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Book launches, biblical floods, and best endeavours!

I was really looking forward to this weekend.  Two of my writer friends have new historical novels out (‘The Blood of Kings’ by Angela King, and ‘Pleasing Mr Pepys’ by Deborah Swift), and both had launch parties in the space of three days.

First was Angela’s, which she held on Thursday at the Quarter Lounge in Carlisle. I bowled up on the train, quietly boiling as it was a surprisingly warm sunny day, and had a nice meal at the venue with several writer friends. Then came the launch itself, which included Angela being interviewed by fellow writer LP Mennock, and reading from both ‘The Blood of Kings’ and its sequel, ‘To Kill a Queen’. Both books are set, rather unusually, against the backdrop of the earliest years of Elizabeth I’s reign, a turbulent period during which she survived umpteen attempts on her life, and it was fascinating to hear Angela speak about this. And the venue had done her proud, with lots of decorations including metal crowns over all the candles!

Saturday brought Deborah’s launch at the bookshop in Carnforth, a small market town on the Lancashire/Cumbria border. The weather locally had been diabolical overnight and throughout the morning, and we knew some of the roads had been affected by flash flooding. So we got the car out early, and headed for our ‘last resort’, a narrow lane which clambers over the fells at the back of Windermere and links up with the road to Kendal. It’s narrow, steep, and twisting, but hardly anyone apart from the locals knows about it and it’s been something of a life-saver in the past. This time, we got up the steep slope to the first bend to be met by a wall of red brake lights, and had the tricky task of turning round in a road barely six feet wide, whilst braving traffic rushing at us from all directions at once. We managed it eventually, and got ourselves back home. We’d driven the impressive distance of 1.3 miles, and it had taken us over twenty minutes. But all other routes out of Windermere were blocked; the trains stopped running; and the town was effectively cut off for several hours. And in those circumstances, there’s not much else you can do.

It was a real shame to miss Deborah’s event as I’ve been to several of hers in the past and they’re always great fun. This book is an amusing romp involving Samuel Pepys and a fictional maid-servant, skilfully written to include events that we know about from Pepys’s own diaries. I’m hoping to meet up with Deborah for coffee soon, and hear all about both the launch and the book in much more detail.

In the meantime, the floods soon cleared, and we escaped without wet feet (or a wet floor) this time round. But other properties around town weren’t so lucky, and it was quite dramatic while it lasted. As you can see from this photo, which I took just a few hundred yards from our house.

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Two go exploring in Appleby

For a complete change on Saturday we headed to the east of Cumbria, to a small town we’d never been to before – Appleby, or Appleby-in-Westmorland to give it its full name.

Appleby lies on the River Eden not far from the Pennine heights of Cross Fell, Great Dun Fell and the like. It’s famous for a number of reasons – being the only town to retain the original county name of Westmorland in its title; holding an annual horse fair which attracts hundreds of travellers and horse traders, many in colourful traditional caravans; and flooding with monotonous regularity. It flooded during Storm Desmond, and the effects are still being felt. Indeed, there was a massive earth-mover trundling around in the river bed while we were walking around, no doubt carrying out dredging or restructuring of some sort.

Appleby is also a very ancient settlement, with a Norman church and a castle that dates back to around 1100, and many beautiful old houses surrounding the market place, the main street up the hill towards the castle, and the river crossing. It’s surprisingly small, though, with a population of only around 3,000.  We were both expecting something a little larger, with more streets, more shops, more cafes, more, well, everything really!

We had a good potter round anyway and took lots of photos. But there was a keen wind blowing off the river, the temperature was only about 11c, there’s an admission charge to go in the castle (even though it’s a hotel?!), and we sort of ran out of things to do. I was particularly annoyed about the castle, as it’s reputed to be haunted and holds regular paranormal tours and events, but the main bit was closed on Saturday anyway. So we hopped in the car and headed back to the pretty village of Orton, in the moors a few miles to the south, where we had an excellent home-made lunch at the Orton Scar café and came away with a neat little wooden cabinet for the kitchen wall.

It was lovely to see Appleby; it’s old and full of character and interesting nooks and crannies, and on a warmer day we’d have been tempted to do a long walk along the banks of the river. As it is, we’ll almost certainly go back some day for another look. As long as it isn’t under water!

Here’s a handful of photos of the church, the castle and the main street.  Oh, and that digger in the river, which suddenly decided to drive straight at me while I was taking the photo!

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