Last Sunday 4th August 2013 I gave a talk and reading from my first novel at Letocetum Roman Museum, Wall, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. This site saves itself from you until the last moment, as you climb the steps and enter between tall hedgerows; you are deceived very briefly as your eyes scan a green field and then you see it; sunken in the ground, the low ruins of a ‘mansio’, bathhouse and inn. You can imagine these buildings in their hey-day, nestled into the ground atop this hill, with uninterrupted views of the surrounding Staffordshire countryside. I wondered about travellers arriving down Watling Street, wind-beaten and weary and glad of a bath, a drink and a night’s comfortable sleep.
My day began inside a blue tent (reliably informed to be the most waterproof) accompanied by the imposing ‘Wulfgar of Mercia’ in his Anglo-Saxon battle dress (aka Andrew Pilkington). I had a flask of coffee and a bag of rune stones. Deciding not to divine my day’s fortunes and allow the Gods to guide my fate I waited patiently for visitors to arrive. At this juncture I feel I must mention the hard-working volunteers who organised the day and who tirelessly promote this beautiful site. Under the dual umbrella of National Trust and English Heritage, the Friends of Letocetum' maintain the ruins and museum for the joy of the public. They do so with humour and due consideration for their guests, many of them in costume.
Despite sheets of stair-rod rain, willing weather-victims embraced the day and began to arrive in a steady stream. Interests were roused sufficiently for me to have a reasonably packed tent of eager listeners for my first of two reading slots. As I began, nerves gave way to enthusiasm as I shared the humble beginnings of my research for my historical trilogy. With wind beating the tent behind and a Saxon warrior stood beside me, the opening of my novel sprang to life. The atmosphere encompassed us all as I read a passage describing an ageing Lord at the bow of his long ship, the sail behind him being beaten by a sea breeze. I did not expect the round of applause and thoroughly enjoyed meeting a diverse group of genuinely lovely people, each of whom had intriguing hobbies and livelihoods to share in relevance to my talk. Due to the increased severity of the weather, my second talk was to a more moderate audience, though nonetheless interesting.
Ultimately, it was a fantastic opportunity for collaboration between people of varied fields of interest and knowledge, all intent on sharing their love of history and increasing public interest in Letocetum. These places need our support and the volunteers our encouragement, for without either of these factors sites such as this would fall into ruin. It would be sad to lose them. I have been invited back this winter for a cosy chat in the village hall. I look forward to returning and seeing the site again, where I will no doubt ponder in whose footsteps I shall be treading; perhaps 1st Century couriers or civilians seeking warmth and nourishment on a cold winter’s eve, travellers on their way up Watling Street to Viroconium or the salt ways further down the Fosse Way. In whose footsteps are you following when you step outside?
|My corner of the tent|
|Wulfgar of Mercia|