Sunday, July 02, 2006
Back from researching
I've just returned from the heart of Wiltshire where I've been walking the ground of the Kennet Valley and researching material for my work in progress on John Marshal. We were staying in a cottage on a working farm just outside Devizes and on the edge of Salisbury Plain - so were treated to the occasional noise of 'fireworks' from the gunnery ranges, plus the frequent sight of Hercules aircraft from the RAF base at Lyneham, very close to where John is buried.
Places visited during the break included Winchester, where John had two houses, Marlborough, where he was castellan for about 20 years, Rockley on the Downs where he had a manor, which he gave to the Templars, and Wherwell, site of the hard battle between his troops and those of William D'Ypres during the flight fromWinchester. John's task was to prevent D'Ypres from encircling the Empress as part of a pincer movement by the royalist troops. John had to buy her time to let her make her getaway and he made his stand at Wherwell. He did so, but at great cost to himself and his men. His last stand was made at Wherwell Abbey, now in ruins and on private land. D'Ypres' men set fire to the church with John inside it. He survived and lived to tell the tale, but he lost an eye when melted lead from the tower roof dripped on his face. D'Ypres left him for dead and John emerged to walk, injured as he was, the twenty five miles to Marlborough.
Wherwell today- see photo - is a pretty, thatched village that looks as if it belongs in a cartoon from Thelwell Country (for those who've never heard of Thelwell, his whimsical sketches of English country life are an absolute and amusing joy). You would never guess, looking at its chocolate box prettiness that a battle so bloody and desperate had ever taken place here.
We also went walking in Savernake Forest and got lost (!). Fortunately we found our way out but had to walk back the long way via the road. However at least there was a pub en route. I thought about John Marshal. I was knackered after four hours pottering in the woods. He walked twenty five miles with a facial burn bad enough to cause permanent trauma and disfigurement. I don't know how he did it!