Tag Archives: post Roman Britain

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

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A “troupe of players” for #WIPpet Wednesday, and a progress report

Since getting back from Spain, I continue to make steady progress on my fiction again. On the weekend, I finished a short story, and promptly turned around and got back into A Wasted Land. My word count since last Wednesday comes to 3700 words, a lot more than I’ve managed in new fiction in a long time! I think I will soon go back and revise some of my goals for the quarter. 🙂

BTW, this will be my 300th post on this blog! 😀

On to the true business of the day — WIPpet Wednesday! For today’s date, I simply added 5 + 2 + 1, and am giving you 8 paragraphs from A Wasted Land. This scene comes shortly after the last one. Kustennin and Taliesin are now entering Venta as a troupe of traveling minstrels:

When Kustennin and his troupe of “players” had been let through the gates, the city began to feel more foreign after all. It might look like a British city built by the Romans, but on any number of street corners, it sounded Saxon. In addition to the familiar lilt of British and Latin, the guttural sounds of Germanic tongues could be heard just as often — a jumble of British and Saxon dialects.
Within the city walls, buildings were springing up in every available space, including on the cobblestones of former roads, in the lee of thick Roman walls. At the same time, room had also been made for pens for animals, buildings that had fallen into disrepair cannibalized for stone fences.
As they made their way through the streets, Kustennin began to notice little things that added to his sense of foreignness. Many of the women wore veils over their hair, held in place by circlets or pins. Veils were a rare sight in British towns, except at weddings and funerals. Whenever he saw one of the unusual conical shaped helmets of the Saxon warriors, often decorated with the figure of an animal on top, it was hard for him to maintain his peaceful facade as a member of a troupe of traveling players.
Taliesin laid a hand on his arm. “I suggest you concentrate on the women’s perfume,” he murmured softly so that only Kustennin could hear. “You never know when you will come across someone whose perceptions are more pronounced than those of most.”
Kustennin nodded, and tried to erect a wall in his mind as his mother and Taliesin had taught him. Concentrating on the smells around him proved to be a very effective method. Not only perfumes and soap and sweat; also the smell of a hearty stew from a nearby tavern, a herd of goats in a cleared field next to the street, a peat fire not far away to ward of the first chill of autumn in the air. The street where they walked was in good repair, and the hooves of horses clopped on the cobblestones. Kustennin’s legs were sore from the long walk from where they had left their horses; he wasn’t used to traveling on foot such distances, and very different muscles were needed for walking compared to riding.
Taliesin nudged his elbow. “We are nearing the forum, my friend. I hope you remember your role.”
“Dance and drum.”
The bard chuckled. “Good enough! And if you can bring yourself to sing, I would be delighted.”

King Arthur's Round Table in Winchester (Venta), Wikipedia
King Arthur’s Round Table in Winchester, formerly Venta Belgarum

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.