Archive for November, 2016


Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

1993-y-32-2In my first book in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, my heroine, Lady Apollonia, journeys from her home village of Aust to visit Cliffbarton, a fictitious village in the Exmoor region of Somerset.  Exmoor is a sparsely populated, hilly moorland in western Somerset and northern Devon and includes 34 miles of coastline along the Bristol Channel.  It takes its name from the River Exe whose source is in the centre of Exmoor before it flows south  to reach the English Channel.  The area of Exmoor became a national park in 1954.

Along the coast of Exmoor by Porlock Bay, I created the fictional village of Cliffbarton which Lady Apollonia visits with her maid, Nan, in the first book.  Dunster is a real village on the eastern edge of Exmoor where my heroine stayed overnight on her way to Cliffbarton and on her return.  There is an Old Nunnery built in Dunster by Cleeve Abbey in 1346 with the intention of housing nuns.  Although it never served this purpose, I have used the idea of the nunnery as a place where the Lady Apollonia and her maid could find accommodation for the night.  The ancient castle on the hill or tor from which Dunster takes its name dominates the town.  It overlooks the High Street and the Wool Market, an important part of the economy of Dunster for many centuries.

Exmoor shows signs of human habitation from the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age onward.  The Tarr Steps on Exmoor is a clapper bridge, made up of horizontal slabs of stone, dating from about 1000 bce.  One can also find standing stones and prehistoric burial sites on Exmoor.  The photo above shows me standing in 1993 with two English friends near a vertical stone called the Longstone in Exmoor.

Just a few miles from fictional Cliffbarton are two more ancient sites on Exmoor which I have visited with my husband.  One is a Saxon church at Culbone called Saint Beuno’s, although its porch is 13th century.  It is thought to be the smallest parish church in England.  Another ancient site is the village of Selworthy which is mentioned in the Domesday Book in the 11th century.  The contemporary village of Selworthy is the perfectly charming Somerset village, full of flowers and picturesque thatched roofed cottages. 2013-PP-01-2

Our travels have taken us to the source of the River Exe near Simonsbath.  Although this is near to the Bristol Channel, the river flows into Devon where it passes through the town of Tiverton and the city of Exeter, eventually flowing into the English Channel at Exmouth.  Other rivers flow out of Exmoor into the Bristol Channel such as the East and West Lyn which meet at Lynmouth.

For more information on Exmoor, click on .

Chepstow Castle

Friday, November 25th, 2016

2003-b6-1-2Chepstow Castle in Wales is important to the story of my first Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  Two of the young men in Lady Apollonia’s affinity, Alwan and Owen, have a Welsh background.  Both can speak the language and love to sing Welsh songs and ballads whenever they are together serving the Lady.  Apollonia sends them on a mission to Chepstow Castle in Wales which is only five miles away from Aust.  Today it requires ten minutes to drive that distance using the modern motorway bridge across the River Severn, but in 1400, Alwan and Owen had to use the ferry to cross the mile-wide river.

Their assignment took them to Chepstow Castle, the oldest post-Roman stone fortification in Britain, having been started in 1067, a year after the Norman Conquest.  The castle had been enlarged and strengthened in the centuries that followed, but by the time of Alwan and Owen’s visit, it was declining in military importance and had fallen into a state of decay by the 18th century.  Although much of it is in ruins today, the castle has become a tourist destination in more recent times, managed by Cadw, the official government guardian of the heritage of Wales.  My husband and I, along with our younger son and his wife, visited the castle in 2003.  The picture above shows the castle at the time of our visit.2013-PP-01-2

The footprint of the castle is unusual as dictated by its geography.  It is not laid out concentrically but rather stretches along the River Wye which is another of England’s tidal rivers.  Particularly at low tide, the steep river banks below the high walls of the castle make it a formidable obstacle to attack from the river.  Because it is situated on a narrow ridge parallel to the river, even an approach from the land side is imposing and challenging.


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Lacock and Kingswood Abbeys

Monday, November 21st, 2016

1987-sj-24-3Two abbeys play a role in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, the first novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  In a flash-back after the trauma of her first marriage, my heroine desperately needed spiritual healing.  She sought out the help of her friend, the abbess of the nunnery at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire hoping to recover balance in her life.  Eventually she is able through meditation and reading The Revelations of Divine Love by Mother Julian of Norwich, to be restored.  She leaves Lacock Abbey and marries her second, most beloved husband, Edward of Aust, establishing Aust as her home for the rest of her life.  Lacock Abbey had been founded in the early 13th century as an Augustinian nunnery and generally prospered until the Dissolution by King Henry VIII.

Kingswood Abbey in Gloucester appears early in the story as the monastery where a decapitated body, discovered near Aust, can be taken until its mysterious death can be solved.  In the epilogue of my book, Lady Apollonia sends Brandon Landow, the pardoner, on a surprise mission to the egregious Abbot of Kingswood.  Kingswood was a Cistercian abbey that was struggling in the 14th century after significant losses at the time of the bubonic plague, well before the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Only fragments of these abbeys have survived, but there is more worth seeing at Lacock.  Both the village and the abbey are maintained by the National Trust.  The abbey was sold at the Dissolution, and the church and some buildings were destroyed.  The present house, however, was built over the medieval cloisters and chapter house and can be visited.  Some other fragments such as the Brewhouse and Bakehouse remain.  The Fox Talbot Museum is located at Lacock Abbey, honouring the pioneering work of William Talbot of Lacock where he shot the first picture ever taken with a camera in 1836.  An entrance gate is pictured above.2013-PP-01-2

Only the gatehouse remains at Kingswood Abbey, now run by English Heritage.  Kingswood’s abbot turned down the chance to house the tomb of King Edward II in the abbey church after the royal death.  It went instead to Saint Mary’s Abbey in Gloucester and became an important place of pilgrimage, significantly enriching the church in Gloucester.  Kingswood’s missed opportunity plays a role in my story.

For more information on Lacock Abbey, click on .

For more information on Kingswood Abbey, click on ,
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Marshfield and Colerne

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

1993-x-12-2Marshfield and Colerne are two ancient English villages which I portray as settings in the life of my heroine, the Lady Apollonia, in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, my first novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country mystery series.  Marshfield in Gloucestershire is the fictional Lady’s birthplace.  She is of noble birth, her father being the Earl of Marshfield.  Colerne Leat was the name I used for her home village after her first marriage to the knight, Geoffrey Montecute.  It is, of course, based on Colerne in Wiltshire.  Despite being in different shires, the two villages are less than five miles apart, a ten-minute drive and a walkable distance in medieval times.

I chose the two villages for personal and family reasons.  My grandmother was born in Marshfield from which she emigrated to Ohio where she met my grandfather, her first cousin who also emigrated to Ohio from England.  Although Grandpa was born in Atworth in Wiltshire, his ancestors had lived for many generations in Colerne.  In 1993 on one of our visits to Colerne with my brother, Jim, we met a resident of the village with the same name as our father, Henry Aust.  This Henry was a distant cousin to my father’s family and was the last Aust remaining in Colerne.  He told us that in previous centuries there were so many Austs that one part of the village had been called Aust End.

In both villages, the churches are medieval.  Saint Mary the Virgin Church is a major building in Marshfield.  In 1986, I climbed the tower and was shown how to wind the clock. The church tower gave us a marvellous overview of the village and the surrounding area.  In the church interior, I found a plaque for the Isaac family from which my grandmother descended.  A church has been on this sight for a thousand years, but the Church of Saint Mary was consecrated in 1242.  Of special meaning to our family, I also found Aust graves in the church cemetery.  The picture above shows my nephew, Michael Aust, and his wife standing in front of the church on a 1993 visit.2013-PP-01-2

The church is an important survivor from medieval times and there is also an adjoining tithe barn from the middle ages.  Portions of the present church building are over 800 years old, and fragments of a Saxon cross used in a burial in 709 are on display in it.  It was a beautiful surprise for me to find that its graveyard, too, contains countless stones from various members of the Aust side of my family.  Sadly, these grave markers deteriorated markedly from air pollution between my first visit in 1986 and the most recent in this decade.

For more information on Marshfield, click on,_Gloucestershire
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The Aust Church & John Wycliffe

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

1992-b-31-2The Anglican Church in Aust existed in the period when I created my fictional heroine, Lady Apollonia of Aust.  Before Henry VIII’s 16th century departure from the church of Rome, it was a Roman Catholic church in the Diocese of Worcester.  John Wycliffe, Oxford scholar and reformer of the church, also had a connection with the Aust Church when in 1362 he was granted a prebend at Aust which meant that some of his income during the years when he was at Oxford came from this source.  It is not known how much time, if any, Wycliffe spent in Aust.

Nevertheless, since Wycliffe’s connection with Aust would have been during the years when Lady Apollonia and her second husband, Edward, were raising their five sons in the village, I could not resist using John Wycliffe as a character of my first story, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  I have also worked some of his ideas of church reform, as well as those of his followers, the Lollards, into other books in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.

The church in Aust is mentioned in the Domesday Book as having ties to Westbury on Trym which is a suburb of Bristol some nine miles away.  In the 14th century we are told that the parish at Aust was part of the Church of Westbury.  There was no way to see inside the church when I first visited the village.  It was not open to visitors because it had been declared redundant.  Aust church had no patron saint because I was told it was due to its having been built on a pagan site.  On our first visit to Aust in 1986, the village seemed to be in decline due to the replacement of the Aust ferry with a motorway bridge in 1966.2013-PP-01-2

When I visited Aust with my husband in 2014, the village seemed more welcoming and prosperous, and best of all, the church was being used for worship once again.  It is now called the Chapelry of Saint John and is used for services two Sundays a month.  The term “chapelry” is a Church of England title meaning a daughter church of another parish, in this case the church in nearby Olveston.  For the first time in my family’s experience we could get the key and go inside.  The church is simply charming, still lit by candles and oil lamps.

For more information on John Wycliffe, click on .

For more information on the church in Aust, click on .

The River Severn

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

2012-04-100-1The River Severn is an important geographic feature of the towns and villages where all but three of the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries are set, and in one of the settings away from the river, it still plays a role in the story.  The Severn is the one of the longest rivers in England, second only to the Thames, and it is tidal.  I have written about its famous tidal phenomenon called the Severn Bore in my previous posting.  Although not the precise political border between England and Wales, the Severn River is key to the separation of the history and economy of the peoples of both countries.

The picture on the left shows the river in Gloucester, setting of my third novel, Memento Mori, in the Lady Apollonia West Country mysteries.  It is taken looking south from the medieval quay, an important location in the story.  The buildings in the background are modern, only going back to the 19th century.  My most recent book, King Richard’s Sword, is set in Worcester, further upriver than Gloucester where some of my characters in the story live on the far side the Severn from the medieval city.

Aust, the home village of Lady Apollonia, occupies an important location on the estuary of the Severn.  It is at the narrowest place of the estuary as one approaches from the Bristol Channel and is only a mile wide at Aust, widening as one goes upstream.  Since the time of the Romans, people have used Aust, the village named for the Latin prefix meaning south, as the southern-most place to cross from England into Wales and back again.  A regular ferry service operated at Aust throughout the middle ages and down through the centuries until 1966 when it was replaced by a motorway bridge.  The medieval ferry plays an important role in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, the first novel in my series.  In the 19th century, this area was chosen for a railway tunnel connecting England with Wales, again because it is the narrowest crossing point between the two countries.2013-PP-01-2

Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth of the Lady Apollonia novels, opens with two Druids from Ireland getting off the ferry at Aust and then walking upriver some distance to throw a gift into the Severn in thanks for their safe crossing.  This was an expression of their Celtic reverence for the river.  The Welsh name for the river was Habren while the Romans called it Sabrina.  The English name of Severn may be a corruption of these.

For more information on the legends and naming of the river, click on .

For more information on the Aust Ferry, click on .

The Severn Bore

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

2013-mp-11-9In my last posting, I shared some personal reasons why I selected Aust as the home of my heroine, Lady Apollonia.  Today I would like to discuss another unique feature of the region around Aust that inspired another early aspect of my first story, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  There is on the Severn River an extraordinary natural phenomenon called the Severn Bore.  I only became aware of it in March of 1993 when an English friend asked me and my husband to accompany her and her son to witness the best example of the Severn Bore which would occur in the 20th century.

A bore is a steep-fronted wave which is caused by the tide rushing up a narrowing estuary.  When this occurs on the Severn River, it can be mightily impressive because the tide in the Bristol Channel and the Severn Estuary is one of the highest tides in the world, normally forty feet, sometimes 50 feet, second only to that in the Bay of Fundy in Canada.  The tidal phenomenon acts like liquid being poured into a funnel when this enormous tide rushes up the river.  Picture this funnelling affect by looking at the Severn River on the map of Lady Apollonia’s West Country.  The tidal bore happens twice a day for about 30 days around the time of the equinoxes in the spring and autumn.

We travelled with our friend and her son from Devon up the Severn beyond Aust to a place called Elmore Back in order to witness the bore rushing upstream as a tidal wave.  We were far enough upriver that we could see Gloucester Cathedral in the distance, and we could see surfers gather on the river hoping to ride the wave when it came.  We could hear it approaching before we could see a couple of boats come around a bend, followed by the wave.  When it got to the surfers, they were completely unsuccessful in catching the wave, and simply fell from their surfboards when it passed.  The wave roared by us sounding like a freight train with objects as large as a big tree trunk floating upstream.2013-PP-01-2

As a witness to this extraordinary natural phenomenon, I decided I must use a description of it along with a great storm near Aust to begin my story of Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.

For more information on the Severn Bore, click on
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To view an example of the Severn Bore, click on .

Choosing Aust as a setting

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

1986-dk-01-3Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, the first book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, is set in the village of Aust on the English side of the River Severn.  I have visited this village many times since 1986 when I first travelled to England to meet surviving family and trace my roots.  The picture on the left shows me with my brother, Jim, at the village sign on our first visit to Aust.  The parents of our father, Henry Aust, had immigrated to Ohio from the West Country of England.  We visited Aust and other towns and villages where family still lived.

With the help of an English friend, we traced back more than 13 generations of my family in England to a man in the 15th century named Ferdinando Aust, an unusual name for an Englishman.  The name of Ferdinando is repeated in several later generations along with more typical English names such as Richard and Henry.  Is it possible that the first Ferdinando came from Spain or from Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands?  Could he have taken his surname by entering England at Aust using the ferry from Wales?  These kinds of questions led me to visit Aust over the years when I was stopping in Wiltshire where I still had family resident.

Over twenty years ago, while my husband, Lou, and I were living in Devon, England, I began to draft a fictional mystery story about the medieval Lady Apollonia of Aust.  This led eventually to the publication of book one, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, in 2010.  This month I would like to use my postings to talk about various aspects of the village of Aust and some other family locations that play a role in Lady Apollonia’s story.

The location of Aust on the River Severn is important.  Future postings will discuss the Aust ferry which operated from Roman times until 1966.  I will also describe unique events which occur on the tidal river, such as the Severn Bore, which plays a role in my story. 2013-PP-01-2

There is a historic connection between the 14th century reformer, John Wycliffe, and the church in Aust.  Wycliffe would have been a contemporary of my heroine and he appears in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof and some of my later novels.

For more information on Aust, click on .