Tag Archives: England

Calleva / Silchester

Calleva / Roman Silchester

On Monday, my last day of sightseeing / research before heading off for the wedding festivities, I wasn’t quite sure if I should even attempt to see Calleva (Roman Silchester). The blister on my little toe hurt, and I was not looking forward to the prospect of hiking for miles along country lanes in search of old rocks. Maybe I should just head south to the coast, I thought, take a day off and just enjoy the seaside. I’d already seen plenty of sites for The Pendragon Chronicles, and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to use the setting of post-Roman Calleva in A Wasted Land.

But then, when would the next chance come along for me to try to find Calleva? So off I went to Basingstoke again.

And I am so glad I did. Wandering around in the middle of nowhere, I was a bit worried I’d headed off on a wild goose chase. Instead, I ended up getting a personal tour of an archeological dig. If I’d gotten the train I wanted the day before, my experience of Calleva would have been completely different. The dig only started the day I went, and I would have missed it. Talk about a lucky mistake!

For the average tourist, there isn’t much to see in Calleva, so it probably is no wonder that it’s not a big draw and is so hard to find. Walking from the Mortimer station, it took me longer to get there than Google Maps said — there were no signs anywhere, and I stopped and asked people a few times along the way. Apparently, the way from Bramley is better marked, so that would be the way to go, but Google Maps told me Mortimer was closer, so that’s the way I went.

After over an hour, I found the first sign to Roman Silchester, which led me to the former amphitheater outside of town.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Roman amphitheater of Calleva

From there, I was finally able to find the still impressive remains of the Roman wall.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Roman wall of Calleva

When I got to the path on the top, I could see what looked like a campsite in the opposite corner of the wide field. Other than that, the only residents of the former thriving Romano-British town were a bunch of cows.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Present residents of Calleva

I knew there’d been regular digs at Calleva over the years, and I was pretty sure that was about the only thing the tents could be. I headed over to the site along the top of the Roman walls, and some of the students (I presume) having lunch pointed me in the direction of an makeshift information center set up for visitors. There, a friendly young woman by the name of Zoe, an archeologist working on her Masters at Reading University, asked me if I would like a tour of the dig. Duh!

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Zoe, my wonderful guide through the dig at Calleva

The present digs are in Insula IX and Insula III, and platforms had been set up next to each. Zoe took me to the closest first, Insula IX, and showed me what I was seeing — the remnants of the main road going north and south, postholes for the buildings, bigger holes for the wells, a floor — and explained that here in most places they had already reached the layer of Pre-Roman settlement and were nearly done with what they had set out to do. One of the things they’d been hoping to learn more about was when the town was abandoned and what might have caused it, and she said they’d uncovered evidence that it might be later than originally thought.

Naturally my ears perked up at that. I’ve repeatedly come across such theories in my research for the books of The Pendragon Chronicles, and it’s one of the main historical elements I’ve based my world on.

Anyway, looking at the carefully dug up dirt, Zoe and I had a great conversation about how new information keeps cropping up and theories keep changing. She took me over to Insula III, where I saw a hearth or stove made out of old Roman roofing tiles — most likely evidence that the site was still in use after Roman materials were no longer being manufactured.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Archeological dig at Insula III in Calleva

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Panel explaining the dig

It was more fun than I ever could have imagined. Zoe and I obviously shared a fascination with the mysteries of history. She said her masters thesis was actually on magic and ritual in the archeological record in late medieval times (which sounds absolutely fascinating too!), but she wanted to be at Calleva for the last year of the dig, since she spent several summers working on it while she was an undergraduate.

After I saw the two Insulae and thanked her heartily, I headed for the church that was just within the Roman walls. There, I was lucky enough to walk in on a lecture by the head of the dig for some of the newest students. He mentioned that one of their most significant finds from the previous year was pottery fragments from the sixth to eighth century. In the Q&A session, I asked what he thought that meant for the end of Calleva. He answered that they might have to revise their ideas, that rather than disappearing, perhaps the town shifted to the area around the church. He postulated that the medieval town may have been a victim of the Black Death, since there were references from the 12th century, but little thereafter. (The amphitheater was converted into a medieval hall and King John was recorded as visiting there.)

While I ended up with two new blisters for a total of three, it was a thoroughly excellent outing.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Silchester church just within the Roman walls of Calleva

You can see the rest of my pictures of Calleva here.

Other posts from my trip to England:
Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury
Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
Old Sarum
Winchester / Venta

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Winchester / Venta

Winchester Castle
Winchester Castle

Originally, I was intending to do Calleva on Sunday, but my train was five minutes late into Basingstoke. That is exactly the amount of time I had to change — five minutes — and by the time I got to the track, the train was gone. The next train to Mortimer, the closest stop to the Roman ruins of Silchester, wouldn’t be leaving for another hour. So I checked the train schedules and saw that there would be a train to Winchester in only fifteen minutes. I changed my plans, and soon I was heading south.

It turned out to be a good thing that I didn’t try to do both in one day. Once I’d walked all the way around the old town of Winchester, my feet were killing me, and I was developing a blister on my little toe.

A blister in Winchester

But Winchester was great. The first place I visited was Winchester Castle, on the hill close to the train station. All that remains of the medieval castle is the hall where the famous “Round Table of King Arthur” hangs.

Winchester Castle
The Great Hall in Winchester Castle

Of course, the impressive decoration has nothing to do with fifth and sixth century Britain and the battles that were being fought against the Saxons and other Germanic tribes (and their allies) at that time. That’s the setting of The Pendragon Chronicles, and not the chivalric version of Arthurian myth created by the writers of the middle ages. The Winchester round table has been dated to the thirteenth century. Although it has nothing to do with the historical figure of Arthur (if he even existed), the round table has everything to do with the Arthurian legends and how significant they had become by the high middle ages. By that time, the Normans were in power in England, and even though they fought the Celtic kingdoms on their fringes, they appropriated a Romano-British hero into their mythology of kingship.

After walking all over the city, I’m pretty sure Chris and I skipped it on our England trip a dozen years ago when we did so many of the other sites of Yseult. I walked along the perimeters of the southern and eastern parts of what was once Venta Belgarum, and it certainly gave me an impression of how big the Roman city had been. In the south-eastern corner, there is still a long stretch of the Roman wall. In The Pendragon Chronicles, I refer to the city as Venta rather than by its full Roman name of “Venta Belgarum.” That’s quite a mouthful, after all. I figure that, much in the same way Sorviodunum became Sarum or Londinium became London, Venta Belgarum was probably shortened to Venta. “Venta” was integrated into the Germanic name for the city, Winchester, whereas “Belgarum” has disappeared — except in names of businesses in Winchester.

Roman wall in Winchester
Part of the Roman wall in Winchester

I also visited Wolvesey Castle, the ruins of the former bishop’s seat. I originally intended to have Cerdic’s seat located there in A Wasted Land, but I might change that. The western edge of the former Roman city, where the medieval castle stood, is much higher in elevation than the eastern, which is next to the river. Cerdic strikes me as the kind of guy who would equate elevation with status. I will have to see if anything is known of what might have stood there in Roman times. Seeing as the site has been continuously occupied for millennia, there has been very little archeological work done in Winchester, and only a few Roman buildings have been excavated, prior to modern construction work.

Wolvesey Castle
Wolvesey Castle

Nonetheless, seeing Winchester was great for giving me a feel of the lay of the land for the scene I’ve been posting recently for WIPpet Wednesdays. Perhaps with my new knowledge, I’ll try a rewrite of one of the scenes and repost, just for sh*ts and giggles.

Aside from details pertinent to the WIP, I also saw lots of half-timbered houses, the cathedral, gardens, and the house where Jane Austen lived in the weeks before she died. A very nice day, even if it didn’t turn out quite as planned.

Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

You can see all of my pictures of Winchester here.

Other posts from my research trip:
Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury
Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
Old Sarum

Old Sarum

I went to Old Sarum on the same day as Stonehenge, but I’m devoting a separate post to it, since it is actually part of my research for A Wasted Land, and not just something cool I took advantage of seeing while I was in Britain. The tourist bus makes a stop there on the way back to Salisbury from Stonehenge.

Old Sarum
Old Sarum

I’ve been to Old Sarum before, when my husband and I were traveling around Britain and I was researching sites for Yseult, the first book of The Pendragon Chronicles. I wanted to visit it again, though, both to refresh my memory and to get digital pictures this time — that trip was so long ago, it was before I got my first digital camera. 🙂

Old Sarum
Defensive earthworks at Old Sarum

Old Sarum is an ancient hill-fort that was in fairly continuous use from the Iron Age to the high middle ages. The Roman name for the site was Sorviodunum, which over the centuries was simplified to Sarum. In the Roman period, it was important because it stood at the crossroads of two major streets, and a market town grew up around its base. Little is known about actual Roman use of the hill-fort, since the pre-medieval levels have not been extensively excavated, although digs in the 50s discovered evidence of Romano-British occupation. More is known about the Roman settlements outside of the ramparts to the south-east and south-west of the hill-fort, which were both still flourishing until at least the fourth century.

Old Sarum
Within the ramparts of Old Sarum

Sarum was obviously a significant site in the post-Roman period, because the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles bother to list a victory there over the British in the year 552: “In this year, Cynric fought against the Britons at the place called Searobyrg and put the Britons to flight.” (Cynric is the son of Cerdic from A Wasted Land.) 552 is several decades after the period I am writing about in this book, which means Sarum most likely was still in British hands at that time — otherwise, there would hardly have been any significance to chasing the British away, after all.

After the urban center followed the new church to Salisbury (as I explained in my previous post), the site became known as “Old Sarum.” By the fifteenth century, it was largely abandoned.

Old Sarum
View of Salisbury from Old Sarum

Old Sarum is much bigger than I remembered. I think the confusion came from my memories revolving around the ruins of the medieval castle in the middle of the site. But the hill-fort was large enough, after all, to contain a complete medieval town. I will have to find out the exact size, do some math, and figure out how many stables it might have been able to hold.

It is definitely horse country around there, though. On my bike ride, I passed racing stables, and horses were a common sight in the rolling fields. Celemon’s legacy lives on. *g*

For the curious, you can see the rest of my pictures of Old Sarum here.

Previous posts:
Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury
Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

Rain was forecast for my second day in Salisbury, so I didn’t feel like trying to do Calleva and tramping an hour+ through Nomansland in search of what’s left of the Roman city, no matter how important it was during the period in which The Pendragon Chronicles are set.

So instead, I bought the bus ticket complete with entrance to Stonehenge and Old Sarum. I haven’t seen Stonehenge in over a dozen years, and while it isn’t part of my research, it is a part of the lay of the land in the region I’m writing about — and it’s pretty cool. 🙂

Stonehenge
Stonehenge, 2014

The last time I saw it, the visitor’s center was right next to the monument, and it got in the way of the experience a bit. Now, the visitor’s center isn’t even within sight of Stonehenge. They have not yet completed the process of renaturalizing the area where the old buildings stood, but even so, it’s more impressive now than it was then.

Stonehenge
Restoring Stonehenge

Of course, the very first time I was at Stonehenge at the tender age of 19, tourists could still wander around among the stones, and that was amazing in its own way — but I think I like this last visit best. With the monoliths constantly surrounded by tourists, they lose something of their majesty. When we the curious are forced to maintain a respectful distance, the magnificence is all the more obvious, even if you can’t experience it up close.

If you’re interested, you can see my pictures from my most recent visit to Stonehenge here.

It proved fortunate that I was at Woodhenge the day before. One of the things I learned on the audio tour while I was wandering around the big rocks is that a new theory postulates that Stonehenge is the “House of the Dead” to Woodhenge’s “House of the Living.” A number of things make this a very convincing theory. Woodhenge is near the large Pre-Roman settlement of Durrington Walls. The “avenue” which archeologists believe was the entrance to Stonehenge points in the direction of Woodhenge. And the landscape surrounding Stonehenge is littered with graveyards and burial mounds. The house of the dead built in stone, to last. The house of the living, built in wood, which will pass, just as life does.

Of course, that theory could be just as off-base as the medieval tale that Stonehenge was built by Merlin, or the Victorian theory that it was built by Druids. But it has a certain logic to it that appeals to me, given the evidence of the surrounding landscape.

When I got back from the bus trip to Stonehenge and Old Sarum, it was still early enough in the day for me to also visit the inside of Salisbury Cathedral again. I remembered it as one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve ever visited, and I felt that way this time too.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

The construction of the cathedral marked the beginning of the city of Salisbury. The church of the bishopric was originally in Sarum (now Old Sarum), but church authorities were interested in a new, bigger church that wasn’t on property owned by the Crown, so they started building a cathedral on church lands a little over a mile from Sarum.

During the course of the middle ages, the town followed the church, and by the fifteenth century, Sarum was basically a ghost town. Henry VIII finally gave permission for the remaining buildings to be dismantled and the valuable building materials be reused elsewhere. That’s why all that’s left of the once thriving town of Sarum, including its castle and its church, are the foundations.

Salisbury Cathedral also contains the original of the Magna Carta. The writing is miniscule, something I hadn’t expected at all. I thought such an important document would be big and flashy somehow. Instead, it’s about half the size of a movie poster, and the writing is so small, I would need a magnifying glass to decipher it, assuming I could even read the medieval script in the first place.

– You can read my first post about my trip here.

Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury

When I was invited to a wedding in England, I figured I might as well add a couple of days on to the trip to visit some of the sites where the novel I am currently working on, A Wasted Land, take place. I decided to base that part of the trip in Salisbury, because it was closest to two of the main places I wanted to see: Amesbury and the hillfort there (for the first time), and Old Sarum (for the second). It also isn’t far from two other sites I was particularly interested in visiting: Winchester (Venta) and Silchester (Calleva).

For the most part, the trip to Salisbury went smoothly, except for the very first leg. For some reason, my plane sat at the gate for about fifteen minutes. Since I only had 50 minutes to change flights in Frankfurt, I was already imagining how I would work things out when I finally got to England and where I would have to spend the night, since with a later flight I probably wouldn’t make it to Salisbury at anything approaching a decent time. But with no line at passport control and a lot of hurrying, I made it to my gate while they were still boarding.

The rest of the journey was a breeze. London City Airport is nice and small, the lines for customs were short, and the trip via DLR and Tube to Waterloo Station was easy. I got my Britrail pass validated in no time, and actually managed to get a train earlier to Salisbury than I had originally hoped, which gave me time to do some shopping on my way to my AirBnB rental.

My rental was in a quaint little house not far from the center of town and the cathedral. The first evening, I walked there and took some pictures of the cathedral from the outside, since it was already closed.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

The next day, I rented a bike and rode to Amesbury, the site of “Vespasion’s Camp” — Caer Emrys in The Pendragon Chronicles. The theory goes that Amesbury got its name from Ambrosius (Aurelianus). In Welsh, a descendant of the old Britsh tongue, Ambrosius is “Emrys.” There are a number of place names in Britain that are derived from a combination of a Celtic name and a Germanic description which has replaced the original British. Thus Amesbury is “Emrys’ burg” — the fort of Emrys. Cadbury is another such name, most probably the “fort of Cador” (or Cadwy). In Yseult and Shadow of Stone, Cadbury is still Din Draithou, but in A Wasted Land, people are beginning to refer to it as Cador’s fort.

While I went to Cadbury many years ago when I was researching Yseult, I had not yet been to Amesbury. The site of Vespasian’s Camp or Caer Emrys is now private property and not accessible to the public. So I rode around it and took a couple of pictures from whatever vantage points I could find.

Caer Emrys
Vespasian’s Camp near Amesbury (Caer Emrys)

From there, I continued on my bike to Woodhenge, a prehistoric monument with much the same design as Stonehenge, only in wood. Of course, all that was left when archeologists found it were the post holes where the wooden columns had once stood. These have been filled with short wooden markers to give visitors a feel for the site.

Woodhenge
Woodhenge

My ride also took me past the back side of Old Sarum, but I will talk more about that in a later post, when I go into the site in more detail.

The ride back was slow. I haven’t been on that long of a bike ride in years. But at least I beat the rain. 🙂

Learning to make selfies in England

I realize that I’ve promised posts about my travels while here, but at the moment I’m too busy running around, and too worn out in the evening when I get back to the BnB. But never fear, I am taking notes and composing posts in my mind and on paper, and I will post some of the results of my research when I get back, at the latest.

In the meantime, here are some of my attempts to make selfies with my relatively new smartphone. You can’t really tell, but this is me in Salisbury Cathedral:

Dark blob in Salisbury Cathedral

Here’s one on a bike ride on the one really lovely day:

Bike tour to Amesbury

And here are two in Stonehenge:

Me at Stonehenge

Me at Stonehenge

More when I have more time and brain cells. 🙂