This week’s stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us to the town of Northwich in Cheshire, on which I based the fictional town of Greaton, where the Ruling Council meets in my historical fantasy fiction novel for younger readers, Following the Green Rabbit.
Established in Roman times, Northwich is an attractive small town with many historic, half-timbered buildings, located in the middle of the Cheshire Plain, where the book is set. The town is most famous for the production of salt, which has been carried on since its establishment. However, a list of tolls for crossing over Northwich bridge in 1353 shows goods coming into the town including carcasses, fleeces, hides and skins, cloth, fish, alcoholic drinks, dairy products, building materials, household goods, metals, glass and millstones, so it would have been a busy little place.
Like Daresbury, I first travelled to the Northwich on a canal boat holiday. Of particular note for canal enthusiasts is the Anderton Boat Lift, a 50 foot vertical lock, which connects the Trent & Mersey Canal with the River Weaver. Sadly it was out of operation when we took our canal holiday in the late 1980s, but it has since been restored. It would be quite a thrill to take a boat up on it!
The slow pace of travelling the canal on a narrow boat and the silence of the flat, open Cheshire countryside stayed with me, and I drew on that memory when I came to write the description of journey that Bryony takes to Greaton, travelling over that same terrain at that same slow speed. The look and feel of the town seemed right, and although I don’t dwell on any description in the novel, the bustle of a busy market town plays in the background, contrasting with Bryony’s isolation as she sits in the intimidating atmosphere of the Court House waiting to submit her supplication to the Ruling Council in order to free her friends from the clutches of the evil Lord Childecott.
Excerpt from Following the Green Rabbit
Bryony was astonished at the noise and commotion which had greeted them on entering the town. There were people and animals everywhere. Thank goodness John knew where they should go. He reined Rosie in and they came to a halt opposite the Court House, outside the appropriately named Court House Tavern. Bryony slid off the horse, stamping the life back into her legs as John dismounted and patted Rosie’s neck.
“I need to get Rosie some water and let her rest up a while,” said John. “I believe the Ruling Council meets in the building over there,” he pointed at the Court House. “Do you want me to come with you?”
Bryony considered for a moment. “No thank you, John. You and Eliza have been so kind to us already. I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble with Lord Childecott by delivering the supplication with me.”
John nodded. “I’ll be waiting for you right here. He smiled at her encouragingly. “Good luck, Bryony.” He touched his hat. You’re a brave young lady, he thought as he watched her plod determinedly across the muddy track and up the steps to the Court House.
Bryony felt little of the confidence she shown outwardly to John but, as Hodge always said, if there’s something difficult to do, confront it head on and don’t delay. And so Bryony let her feet take her through the wide entrance to the Court House and into a large vestibule where an attendant was sitting at a tall desk. Bryony took a deep breath and approached. The attendant looked down his long bony nose at her.
“What business have you here, girl?” He squinted at her with obvious contempt.
“Sir, I have a supplication to offer to the Ruling Council.” Her voice echoed around the empty room.
“Council is already in session. No disturbances are permitted. You may wait for the secretary to the Chief of Council.” He pointed at a long bench on the other side of the room.
“But please, sir,” Bryony held up her supplication. “This is urgent.”
“You will wait.” The clerk waved her towards the bench with a bony hand.
Bryony crossed the stone floor and sat alone on the hard wooden bench next to the imposing doors which presumably led to the chamber where the Ruling Council was meeting. She glanced at the clerk who was busy writing in a heavy ledger and fingered the edges of the supplication, smoothing down the creases it had suffered from the journey. She stared around the high-ceilinged room then focussed on the door, willing it to open. She sighed. Her hope was ebbing away.