28 May 2013

Escaping to the Country

Really interesting watching the airing of the TV show that found us our new home.
Pleased that I didn't come over as too much of a numpty

Our back garden 27th May 2013
Brief outline for those who haven't been following my  Leaning On The Gate Devon Diary - we had a bit of a windfall last year and decided to use the money to buy our own home - preferably with land and stables. We decided on Devon, looked at a few houses but also applied to the house hunt show Escape to the Country for help - and were delighted to be accepted.

The front garden April 2013
The show with Us on it was aired this afternoon on BBC 1
(here's the link to watch again on-line, but I don'thttp://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006vb2f
 I'm not sure if it works for USA viewers or elsewhere in the world though.
I have been sent a US website - you could try this link


The front gate

So my thoughts on seeing ourselves on TV?

Not giving any spoilers away, but we bought the first house that we saw - I fell in love with it the moment we walked through the front gate. By the time we walked into the fabulously cosy sitting room, I knew this was going to be our home: but while filming we had to keep an open mind just in case something else cropped up. As it happened, the other two houses were not suitable - the mystery house was very nice and will make someone a beautiful home, but it wasn't right for our horses.

View outside my  study West Window
It seems strange typing this in the very same study that Jonnie Irwen showed us!

There was a couple of things wrong and several that have since changed. The budget was a bit more than what we eventually paid (actually a lot more!) and the house we bought has a downstairs shower room and loo, while the show gave the impression it had only one bathroom. Also the idea of converting the Old Dairy is a complete no-no (too small, too impractical & why would we want to pull such a lovely old building down?)

Kathy (and Adam - who didn't feature on the show) is quite happy in the "West Wing", at least for now. There may be alternative building ideas, or maybe they will buy a cottage in the village - that's for the future though. And interesting that at the time of filming (October 2012) Kathy and Adam weren't even an 'item'! Kathy had (more or less) just split from the guy she'd been with so was on her own...

the old dairy
...hence our original idea to find something that could provide a business opportunity for her - a livery yard perhaps, but when we looked into things it became obvious that we didn't really want that, and finding our home (which I call Windfall Farm on line) changed our mind completely. It is too quiet, peaceful and secluded here to even think of running a business in this lovely place. Plus the lane is far too narrow for extra traffic, so the livery yard thought was soon well and truly dropped. Rather pleased it was - I'm enjoying doing what we want, not running around after others!

our new dog, Baz, and the horses 
So we went on the show, bought the property and moved in on January 18th - on the day it snowed here in Devon!

The one frustrating thing about the filming was that every time there was a different camera angle the camera had to be re-positioned, so while it looks on the show that everything is slick, smooth and done in one shot, we lost track of how many times we had to walk into a room and exclaim, "Oh, how lovely!"

By the end I wanted to just be left alone to look round. I don't remember much of the second house - but this might be because it was not what we were looking for - far too modern and "tidy" LOL

And the shots in the car? Mostly we went around with Matt, one of the film crew team. I think we spent about 10 minutes with Jonnie in his car, filming that short sequence. They did give us a whole wadge of other properties that they had short-listed. Some were rejected because the owners didn't want to be on TV, some because they were not suitable for TV (i.e. not film-worthy I suppose) Some were a bit too dark or small for filming - all those sort of reasons.

I'm so pleased that Sue & Richard the previous owners agreed to the crew coming to our new home though - thanks you two - and thank you to the EttC team!


Windfall Farm, Devon, the whole caboodle is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to us.



The house smiled when we walked through the door and hugged us. The atmosphere is one of welcome - the people who built it in the late 1700's and who have lived here through the years must have been happy, nice, nice, people - for they have left their energy footprint behind - one of laughter that has filled this house for several generations and still echoes round the walls.

Long may it continue to do so!

Mab at my bedroom window

The "Windfall" (our stream)

Training the Exmoor pony to pull a trap -
 who needs a car to drive? LOL




14 May 2013

Tuesday Talk Guest Post : Three Kings One Throne


As part of his Blog Tour to celebrate the release of 
Three Kings One Thron
author Michael Wills has shared his thoughts on....

The Days of Wooden Ships and Iron Men

Thank you, Helen, for inviting me to contribute a post to your blog. I thought that I would air some ideas about the physical prowess we expect of the characters in our novels. What do I mean by this? Well, my novels rely on plenty of action and sometimes involve pushing my characters to extremes of physical endurance. When I am writing an action scene I find myself wondering whether the physical effort required of my subject to achieve whatever I am writing about, is really within the realms of possibility. We are all writing fiction, but generally in non-fantasy historical fiction, the reader has to be able to believe in the credibility of the story. For example, is a particular feat of arms, or an extreme physical feat realistically achievable? To make that judgement we perhaps subliminally consider whether a well trained, well built individual could do the same thing today. In the case of my novel, Three Kings – One Throne, I was writing about warriors in the eleventh century. I reasoned that surely a thousand years of human evolution cannot have significantly changed the physical characteristics or abilities of the average man or woman.

But is this so?

Consider the outstanding “yomp[1]” which British Marines made on the Falkland Islands in 1982, from San Carlos. They walked 56 miles in three days carrying 80lb loads, and then fought a battle. (An average of 19 miles a day). This physical achievement is rightly considered to be truly historic. And yet, a little more than 900 years earlier a column of marching men, also carrying loads, though of unspecified weight, journeyed from London to Stamford, around 220 miles. They did it in a maximum of six days. (An average of 37 miles a day).

I make this comparison not in any way to belittle the courageous achievement of the Marines. I want to use this illustration to suggest that our ancestors really could achieve physical performance which today is unrealistic. Yes, you could argue that trained athletes could easily outperform the soldiers who followed King Harold’s Fighting Man banner in 1066 on his forced march north. But a large proportion of Harold’s troops were fyrdsmen, not trained warriors. They were farmers, fishermen and merchants, performing their required annual duty to their king.
As a young teacher I was once foolish enough to agree to join some of my pupils in the Kent Messenger 50 mile walk. Apart from being physically fit, (in those halcyon days before my spare tyre appeared, my second teaching subject was P.E.), I was acutely aware on the long walk of three other vital factors. These most important things were nourishment, weather and footwear. Food and drink was provided at regular intervals, we walked at night to avoid the heat and I had excellent walking boots. And by the way, I was not carrying anything. Yet when I arrived at the finish after twelve hours, I was good for nothing apart from a very long rest. I have to be honest and relate that two of my pupils finished before me, they were both asleep on the grass verge when I crossed the line.

A well-shod modern soldier can expect to be provided with a calorie intake of around 3,500 per day. For men and women on strenuous duties, British and American Army regulations state that between 4000 and 5000 calories a day are to be provided. What of King Harold’s army of fifteen thousand men marching with the burden of their weapons and equipment, wearing simple unsprung leather shoes or boots? Would they have been provided with sufficient food of a quality which could have given such daily nourishment?  It seems very doubtful. Yet, when this weary army reached Stamford they fought like tigers in a tremendously physically exhausting battle, on a hot day.

Shortly after, the survivors of the battle had to march back to London or wherever their homes were. And then, within three weeks, many of them made a second forced march, this time in wet conditions, to their deaths at Hastings.

Senlac Hill
 (where the English formed their Shield Wall)
There are of course many other historical examples of extraordinary physical feats. But it seems that they were, to the people involved at the time, no more than a normal part of a warrior’s occupation. An example in my book is when, in 1031, Prince Jaroslav in Novgorod ordered his army of Varangian mercenaries to launch an attack on the Læsir, (Poles). The warriors  travelled 150 miles by boat and then marched the final 420 miles over rough terrain at an average of 20 miles a day. They then fought a series of hard battles before embarking on the return journey.

What of the battles themselves? I was quite surprised when I first watched a re-enactment Viking battle. It was so pedestrian! Propaganda has it that the Vikings leapt from their ships and sprinted up the beaches to raid their victims. I challenge anyone to leap into waist deep water carrying a heavy shield and sword, and then to try running. Yes, if the Vikings were lucky they might find that there was a sandy sea bottom to stand on, but more likely a stony or very muddy one. Incidentally, anyone who has spent several days at sea and then immediately tries to run on land is likely to fall over; it takes a while to correct your balance.

However, when battle commenced it was a long hard slogging match which demanded super-human effort. Apart from the use of bows and arrows as a prelude to hand to hand fighting, men wielded swords and axes for hours on end. They smashed and bashed at each other’s shields seeking to weaken their opponents. There was no chivalry; a fighter was as likely to get an axe in the back as a spear in the front. The effort was simply enormous and for those who were lucky enough to survive at the end of the battle, there could have been few with no wounds.

So what do I conclude? Everything I read about soldiers of the Middle Ages leads me to believe that we, as authors, are on generally safe ground when we portray our characters as being as physically capable as well nourished, medically fit modern man. Indeed, if anything, the people we write about were fitter, tougher and much more resilient than we are today. And forget the image of a muscle bound, sword wielding warrior, so loved by designers of historical novel front covers, your average Middle Ages soldier was just that, an average person of his time. The short, the tall, the thin, the pinch faced and the double chin.

So I have allayed my worry that I was being unrealistic in my novel Finn’s Fate, when I described a winter journey, north of the Arctic Circle, by three brothers before they were conscripted as Vikings. And I have stilled my concern that the even more momentous travels and battles of the last of the Viking and Anglo Saxon kings, as told in Three Kings – One Throne, really did happen. For many of the true feats of our ancestors are incredibly exciting, exacting and really almost beyond belief.


[1] Yomp – Your own marching pace

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Helen says:
Interesting post Mike, as authors we can only do our best to imagine what things were like in the past - and double our best to attempt to be as accurate as possible.  I would assume that Medieval Man (or woman *laugh*) was used to walking, far more than we are now, because we've grown used to the car, bus, train, bike. I recall walking two miles to school (on my own) when I was 9 years old. There are many of the generation before me who walked much further every day, in every weather, to school and back. Now it would be unthinkable for a child to walk more than half a mile to school (and never alone!) There are countless stories of young men between WWI and WWII (and shortly after) who walked or rode their bikes miles every evening to see their "sweetheart". I do think we are somewhat softer now!
Many of my readers know that I have my own novel relating to the year 1066 and I did extensive research to write it. May I mention...

Harold did not march all the way north to Stamford Bridge with a complete army. He only took his "regulars" the official, full-time army - his Huscarls. He was joined on his way north by the Fyrds of the areas he passed through i.e. Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire... so the "ordinary" men did not march the entire distance, and the huscarls were very probably mounted - it is also possible that these men fought on horseback at Stamford Bridge (apparently many horseshoes were found on what is believed to be the battle site). Then of course, the fyrdsmen went back to their homes, and the huscarls and Harold rode back to London. Which resulted in the horses being too tired/lame etc to use against Duke William. And yes, Harold and his standing army were perfectly capable of fighting on horseback. Harold bred his own horses (one of his studs was at Crowhurst in Sussex, near Battle)
When the call came to meet at the hoar apple tree, several miles from Hastings, it was the southern Fyrd who were called out (although it is very probable that men from the north did decide to accompany Harold south - again, those with horses to ride). So Essex, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey, Wessex, Devon were the men called to fight in October 1066, not those from the north - although many of them did march with Harold, and many more came down as soon as they could - but by then, it was too late...


The field at Battle
(photo courtesy Alison King)


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9 May 2013