>The internet is, for all its faults, an amazing thing.
When I was around 12 years old I read a few books involving English Gypsies, and became fascinated by them and by England at the same time. One book in particular stayed with me, because of a long, descriptive passage of a walk from the Scottish border to Hadrian’s Wall. But that was pretty much all I could remember about this book. Title, author, character names were all lost to me.
Then recently I discovered that certain bookseller websites have forums where you can ask just this sort of thing. I wrote a post with the above information, and the dim memory of one brief bit about a gold coin offered and rejected. Within 24 hours I had a response and within the week I had the name of my book. There was no pressure to buy it anywhere, either, and I ended up ordering it somewhere else, but I am eternally grateful to the volunteer Book Sleuths who helped me out!
The book? It was Winifred Cawley’s “Feast Of The Serpent”, and after re-reading it I saw immediately why I was so fascinated. The protagonist, Adonell, is a teenager, half Gypsy, and when her father is killed her mother takes her (on foot, it’s 1649) from their Northumbrian village to reunite with her Romany family further south. On the way the reader is introduced to reading Gypsy signs, Neolithic cup-and-ring stones, the ruins of the Castle of Seven Shields (or Sewingshields), Hadrian’s Wall (Cawley calls it “the Picts’ Wall”), and the marginalized communities living within its fortification ruins. A bit of internet research convinced me that she was writing about what is now called Housesteads, near Barcombe Hill (from the Roman Vercovicium? which is called only Barcom in the book), and Vindolanda. The lake with the “steep crag beyond it” is surely Crag Lough, one of three lakes in the region which form a sort of triangle of land in between, which, Cawley writes, is sacred land to the Rom.
Of course, now all I want to do is fly to Newcastle and go on my own “Feast Of The Serpent” walkabout! I want to see these things! And again, the internet, with all its images, blogs and helpful websites, is an amazing thing.