This was the first novel which was not mainly set in south Devon. The problem was that Mina, who Marcia could see quite clearly, would not fit into ‘our patch’ and that she needed to look elsewhere. So we set out to explore an area neither of us knew: the north coast of Devon (only later did we turn to the east to explore Exmoor).
It is, of course, completely different from anything in the south. In general the land is high and tumbles down to the sea (the Bristol Channel or Severn Sea, take your pick) as this photograph shows.
There are a few places where a river has gouged out a channel to form a valley and in most of these a community has grown up. Of these the most notorious is the river Lynn. It looks placid enough here but after heavy rains it roars down the channel and often floods the roads either side of this bridge. There was, of course, the great disaster of August 1952 when about 9 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. A tree had fallen across the river some way up and debris began to build up behind it forming a very effective dam – until the weight of the water proved too much and a huge surge of water filled the valley and, carrying all manner of debris including heavy rocks, hit the village in the late evening.
Over a hundred buildings were destroyed as were most of the bridges over the river, cars were washed out to sea and thirty-eight people died.
Now there is little sign of that night . . .
. . . and this popular holiday destination buzzes with visitors in the summer months.
The views over the Bristol Channel can be spectacular: you can see the Black Mountains in Wales when the visibility is really good, and you never quite know what might be making its way up the channel. Here we see a drilling rig being towed slowly out to sea. Navigation on this stretch of water is far from easy. The tides are big – the second biggest in the world – and that means the tidal flow can be as much as 8 knots or 9 mph. Careful planning is needed for all shipping and especially for tows such as oil rigs which are difficult to control at the best of times.
And yes, that is Wales on the other side of the channel.
We were staying at the Hunters Inn at Trentishoe while we searched around for the location for this book. The River Heddon runs through the gardens of the inn and so down to the sea.
It was Heddon’s Mouth that inspired Marcia to create Ottercombe, the house with its path down to a rocky cove. There are differences: the house at Ottercombe is higher than the Hunters Inn (which means you can see the Bristol Channel from the house) and the path to the sea much shorter. The result is it is also far steeper. Oh, and yes, Mina approved.
In the second chapter, however, we are whisked away from the coast down to the county town of Cornwall, Truro.
The cathedral can be seen from many parts of the town. It is quite modern – building started in 1880 – but incorporates some of the fabric from the parish church of St Mary which was certainly there in 1259 and possibly for some years before that.
The connection is Lydia, niece to the two elderly women now living at Ottercombe, who is a freelance copy editor living with the owner of a bistro called ‘The Place’ which is somewhere in this narrow lane.
However, most of the time the action takes place up near Trentishoe with its lovely old church (note the snowdrops) and . . .
. . .on that glorious north coast. The building on the horizon is known as Duty Point Tower. Both its position and its name would suggest it is something official but it is, in fact, a nineteenth century folly in the grounds of Lee Abbey.