Tag Archives: London

The Lady Novelist follows a Roman Road

Londinium. Roman Baths. All roads lead, etc. I’ve been in various parts of the former Roman Empire, from Hungary, Egypt and Jordan to Rome itself.

It’s always fun to find little bits of older civilisations in layers under the current one. It’s like etymology for landscapes – the backstories that help to describe, to a degree, how the current narrative unfurled.

Londinium

This trip, besides burrowing into Sherlock Holmes and Richard III, Tim and I have been poking about the remains of Roman Britain. In London we went on a self-guided Roman London walk and visited the remains of a Roman bath house located under an office building at Billingsgate.

The guide was brilliant at bringing stones and dirt to life, describing the uses of the larger buildings that once stood here, and the remaining chambers, and drawing parallels with modern life (dodgy builders, cost-cutting measures, lovers’ trysts, unsolved mysteries).

Very much worth the visit!

Hadrian’s Wall

Of course, the Romans inhabited Britain for several hundred years, from the southern end right up to the Antonine Wall, north of the more famous Hadrian’s Wall, built in AD122.

Which, not coincidentally, is the number of the bus that runs in a circuit between Hexham and Haltwhistle, enabling those short on time or the inclination to hike to visit key sites along the remains of Hadrian’s Wall.

Our first stop was Chester’s Fort, which predates the wall, then boarded the bus again for Housesteads. The remains of a Roman fort are here too and, key for us, a large segment of the wall.

Tim had done a little googling. A walk between Housesteads and the next stop, Steel Rigg, should take about an hour and a quarter, claimed Google, giving us a topography map and a false sense of confidence. It’s only 4.6km, said Google slyly. It’s a sunny day. Go on. Walk a bit of the wall.

Off we went, wreathed in sunshine, the wall on our right, a song in our hearts. We were striding hilltops where nearly 1900 years ago, men from across Rome’s vast empire piled up stones to mark the extent of their Empire’s territory.

They served as citizens, or in the hope of becoming citizens. They maintained the border, defended it as required. They waited for letters from home, looking out over green hillsides and the vistas of all that weather rolling in, clouds gathering and parting, looming and clearing.

Black-faced sheep eyes us warily; very large cows were more sanguine. Energetic people with hiking poles passed us in either direction, cheerily saying it was hours to go until Steel Rigg, and with much rougher and muddier terrain.

We would have thanked them, but we were too busy negotiating steep rises and falls and trying not to face-plant among the rocks.

Finally, two hours into our one hour walk and still only half way to our destination, we came to a little farm, with a lovely little road leading right back out to that wonderful main road that had buses on it. We decided it had been fabulous. Beautiful and breathtaking and thoroughly worthwhile to have walked those hills alongside that amazing wall.

Then we went straight on down that farm road and caught a bus to the next stop. Sandwich and soup in the brand-spanking-new centre at The Sill fuelled us for a final bus ride to Vindolanda.

Only the preceding week, the news had announced that digs at Vindolanda had located a cavalry sword – a rare find, since such weapons were very valuable – and the brass fittings of riding harness. And not quite a month after being dug up from the site, these pieces were on display at the Vindolanda museum.

Weary with our triumphs, we got the bus back to Hexham – transported by AD122 back to 2017 and the joys of a hot meal at a Hexham pub and a hot shower at our B&B.

On the morrow, the AD122 took us to a brief stopover at the Roman Army Museum, which makes brilliant use of audio visual and a little 3D movie to bring the people of the Roman Empire to life. In the process, all those stones along which we tramped, all those walls razed to a few feet high, were depicted evocatively as the lonely outposts, for these soldiers far from home.

Carlisle

From AD122 to Haltwhistle and thence to Carlisle, where the Tallie House Museum gives up a little more of the region’s Roman history – including a murder mystery! The body of a man found dumped in a well was doubtless done in by foul play.

I’m sure Richard III would empathise, even if Sherlock Holmes is unlikely to ever solve it.

Tim and I visited all these museums thanks to Visit Britain; accommodation in Carlisle was courtesy Accor Hotels.


All roadslead to Rome, and also to my most recent fiction.

  • Ravenfall, a paranormal thriller and gay romance set in contemporary London,
  • Near Miss, a short lesbian love story with yarnbombing, set in Melbourne.
  • If het love/adventure stories are more your thing, check out my spy series, Secret Agents, Secret Lives.

The Lady Novelist explores Sherlock Holmes’s London (Part 2)

I hit the ground running on my first day in London, what with the Britmovietours Sherlock Holmes walk and the much less strenuous delights of staying in the Langham Hotel.

My second day in London, “that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained” was spent even more energetically.

“I am the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather—that is, when the fit is on me, for I can be spry enough at times”  ~ Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet.

I hesitate to say I was spry at all, but I was far from lazy.

Madame Tussaud’s

I’d always assumed the famous waxworks museum would be cheesy though slickly presented. I wasn’t especially tempted to visit, although I’ve been fascinated to read about the history of waxwork models and their role in studying anatomy through the publications of the now-defunct Morbid Anatomy Museum.

A visit to Madame Tussaud’s was on the cards, though, because of its Sherlock Holmes Experience theatrical event. And also because it houses a couple of Sherlock Holmeses!

The waxworks is every bit as cheesy as I’d expected, and also very slick – and a huge amount of fun.  It’s a curious collision of the historical and the new, because Madame Tussaud originally made her waxworks of famous figures in the late 18th century. Here we are in the 21st with essentially the same technology and the same purpose – but now we can take selfies with our celebrity substitutes. Knowing they’re wax replicas doesn’t diminish the fun. In fact, if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you can imagine them all as Autons about to come to life and the fun just doubles.

Naturally I had photos taken with a few of my favourite historical and theatrical faves: William Shakespeare, Freddy Mercury, Helen Mirren and Benedict Cumberbatch.

It’s a labryinth inside, but eventually we came across the entry to the Sherlock Holmes Experience. Robert Downey Junior’s Sherlock stood sentry in the chamber, designed to look like a Victorian London Street.

The Experience is a bit of a mixed bag – the Baker Street set is good fun, and Mrs Hudson’s greeting and explanation of the puzzle is full of pizzazz. It’s fun to be sent through doors and find yourself at the docks, the morgue and other locales. The final part of the story gallops a bit quickly to a close and feels like it runs out of puff. But never mind: the crypt in which you find yourself is full of headstones with fabulously silly puns which you’ll get if you know your Conan Doyle canon.

London Walks: Sherlock Holmes’s London

Not content with punishing the shoe leather as mentioned, Tim and I went on to join the regular Friday afternoon Sherlock Holmes’s London tour run by London Walks.

Our guide was Richard (the Fourth of his name at the company) who was led us on our two-hour tour with its focus on Arthur Conan Doyle’s life and inspirations in London as well as locations from the 60 Sherlock Holmes stories he gave us.

Richard not only knows his ACD and Sherlock Holmes stuff, he speaks with warmth and wit. On the rare occasions this walk overlapped with the Britmovietour’s, Richard provided different anecdotes, so nothing is lost by going on both walks.

If you’re more a fan of the original stories than the various film versions, this is probably the walk for you, as it winds around places where Conan Doyle lived or visited as well as locations he used or was inspired by in creating his iconic characters.

In any case, for £10 it’s a great look at London and Sherlock Holmes, set at a pace that even Mycroft might easily manage, let alone Sherlock on a lazy day.


I have no secrets from Sherlock Holmes: Tim Richards and I are being hosted on this trip by VisitBritain.


While you’re in a Sherlockian mood, you might like to read my Holmes ♥ Watson novel The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, or a traditional Holmes + Watson short story.

Speaking of which, my Holmes + Watson story The Problem of the Three Journals, an alternative universe tale of Holmes and Watson as a pair of Melbourne hipsters who run a cafe and solve mysteries, will appear in Baker Street Irregulars 2: The Game is Afoot in 2018. You can pre-order your copy now!