A Most Memorable Fijian Christmas

How do you fancy being woken on Christmas morning with a slice of Christmas cake, brought to you by the maid? All right, it was only 7.20 a.m. and our thanks may have been somewhat muted, but the sun was shining, the temperature outside was already over 20 degrees and we happily drifted back to sleep. I believe carol singers came round at 8 but we never heard them.

We were in Fiji, stopping off for a three day Christmas break on our way back from exploring New Zealand, and loving every minute of it.

On Christmas Eve we’d been entertained by a Fijian steel band, a fire dancing ceremony, and a group of school children singing I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, which somehow seemed unlikely.


We spent Christmas Day relaxing by the pool and walking on the white sandy beach, gazing out at an impossibly blue Pacific ocean. After exchanging our gifts over a glass of wine in our burra, (a classy sort of cabin set right on the beach), we put on our best togs and went into dinner.

The choice of food was mind boggling, meant to cater for every nationality or taste. Here we enjoying the champers while waiting to be served.

But the highlight of the evening was a rendition of Grease put on by the staff. I’ve never seen anything so funny. They entered into the spirit of it wonderfully, miming the words, and singing and dancing with great gusto. Sandra’s blond wig atop a beautiful black face struck a delightfully incongruous note. And the young male waiters who did the car scene were seriously gorgeous! They really hammed it up wonderfully. Great fun!

Next came a fire dance, and after that, the disco,


Then we went to ring our daughter back home in the UK. We couldn’t get through but were more successful on Boxing Day morning. ‘Happy Birthday,’ I said, since that’s what it was. ‘Oh, is it tomorrow there,’ she said, delighted we’d rung. ‘It’s still today here.’

It’s a strange feeling to have crossed the date line, but a wonderful Christmas escape.

This year we’re off on a Caribbean cruise. I’ll tell you all about that when I get back.


First olive picking of 2011

A lovely November day, our friends gathered to help and we enjoyed a pleasant day picking olives. It’s a steady job, and no, we don’t grab hold of the tree and shake it, although I know the big machines do that in the large olive groves.

Fortunately, we only have 30 trees, some more productive than others, so we comb them off with our hands. The big fat ones are always just out of reach, even after you’ve climbed the ladder.

We picked 145 kilos which produced 23 litres of extra virgin olive oil. Not a bad start. There are plenty more on the trees, not yet quite ripe, and we now have rain, so they’ll have to wait.

We paused for a substantial lunch of chilli and fruit crumble, washed down with plenty of wine. Those still sufficiently sober continued picking into the late afternoon, after which we loaded up the sacks and took them to our local cooperativa.

Jess keeps an eye on us to check we do the job properly.

Here's the crop all ready to go. Not a particular good one this year due to a dry spring. But there are still more olives yet to ripen.

       David backs up to the weighing platform.

      Tony helps him to unload and tip the olives out into the press.

      Here the crop is being taken up the conveyor belt.

      Our olives are tested in the office for the correct level of acidity.

      A lorry comes next and starts to unload.

      He has a much bigger crop than us.

Some interesting facts about olive oil:

Olive oil will soon become rancid in the light and heat. Buy the best quality extra virgin olive oil and store in dark tinted bottles in a cool cupboard.

Olives were first grown in Crete between 5 and 7 thousand years ago.

There are about 700 cultivated varieties of olives. Wild ones are much smaller.

The tastes can vary from peppery to nutty, grassy or like green apples.

It can provide food, fuel, timber and medicine, and is a preservative.

You can use it as a furniture polish. Mix 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar. Place in a spray bottle, shake well. Spray furniture lightly. Wipe off with a clean cloth or kitchen roll.

Olive oil has about 120 calories per tablespoon but unlike other cooking oils it is rich in vitamins A and E, and actually good for you.

It is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, and known to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is mono unsaturated, rich in vitamins, iron, oleic acid, sodium and potassium, and can improve circulation and lower blood pressure.

Olive oil has many other health giving properties. It is good for the digestion, helps to lower blood sugar levels, and can even be used to relieve the pain of burns, itches, stings and insect bites.

Best of all, olive oil encourages cellular growth, helps healing and slows down the aging process.

Olive oil as a beauty aid: 

For dry and brittle hair 
After shampooing, rinse your hair with a mix of half a cup of olive oil and beaten egg. Leave on for 15 minutes covered with a plastic cap before rinsing clean.

Hair conditioner
Warm half a cup of olive oil and apply liberally to your hair. Wrap in a towel for 30 minutes, then shampoo and rinse thoroughly.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to 2 tablespoons fresh cream. Smooth on the face and leave for 10 minutes. Wash your face with warm water.

Brittle nails
Soak your nails in a small bowl of warm olive oil with a squeeze of lemon or rose water, to add a nice scent.

Olive oil is also good for softening hands and feet, moisturising cuticles, removing mascara and eye liner, or mix with a touch of lavender essential essence and add to your bath water. It can be used in place of shaving cream, will clear up acne (add 4 tablespoons of salt to 3 tablespoons of olive oil), and even loosen chewing gum from hair.

Olive oil is a miracle product provided for us by nature.


Book collecting on a Budget

A while ago I was clearing out my loft when I came across some old Enid Blyton books I had enjoyed as a child. Needless to say, the clearing out went to pot and I spent the rest of the morning in happy pursuit of childhood pleasures. Since then I have begun to collect secondhand books, finding them in unexpected and fascinating places.

What makes book collecting exciting is that you don't have to be an expert seeking rare specimens. You can have just as much fun buying cheap paperbacks. And bookaholics like myself still love to do that, even in this age of the Kindle and ebooks.

The first thing to do is choose your area of interest. It might be a particular subject such as the countryside, biographies, old cookery books or you may be a local history buff and collect books on your own region. I seem to be currently obsessed with books about the theatre, eighteenth century actresses and courtesans. I’ve no idea why but I just love reading about them.

Is there a particular author that you love? Find one who has a number of books to their credit to make them more interesting to collect, but it doesn't matter whether it's Agatha Christie, Lee Child or Georgette Heyer, so long as you like them. Or perhaps you wish to collect a certain type of fiction such as thrillers or romantic novels.

Old magazines are also fascinating. Maybe you love nostalgia and would enjoy collecting nursery or children's books. You can do this not only by author, but also by illustrator, period or by age group. Don't neglect the more modern or mundane classifications of books such as those connected with TV series, films or a much-loved character. Remember that today's books and magazines are tomorrow's collectors items.

Market stalls are an obvious starting point, but try also charity shops such as Oxfam, Red Cross and Help the Aged, who often have shelves of cheaply priced books, and you have the added pleasure of helping them every time you buy anything. Rummage sales are another rich source where you can often pick up real treasures at remarkably low prices. Try secondhand bookshops by all means, and any local book fairs, but set your sights low, at least until you know your material; expensive antiquarian bookshops are for the affluent.

Once you start looking, you'll be surprised just how many places have cheap collectable books. Get into the habit of going regularly, and you'll be on hand when something exciting turns up.

Don't be shy about asking relatives or friends. They may have just what you want tucked away in their attic or garage. Often they're glad of a chance to have a clear out and are pleased to see the books go to someone who will appreciate them. House sales or auctions often sell whole boxes of books for a pittance and you can have a lovely browse through them at home before selling the ones you don't want back to a market stall holder.

Having got into the swing of your collection, you will soon want to know more about your chosen subject. Collect all the information you can find on it. Newspaper and magazine cuttings are a good source as well as the internet. Keep a record of what you’ve bought, and how much you paid.

What should you look for when buying a book? How do you know if it's worth the price? What sort of condition should it be in? All these questions may puzzle the beginner, but they needn't. The question of price is the easiest to answer: as little as possible. At rummage sales you can pick up copies for a few pence, but the condition will be variable. At charity shops you may pay a little more but the condition will be better. In the trade there are various descriptions known as standard book conditions for grading secondhand books. Mint means that a book is perfect, complete with dust jacket and indistinguishable from a new copy. Fine means that it has a dust jacket and is in excellent condition but has clearly been read. A very good book may have no dust jacket or a faded cover, and one that is classed only as good will show definite signs of use but will be complete, with no pages missing. Finally, the book in poor condition may be warped, show signs of damp or mildew damage to the spine. It should nevertheless be a complete copy even if the title page is missing. If it is foxed, it will have brown stains, often caused by age.

Don't be put off buying a book simply because it is in poor condition. It may be more valuable than it at first appears, particularly if it has some good illustrations. Ladybird books are a good example, since the early editions are very collectable. But even if it has no great value other than as a reading copy, there is a good deal of pleasure to be derived from this alone. Times can change the situation if finer copies become rare. Collectors on a tight budget shouldn't worry about looking for first editions or mint copies. Buy what you fancy. Try for a good copy, but if you find a title you want in poor condition, pay less.

Books are going to become even more rare in this digital age, so start collecting now.

There is always the possibility that you might find something really valuable. A friend of mine once discovered an old copy of Peter Rabbit, autographed by Beatrix Potter herself.


Corsets, Whalebones and Waist-whittlers

‘A Corset is of sterling worth in aiding and beautifying the figure.’ 

Have you ever considered a corset as a status symbol; a means of class distinction? Surprising as it may seem the corset once ranked high among the status symbols of our forefathers, or mothers, as the case may be. The woman who could not stoop to retrieve her fallen fan, could exert herself sufficiently to tinkle a handbell for her maidservant who, uncorseted, or at least should be if she wanted to keep her position, could retrieve it for her.

The corset has of course other functions. Its main one being to support and mould the figure into the shape dictated by the fashion of the day. It has always had its erotic associations, making the wearer feel attractive and feminine and no doubt decidedly uncomfortable.

We first hear of the corset in early Mediaeval England, when the Monks wrote of the evils of tight lacing and bustling, saying that it caused deformity. They failed to stamp out this pernicious habit for by the sixteenth century the corset was an accepted part of a lady’s wardrobe. It was made of stiff leather, wood or even iron supports, with large semi-circular side pieces laced on. The stomacher, a flat placard, was fastened to the front and pulled tightly in at the waist, leaving the hips free. Elizabeth I pioneered the use of whalebones in corsets, but as ever, this wily Queen was motivated mainly by economic reasons.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, corsets were even worn in the nursery. A lady of quality along with her young daughters, wore a ‘pair of bodies’ stiffened with busks of wood or whalebone with back lacing, the lower part open to ride over the hips.

During the Regency period when clinging, neo-Grecian lines were the mode, the corset fell from favour. Undeterred, the corset makers turned their attention to the male of the species who was at that time preening himself unashamedly. The ‘dandies’ took to the ‘Cumberland Corset’ or the ‘Brummell Bodice’. Even the Prince Regent laced himself into stays and the less kind among his contemporaries considered him to be in need of such support.

It was the Victorian era, however, which saw the corset fashion at its height. The waist reverted to its normal position and tight lacing was once more evident. There is no doubt that much of the ill health and fainting fits of the time were attributed to this. Young girls considered it desirable to marry with age and waist measurements the same - preferably less than twenty-one. A lady of fashion would on no account be seen without her corset, even in bed.

Metal eye-holes and india-rubber came to be used during the Industrial Revolution and in 1860, elastic panels were introduced. As skirts tightened in the 1870’s so the corset lengthened and here we see the birth of the suspender. The naughty 1990’s saw a devastating array of frills, laces, bows and paint box colours, the most popular being cardinal red and canary yellow, hidden beneath a starched Victorian facade. There were dual purpose corsets with chemise tops which could be used for day and evening wear, in black, white or cardinal silk coutille.

At the turn of the century came the so-called health corset which flattened the stomach, thrusting the bosom forward and the hips back thus creating the mature, solid S-shape. Advertisements emphasised the beneficial effects of these corsets in relieving the hips of the weight of the skirt and preventing stooping. Shoulder braces were also available for wearing over the corset. Well encased, the Victorian mama and her daughter would be quite incapable of stooping.

There were corsets for every occasion. Cycling was becoming fashionable and a special cyclist’s corset with elastic sides was produced. A writer commenting in a shopping guide of a woman’s magazine of 1894 shows the attitude of the day on the wearing of corsets when she says ‘I wish fat people could be persuaded to wear them for tennis.’

In 1902 came the unbreakable corsets with triple steel busks, and in 1903 the featherbone which was composed of quill fibre and claimed to replace old-fashioned whalebone. The ‘solo’ corset of 1905 introduced invisible lacing which could be adjusted by the wearer at the pull of a string. At this time too appeared the reducing corset with an elastic abdominal belt.

After the great war things were never the same again. The boy look of the 1920s brought in the use of ‘flatteneds’, a sheath-like garment which fitted from armpits to thighs and dispelled any shape whatsoever.

In the 1930s came the ‘two-way stretch’ reminding women once more of the comfort and grace of being natural. In the summer of 1939 the corset almost made a comeback, for waists were nipped in and advertisers promised laced up corsets made from the newest materials. The second world war ended this fashion abruptly; women had to work and working women have no time for the restrictions of tight lacing.

Since the war the move has been towards an even greater freedom. The use of nylon and Lycra and the fashion for young, natural lines have released women from a bondage most of us have no wish to see return.


How to create suspense

At its most basic, suspense is the art of the reader knowing more than the main character does. 
E.g the famous shower scene in Psycho. Sometimes the reverse is true and withholding information can also be effective. A character may receive a letter or phone call, giving vital information to the protagonist but not the reader. Choosing the right moment to give in to the reader’s need-to-know is a skill you develop with practise. Too soon and the reader is disappointed, too late and she grows bored and irritated. It’s a useful ploy to have presented a second problem before resolving the first.

Here are some other techniques you can use to add suspense in all types of fiction.

Cutting to another character or situation. This keeps the reader guessing and hopefully breathless with anticipation as they are taken to another part of the story. From time to time you can remind them of what they are still waiting to learn, or take them back and give them a snippet more to wet their appetite. Increase the suspense before you deliver. Milk a scene without slowing the story down.

Fear of the unknown:
Uncertainty of outcome helps to create tension and fear. In THE QUEEN AND THE COURTESAN Henriette d’Entragues was terrified when Henry IV had her arrested. Would she be tortured, or even lose her head? In THE FAVOURITE CHILD, Isabella Ashton became nervous when she suspected Billy Quinn was following her. Did he mean to hurt her or was he simply fascinated by her?

Forewarning and pointers:
These can appear at different points in the book like a promise or threat of dangers which might (or might not) happen. But don’t make these too blatant, or you’ll fall into the trap of the ‘dear reader’ style. Keep the reader guessing. I find that if a twist in the plot occurs to me as I am writing, I often have to go back and put these in.

Red herrings: 
These are pointers which deliberately lead nowhere. They too can create real suspense and fear. Common in detective fiction, even in general fiction they can be used to good effect. But don’t lead the reader down too many false trails or the story will lose credibility.

The worsening scenario: 

Start with a feeling of unease, a hint that something isn’t quite right, or a person not as pleasant or innocent as they at first appeared. Gradually the menace builds and increases to develop a sense of dread, finally panic or terror. I used this to great effect in TRAPPED, where the wife is subject to a bullying and controlling husband. False hope: The character believes all is well. The reader thinks otherwise. Who is right?

Mental ordeal: 
An overwrought imagination can make a nightmare out of a crisis. The viewpoint character’s turmoil and emotion can add atmosphere to a story through their mental anguish. This may cause her to imagine things that aren’t actually happening to her. She might think she is being followed, or see someone she thought was dead. It might be real, it might not. Her fears may erupt into dreams, delusions or hallucinations.

Failed communication and unexplained happenings:
A letter not delivered. Secrets withheld. THE PROMISE is based on a family secret. Chrissie wants to know why her mother’s name was changed? Why she never met her grandmother. There must be a strong motivation why a secret is withheld and not just to keep the reader reading. Deliberate lies are also a good plot device, again with proper motivation. Is her boy friend telling the truth about where he was last night? Can she trust him? Who-how-why was her kitchen ransacked when she’s certain she bolted every door and window? No one will believe there’s anything wrong because the body has vanished.

She is being pursued and there must be a real danger of her getting caught. Does she know who by? Establish the motivation of why she is being pursued, how she is trying to escape, and what stakes are involved besides her own safety. Whether or not she will succeed must always be in doubt until the conclusion.

Give her only a limited time in which to achieve her goal. This is a device usually piled on top of the original quest, and makes for an even more compulsive story.

Surprise and shock: 
Surprise is a very effective weapon. Sometimes it is useful to practise a little sleight of hand, leading the reader along one path and then hitting them from another direction. It must be logical though, even if it is not what they expected to hear. Perhaps they didn’t notice an earlier clue you carefully disguised as a red herring. Twists and turns of the plot keep the reader guessing. Don’t fully explain something, disguise or withhold the whole truth, but don’t overdo this or you might irritate and confuse. Agatha Christie was a master at this device.

This can be useful in all types of fiction, including romantic. I’ve written some pretty gruesome scenes in some of my own sagas, including the opening scene in HOUSE OF ANGELS when Livia is being beaten by her father. Judge the degree of horror that is right for the story, according to the genre you are writing. Make sure it is essential and not gratuitous. It should have a genuine purpose in the plot, and be properly woven into the story or the reader might skip it.

Gothic type atmospherics are not so popular these days and don’t usually work as well in print as in film, but you should and must appeal to the senses. The weather, the place, the time of day or night, smells, textures, sounds can all evoke a sense of doom or fear. Try to appeal to the reader’s imagination but don’t overdo it or you might tip it into farce. Remember the atmosphere can serve as a contrast to the protagonist’s mood or emotion.

New out this month:
ISBN 9780749008291
Allison & Busby
26 September
Hardback 19.99

Chrissie Kemp visits her grandmother and discovers a shocking family secret. Georgia Briscoe is in love with British sailor Ellis Cowper but unwillingly betrothed to Drew Kemp, a businessman mired in the San Francisco underworld. Georgia plans escape to be with the man she loves, but then comes the earthquake…

For more details click here:

ISBN 978-0727880925
Severn House
29 September
Hardback 19.99

Henry IV marries Marie de Medici to provide riches for France. But Henriette d’Entragues has a written promise of marriage and intends to declare the royal marriage illegal. All she has to do is give Henry a son, and by means of intrigue and conspiracy, set him on the throne.

For more details click here:


Latest News

I can’t believe that summer is almost over. We set up our new little holiday home here in Southport back in May with lots of summer trips planned. Now it is almost time to head south and return home for the winter like migrating birds. We enjoyed some weeks in the early summer back home by our pool, but I’ll admit to relief at being away from the worst of the Spanish heat in late July and August. Instead we’ve been getting out and about and exploring our beloved home county of Lancashire.

We’ve cruised on the Leeds-Liverpool canal along the aqueduct over the River Lune, seen the weird statues by Anthony Gormley at Formby that look like real people staring out the sea.

We’ve enjoyed several trips to the theatre including a marvellous production of As You Like at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Not to mention various visits to the Lakes, Yorkshire, Wales and Cornwall. I could really get to quite enjoy this life style.

And even been to the races at Haydock Park, although sadly we didn’t have a big win.

I’ve attended the RNA conference, the Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon where I led a course in the historical novel, enjoyed several writerly lunches, and caught up with writer friends old and new.

I've done talks at Blackpool library and one for Beck Seniors in Kendal. I also spent a most enjoyable morning at Tarleton Library chatting with the writers' group which meets there every Thursday morning. What a great bunch they are.

Then there are the National Trust properties we’ve visited: Rufford Old Hall, Speke Hall, Sizergh, Tatton Park, Dunham Massey, Lyme Park, used as the setting for the famous adaption of Pride and Prejudice where Mr Darcy rose from the lake. Sadly, no Adonis rising from the lake on the day we visited.

And if you think I’ve been slacking on the writing front, well maybe, just a bit. But I felt I needed some time off after fifteen long years of labour. However, I have not been entirely idle. I’ve put up a few more of my back list as ebooks, which are selling steadily.
Available on Apple, Sony, etc. or you can download them from Amazon:

For All Our Tomorrows and Whispering Shadows are on special offer for the month of September.

I’ve also built a new website, which was another challenge. You can check it out for yourself here and give me your opinion.http://www.fredalightfoot.co.uk

Last but by no means, I have a new saga out:

Georgia Briscoe, in love with British sailor Ellis Cowper, is unwillingly betrothed to Drew Kemp. Her husband is mired in the San Francisco underworld, with a penchant for gambling and other women. Georgia plans to escape to be with the man she loves but Drew has other ideas. And then comes the earthquake…

Chrissie Kemp travels to the Lake District to meet her grandmother for the first time, only to discover a shocking family secret. As the truth unfurls, the passion, emotion and astounding love that blossomed in San Francisco is revealed forty years earlier, and three generations of one family are tested to their limits.

ISBN 9780749008291
Allison & Busby
26 September
Hardback 19.99

I am giving away two signed hardback copies of The Promise.
To enter just go to the Goodies page of my website, or click here to visit Goodreads:

Watch out for a giveaway of my latest historical: The Queen and the Courtesan next month.


Is accuracy important in historical fiction?

Sebastian Faulks when interviewed on radio 4 described himself as a novelist whose books happen to be set in the past. ‘For me,’ he said, ‘the use of historical settings is to cast the present in a more interesting and broader light.’

People are clearly more important to him than circumstantial detail. Some novels are so deeply researched they seem like non-fiction in disguise. In a romance they can kill the story dead by boring the reader. Even so, we must do our research and set the scene as accurately as we can. We can take some liberties, for the sake of the story, but if we veer too far from the facts as we know them, the reader may feel cheated and lose faith in the work. If a mistake crops up, an anachronism, this will jar the reader, and jerk them out of the story back to the present.

It’s also best also to avoid controversy or anything doubtful which has a hint of being anachronistic. It hasn’t so much to be correct as to feel correct. E.g: Soldiers did play baseball in the American Civil War. I believe they also played in a Jane Austen novel too, but the reader may find that hard to accept.

Societies traditions, moral mores and customs help to build the picture, but this is where even the most fanatical historian can come unstuck. Many time periods, such as the Regency, have become so stylised that you may actually be considered to have written a historically inaccurate book if you do not follow the “popular perceptions” of the period. Presenting a realistic, complex view of Society during a specific era can be the thing that makes the difference between a passable yarn and a gripping story.

Wine and Roses available from Regency Reads

It’s surely about striking the right balance. The story is the most important thing, but it must be firmly rooted in its world. It must not simply be a costume drama. The past must be made as relevant as the present. The problems are the same, human emotion, conflict and behaviour. Falling in love and losing that love are just as painful.
Bernard Cornwell said: ‘Essentially the background has to be right because it’s the detail of the background that pins down the fiction in the foreground.’

It’s a combination of accuracy and imagination to give credibility, create atmosphere, and make the story plausable. The writer needs to incorporate the odd, quirky detail. Perhaps the price of cheese, a housemaid’s monthly wage, a description of underwear, length of time for a journey, breed of horse, how someone would get their boots mended, what book or newspaper they might read. How would they conduct a funeral, spin wool, pluck a hen, fire a rifle, fight a duel or take part in a bare knuckle fight. Whatever is needed for your story.

When I can’t draw on personal experience or memories I use interviews, explore diaries, memoirs, biographies, newspapers, etc. I select with care and don’t put material in just to show off how much I’ve learnt. It is the attention to small detail which builds the atmosphere, and a strong sense of time and place which creates that feeling of reality and verisimilitude which is vital for the reader to sit back and enjoy the ride.


Southport Flower Show

Had a lovely day out yesterday at Southport Flower Show. Listened to June Francis and Lyn Andrews giving a talk, organised by Pritchards Books. Erica James will be there on Saturday, if there are any of her fans out there.

After that we watched some medieval knights jousting, a dog display team, some birds of prey which were absolutely beautiful, and lastly a most entertaining and skilful performance by two collies rounding up ducks. Great fun.

There were also some wonderful show gardens, flower displays, huge vegetables (do they really taste good?)  Here are some gold medal winners.

And where's Dame Edna Everage when you need her?

 The show runs till Sunday21st August. I for one will be sure to visit next year too.


Montgomery Castle

If you're looking for a lovely place for a day out in Wales, try Montgomery. This delightful little town still has the kind of small shops you thought had quite disappeared in this age of supermarkets and big chains. But here they seem to flourish in all their individuality, selling cookery books, crafts, pictures, clothes, and delicious delicacies to tempt the taste buds.

We spent a happy hour exploring the town’s museum, which was rather like the tardis, small and insignificant on the outside but large and fascinating within. Here we could examine tools used by local craftsmen, the bread oven and brewing vat from when the building was once an inn, and upstairs we learned about the local workhouse, the civil war, and other important dates in the history of the town.

High above the town stands Montgomery Castle. The original motte and bailey, known as Hen Domen, was built at the order of Roger de Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury circa 1071. Robert of Belleme, son of Roger, took part in a revolt in 1077 against William the Conqueror. This rebellion was quickly put down and the participants generously pardoned. As a consequence, William decreed that garrisons be placed in all baronial castles of importance, in order to make future rebellion more difficult.

Robert inherited his mother Mabel’s property when she was killed in 1082, an area which comprised part of the region between Normandy and Maine. It is due to this inheritance that Robert has come be known as of Bell√™me rather than of Montgomery. William the Conqueror died in 1087 and Robert’s first act on hearing the news was to expel the ducal garrisons from his own castles. By 1102 the castle was in the hands of Baldwin de Boulers, and it is from Baldwin that Montgomery gets its Welsh name, Trefaldwyn (Baldwins town). The de Boulers held the castle until 1215 when the fortress was destroyed by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.

The rebuilding of Montgomery Castle in stone was commenced circa 1223 slightly to the south-east of the original wooden version. The architect of the new castle was Hubert de Burgh who also rebuilt Skenfrith, Grosmont, and White Castle in the Welsh Marches. From 1223 until 1228 masons built the inner ward, or donjon, on a huge rock overlooking the town of Montgomery. A gatehouse was also built, two towers and a curtain wall, a necessary defence as the castle was subjected to many attacks over the years, battered by various Welsh wars, and in the English civil war in 1643 when Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Chirbury, was forced to surrender the castle to Parliamentary troops by order of Parliament.

It is now little more than a ruin, if a stark, atmospheric one, and still worth a visit. You walk across a modern wooden bridge into the inner ward from where you have the most marvellous views of the town and the surrounding countryside. It’s worth the walk for that alone.

I’d be interested to learn if anyone knows why this particular circle of stones is built the way it is. Could it be part of a threshing circle? Or something to do with a former chapel? The pattern does not seem to be accidental. A mystery we may never solve.