Old Pentland Walk

Today, while the rain threatened above the Pentland Hills, hubby and I hiked past them to a nearby area called Old Pentland. On his last walk there, hubby spotted an old graveyard, tucked away from the road. Blink and you'd miss it.

So today we headed there (and onwards to Roslin - yes, that's the village with the famous Rosslyn chapel - for lunch). Having fortified myself with chocolate (what else?!), we finally veered off the main road along the hills towards said area. The area, only a few hundred yards, maybe a mile, from the Edinburgh city bypass, is covered in lush green fields. Happy horses and sheep grazed, dozed or munched as we wandered past them. I could easily live on that side of the city (well, outside the boundaries, strictly speaking).

Eventually we got to a small entrance, a gate covered by a tree. The iron gate was heavy so hubby had the pleasure of opening it for me. We walked into another world. Gravestones dating back to 1624 but mostly from the 18th & 19th centuries dotted the grass. Old trees surrounded the outer wall.

A gatehouse stood nearby, where two slabs are kept under lock - deemed to be 13th C! Legend has it that an area of the graveyard not covered by graves used to hold a chapel dating back to that time and apparently used by nearby Knights Templar. Nothing remains of it but there is still the question why a part right in the middle of the graveyard should not contain graves. Intriguing!

We found lots of gravestones with skull & crossbones, and others with trowels and other masonic tools carved on them, the oldest going back to 1624. A fascinating gravestone of a 'tenant of Pentland'. Why were all those tools carved on his stone then if he was 'just' a tenant?? Hmm!

The trees open to one side, revealing stunning views over the Pentland Hills in the distance, probably a couple of miles away, and the meadows before them. What a wonderful place. I should go back, taking more notes. Who knows...

Reluctantly we walked onwards, past some small towns, along a path through lush forests (bleedin' midges!), to Roslin where we had our lunch in the Roslin Hotel. Almost thought we were the only 'locals' there as we heard all sorts of languages around us, including Canadian and Russian.

A quick bus ride later brought us home just in time before the heavens opened. No, not judgment day but plain Scottish rain! ;-)

View from Old Pentland graveyard

Full stop.

No, actually Norman Legacy didn't end on a full stop. It ended with a question mark. But to get to the point...

I completed it! ~bounce~

Murder. Politics. Lust. Revenge. Loss. Love. It's all here. This story, a historical novel set in Gloucestershire and Normandy in 1141, had its humble beginnings at a South Wales train station, a few weeks after we took the car to Gloucester and Hereford on a day trip, passing through the Welsh Borders on the way. The area is stunningly beautiful and full of history, dotted with castles, ruins, abbeys and cathedrals. No surprise I was inspired.

The first few chapters received positive critiques from members at Writelink, and later, after our move to Scotland, I re-wrote the lot during my Novel Writing course, including a switch of the later setting to Normandy following our holiday there (see previous posts about how incredible Normandy is). But then I hit the brick wall. The words stopped.

In a way that was a blessing in disguise - it gave me time to write Highland Arms. ;-)

So once that was out of the way, so to speak, I dug out Norman Legacy again last autumn. Needless to say, the story took off. The characters journeyed from Gloucester via Barfleur, Caen and Falaise to Mortagne in the county of Perche, the home town of my male main character, Geoffrey. They met queens, earls, counts and innkeepers on the way. It was a pleasure creating their trip, as it allowed me to dig out photos and research the history of these places. The only fly in the ointment was - it was too far away from Gloucester for the characters to return there in time before the end of the book. LOL

So there will be a sequel! There is so much more to write about Alleyne and Geoffrey, and the brutal realities of life during the so-called 'Anarchy'; the political games of changing allegiances; the emergence of ambitious men switching sides at the blink of an eye. Inheritances are lost, and re-gained. Loyalties are tested to the limit.

But before I continue the saga, I'll have to find a publisher. I want to see this baby in print! My goal is to find an agent who can do this on my behalf. So a thorough round of edits is about to follow. Wish me luck!

But first, hubby and I are going out for a meal tomorrow, celebrating the latest completion.


New Website - Finally!

Finally, after months of searching, testing, jumping up & down, throwing things against the wall, chasing hubby from the room, and swearing, the time has arrived:

I am happy with my website! ;-)

I found a cool webpage design, minus all the various restrictions, boxes, etc, you get from a blog template, tried and tested it this morning, and I still like it!

So please check out www.cathiedunn.com - where I'll be posting news, excerpts & background information on my novels.

Please let me know what you think...

PS - counting down the weeks to 20th July 2011 - my release date!

Highland Arms - Publication Date


Here's a date for your diaries:   Wednesday, 20th July 2011! 

That's when Highland Arms is due to hit the virtual bookshelves. I'm sooooo excited! I can't wait to share Rory and Catriona's story with you.

I'll start posting snippets soon and I'm already planning a couple of competitions and giveaways closer to the time so keep your eyes peeled open! ;-)

~happy dance~

Cathie xx

Normandy Holiday - Mont St Michel

Piety and Tourism: Mont St Michel

Finally, our last exploration led us to the highlight of our stay: the amazing Mont St Michel.

An estimated couple of hours’ drive from ‘home’, we decided nonetheless to take the scenic route through the countryside, rather than opt for the faster motorways north, then west. We set off toward Domfront, a small medieval town halfway between Argentan and le Mont. I was taking it easy with the driving. We enjoyed views across the green fields by the roadside, soft rolling hills dotted with sheep and cows. We passed through some lovely forests, leaves falling onto our car, turned softly golden in the autumn sun.

We sadly didn’t stop off in Domfront, conscious of the time, but we could see medieval church spires in the town centre as we passed. This was one place to aim for another time, as it had more ‘old’ architecture. But we nearly stopped in a picturesque village called Ducey not far from the end of our journey. One of the reasons to stop would have been to take photos of their black and white sheep – not black heads and white bodies, but black dots covering their white fleece. Never seen suchlike before. But we had bypassed them too fast.

As we came closer to Mont St Michel, we could see the outline of the hilltop from a distance, the land being flat for miles land-inward from the sea. The abbey appeared shrouded in mist. In the car park, we found cars from many different countries parked: France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, UK, Ireland, Poland, Netherlands.

It was approaching noon when we entered le Mont through the main gate and the abbey itself was closed but of course all the restaurants and cafés were open. It seemed like we were entering a strange world, a Disneyland! The Tourist Office was closed for lunch, too, so everyone was aiming for the foodie places. Tacky gift shops lined the narrow lane up the hill right from the entrance and the place immediately struck us as extremely touristy. It reminded me of Heidelberg or Rothenburg in Germany – quaint, narrow medieval streets with shops displaying large ‘buy me’ signs above cheap souvenirs. There were coasters, sweets, plastic swords, plates and cups printed with a photo of the Mount, and a few religious icons – Mary and Child or St Michael, holding aloft his sword – made of cheap plastic or pewter. You name it – it was there!

We picked a half-empty restaurant as they had ‘galottes’ on their menu, the local speciality of dark wheat pancake with savoury filling that we had enjoyed so much in Bayeux. But on ordering our drinks we discovered that they didn’t serve those at lunch times. Well, ok then. Very disappointing. But we ordered a bottle of yummy local cider and picked our food: mussels in herb & cream sauce for me, and an omelette ‘au Mont St Michel’ (whisked in copper bowls for the light, frothy consistency) for hubby. Both tasted delicious. We had some lovely local apple tart as a dessert. Not bad at all for a tourist outlet.

After our meal, we walked up the steep path towards the abbey, following it as it wound its way up the hill like a coiled snake. Being good tourists, we stopped off here & there to have a nosy in the shops. At the entrance to the abbey, we bought our tickets (reasonably priced at Eur 7.50 each, plus Eur 6.00 for the audio tape for two) and in we went. The buildings were incredible, set on three levels, and it must have been quite a feat to undertake such a construction task on such tricky terrain. We were enlightened when we spotted a ‘lift’ on the side of the rock where the stone blocks were pulled up by a clever hoist system. I had noticed it from the approach to the site, and it was fascinating to see the system from inside.

The church, crypt and refectory of the abbey were breathtaking. The church itself was infused with light through large windows, as was the refectory. The crypt was located underneath the church and its stone pillars, huddled closely together in places, were built in support of the weight of the church above. Fascinating architecture!

The tour took us a couple of hours, listening to our audios while wandering from room to room. Some groups were quicker, overtaking us, but we wanted to take our time to enjoy the atmosphere. Even though the Mount was crawling with tourists, you could still end up in a few corners without seeing anyone. Bliss!

The audio recording was very helpful to explain the different stages of building works, and the uses of the various rooms: refectory for the monks’ dinners, eaten in silence; church with a sealed off area for the current resident brotherhood; reception room for official visitors in the olden days; lower reception area for the poor and the pilgrims. Very well put together and worth the money.

The sweeping views over the bay from the terraces were incredible, overlooking miles of sandy beaches where the sea had withdrawn from earlier that day. I couldn’t spot the water with bare eyes (even with glasses!). When the tide returned, all that sprawling sand would be covered again, and the water  reached the foot of the mount, including parts used as the car park. We spotted groups of people walking along the beach and seabirds hovering over the reeds in the marshes to the side of the abbey grounds.

On our way down, we walked along the ramparts, marvelling at the steep drops next to the thick outer walls. We stopped off in a shop to buy a bottle of local cider that we had tried in the restaurant, and a map A.D. 1215 for my writing reference. Then we slowly headed back to the car, ice cream cone in hand. As we sat down on a stone wall just outside the enclosure, we were surrounded by tame songbirds, keen on a bite off our waffle cones. They came within touching distance. Scary! With all this twitching around us, we even forgot to take a photo of the little pests.

We took our time driving back, still enjoying the countryside as we passed it by. Again, we failed to stop to take snaps of the black and white sheep of Ducey but took a note of the place for another holiday.

This trip was definitely the highlight of our holiday and we can only recommend it. I’m in no hurry to go back there soon but maybe in 20 years time to see how it has changed. Still, it’s a breathtaking sight that nobody on a holiday in Brittany or Normandy should miss.

Mont St Michel Photos

The pics only half show the amazing architecture. :-)