A few weeks ago, I packed the laptop, the husband and the dog and headed off to spend another week in Norfolk. This was partly by way of a break, partly by way of research, and partly by way of a talk committment I'd given to the Norwich branch of the Richard III Society who had asked me to talk about the Marshal family at Norwich Assembly Rooms.
To be close to Norwich, we stayed in North Norfolk in a red brick farm cottage just outside a village called Lyng. It was fascinating on the first evening there to see a little head popping up from the midst of a tall field of green wheat and to realise that we were looking at a wild roe deer. A little less delightful was the dog picking up an army of ticks from these otherwise beautiful creatures!
Further along the road was another farm boasting a plethora of gorgeously coloured fowl and poultry, including some rather spectacular peacocks. I felt rather at home hearing their haunting cries and seeing their shimmering, irridescent feathers, because they do feature in scenes within The Time of Singing and I felt it was a connection with Henry II and Ida de Tosney.
Other than going for long walks around and about - I can recommend The Fox and Hounds in Lyng - they do a fantastic steak and kidney pudding - you won't need to eat again all week either - we went for a look around the Norfolk broads. These are man-made water ways, created in the Middle Ages by people digging for peat and leaving long water-filled channels. These days they are filled with pleasure boats and barges and it's a strong tourist area. That same day we also visited Winterton On Sea. The Bigod family had an interest here in 1086 when my Roger's grandfather is mentioned as owning rights in it in Domesday Book, although it isn't listed in the family's holdings by 1306. It was a glorious afternoon when we arrived there. Hardly a soul on the beach. The sand was firm and golden and the dog got to run like a puppy. The beach cafe there is fantastic value and serves delicious home-made cakes. (providing your innards are not still living off the steak and kidney pudding!). I loved walking along that beach because it put me in mind of another scene from THE TIME OF SINGING where Roger is walking his own dogs and finds himself thinking through a momentous proposal.
This is my own husband, another Roger, pausing between romps with our dog. Note the broad grin on the dog's face. He was having a marvellous time!
Another day we returned to Thetford Priory. I wanted to pay my respects to Roger Bigod, who is buried there, as is his son Hugh, who I am writing about at the moment. I knew that Roger was buried in the choir and had a rough idea where this was, but there is no marker to show the place officially. Indeed, Thetford Priory rather saddened me. English Heritage do not seem to be much bothered with its ruins. Vandals have scribbled over or destroyed some of the information plaques and there is a generally neglected air to the place. I have no idea what this plaque would have told me. The Cluniac Priory of Our Lady at Thetford was once a great ecclesiastical powerhouse. It was one of the most important monasteries in East Anglia. The Earls of Norfolk were buried here.Some of the later ones were moved to Framlingham. Do my Roger Bigod's bones lie under the grass here, or have they long been scattered? I don't know, but I am sorry there was not a more tangible monument at which to lay my respects.
Perhaps his wife lies here too, but as far as I know the records are silent as to the whereabouts of Ida. Roger Bigod is not forgotten though. His name lives on in the local architecture. I just had to photograph this placard as we walked towards the priory. I wonder what he'd think. Of course it may be referring to his grandson Roger III, or even his great grandson, Roger IV, who was himself a renowned architect.
On our way back from one of our day trips, I happened to catch the glimpse of an interesting round-towered church from the car window and made my husband take a detour so I could photograph it. I can't remember where it was now - apart from in the middle of nowhere. St. Andrew comes to mind, but I could be wrong. It was locked up, as so many churches are today, but what did catch my eye on external inspection was that one of the stained glass windows bore a heraldic symbol called a 'manche' which was the de Tosney symbol. So I felt in a way that I was catching a glimpse of Ida - a shy hidden moment, almost like her elusiveness in history. It took genealogists many years to track her down as the mother of William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury.
If you look closely in the centre of the shield shape in the top window, there's a thing that looks like a sideways boot. It's actually a sleeve and is the de Tosney 'manche.' I've also enclosed a photograph of the church itself.
We went to West Stow Anglo Saxon Village, but that was not a good day. I left my camera card at home, so couldn't take photos and they wouldn't allow dogs on the site. Crazed children -yes. One small, well behaved dog on a lead - no. So I went in on my own, had a quick potter round and then we went for a walk in Thetford Forest and I imagined Roger & Co hunting there. It is a real shame I didn't have my camera for West Stow because in their museum exhibit they had a sword from the battle of Fornham, in which my Roger fought as a young man. I'd love to have had a photo, especially as there was an inscription running down the blade. I can't remember what it said. When I asked about it at the reception, no one seemed to know anything about it. Sigh.
Finally we went for a lovely walk along a stream round the back of Castle Acre Priory (The priory is well worth a look. Went there last year though), and then on to Castle Rising, which is a terrific little Norman Keep not far from King's Lynne and well worth a visit. I have been here as well before - in Norman kit with Regia Anglorum, but it was good to revisit. The open door at the beginning is from there. Castle Acre itself became the home of Mahelt Marshal during her second marriage when she became a de Warenne. I'm writing about her at the moment, but I probably won't get as far as her second match in this particular novel.
This is me standing inside what would have been the original entrance to the Great Hall at Castle Rising, but has since been bricked up and used as a fireplace by later generations. I just love the way my camera has made a swayed image of the reflection of the window, caught in the glass protecting the brickwork. With my use of the psychic as an additional research tool, I felt this fitted perfectly!