it is not advisable to fill flasks or drink water from streams in the area.

There are, of course, a variety of different legends attached to this area, many much older and with less likelihood of being true than the sorry tale of Old John. There are many tales of hidden treasure; unlike the leprechauns[7] and their gold the local Camel trinxies[8] are said to guard crocks of silver. Romans are supposed to have buried a trove of denary[9] hidden as the barbarians overran Britain, or maybe it was early Christian monks hiding their crosses in the face of the Viking onslaught (823AD Ingar Silverskin[10]) or even the Vikings themselves storing their booty. A mythical warrior, possibly Ingar, or perhaps St Finbarr[11] is supposed to sleep with his silver sword awaiting a call to defend the weak. This however, may merely be a local version of the Arthurian legend.

To start your walk park your car at the Forestry Administration park by Fimbrook. . .

[1] Lupusite: extremely rare grey mineral, a metal only found in this area; said to deter evil spirits esp. werewolves, symbol Lp

[2] adit: opening or passage, esp. into a mine

[3] spoil heaps: waste from mining activities

[4] galena: lead ore, symbol LpS

[5] antimony: brittle bluish-white element, symbol Sb

[6] cadmium: a white metal, symbol Cd

[7] leprechaun: Irish pixie

[8] Trinxies: local name for pixie like beings who dwell only in Camel Wood

[9] denary: silver money used by Romans

[10] Ingar Silverskin: Viking warrior who raided along the coast from Castair to Westope, raising the small port or Easthope (Estop) to the ground in 823AD)

[11] St Finbarr: son of Irish silver smith, patron saint of Cork, said to have visited Strand and Easthope in AD 601, reputed to have expelled a sea monster from a lake near Killarney and a similar beast from Camel Wood

If you are interested in reading Flipside, then you will find a link to my e-book site on Amazon:

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