Researching Medieval Travel for ‘Duty Binds Us’

1190 – 1210

I am in the process of writing the sequel to my medieval romance. Within the novel I have three different journey that I am presently researching. There are two other journeys but I’m not yet concentrating on these, they may even just ‘happen’ with no great detail.

As with any journey the main questions are; How far is it? How long with it take? How do we get there? What problems are likely to occur? And, where do we sleep at night? Just stepping back to consider problems. The weather would have had a greater effect on travellers than it has today as they would have been more exposed when travelling. The terrain would also differ, roads did exist, the Romans had built some of them, but their conditions varied. Dirt roads would have dusky in summer, muddy when it rained and icy in the frost and snow. Many would be surrounded by forests and possible attacks from robbers, hence need for protection when travelling.

party ridingThe first journey is from Anjou to England. The destination is a fictitious place called Westbury, but as a guide for distances I’m substituting Warwick. Isabel, who is thirteen, has to travel from her home to the castle of her betrothed. Her uncle, who has the duty of accompanying her, has just returned from the Holy Lands arriving back in France in August. The journey involves crossing the English Channel, or the Narrow Sea as it called in this period. He will, of course, have to cross it twice as he, and his wife and retinue, will return to France. Besides knights, and their squires, Isabel is to be accompanied by three ladies to attend her and her aunt with also have ladies. Isabel will have trucks containing dresses, her dowry and linen so wagons will be needed. The ladies will ride pillion behind squires, few ladies rode astride. Would they take household servants? Unlikely as they aren’t setting up a household on arrival and would stay at castles, and other establishments, on route. Party consists of about 20 to 30 people.

Breakdown of first journey.

First leg will be from Anjou to port. Anjou’s capital is Angers, but I felt Isabel’s home would be further north. This may change with further research. For their destination I have selected Barfleur, which was a popular Norman port in this period. It is far north to make the crossing as short as possible. Distance from Angers to Barfleur is 367km or 228miles.

cogSecond leg is actual crossing. For landing I looked at two options, Lyme (later to be called Lyme Regis when Edward I gave town its charter) and Portsmouth which was popular with both Richard I and John. Lyme was too far west. Distance to Portsmouth is approximately 80 miles of sea crossing.

Third leg will be from Portsmouth to Westbury (Warwick), approximately 128 miles.

Total distance will be around 430 miles.

Timing and length of journey

Journey will commence in September. They would not want to travel through winter if it could be avoided due to shorter daylight hours and risk of bad weather.

Party consists of 20 to 30 people with wagons.

Depending on conditions, the average distance a wagon drawn by horses would travel a day is estimated to be 20 miles.

Therefore, the first leg of the journey should take 11 to 12 days.

Arriving in Barfleur in the middle of September.

Ships were very dependent on the wind and if it was in the wrong direction a journey could be held up for days. There are trade ships which will take passengers, but it is more likely the uncle will hire a ship. He has horses and wagons to be transported. The alternative would be to unload, send wagons back and hire, or buy, replacements in England. It is likely that a friend, who has lands in England and France, would recommend, or help secure, a suitable vessel.

Average speed is 4 to 5 knots, or 120 nautical miles, a day (a nautical mile is about 1.15 mile). Therefore the crossing should not take longer than a day. Time will also be taken loading and unloading so minimum of 3 days for this part of journey.


Back on dry land the final leg will be 6 or 7 days.

Total time approximately 21 days, but allow up to a month.


Isabel’s second journey is from Westbury to Winchester where King Richard will be re-crowned. She will not be allowed to go to ceremony but she will be able to see her betrothed. The party is a relatively small one; Lord and Lady Westbury, their two sons and a couple of ladies, plus a half-dozen household knights and nine squires. A party of 22 persons. The ladies will be riding pillion and there will also be a couple of pack horses for processions and presents.

Timing and length of journey.

Date of crowning is April 17th.

Horseback riding is subject to many variables. Henry I confounded King Louis of France by riding long distances in short time, but he was able to change horses. In general horses walk between 3-5 miles an hour. Horses could travel around 40 miles in a day. If necessary, the horse could go on for 60 miles before it needed a break, although unlikely to do so with two people on its back!

Horses can trot at about 8 miles an hour, as fast as a person runs. They canter at 15 miles an hour. Whilst they can gallop at roughly 30 miles an hour, however, the gallop was never meant for long distances, it is essentially a burst of speed in order to get to safety. A horse can only gallop for 2-3 miles before they need to slow down. Hence the need for a change of horse.

The distance for this journey is 99 miles. Therefore 2 and a half days seems reasonable. Two nights stay likely to be in castles. Second will be Edwin’s father-in-law’s, given time of year likely to arrive drenched.


Third journey takes place in France. Isabel’s husband is to escort Queen Eleanor from Mirebeau to Fontevraud. However Isabel’s first leg of the journey is from her husband’s castle to Mirebeau. They will then travel on horseback to Fontevrand. The battle took place on 1st August so journey will have taken place in early August.

Timing and length of journey.

Isabel’s first leg will take just a day, as her husband has arranged for change of horses and Isabel now rides astride!

The amount of luggage Eleanor needs to transport will determine the mode of transport used. She has been in north of France with her household, so it’s probable she has household and goods to transport to south. Given distance is only 62km or 38.5miles, I am tending towards a household transportation and 2 days of travel.




My characters are all nobles and have easy access to horses. However, the most common way to travel during this period would be on foot. The average person can walk 3 miles per hour, or a mile every 20 minutes. Pilgrims would routinely travel 10 to 20 miles in a given day. If necessary, they could go further, but, like horses, the conditions of terrain and weather needs to be taken into consideration.



Sad Songs


The other day, on the BBC website, I saw the headline, ‘Are these the 6 saddest songs?’ it linked to an article which listed six pieces of music and the reasons they made us cry. Some of the songs I concurred with but others, especially The Smiths, I disagreed with. Since I read the article I have wondered why we like songs/music that provoke feelings of sadness within us and which pieces of music I would have selected.

Before I continue I should mention that over Christmas I saw a programme on the highest music making pieces of music. Top was ‘Happy Birthday’ which is still under copyright and every public performance should pay a fee to the owners of that copyright. However, amongst the top ten were two records that have been covered by many artists, but are both associated with The Righteous Brothers; Unchained Melody and You’ve lost that loving feeling. Neither appears in the BBC list or my list, although I do love both. For me, although they can stir my emotions, they do not quite have that extra element which both isolates me from others around me whilst making me aware that others share the same feelings I do.

Music is part of a shared experience. I do not want to go into a long history of how music has developed but, whereas a book is a private communication between reader and writer, music, from creation to performance, involves many people, and even those sitting alone at home listening to a recording are indirectly connected to others. Whilst many people seek life-affirming, joyful music life is not always conducive to happiness, and there is a need to acknowledge the negativity of existence; the loss, the failure, the pain which often isolates as from others. It is probably the way we acknowledge and deal with this that ultimately makes us human. I feel that we need sadness from our music to enable us to connect with the sadness of others.

Baroque music wasn’t allowed to alternate between sadness and merriment, people expected a piece of music to evoke only one emotional response. It wasn’t till later that mood switches were acceptable. However, my favourite piece of ‘sad’ classical music does not have a mood change. It is played on the instrument, which in my mind, most resembles a human figure and is the only instrumental piece I have chosen. Its subject-matter is the elegant and beautiful swan, but I don’t think you really need to know its title to feel its poignancy. Julian Lloyd Webb The Swan

One of the pieces that both the BBC and I have selected is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which mixes biblical references with suffering, humiliation and loss. The word, Hallelujah, is normally associated with praising God, here there is an irony to the praise which questions God’s presence in the suffering of man. The very time when a person would turn to God for support. There the words have as much impact as the music, which is quite simple. It is this simplicity which draws us in from the first chords. My personal favourite rendition is Jeff Buckley’s.  Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley

I have just realised that all the songs I’ve chosen have been written by men. Believe me it wasn’t a conscious decision and one of Carol e King’s song was even on my original list. Maybe it is the traditional expectation that men will be strong, and not speak of their pain, that, in the past, has meant their need, of an outlet through music, has been greater. I came across the next song a couple of years ago and similar to Hallelujah its style is simple. Its singer songwriter comes across as a man’s man and there is little emotion in his voice other than tired regret. Hurt by Johnny Cash

I am a big fan of soul music. It may seem strange that the black music of America gained such a large following in the working class on this side of the Atlantic, however if you listen to the music you realised their shared values. This particular song reminds me of going without in my childhood, it also mixes the voice of one of the greatest soul singer with the pathos of the horns section. It reaches inside you and, emotionally, wrings you dry. Enough said. Try a little tenderness by Otis Redding

No one, who remembers the eighties, can forget the impact this song had on them when used to accompany a film depicting the realities of a famine in Africa. It changed our perception of victims in the third world and made us ask questions of why this was occurring? I’m not sure that those questions have led to a full resolution of the problems. The song was not written to promote such considerations but has developed an identity beyond its original source. This raise the question of whether it is just the music that stirs my emotions or the memories associated with it? Drive by The Cars

Another eighties song, although there are echoes of times past and times to come within it. Wars have been fought throughout history and are still occurring now. This song focuses on the unifying experience of soldiers away from home and families, but also contains the feeling of loss, even death of comrades. Here the lyrics endow a bitter beauty to the futility of war.  Brothers in Arm by Dire Straits

Still in the eighties, my next song mixes emotional music, a clear male voice and haunting lyrics. Its subject matter is the most binding, but isolating, human experience; personal love and despair. It still evokes tears to my eyes. A different corner by George Michael

Sorry, but I can not leave this without having one female presence. This song stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it and still has the power to do so now. Again the music is actually quite simple and the voice is amazing clear. Here the lyrics create not connection through recognition but through imagery; this is what love should feel like, this is as good as life on earth can get, this is both momentarily and eternal. The first time ever I saw your face by Roberta Flack

Maybe your eyes are still dry and you feel no connection to any of these pieces. Well, we’re all different and we have different experiences of life. Some of these songs have evoked memories within me, the stronger songs pure emotion but, for me, they have that extra element that resonates within me. I would be interested in your comments. I realise I have also listed eight pieces but, whilst I am happy to add to list, I do not want to remove any.

Please note. All music is linked to youtube video. I was unable to make Spotify work. At time of uploading all videos are present and working. A few have ads attached, annoying, but the service is free.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Until recently I believed that everyone was capable of multi-tasking, certainly as a mother I had to stop what I was doing in order to cope with an unexpected crisis. I believed I did more than one task regularly as I cared for children, cooked food, shopped or whatever else was necessary throughout a day. When I worked I was expected to multi-task in order to complete my job. However, the human mind isn’t designed to constantly multi-task and gradually problems will occur.

The human mind is design to focus on tasks but, in times of danger/crisis, it will quickly switch into ‘flight or fight’ mode to assess a situation and decide how to deal with it. This causes adrenalin (and norepinephrine, which is also used to contract low-blood pressure) to pump through our bodies to provide the extra boost we would need to deal physically with the situation. However, in our more sedate lives we do not use this adrenalin properly so it is absorbed within the body. To constantly be flipping into this ‘flight/fight’ mode also gives us a lift, which means that after a while our bodies actually crave this adrenalin fix. However, in most situations the body does not run a mile or attack an enemy, maybe as a mother we tend to continue through with some physical activity for example, rushing into the garden to stop water attack or separating children, but sitting at a desk answering the phone whilst still typing at your computer is not a physical activity. Unused adrenalin can cause problems including tension, headaches, acid indigestion, anxiety, stress, even back pain! I had no idea of this when I was working and just felt a failure. It wasn’t until I was recently doing a mindfulness course that I understood my body had in fact been reacting naturally to the pressure I was working under.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t change activities when you are working. A phone rings you need to answer it, but we need to stop trying to, literally, do two things at once. The computer screen should be ignored and the phone answered and the caller dealt with. Changing focus is not the same as multi-tasking. You remain calm and accept the need to change rather than invoking the ‘flight/fight’ mode. You focus solely on doing one task well, then pick up the original task and re-focus on it. It may seem that you’re losing time but in reality by trying to focus on two things at once you’re actually doing two tasks badly rather than one task well. I now find myself saying to people, ‘Let me finish this and I will be with you’ when people are pushing me to do two things at once. Recently though one lady did say to her husband, ‘she’s deaf’, when I didn’t respond to her request for ‘cashback’ when I was still scanning her shopping. As cash can not be given until shopping is paid for I concentrated on task in hand. After I dealt with her shopping I turned to her husband and said, ‘I understand you would like cash back.’ I have also had to mention, ‘I’ll do that when I’ve finished this’ to various people, if people friendly, I’ll add ‘I’m not an octopus’ or something similar. Yes, people expect the impossible but I no longer feel I’ve failed if I can’t give it to them.

I am not perfect and I still find myself doing more than one task at a time. At present the TV is on and I’m writing this, to be honest I’m not interested in the programme so I am focused on this piece. However, my husband, who is playing a game on his i-pad, wanted to watch the programme. We are living in an age in which we consistently do several things at the same time, but the truth is we’re really skimming tasks and developing bad habits. Too many people suffer from stress-induced illnesses. Hopefully recognising that multi-tasking is, in fact, a myth will cause others to step back and reassess how they work. Prioritising, focusing and communication are the keys to develop in order to work stress-free and provide the job performance your company actually needs.



Clifford Nass, “How Multitasking Is Affecting the Way You Think”

Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance delivered by Monash University (free on-line course)

Image – Richard Armitage demonstrating fight principle as Sir Guy of Gisbourne in BBC Robin Hood

Sunday Evening Viewing

Sunday evening seems to be a magnet to TV planners looking for a slot to place a cross-family drama series and last weekend we had four new programmes scheduled within the old mainstream TV channels.

Our viewing kicked off at 7pm with ITV’s Beowulf – Return to Shieldlands, previous viewing in this slot was Mr Hyde and Doctor Jekyll; good-looking young man fights with monsters both internal and external. Beowulf’s opening credits were supported by both music and graphics which bore more than a passing resemblance to Sky’s Game of Thrones. Based on a Viking/Saxon legend it featured monsters, a good-looking young man and … to be honest I can’t remember. I thought the gold screen in the Great Hall was beautiful but I wondered if it was in keeping with the period. However, except for a girl blacksmith (as in A Knight’s Tale but not many history books) and her mother sleeping with, then marrying, a young man who I think was a friend of the title character I can’t remember what all the shouting was about. Chris seemed interested so will probably be tuning in again.

Viewing continued on ITV with a two-hour episode of Endeavour. Set in the 60s it features the popular Morse character created by Colin Dexter and brought to our screens by the late John Thaw. Morse has been released from prison and is living in a cabin on land owned by a wealthy university friend. A young girl is killed by a car on the land, the next-door neighbour is a wealthy man who supposedly went to Harvard and tends to call people ‘Old Man’, he is in love with his neighbour’s wife (who he has past history with), the wife tries to fix up Morse with her girl-friend, who is a professional tennis player, not golf. By now bells should be ringing that plot-line has been adapted from The Great Gatsby, however we are ignoring the sub-plot of the circus with its side shows. In 70s I went to a circus in Gloucester and it still had side-shows, this one had a magic act which the murdered girl had been enticed to take part in, her boyfriend also ‘won’ a teddy-bear despite not hitting the targets. The teddy contains drugs and links to Bixby (the Gatsby character) who is involved with a man who deals drugs (I think it was liquor in original story). Then Bixby is found dead in a lake, no swimming pool being available. Here the plot looks to another source for inspiration which The Prestige provides. Entertaining enough, but hopefully follow-ups will be more original and develop series main characters.

The two-hour slot meant a clash with both BBC1 War and Peace and Channel 4’s Deutschland 83. Luckily a combination of Sky Box and Channel 4 +1 meant I could record both programmes.

Andrew Davies has adapted Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel hence it is screened passed the 9pm watershed. Costumes, scenery, dialogue and cast all glitter in the white/right places whilst darkness prevails over the scenes of death, duplicity and corruption. A first episode is really the introduction of the characters and an insight into their ambitions, whereas Beowulf failed to engage War and Peace did so with ease and its hour passed too quickly.

Deutschland 83 is actually a German production so that the ‘what have I seen them in before?’ question, which arose in all three of the above, was redundant. It is set in a divided Germany in 1983, the last years of the Cold War. It is subtitled, which I prefer to dubbed. An East Germany agent persuades her bosses to use her soldier nephew in an undercover operation, even though the boy himself is not keen to be involved and abandon his sick, single, mother. He is abducted and wakes up in West Germany where he escapes to stand paralysed by culture-shock in a supermarket full of fresh fruit, veg and tins of food. He is trained and takes on the identity of an aide to an American officer. The real American boy is killed on route and his Eastern-Germany doppelganger arrives at the American base in his stead. So far its non-predictable plot engages the viewer fully, it is difficult to do other things when you have to read the subtitles! And, unlike other recent European offerings, it moves at a reasonable pace.

What idiot would try to write two books at same time?

Having got the idea of ‘The Beach House’ down in print I have been busy writing, nearly 10,000 words and more in waking notebook. I actually write best at night but Chris thinks sleeping is a better option. When I wake up I often have headful of stuff; dialogue, or a plot device, or a whole scene. In past I would wait till I had got-up, bathed and dressed, and then settle down to write only to find, like the morning mist I once saw, they had gone! Nowadays, if possible, I sit and scribble them down. Then I work them into the novel when I’m ready.

My other book was on the back-burner with a list of research I had to do and books to be read to help time-fix the novel. Then I read an article on one of my Facebook sites which opened up a new possibility for the direction of my characters lives. So I have restarted work on this novel!

They are very different stories and I am enjoying writing them both. I did notice one of my favourite authors is currently working on two books. Both of hers are in historical fiction genre. I am glad mine are separated by time and theme.

August Bank Holiday

It’s raining! It rained yesterday but at least the sun shone. Yesterday I went to Suffolk Street Market, there were so few people there I felt sorry for the stall-holders and organisers. As I walked through Montpelier Gardens an idea for a story began to build. I’ve been researching for my next medieval novel and knowing the number of immortalities that occurred beginning to consider killing some of my darlings. As summer ends I have also been thinking about Beach Houses; painted blue and decorated in white. Stepping out of its door and onto beach, the sound of the ocean as you sleep. I can’t afford one but I’d love to stay in one, although not on a day like today. Anyway, a story has come together; characters, plot, bits of dialogue the whole caboodle! It’s a contemporary thriller/murder mystery. Now all I need to do is get it from my head onto paper before the doubts creep up.

Random act of kindness. As I was crossing the road yesterday an elderly man asked  the  woman in front of me something, but she just walked off without replying. He looked so lost that I asked him if I could help, he only wanted directions to the Town Hall and was very grateful I could help him.

Same day different prespectives

My Dad’s view of today – spent 40 pounds in Sainsburys, 15 on lunch, 3 pounds on books and 35 at chiropodist.

My view of today – Dad has groceries for week ahead, he had lunch out and didn’t have to cook, he has some books to read and he has finally got his feet seen by a specialist and everything is okay.