Imagining the setting…of The Beltane choice - one of the three featured historical novels on the Crooked Cat Books page on Facebook this week.
Lakes, mountains, streams, rolling countryside – you’ll find them all in The Beltane Choice except what you’ll find is my image of what the land was like almost 2000 years ago.
When writing the novel, I had to see the Cumbrian landscape of almost 2000 years ago through my main male characters’ eyes. After a lot of deliberation, I decided that the actual land itself was probably not too dissimilar from what I’d see today. Any habitation would naturally be different and I’m pleased that reviewers have mentioned that they could picture the roundhouse settlements and the crannog dwellings from my vividly clear descriptions.
What would have been a bit different would have been the buildings near the field areas on the lower slopes. Again, I aimed to provide sufficient detail for my readers to superimpose my descriptions of the outlying roundhouse farms on a photo of today showing a typical hill farm. The building of dry stone dykes was done during the Iron Age so the fields we can see today that are bordered by stone walling might just be repaired and replaced stone versions of those from all those centuries ago. Fencing would be different - a wattled type of woven wooden fencing would have bordered the animal pens in the Late iron Age farm but that kind of fencing would have been used for shorter stretches of separation than those wooden fences you'd find today at the verges of the roads. Cereal crops and animal husbandry went on during the late Iron Age – though animal power would have replaced any machinery used today. Horses were quite plentiful on Celtic farms though the type of horse would have been different. The typical Celtic horse was quite small, more of the size of a pony.
There would have been natural mixed woodland tree cover, if any, clothing the hillsides rather than the Forestry Commission plantations of conifers that you'd find today. The lakes would maybe have slightly different defining edges but in general the waters would be fairly similar. Rolling countryside that’s good for arable farming now would have been farmed back then as well. The differences would maybe be in field uses- more different crops now. Sheep would probably not have had the free wanderingthat they have today but the small Celtic sheep would have been out there (a bit like the Soay sheep variety of today found in the Hebrides) .
The mountain tops, I believe, would be very similar. The trek taken by Lorcan from what was Brigante territory (Cumbria/ Northumberland border) over the hilltops to Selgovae territory (Dumfriesshire) where he encounters Nara for the first time would be little different from the same trek done across the Cheviot Hills today.
and lots of other places.