The English countryside holds so many wonderful historical sites it would take months, maybe years, to visit them all. Although I long for another trip to take in the ones I've missed, my husband and I have been fortunate in seeing our fair share of ancient places. On our last trip to the UK, we landed at Gatwick, went straight to Hertz, drove north, and didn't slow down until we reached Yorkshire, a place of great natural beauty (in red on map). Driving through the area is an experience to be sought in and of itself.
In addition to the tourist trade attracted by the wonderful scenery, Yorkshire boasts other industries including a thriving agricultural tradition. While English food has a less than stellar reputation, we found that once you're away from London, the cooking improves with every mile traveled. In Yorkshire, it is plain country fare that will remind anyone from the American South of home. I hate being disloyal to Texas's own Blue Bell, but the best ice cream I have ever tasted was found in a village High Street tea shop on the outskirts of Yorkshire Dales National Park. The only flavor offered was sweet cream. It was simple, rich, and completely delicious. When I asked for the brand name, the girl behind the counter looked puzzled, then said she guessed there wasn't one. A local dairy farmer hand-churned the ice cream for their shop and brought it in daily. SIGH! I still dream about that ice cream.
After enjoying a post-lunch scenic drive, we found our B&B located in a tiny village not too far from York. The B&B was run by a charming gentleman in a home his family had occupied for over two hundred years. A portrait of an early 18th century military officer hanging over the drawing room mantle bore this out as it revealed a striking family resemblance to our host. Over a generous country breakfast of scrambled eggs, English style bacon, broiled tomatoes, and mushrooms, we enjoyed chatting with him and his twenty-something son, who happened to be home for the weekend. I mentioned noticing that the village church seemed abandoned. The young man chuckled and hesitated before explaining that the majority of the village and surrounding area residents were witches. I guess my eyes must have flared in surprise because he went on to explain that there was a resurgence of witchcraft in that part of England. Hmmm...perhaps he was referring to the Wicca movement or maybe he was just enjoying a jest at my expense; however, he did appear quite in earnest. Sadly, the passage of time has erased the names of the village and the B&B from my memory, but if you search the major route going west out of York you may find them nestled slightly south of the highway down a quite lane. The village is about 30-40 minutes from York and about 30-40 minutes from the focus of today's post, Fountains Abbey.
Cistercian Coat of Arms
In 1132, 13 Benedictine monks from St. Mary's in York went into the wilds of Yorkshire seeking a simpler way of life. Their goal was to establish a monastery where they might live a harsher, reformed, more devout life away from the hustle and bustle of York, a major city even at that time with all that city life entails. In order to achieve their purpose, within three years the monks were admitted to the Cistercian Order, known for its austere lifestyle through strict adherence to the simplicity of the Rule of St. Benedict (more about Cistercian history here and about a monk's daily life at Fountains Abbey here).
While the monks at Fountains Abbey lived out their lives to the toning of bells announcing the daily offices and spent much of their time in prayer, devotion, reading, meditation, and attending to all matters spiritual, the abbey came to depend on its lay brothers for the financial means to support all within its walls. Through the efforts of those lay brothers, Fountains grew to be the largest and richest monastery in northern England with affiliated houses spread as far as Norway. The Abbey's wealth came from its ventures in wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding and stone quarrying. While its fortunes waxed and waned with those of the periods in which it existed, the Abbey didn't survive Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1539, it ceased to function as a religious community and the abbot, prior, and monks were sent away with pensions. The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant, Sir Richard Gresham, and stayed in private hands until 1960's. West Riding County Council sold it to the National Trust in 1983. Since that time, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, located on the edge of Yorkshire Dales National Park, have become major tourist sites.
The Abbey ruins and Study Royal are approached by car from either Ripon, a short distance north of the entrance, or Harrogate from the south. Either route provides scenes of rolling dales and small villages. It is quintessential northern English countryside. Visions of James Herriot bumping over rough lanes to attend the birth of a lamb or Mary and Dicken entering their secret garden come to mind.
Not exactly as I remember it, but close enough.
Once inside the park with tickets in hand, we proceeded through a stand of trees, emerging on the other side to a scene that took my breath away. My memory is of standing on a slight rise above the Skell River Valley with a view of the ruins fairly close by rising up in the morning mists seemingly as if by magic. The scene was magnificent. One can only imagine what the Abbey must have been in its heyday. Looking at the present park brochure map (here), I am wondering if we entered through what is labeled the West Gate. Regardless of the direction from which one approaches, the first glimpse of the ruins will not disappoint. A walk through the grounds will reveal much about abbey life as it was long ago.
1. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/fountains-abbey, Retrieved April 11, 2016.
2. http://cistercians.shef.ac.uk/fountains/, Retrieved April 11, 2016.
3. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/fountains-abbey, Retrieved April 11, 2016.
Title: Miami Days, Havana Nights
Series and Book #: sequel to Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel
Genre: dual timelines of historical fiction/contemporary women’s fiction
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Date of Publication: July 18, 2018
Number of pages: 556
Word Count: 103,000
Sometimes our biggest debts have nothing to do with money.
1926. When seventeen-year-old Sam Ackerman witnesses a mob hit, he is hustled out of New York under the protection of Moshe Toblinsky, A.K.A., the mob’s bookkeeper. Arriving in Miami with no money, no friends, and no place to hide, Sam’s only choice is to do as the gangster demands. Forced into bootlegging, Sam’s misery is compounded when he falls in love. Amazingly, the beautiful, devout Rebecca wants only him, but he cannot give her the life she deserves. When Prohibition ends, Sam begs the mobster to set him free. The price? A debt, as Toblinsky puts it, of friendship. A debt that will one day come due.
Present Day. History of American Crime professor Liz Reams has it all - early success, a tantalizing lead on new info about Moshe Toblinsky, and a wonderful man to love. Life is perfect. So what’s keeping her from accepting her guy’s marriage proposals? Confronting a long-standing personal debt sets her on a journey of self-discovery. While she delves ever deeper into Sam’s and Toblinsky’s relationship, her understanding of her own relationships increases as well, but the revelations come at a price. The emotional and physical dangers of her dual journeys may prove too big to handle.
A follow up to Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel, Miami Days Havana Nights tells the story of 1920-1960's gangsters and the young female history professor determined to suss out their secrets.
Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F7NFD8K
May 18, 1926
105 South Street
New York City
Knocking - sharp, loud, rapid - echoed through the empty speakeasy. Sam froze, the notes of a tune stuck in the roof of his mouth. He glanced at the entrance and leaned the handle of his push broom against his shoulder. Puffs of dust settled on the floor boards around his feet while he remained motionless.
It was late, too late, to be admitting customers, even for the city's illegal watering holes and gambling joints. Although a thick crossbar and several stout locks protected the heavy iron door, an uneasy feeling crawled down Sam's spine. Growing tension over control of the Fulton Fish Market, in fact the entire South Street area, was making a lot of people jumpy, including him.
Several seconds passed without noise from the other side of the door. Sam let out his breath and laughed at himself. Working at the fish market in the afternoon then staying up half the night at the speakeasy didn't leave much time for sleep. It kept him on edge. All the rumors and threats floating around these days weren't helping either. Inclining his ear and hearing nothing, he relaxed and gave his broom a shove.
Bam, bam, bam.
Sam's heart jumped into his throat.
"Open up, Monza. I know you're in there." The shout, colored by an Irish lilt, came from the second floor landing accompanied by renewed pounding. "I come to talk with ya. We need to settle this business. I got a proposition for ya."
Sam's breathing kicked up a notch as he looked over his shoulder toward the office. The boss didn't like to be disturbed when he was meeting with his guys. The pounding from outside in the hall returned in earnest, but the office door remained fixed.
"You gonna open this damned door or do I break it down?" The doorknob rattled and jerked.
Behind Sam, the office door clicked open an inch. He watched in the mirror over the bar as the muzzle of a .38 Special emerged from the opening, its nickel-plated barrel glittering in the overhead lights. One of the gangsters stepped into the room, met Sam's eye in the mirror, and jerked his head, then the room went dark. Sam dropped his broom and backed into an alcove next to the bar. The office door opened wider. Several shadows scurried across the floor. Metal locks and bolts snapped and clanked, then the entrance door swung inward.
I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the American South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.
As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to her or himself, "Let's pretend."
I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband and one adorable German Shorthaired Pointer who is quite certain she’s a little girl.
History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up. Voltaire
Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel Soul Mate Publishing http://amzn.to/16qq3k5
Confederado do Norte Soul Mate Publishing http://amzn.com/B00LMN5OMI
When War Came Home Real Cypress Press http://amzn.com/B010RXNZRO
Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn The Wild Rose Press http://amzn.com/B0121Q6S88
Miami Days, Havana Nights Soul Mate Publishing July 18, 2018 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F7NFD8K