Location, Location, Location #18

Location No 18 – Delamere Forest, Cheshire, UK

Let’s hop on the tour bus today and leave the big city behind. Our latest stop on the literary tour through the pages of my novels takes us to Delamere Forest in the heart of the Cheshire countryside. If we’re in Cheshire, we must be Following the Green Rabbit, which seems appropriate for this Easter weekend.

Delamere Forest, in the north-west of England, is also known as the ‘forest of the lakes’. It is the largest area of woodland in the country and it’s an ancient woodland too: the remains of the great forests of Mara and Mondrem, hunting areas which date back to the 11th century. It’s still an important recreational site, although now for walking, hiking and cycling rather than chasing down deer and wild boar.

It’s also on the way to Beeston Reclamation, a large architectural antiques retailers, which we visited several times when we were renovating our last house in Liverpool. One time, we were looking for some quarry tiles to replace the broken ones we found under the hideous green carpet we took up in the lounge-dining room. What a happy find that floor was! Happier still, while we were looking at the tiles that were available, we got chatting to someone who was looking to off-load a pile of the very same tiles – all for free so long as we went to fetch them – which, of course, we did.

But back to Delamere Forest. The narrow country road which cuts north-south through the forest has the feel of an old Roman road. The trees rise on either side giving you a feeling of being in a great green tunnel, especially in summer.

I remember visiting Delamere Forest one late spring day and coming upon a glade of bluebells. It was a magical site. One I took away with me and eventually incorporated into the creation of Bluebell Wood, the small woodland which lies just beyond the orchard belonging to the house where Bryony and Bethany from Following the Green Rabbit live. Geographically speaking, Delamere Forest is not so far from Daresbury, the Cheshire village which, in my imagination, became the principal backdrop to the novel. I just had to drag a little piece of forest about 10 miles north-east. The Forest’s ancient nature also fuelled my imagination for the story and, of course, for heroines Bryony and Bethany, living so close to a ‘forbidden’ woodland makes for a great start to an adventure.

Now let’s hop off the bus and feel the warmth of the breeze on our faces. Let’s walk a little way and find a perfect patch of grass, lie down and look up at the clouds. What can you see?

Excerpt from Following the Green Rabbit

“Come and look at the clouds with me,” Bethany shouted. She was sitting on the soft grass, legs stretched out, leaning back on her hands, her golden curls tumbling over her shoulders. “Come on, Briney.”

Bryony gathered her things and went to join her sister. They lay on the grass, heads touching, staring up at the blue summer sky. “Look, there’s a squirrel,” she pointed at a fat round cloud, dragging a wispy plume behind it.

“I think it looks more like Celia’s cat. Tom said we might have one of her kittens when they’re old enough.”

“If Hodge lets us.”

“She will if we ask her nicely.”

Bryony was pointing again, over to the left. “Doesn’t that one look just like Clara?” Clara was Bryony’s favourite hen, a little round bantam with snowy white feathers and frills on her feet. She closed her eyes and listened to the insects buzzing around the fruit trees. Tom was pleased with them and a bumper crop of apples, cherries and plums was anticipated.

Bethany sighed. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”

“With no Mr Eyre.”

“He can’t be worse than Miss Calderbridge.”

“With her stupid pointy nose and her silly stuck up voice.”

Both girls giggled. Bryony rolled over on her stomach. “Mama hasn’t been very good at picking our tutors so far, has she?” She plucked a daisy from the grass and examined it. “I suppose it’s harder when you’re so far away.”

“What’s it like in India?” Bethany turned on one side and looked at her sister.

“Well, the garden with all those roses on that postcard Mama sent looked a bit like ours didn’t it? But it’s much, much hotter there.”

They had been silent for a little while, when suddenly they heard something rustling in the bushes by the fence behind them. They looked round to see an enormous rabbit emerge, nose twitching. His fur was grey-brown with a slight tinge of green. He nibbled on a piece of long grass and then hopped past them. He was so close that Bryony could have stretched out and touched him. He stopped by the first tree and sat up on his hind legs. Then he turned and looked directly at them.

“That’s the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen. Look at his fur.” Bryony whispered.

The rabbit’s ears twitched. “Do you think he wants us to follow him?” Bethany whispered back.

Bryony laughed. “You’re not Alice.” It was only last year that Bryony had read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to her.

“But look, Briney.” The rabbit had raised a paw in their direction. “I’ll just go a bit nearer.” She stood up slowly so as not to alarm the creature, then took a few steps towards him.

The rabbit hopped off as far as the next stand of apple trees. He stopped and turned, looking up at Bethany with his dark brown eyes. His left ear bent quizzically. She looked back at Bryony. “I’m going to follow him.”

Bryony watched her sister scamper off after the rabbit. At twelve, going on thirteen, she felt she was a bit old to be running after rabbits, even if it was an exceptional-looking animal. She rolled over on her back and resumed her contemplation of the clouds. They formed pictures in her mind; pictures which she would later turn into stories. Miss Calderbridge had not approved of her work. Far from it. ‘Too fanciful’, she’d said in that prissy high voice. Fortunately she’s left soon after that particular pronouncement. That had been more than two months ago and Bryony’s note book was more than half full now. She hoped Mr Eyre would be more sympathetic and not try to force useless mathematical problems down her throat. She was going to be a writer. What possible use was algebra?

Bryony was distracted by thoughts of Mr Eyre. How old was he? Might he be young and handsome? Mama’s letter hadn’t mentioned these things. Her eyes refocused on the sky. She let her imagination run free, then struck by a burst of inspiration, she sat up. After a few minutes’ thought she snatched up her note book and pencil and hurried over to the bench under the oak tree, one of her favourite writing spots. Starting on a new page she wrote the words, Bethany and the Great Green Rabbit. She sucked the end of her pencil for a moment then began to write.

Bryony wrote five pages in her closely written script as her story unfolded. Eventually she came to a halt and closed the note book, a satisfied smile on her face. She looked up through the rich canopy of oak leaves which shielded her from the summer sunshine. The shadows had shortened. She’d better go and find her sister. Bryony leapt to her feet and stowed the note book and pencil in her pinafore pocket before setting off through the orchard.

There was a small woodland at the far side. The girls weren’t really supposed to go in there, but they often had, although only as far as the first clearing. No doubt Bethany would be picking bluebells there.

When Bryony reached the clearing, sure enough, there she was sitting on a fallen log. Her long, golden hair obscured her face. She was looking down, examining something she was holding in her hands.

“What have you got there?” Bryony asked as she sat down next to her sister. Bethany held out a tiny wooden object. It just fitted into the palm of her hand. It was a carving of a little bird, which had once been painted; brown feathers on its back and red on its breast. A robin. “It’s lovely, Beth, where did you find it?”


FOLLOWING THE GREEN RABBIT
~ a fantastical adventure

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Image credits: woodlandtrust.org.uk, visit-chester.co.uk
Cloud photo by Laurette van de Merwe

Location, Location, Location #14

Location No.14 – Northwich, Cheshire

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.


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Location, Location, Location #9

Speke Hall, Liverpool

Today’s stop on our literary tour through my novels takes us to a specific location in South Liverpool. Grade 1 listed Speke Hall has a fascinating history, and a whole novel could have been constructed around a number of events associated with the house and its inhabitants. However, it purely serves as a backdrop to my story.

My familiarity with the building is connected to the tea-rooms there, and not just for the coffee and cake, although as any writer knows, that would be reason enough. It was, among a number of venues, where I used to meet with members of my team to conduct their appraisals. We were all home-based workers, probably some of the first back in the early noughties, and following a remark from one of my neighbours about the number of ‘gentleman callers’ I’d had to my house, I realised that having home-based meetings was probably not such a good idea. Hence I came to know the nearby tea-rooms at Speke Hall rather well. Not all the meetings were easy, but the lovely setting made the whole business a little less stressful, and allowed my reputation to recover.

Speke Hall – tea-rooms and visitors’ centre

Speke Hall is a beautiful old manor house, with parts dating back to Tudor times, and it’s just the kind of place that wicked Lord Childecott, the antagonist in Following the Green Rabbit, might have lived, although I had to whisk it away to the next county for the purposes of my story. In addition, the estate’s former farm buildings, which were converted into the tea-rooms, could quite easily have served as one of the outbuildings in which Mr Eyre was imprisoned by the evil Lord, if you picture them without windows and with a thatched roof, as they probably would have been in the past.

I was deliberately vague about the time-period in which the novel was set in order to avoid becoming embroiled in too much historical research, but we’re somewhere in the late sixteenth century. Like William Norris, a Royalist, who lived in Speke Hall at the time, Lord Childecott would be suspicious of both the French and the Jacobites. Of course, my antagonist is suspicious of any stranger, but to tell you more would give the game away if you haven’t read the novel.

I had in mind the Great Hall with its grand fireplace and oak paneling, as the setting for the scene below.

Speke Hall, The Great Hall

Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit

Up at the Manor House, Lord Childecott was getting nowhere with his new prisoner. Despite his best efforts, Mr Eyre was failing to co-operate. True, he hadn’t resorted to violence yet, and that was always a possibility. His chief enforcer, Smiler, so named because of his lack of teeth, was a dab hand with the thumb screws and other less than dainty tools. However, he had a feeling that such methods would only work if Eyre was to watch them being applied to someone he cared about. If local gossip was true, then he knew just who that would be.

Lord Childecott paced the room while Mr Eyre sat patiently on the chair to which he had been bound. Since his capture that afternoon, he’d been locked up in a dusty outbuilding. He had tried to find a way out, but although he’d succeeded in freeing himself from the ropes which tied his hands and feet, escape from the building had proved impossible. Now it was evening. He was hungry and thirsty and he was facing his captor and his questions.

“I’ll ask you again, Eyre, where are you from?”

“And I’ll tell you again. I came from the other side of the wood.”

“You were on my land and that’s forbidden.” Lord Childecott glared at him. What do you want here?” He strode over and fingered Mr Eyre’s jacket. “And why are you so strangely dressed?”

Had his hands not been bound to the chair, Mr Eyre would have raised them in a gesture of exasperation. “If I told you where I’m from, you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me,” Lord Childecott snarled, an inch from Mr Eyre’s face. Mr Eyre tried to avoid grimacing at the stench of Lord Childecott’s rotten-toothed breath.

“I believe I’ve come from the future. More than two hundred years in the future, judging by what you’re wearing and the style of the buildings here,” Mr Eyre replied glancing around the room.

“Don’t trifle with me, Eyre.”

“I’m not. Look, you say I’m strangely dressed. This is how gentlemen are accustomed to dress in the first decade of the twentieth century. Look in my pocket” he indicated his jacket pocket. Childecott didn’t move. “Well, go on, look.”

Childecott reached into Mr Eyre’s pocket and brought out the Box Brownie.

“That’s called a camera. It’s a new invention. Something from the future,” said Mr Eyre. “It takes pictures, likenesses if you will.” Mr Eyre thought for a moment. “Like an automated artist.”

Childecott turned the camera over in his hands. He put it to his ear and shook it. “In this little box?”

“Do be careful with that,” Mr Eyre pleaded.

Childecott tossed the camera onto a nearby couch where it rolled over and came to rest on its side. “I don’t believe you. Some foreign toy, no doubt,” he sneered. “Now, who are you working for? The Jacobites? The French?”

“I’ve told you. I’m not working for anyone and I’m not a spy. I’ve told you what I believe has happened.”

“Enough! You are trying my patience.” Lord Childecott thought for a moment, then turned to one of his men who was standing by the door. “Lock him up again and fetch Martha Stebbins, I’m sure we can give you an incentive to talk once you see what Smiler here can do to your friend Mistress Stebbins.”

Two of Lord Childecott’s enforcers untied Mr Eyre, then taking him firmly by the arms, frog-marched him from the room.

“No! No!” He struggled against them wildly. “You leave Martha out of this. I…” At Lord Childecott’s signal one of the guards stuffed a grubby piece of material in to Mr Eyre’s mouth and he could speak no more.

As the two enforcers dragged the struggling Mr Eyre across the courtyard and back to the barn, he noticed a flash of movement behind the Manor House. The guards, however, were too preoccupied with trying to manoeuvre their resisting captive to notice the two boys watching from the other side of the yard. Mr Eyre was manhandled through the barn door, all the time protesting through his gag. One of the men yanked it out of his mouth.

“Go on, you can yell all you like out here. No one will hear you.” He laughed and heaved the door closed, dropping the heavy wooden plank into place and barring the door shut.

Mr Eyre got to his feet and started to hammer on the door with his bound hands, bellowing at the top of his voice to be released.

“Right then, we’d better go and fetch old Martha,” the guard said to his companion as they stomped off, leaving Mr Eyre cursing and yelling and banging on the barn door.


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Image credits: Rodhullandemu, wikiwand, countrylife.co.uk

Location, Location, Location #5

Location No. 5 – Daresbury, Cheshire

The latest stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us to Daresbury, one of the numerous villages located in the rolling Cheshire plain, which was the inspiration for the village near Bluebell House, home to Bryony, Bethany and their tutor, Mr Eyre in Following the Green Rabbit.

Daresbury is not so physically close to Alderley Edge as the fictional village in the novel, but the overall impression of this pretty little village, with its narrow lanes and Victorian cottages, was the perfect backdrop for the action that was to play out in the story.

I first stumbled on this quaint little village (I’m hoping it still is) during a narrow boat holiday back in the 1980s. Searching for lunchtime refreshment, we set out from the canal, and struck out towards the nearest village, which actually turned out to be quite a tidy step! Even now, I remember the hedgerows that lined the narrow lanes, where we picked blackberries for a not-very-successful dessert that evening. We passed the church, and a little further along, we found the all-important ‘Ring’o’Bells’ public house.

Not at all relevant to my story, but of interest, is the fact that Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was born at the vicarage in Daresbury. All Saint’s church has some wonderful stained-glass windows depicting scenes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Lewis Carroll inspired window in All Saint’s Church, Daresbury

There’s a print of this lovely depiction hanging in my bathroom. Was it from this connection that I unconsciously introduced a strange green rabbit into the story? We don’t actually visit the interior of the church in the book. If we had, it might have sent Mr Eyre down a whole new rabbit hole. But I digress.

The village green is a key location in Following the Green Rabbit, but as far as I recall, there isn’t much of one in Daresbury, and I found myself remembering the one in the village in which I grew up, in Upper Poppleton, near York, way across the Pennines in Yorkshire. I have the impression that there were stocks on the corner of the Green at one time, but I think that’s just my imagination!

The Village Green in Upper Poppleton

Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit’

The village was a pleasant fifteen minute walk from Bluebell Wood House. The narrow lane was lined with leafy hedgerows where insects buzzed. “We collected blackberries and elderberries for jam along here last year, Mr Eyre.” Bryony pointed out a row of tall bramble bushes. “Look Bethany, there are so many again, and they’ll be ripe soon.”

“And did you eat as many as you picked?” Mr Eyre said, laughing as he rummaged about in the bushes, examining the fruit. “I know I did as a boy.”

“Do they have blackberries in London?” asked Bethany.

“Well, not in the city itself, apart from in some of the parks. But I grew up in Kent. I only went to London later on.”

They walked a little further. “So tell me, ladies of the flowering vine and house of figs, what other useful plants can we find here in the hedgerows?” He rubbed his chin. “You know we really should’ve brought a flora.”

“A flora?”

“Yes, you know, Miss Bryony, a book for identifying flowering plants. No doubt your Papa has such a volume in his collection?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure he has.”

Mr Eyre plucked a couple of likely samples from the hedge and tossed them into Bethany’s basket. He crouched before her, eyes wide with enthusiasm. “Maybe you could try drawing some of them?”

Bethany nodded happily.

“And I could label them,” added Bryony.

“Splendid idea,” Mr Eyre exclaimed, rising swiftly to his feet and waving his forefinger in the air. “Using the original Latin names, of course.” He spun around and pointed down the lane. “Now let us press on into the village.”

The lane broadened out at the crossroads at the edge of the village which boasted a line of neat brick-built houses arrayed around the village green. There were couple of stone water troughs for passing horses and, much to Mr Eyre’s delight, the old village stocks, which fortunately were padlocked shut, or otherwise, no doubt, he would have felt himself obliged to demonstrate.

The post office and general store was on the far side of the green. Mr Eyre lengthened his stride on seeing his objective and the girls almost had to run to keep up.

The little bell above the door tinkled as Mr Eyre opened it. Rosy-cheeked Mrs. Gilbert was standing behind the post office counter. She greeted the two girls warmly and asked when they were next expecting a letter from their parents. “So exciting dealing with post from so far away!” she exclaimed. Bryony answered politely and swiftly introduced Mr Eyre, who she noticed was twitching with impatience.

He rubbed his hands together. “Mrs. Gilbert, delighted to make your acquaintance. Tell me, have you a package for me? I am expecting one.”

“Likewise I’m sure, Mr Eyre, I’ll have a look in the back.” Mrs. Gilbert bustled through into the storeroom. A few moments later she returned with a parcel almost the size of a shoe box neatly-wrapped in brown paper. She looked at it inquisitively, peering up at Mr Eyre from behind her half-moon glasses.

“May I?” Mr Eyre put his hand out.

“A mystery parcel from my newest customer. What can it be?” she said curiously.

“Aha, you will have to wait and see, Mrs. G.” Mr Eyre replied, touching the side of his nose. He turned to the girls. “Miss Bryony, Miss Bethany, will you accompany me further?”

“Well I never did. Not a word of an answer,” said Mrs. Gilbert to herself as they left the shop.


Following the Green Rabbit is available in paperback and ebook.

Image Credits: GoogleMaps, haltonheritage.co.uk

Location, Location, Location #2

Location No. 2 – Alderley Edge, Cheshire

In the second of my series discussing the settings for my novels, come with me to Alderley Edge, in Cheshire, NW England.

“Alderley Edge is an abrupt and elevated ridge, formerly the site of a beacon, which bears the appearance of having been detached by some great convulsion of nature. … The sides are varied with cultivated land, wood and rock; and the entire mass presents a striking object to all the surrounding district over which it commands a most extensive prospect.” The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, George Ormerod (1819).

This looming escarpment provides the backdrop to my third novel, ‘Following the Green Rabbit’, which I began writing during NaNoWriMo in 2018. By this time, I’d been living in South Africa for eight years, so I was drawing heavily on my carefully stored memories of the English countryside for the setting.

Alderley Edge still towers over a patchwork of fields and farmland and small villages. It has an ancient, timeless quality. I drove past it numerous times when making the journey home from North Wales to Liverpool, and I can still see it clearly in my mind’s eye: a massive stark shape hunched over the surrounding landscape, dark against the glowing afternoon sky. This, and the open countryside beyond, the wide Cheshire Plain, peppered with old villages that still hold the essence of the past, was the perfect setting for the novel.

This location also provided the setting for two of my favourite childhood novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, written by British novelist, Alan Garner. Garner lived locally and the timeless quality of the place and the legends associated with it, inspired him too. It’s a place where anything might happen at any time in history.

The towering escarpment, presiding as it does over a flat, low-lying landscape, is a metaphor for the wicked Lord of the Manor in the novel, whose presence looms over the lives of the people who live in the village where my two plucky heroines find themselves.

Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit’

They stood up, wondering where to run. The sound of the hooves was getting louder. A horse snorted and they heard a man cry out.

“Quick. Behind the house.” Bryony grabbed her sister’s hand and they ran around the back of the damaged building.

Seconds later the clearing was full of stomping horses. The girls cowered under the window at the back of the house.

A man shouted. “Where did he go?” Another voice: “Search the buildings.”

Bethany gasped. Bryony held her tight. Over her shoulder she saw something moving in the bushes. A boy’s head appeared. His eyes were wide-open and startled-looking. He stared straight at Bryony, who froze, clinging on to her sister. Bryony was aware of more shouting at the front of the house. The men were arguing. She focused on the boy’s face. It was scratched and dirty, his hair was sticking out wildly from under his cap and his shirt was torn. He looked to left and right, then beckoned to her, nodding and mouthing words to her.

Bethany twisted around to see what Bryony was looking at. She gasped in surprise. The boy beckoned with greater urgency. At the front of the building the shouting stopped.

Then suddenly, they heard the order. “Find him! Spread out! He’s got to be here somewhere.” The voice was harsh and the accent strange to Bryony’s ears. She looked at Bethany and nodded. They scrabbled into the bushes and followed the boy as he disappeared deep into the undergrowth.

He moved rapidly and the girls struggled to keep up. But they did. The men’s shouts as they rode around the glade on their heavy-hoofed horses spurred them on. Low branches tugged at their hair and their clothes, while brambles scratched their bare legs. They stumbled over roots and crawled over logs for what seemed like ages. The boy glanced back a couple of times to check on their progress, but he didn’t slacken the pace. Finally they came to a steep bank where he stopped.

“Get ourselves over that,” he nodded at the bank, “they’ll not follow. A bit further on there’s a place where we can stop and talk.”

The girls weren’t used to climbing but he showed them how to use the tree roots as hand and foot holds and they soon managed to clamber up. A series of rocky outcrops on the other side made it easy enough for the girls to scramble down.

“Follow me,” the boy said. The girls obeyed, picking their way along the rock-strewn path. Both were grateful to still be wearing their sturdy outdoor shoes from their morning walk into the village. A little further along he stopped again and led them down another dip in the land to a wide flat slab of stone at the entrance to a cave.

The boy flopped down on the ground just inside the cave. The girls followed his example, leaning back against the smooth cave walls. “That was a close call,” he said. “I thought me goose was well and truly cooked.”


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