Friday, 24 July 2015

The Phil Rickman Appreciation Society Comes to Hay

Phil Rickman is noted for using real locations in his Merrily Watkins mysteries - or almost real locations - so there are plenty of places in Hay that were mentioned in Magus of Hay.
I went up to the Granary on Saturday morning to meet the rest of the PRAS crowd (I'm the only one who actually lives in Hay). There had been a meet up the night before for the early arrivals, at the Blue Boar, but I missed that.
The Granary had put us upstairs, around a long table - there were about 19 of us, and some had come quite a distance to be there. One American lady lives in Denmark, and the weekend was part of a longer trip to England. Another couple had been to Leominster the day before as fans of another author - Ben Aaronovitch, who was talking in Leominster library about his book Foxglove Summer, also set in Herefordshire. It was easy to spot them - they were wearing badges that said "Foxglove Summer - Peter Grant is on my case!". (Phil Rickman says that PC Peter Grant and Rev Merrily Watkins will never meet - their worlds are just a bit too different to mesh together.)
After coffee, we walked up through town to the Castle, where the organisers (who made surre everything went wonderfully smoothly over the weekend) had booked a private tour. We had to sign a disclaimer, because we were going into parts of the castle not normally open to the public, and not exactly safe!
Our tour guide was wonderful, with a succession of different props to use when he was talking about different times in the history of the castle. He started with a Norman helmet, donned a vicar's collar for the bit about Rev. Kilvert visiting in the time of Archdeacon Bevan, and even had a crown (for Richard Booth) and a Prince Charles mask! This last was when we got up to the attic of the castle, where I'd never been before. The beams are pretty dodgy up there, not so much from the 1977 fire, which caused substantial damage, but some of them had been cut and pegged together from different pieces of wood over the years. There was, however, a bit of original panelling up there, and the only bit of the original staircase from the 1600s to survive the fire.
And at one time, there was a bath.
When Prince Charles came to visit, and he was given a tour of the castle, there was a Victorian bath up in the attic. "That's rather nice," he said, and the next thing to happen was the bath being brought down from the attic (they had to take a window out and swing it down on a crane!) and Elizabeth Haycox was driving it in a trailer all the way to Dumfries House (owned by the Prince) where it now resides!
So, we saw the gargoyles holding up beams in the kitchen, and the floor safe that was put in when Richard Booth had it as a book shop, and the stone lintel of a fireplace that had once been in Clyro Church and may have been some sort of medieval standing stone (no-one was sure how Richard had acquired it, but it was lying in the grounds, and was just the right size to repair the fireplace after the fire).
We saw all the scaffolding in the Norman keep - no-one is allowed in the dungeon at the moment, until some work has been done on the fabric of the building - and went round to admire the gateway, and the curtain wall which is being held up mostly by habit and ivy. There are plans to open up a walkway at the top of the keep, which has an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.
I learned a lot about the different phases of building - you can see the styles of window change over about a hundred year period - and new work suggests that the big fireplaces might be the original medieval fireplaces in origin, and not new to the Jacobean manor house.
And then it was back to the Granary for lunch, via Backfold, where Phil Rickman inserted several shops that aren't really there - and outside the Granary we looked at the side alleys across the road and pictured Gwenda's bar up one of them (Phil was deliberately vague about where this might be).
For lunch we were downstairs in the room that used to be the Granary Bar (easier for some of the party who walked with sticks), where we sat on a cluster of tables. By this time, we were all getting on really well, and it was a very happy party!

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