I’ve been doing my Tommy Tourist thing over the weekend, and revisited some of the locations in Cumbria I like to use in my stories. I always model my locations on real places if I can, and the ancient, atmospheric Kirkstone Inn has featured in two of my books so far.
The inn started life as a monastery in the 15th century (the sign over the door says 1476). It perches at the top of the Kirkstone Pass between Lake Windermere and Ullswater in Cumbria, north west England. The inn faces Helvelyn, the highest peak in England, and is itself 15000 feet above sea level. These days they serve real ale and hearty food to hikers, tourists and probably a few sheep too on quiet days.
Never one to waste a decent location, The Kirkstone Inn is the setting for a scene in Shared by the Highlanders, and also makes an appearance in Hard Lessons, book 2 in my trilogy, The Hardest Word.
Here’s the excerpt from Shared by the Highlanders. Charlie is taking her two 16th century warriors, newly arrived in the 21st century, for their first ride in a car.
I march off in the direction of my car.
It’s nothing special, not really, but it looks pretty smart with its black paintwork and contrasting orange-red roof. I open the driver’s door, my keyless entry system working perfectly despite the fob having been jettisoned through over four centuries and back again.
“Is this yours?” Robbie is circling the vehicle, inspecting it from all angles.
“Yes. One of you can ride in front with me, the other in the back.”
“Are you sure it can carry us all? It looks a bit wee, if you don’t mind me saying so.” Will is less impressed than Robbie, clearly.
“Yes. Definitely.” I lift up the boot lid and help Will to stow my bag in there, then I open the rear door and gesture him to get inside. I stifle a grin at the sight of him attempting to fold his long, muscular legs into the space behind the driver’s seat.
I get in myself and reach across to open the passenger door for Robbie. He also looks distinctly ill at ease. Just wait till we reach the M6.
“You need to fasten your seat belts.” I spend the next few minutes insisting they comply with the law, and showing them how to buckle the belts across their bodies. At last we are ready to leave. I press the start button, and the engine purrs into life. Both men lurch in their seats, and I suspect would have leapt from the car had they not been fastened in. I glance in my mirror, and sure enough, Will has his knife in his hand again.
“What’s that? That noise?” Robbie is peering under the dashboard as though the source of this mysterious din might be found there. I suppose he’s not far wrong.
“It’s just the engine. It makes the car go. And please Will, put that knife away before you get us all arrested.”
I turn to face them both. “Look, I’m an advanced driver, right. It goes with being a paramedic, ambulance crew and all that. I know what I’m doing, and we’re perfectly safe. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Okay?”
Their apprehensive grunts suggest they remain unconvinced, but they seem ready to give me the benefit of the doubt. For now. I put the car in gear and reverse out of the bay.
Our journey back along the Kirkstone Pass is enjoyable. Will and Robbie recognise the scenery having traversed this route many times, though of course the landscape has changed to some extent. There are more farmsteads, though not that many. The wind farm, of course, and the drystone walls are new. Well, newish.
At Will’s request I pull into the car park opposite the Kirkstone Inn. He fights his way out of the seatbelt and emerges from the car to stand and gape at the old building.
“I know this place. Well, some of it. That bit, there…” He points to the oldest part, a long, low wing where the main bar is now housed. “I spent several nights here, over the years. It was a smaller place then…”
“Yes, it’s been extended at some stage.” I turn, my back to the inn and gaze over the opposite hillside. I can just make out the skeleton of our oak tree, high on the incline, and the smudge of dark alongside which must be the ruined hut. “Look, over there. That’s where it all happened.”
We all three stand in something like reverent awe. I doubt I’ll ever understand the forces at work which caused this bizarre set of circumstances, but whatever happened it brought me here, to this point, with two men I have come to adore. Life is unpredictable, certainly, but right now it promises to be a great deal of fun.
“Come on, it’s time to get you two home. We have some planning to do.”
Here’s the view of Helvelyn they were looking at. I applied some artistic licence as far as the tree and hut were concerned, and of course a wind farm would never get planning consent. But in stories, anything is possible.