Tag Archives: Old Sarum

Getting my research into my writing: Old Sarum

Not quite as much progress on the writing front last week as the week before, with a total of 3800 new words. It’s still more than I had been shooting for at the beginning of the round. Besides, my progress is steady, and that’s good. A friend was visiting from out of town on the weekend, and under those circumstances, I don’t even try to make time for writing.

I’ve also finally managed to start tackling some of my marketing goals. I uploaded new versions of Yseult and Shadow of Stone with the maps in the front, and raised the prices in preparation for a new marketing strategy for the series. (I will eventually devote a complete post to that.)

On to WIPpet Wednesday. This week, we return to Celemon. She and Kustennin are inspecting defensive sites on the border to Cerdic’s lands with an eye to location and infrastructure. The expedition to Venta (Winchester) made it clear that Cerdic is increasing his fighting forces and probably not content with what he has already conquered. This scene takes place in Old Sarum, one of the places I visited on my recent trip to England.

Old Sarum
What Sarum might have looked like at the time of A Wasted Land

Today I give you 7 paragraphs for the 7th month of the year:

“From these ramparts, you can see nearly five miles to the east, the direction from which an attack would most likely come,” Kustennin said. “That would give us time to bring the livestock to safety.”
Celemon inspected the small fort and barracks within the ramparts, many of which stood empty. “How far is it from here to Venta?”
“About half the distance it is to Lindinis. Perhaps a day’s forced march, less on horseback.”
“It’s a wonder Sarum wasn’t taken in the recent wars.”
“Cerdic was more interested in taking rich cities. And Medraut more interested in taking Dumnonia.”
She nodded and turned to gaze out over the plains and rolling hills to the east, in the direction of Venta, now Cerdic’s self-declared capital. How long would it be before speaking of the recent wars no longer hurt so much?
Celemon leaned her forearms on the chest-high wooden defenses at the top of the earthworks, thinking about the father she’d lost, and the future she’d lost soon thereafter, when she’d dissolved her betrothal to Aurelius. She’d never bothered to contemplate the fate of an unmarried woman in their society until that fate had been thrown into her lap. Many women in her position chose a religious life — or at least refuge with the church — but Celemon had never been much prone to study and prayer, preferring fields and creeks to stone walls, and the back of a horse to a humble walk with head bowed. Nor had she ever learned a trade. Women of her status ran households, they did not sell and barter goods at market.

Old Sarum
The view from Old Sarum

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

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.