Something about the onset of fall (slow and subtle in Texas) makes me long to go a-travelling. I’m going to Houston next weekend for the IndiePalooza, but that doesn’t count as real travelling. So I’m going to compensate by looking at photographs from my last trip to Francis Bacon’s beautiful green homeland.
Mary Arden’s Farm
These are from Mary Arden’s farm outside of Stratford-upon-Avon. You have to take a short train trip to Wilmcote and then walk a few yards, but it’s well worth the extra effort.
I like to get to places the minute they open so I can have them to myself — better for picture-taking and musing about the past. Sometimes I hang around for the special activities, which are aimed at children who arrive in large buses and spend the whole day, but are often also suitable for novelists. I didn’t this time, but judging from the daily activities, I will another time.
Daily activities around the farm include:
10.00 Grooming Ellie the horse
10.45 Goose parade
11.15 Falconry display
12.15 Falconry display
13.00 Tudor dinner
13.30 Blacksmith demonstration
14.00 Meet the shepherd
15.00 Falconry display
16.00 Falconry display
16.30 Tudor music and dancing
17.00 Animals go to bed
I sincerely regret missing that goose parade!
Why visit a farm?
None of my characters are farmers, although they all grew up on country estates. They go in and out of stables and surely pop into the kitchen now and then to beg treats from the cook. But they don’t use farming implements or tend animals or process crops. Even so, I learned many wonderful things here.
First and foremost is the pleasure of being outdoors in the moist, green English countryside, which is so much not like the dry, arid countryside of Texas. When I’m in England, I walk a lot, especially in places like this, where historical preservation and recreation are high priorities. I let my senses be saturated with those layers of lush green and recognize how comfortable it is to be walking in a layer of linen (ok, cotton) and a layer of wool. My characters’ everyday clothes were well suited to their environment.
Second, I like to experience the proportions of houses and contemplate the light coming in the windows. Glazing took off in the Elizabethan period, spreading from the wealthy to the middling sort by the end. I work by natural light at home, because I had a SolarTube installed over my desk. It’s lovely, clear and sufficient, somehow softened by the plastic lens. Unfiltered daylight is too bright in Texas.
In England, it’s just barely bright enough on a average day. You’d get used to it, I imagine, and consider it adequate. Certainly, you’d suffer no harsh glare reflecting off your papers. You would take care to position your desk for optimum light and/or have your sewing chair near a window.
Then there’s the beautiful, informative signage. It’s far less trouble and more fun to stroll around the grounds and find this handy sign identifying the local birds than it would be to page through my whole Birds of England book.
Last, the people who work in these places are a marvelous resource! The kindly women in the kitchen put aside their preparations for the next busload of children to show me how to strike a light with a flint and a bit of charcloth. That was so cool! I was writing Death by Disputation at the time and had a long scene in which Tom has to stop and read an intercepted letter behind a hedge. He had to remove and then replace the seal, which requires a flame. If I were Tom, I’d carry a stub of candle around just in case and of course any active lad would have a tinder box on his person whenever he went out.
The pouch below has a flint, a stone, and what looks like a bit of bark, not char cloth, which is burnt linen. Pic from Wikimedia Commons.
More irresistible animals
These creatures are professional historical re-enactors. They can speak for themselves.