Lost in Time – researching for Dominica!

I’ve been gone one thousand, three hundred and twenty-eight years – back in time … to an era we call ‘The Dark Ages’. The Roman garrisons have gone – left these isles to tend to their problems closer to Rome with a farewell letter to the Romano-British from the Emperor Honorius, in AD410, to see to their own protection  – even as they called for aid to fend off the raiding Saxons. However, by the date I’ve been visiting, AD689, the Angles, Jutes and Saxons are well ensconced in the majority of what will become England, but the Vikings are not yet attacking.

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Can you see the river Tamar, just behind the trees – and further beyond?

I am in Cornwall, here, just over the border – the river Tamar. Though, in AD689 Cornwall is not Cornwall – as such, it is part of Dumnonia, roughly Devon and Cornwall and part of Somerset and Dorset, and it is a different place culturally to the rest of ‘England’. The West Saxons (those being the closest – Wessex) have not overtaken the people of Dumnonia yet – in fact – even the Romans had made little impact here, this side of the river, either … a few forts only – no fancy towns all laid out Roman style with villas and influence over the local Kings* here. (*or ‘big-man’ as the system seemed to be in Cornwall in the pre-Roman times … and probably was even at the end of the AD600s.)

So it is a tumultuous time on the border, the threat of invasion by the West Saxons is real, they have made in-roads into Dumnonia … and they have a new battle-cry. By this time the Anglo-Saxons had, by and large, turned from their pagan gods to Christianity, some converted by missionaries from Rome, some by missionaries from Ireland. This had resulted in a clash of Christian doctrines – the Roman church and the Celtic church having different ways to work out the Christian calendar, different tonsures for their monks, and differing rules and ways of worship and a different attitude towards women. Within my time-line comes the decisive synod of Whitby, AD664, that found in favour of the Roman Church and meant that the Celtic churches that would not change were then seen as heretical – and to be wiped out.

The Church in Dumnonia, and especially the ‘Cornish’ ones backed by King Geraint and so rich in Celtic saints from Ireland, refused to change – setting themselves up for the West Saxons to proclaim a ‘religious war’ as a motive to back-up their invasions.

It’s been hard to get back to the here and now – I look at the landscape around me with different eyes – where would have been occupied? Where would have been safe? I read the names of the places I know and refer to my books to see whether I can call the place by its current name – whether the name we know is, in fact, original Celtic (Cornish) or an English name given only after the West Saxons’ invasion, or a blend … and even that has made me look at the landscape again and see things with different eyes as I find the meanings behind the words.

Those who know me in person, know that I am interested in history, mainly local history rather than that of Kings and Queens, but this is something different. To weave a story based on a few scanty legends (Dominica and Indract), set in a time that is poorly recorded (there’s the reason it is called the Dark Ages) and to try to throw myself back into that time and inhabit that landscape and that life is, for me, an extraordinary experience, both thrilling and very scary. It is also totally absorbing and takes me to a place I have never travelled before!

Wish me luck on my time-travels 🙂

Do you go time-travelling?

Do you find yourself inhabiting a different world when visiting ancient houses or estates?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you!

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