Saturday, 8 August 2009

Global Interests & Travelling in the Head

globe 008

One of the nicest things in my house is good sized globe of the world. This globe is very tactile, with the mountains and high lands of the world  in high relief. It’s very good for letting your fingers do the walking.

In my less privileged childhood we just had this atlas of the world. We used to pore over it with my mother, as she traced the routes of the explorers  Magellan and Vasco da Gama, Cristoforo Columbus and Sebastian Cabot, Drake and Raleigh, Scott and Shackleton. (It’s worth remembering that this was an old atlas, hatched over with the red of Empire, our attitudes to which we had later to reassess.)

I’ve been twirling the globe recently, checking where I’ve just been in France and where my family were recently in Turkey. I thought of what the distances would have involved in other times, without the power of steam,  the internal combustion engine. and aeroplanes. Going further, I thought of other places we have travelled to between us, in the modern way – Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Jamaica, Grenada, Boston USA, China, Africa and Indonesia. I thought of my good friends Judy and Judith, who  live half of each year in New Zealand and America respectively almost as though they were commuting.

This global interest has been stirred by my recent researches into travel in the early centuries after the death of Christ. I found myself blinking at the thousands of miles St Paul walked in the countries of the Easter Mediterranean travelling  – on, alongside, or behind - a donkey. I blanch at the death toll involved in travelling by sea, and respected the sailors for keeping in sight of land for fear of shipwreck, pirates and vengeful weather.

Looking at the globe I imagine the difficulty of the three Marys (See Of Loves and Fishes) travelling from Galilee to Gaul with their precious and iconic burden, whatever that might be. (Imagining what this burden might be has been part of my thinking for this novel).

I locate the site of Nicodemia, East of  Istanbul, just between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, where the Roman Emperor Diocletian built a city and located his court for a time. Now I have to imagine just how my three characters can make the journey from Gaul to Nicodemia in 303AD without falling off the edge of the world and of my novel!

This travelling in the head is a family tradition. My mother never travelled in reality until she was fifty two. (No funds!). But when she was fifty two she went by boat across the River Tyne in a boat for a week in Denmark and her real travels began.

Now, today, I’m off  for a week in Scarborough -  a mere hour and a half’s drive away on the coast of the North East of England - to read, write, and enjoy the sea air with B. Sounds unadventurous, but then  it’s only a few miles away from the birthplace of Captain Cook, the where that great traveller learned the trade that lead to his great and tragic career as an explorer. I have every hope that the inspiration of Captain Cook and the the brisk air of  the north east coast will help me to imagine the journey on 303AD to greater effect.

I have to say travel in the head is a great resource for a writer.


PS Look for further postings from Scarborough…


  1. Have you read Pausanias' Guide to Greece? It is tour guide written for Romans in the 2nd Century. It is a long time since I read it but I am pretty sure he has sections on how to get to places. Probably a very good source on how people got around. I seem to remember reading (I can't remember where) that the accepted way for gentry to get to Britain was by ship to Marseilles, across land to the Channel and re-embarking there. There is certainly plenty of archaeological evidence for Roman traders sailing past Gibraltar to Northern Gaul and Britain. Oh and I nearly forgot There was a huge river borne trade running from Switzerland along the Rhine to the Low Countries. Ships then crossed the North Sea or coasted back along to the Gaulish coast.

  2. I shall look forward to your thoughts from Scarborough (which for me is terra incognita.) I travel a great deal by internet these days and find the voyages most satisfying :-)

  3. Thanks for the super and very useful info Al, Pausanius was on my list but now I've ordered two books and am checking him out in other ways. Agde the place at the core of the old part of story was both a Greek and a Roman port in antiquity - called by the Greeks 'Good Fortune'- down the Med coast from the more major port of Marseille (Masallia to the Romans...) So these places will be part of the journeys. The nearby River Herault was also a great conduit through Gaul in those times too. And the massive Roman Via Domitia marched along this coast. I'm going to have a good time making this travel map to stick on my wall... thank you again Al.

  4. Dear Pinkpackrat

    I think proxy travelling by internet as the miracle of modern times. Bon Voyage!!!
    Scarborough was wonderful - rather more foreign in some ways than France...




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