There are some characters you meet in real life that just have to go into a book. Last year my wife and I took a ten day Caribbean cruise. On this trip we met two of the loveliest people of our life. David and Jane, they sat at our dining table. Jane was a gorgeous fun loving gal of 92 and David was a smidgeon older. I cannot even begin to describe this couple. Jane couldn’t weigh much more then the dining chair she sat on, and David was upright and had a full head of hair.
Apparently Dave was a retired ship designer. We had several quite exciting and interesting conversations about the ships he’s designed. He has my full admiration. Jane on the other hand was a 92 year old play girl. Her favourite drink was Canadian Club Whisky. She was so delicate that the waiter had to cut her meals into tiny pieces for her.
On the island of St Kits they have a narrow gauge railway train that chugs something like half way round the island, fabulous view, magnificent scenery. Who did we meet on the train, of course David and Jane. It took three strong men to get frail little Jane off the train but she enjoyed every minute, and the attention.
Occasionally the pair would get lost on the ship and miss a meal. Sometimes we looked out for them and guided them to the huge dining room. It’s not that difficult to get lost. I found myself in the wrong dining room on one occasion. Our ship was over a thousand feet long and there were 2400 passengers. One day when I think I can do them justice I will model a pair of characters on those two lovely people.
I thought it would be exciting to visit as many British Islands as possible, without being silly of course. As a family we sat down and examined the map of Britain. Hmm, quite a daunting task as the islands are scattered and very numerous, and how does one get from one island to another? Having been to Scotland several time before I knew that P&O supply just about all the ferry ships in that part of the world. Not knowing where P&O were based – I assumed London. I wrote a nice little request for travel information and mailed it to P&O London England.
I figured the postman would know the exact address. Surprisingly some three weeks later I received a large manila envelope and in it were timetables, suggested routes and everything you would ever want to know about travel between the Scottish islands. Oh yes and the P&O headquarters is in Lerwick Shetland Islands, not London. We landed at Heathrow in London and took a hire car. Our first island was St Michael’s Mount – excellent, a beautiful castle on a rock just off the coast. Next we took a helicopter ride to St Mary’s Scilly Islands, and then a boat to Tresco Island. This is not a travel guide so suffice it to say it was interesting and exciting. You can look the places up in any good travel guide. The big plunge, so-to-speak, was when we arrived in Scotland. The Isle of Sky is not a place that can easily be seen in one day. There are castles, soddies, (Turf houses.) and beaches, cliffs and very interesting locals – both pubs and people. The next part of our trip was definitely the most dramatic. A ferry ship took us to the Orkney Islands, where we stayed several nights and visited many of the adjoining islands. History abounds there and goes back to the Stone Age. The idea of a story came to me, the islands and the island people would make a perfect backdrop. The power and ruggedness of the coast was quite intimidating. We found one area where ships had been deliberately sunk to block the channels between islands. Some of the ships you can actually walk on if the tide is out. The trip to the Shetland Islands was long and the sea quite rough. One of our party succumbed to seasickness. Personally I’ve never been travel sick on anything, and on one occasion I was at sea for 25 days. The Shetlands are fabulous and I highly recommend them. Oh yes, we actually visited P&O headquarters, which is right on the harbour front. We hired a fisherman to take us out to Mousa Island where I have never seen so many seals in my life before and been so dangerously close to them. That island also has a brock (Stone fort) which is in excellent condition and it predates Christ by a couple of thousand years. Having had such an exciting tour I couldn’t wait to write about it in some form or other. I created another adventure for Bill Reyner. In my story The Secret of Castle Duncan I called Mousa, Percies Island. In Edinburgh Cuckoos I changed the names of places and castles, not wishing to upset any real people.
One summer we decided to take a look at all the castles in Britain – not really practical. However, myself along with my three sons set out on a six-week jaunt to visit as many as possible. We surely had loads of fun, but two extraordinary things happened along the way. We started out on the south coast of England with a first visit to Pevensey then worked our way round westward and up into Wales.
Caernarfon Castle was our first really big and almost complete castle with many towers, rooms and displays. The staff has a set practice when closing. A bell rings continuously warning visitors to evacuate the premises. One member of staff is sent to each tower where they climb to the top and as they then descend he or she locks all doors after shooing out the stragglers. In this way over a period of about thirty minutes the entire castle is secured. The guests are then ushered out the main gate and then it too is secured for the night.
I was with my youngest son when we heard the bell. It took us about fifteen to twenty minutes to reach the courtyard where we saw crowds of people exiting through the main keep; my other two boys were nowhere to be seen. I sent the youngest to see if the lads were already out in the street. By the time he returned it was clearly closing time and only myself and a couple of workers remained. The Castilian came over to me and said, “I’m sorry, sir you’ll have leave now.”
“I’m not moving until I know where my boys are.”
“There’s no one in the castle, sir, all the doors are locked, you’ll have to leave.”
I stood my ground determined to go nowhere until I found my boys. With a sudden inspiration I stuck my fingers in my mouth and whistled very loudly. Sure enough I was answered by my second oldest lad, who could whistle as loud as myself.
“Goodness, me,” exclaimed the Castilian. “There’s someone in the Queen’s Tower.”
If I hadn’t been so stubborn the boys would have had to spend a cold night locked in a castle tower.
The second unusual thing that happened on that same trip was at Brody Castle in Scotland. The manager of the campground suggested we visit the place. Brody Castle was at that time owned and operated by an order of monks. They were a little spooky but otherwise pleasant and accommodating. There were no guided tours, you merely paid a donation and wandered about unhindered.
Somewhere on the third floor I found myself alone wandering through a somewhat Spartan room with unknown paintings on the wall. As if the devil himself was chasing him, my youngest came rushing into the room exclaiming, “Dad, Dad, I’ve found a dead guy.”
I mean, as if. “So where’d you find him?”
He led me through a couple of rooms and stopped in front of a huge fireplace. There was of course no fire. Beside the grate on either side was a walk-in cupboard. Stephen opened one cupboard and pointed in. Unbelievably there in the depths of the dark closet lay the remains of a long dead person. I walked in and examined him, it was real enough.
Moments later I found one of the monks and reported the find.
“Oh,” said the monk, “it’s no problem, he was there when we moved in.”
The castle in now owned by the Trust and they have removed the unknown sleeper.