Thursday, May 10, 2012

Where Hild walked

I visited the UK in February and took the opportunity to fossick about in places Hild would have known.

Whitby Abbey, of course, has been familiar to me for years. Sadly, when I was there this time, it was shut (no doubt as a result of this). No way in. Even the cliff was fenced off. I held my phone up over the wall:


And retired, grumpily, to the pub...


...which, as it was off-season, wasn't serving any food. But, hey, the beer was tasty, and it was right opposite the harbour:


And that was it for Whitby. I hope to get back to the UK soon to try again.

On this visit, I spent most of my time in the part of Yorkshire known in Hild's time as Elmet. This is where I grew up. Most of the places I visited, therefore, were old haunts. One, though, was new to me: Aberford. In the novel, Hild visits Aberford two or or three times. This is one of the places she camped.


A few years later, many Great Events occur here--more specifically, at/in Cock Beck, which, as Hild observes in the novel, is like a fish weir for armies: funnel them into the gap between the beck and Becca Banks and pick them off at your leisure. It was mostly private land, though, so I couldn't get down into it. I took this photo from the bridge over the beck (and edited out the rubbish in the water and the Private: Keep Out! notices nailed to the trees):


I've decided that Edwin built his Elmet vill on the site of what had once been the hall of Ceredig, king of Elmet. The books opens in the heart of Ceredig's territory, in Loidis, what is present-day Leeds. But Leeds is a big place. I had to narrow it down. I chose a site on the north bank of the River Aire, where Kirkstall Abbey now lies in ruins. Why? Because I know that patch of the river, I remember how it sounds and smells--and I remember it in childhood terms. I remember with the bone-deep familiarity I needed to conjure Hild's first memories.

Here's what the Abbey looks like now:


But I spent most of my time with my back to the ruins, looking south at the river, as Hild might have done:


Hild would have climbed every single one of these trees and fished for perch at their roots.


Again, I had to edit out twenty-first- (and twentieth-, and nineteenth-) century artifacts. If I missed a few rugby goalposts, or contrails, or tourist signs, just imagine them away. (I've got so practiced at that that I hardly even see them anymore.)

As you'll have guessed by now, water is a huge part of this book, and I've saved my favourite for last: Meanwood Beck which cuts through Meanwood Park.


I spent hours here on summer days as a child: fishing for tadpoles in the beck, splitting my face open flying off an swing (by going all the way over the top bar), carrying my little sister home after she slashed her foot on broken glass (in the beck--right at this little weir, in fact), dabbling my fingers in the water, dreaming of the mill workers, tannery workers, monks...

In the book, this is Menewood. Hild falls in love with it. For a while.

2 comments:

Sally Wilde said...

This is great stuff Nicola. I am so jealous that you grew up in Elmet. It features largely in my novel, too, but the closest that I ever lived to that part of a the world as a child was a little village called Maplebeck, not far from Southwell in Nottinghamshire. So, as you might guess, quite a lot of the action of my novel is set in that part of the world where I have, as you so eloquently say, the 'bone deep memories.'

Nicola Griffith said...

You know I'm looking forward to your book! I'm sure you'll do a great job.

I spend a lot of time in Hild in places I've never visited, e.g. Bebbanburg, Yeavering, Goodmanham. It didn't stop me from describing them in detail :)