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Thursday, June 5, 2014


Windermere Quay
Marni Graff, who writes the UK-set Nora Tierney Mystery series, makes a return appearance today to talk about the Lake District and murder. Learn more about Marni and her books at her website. 

The Lake District and Murder
There are many places in Great Britain I enjoy, but one I adore is Cumbria. Land of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Ruskin and the inimitable Beatrix Potter, it comprises almost nine hundred square miles of national park, the largest such area in England and Wales, all lying within the county in an area commonly called the Lake District.

Wordsworth thought his town of Grasmere as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found,” a place picturesque with the bluest skies, fluffiest clouds, and more shades of green in the woods and shores than I’ve seen elsewhere. Cumbria contains England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, and its largest lake, Windermere. There are shallow tarns, rising fells, sparkling ghylls and every species of tree found in Britain in its woodlands. The area’s unparalleled beatify beckons lovers of nature: hikers and campers, fisherman and boaters, artists and writers. Tourists are international and visit at all times of the year, for there are many ancient sites, author’s homes and castles to see in addition to attracting nature lovers.

A haven for backpackers and hikers, walking trails traverse high and low pathways, and are often maintained by local farmers as well as National Trust workers and volunteers. At Grasmere, Dove Cottage still stands, home to Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, from 1799 to 1808. It was here the poet wrote some of his greatest poetry and spent what he deemed the happiest years of his life. The stone, plaster and whitewashed cottage and its gardens have been carefully preserved largely as it was in his day and are open for visits.

The area I’m most familiar with is the village of Bowness-on-Windermere, on the east coast of Windermere, and its neighboring town of Windermere. “Mere” means “lake”, so it’s redundant to say “Lake Windermere” but with the town of the same name, many times it’s written that way to distinguish the two. Windermere (the town) features the Windermere Steamboat Museum, with its collection of early steam craft, including the oldest mechanically propelled boat in the world, the Dolly, built in 1850. Windermere and Coniston Water inspired the Lake in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series.

Bowness holds the ferry dock that takes riders and cars across the lake at its narrowest point to the opposite shore, toward Hawkshead and Sawrey. Potter’s home, Hill Top, is near Sawrey, with her house and gardens another popular site for visitors. Potter bought up huge tracts of land in her lifetime and donated it to the National Trust for preservation. There is also a steamer that takes visitors on rides up to northern edge of the lake to and from Ambleside, site of the ancient Roman fort of Galava. Bowness has a lively quay, lit with colored lights at night, with dozens of watercraft of all types on the lake, and a revitalized town center.

St. Martin's Church
Also in Bowness is the ancient St. Martin’s church, its exterior sandstone, with an unusual tin roof. A church has been on this site from the 1200’s, with some parts still in existence from medieval times, which contrast nicely with the etched glass modern inner doors installed during the change to the new century. Of note is a stained glass window featuring the coat of arms of John Wessington, ancestor to George Washington, which was later used in the American Stars and Stripe flag.

It was an easy decision when I was writing The Blue Virgin, which is set in Oxford, to picture Nora moving to the Lake District. I devised a way for that to happen, and she’s seen packing up for this move as the first book in the series opens.

In the second book, The Green Remains, Nora is settled into Ramsey Lodge at Bowness for at least the next year, working alongside the illustrator of her children’s books, awaiting the birth of her first child. Her stories of a band of fairies are set on Belle Isle, an island in the center of Windermere, so it’s a natural place for her to stay. Of course, she becomes involved in a murder investigation when, during a morning lakeside stroll, she stumbles over the dead body of the heir to Clarendon Hall.

The cover for The Green Remains features a photograph I took during a Windermere boat ride on my last trip to the area; the stone dock and folly are where the climactic action of this book takes place. The mysteries are a mix of cozy and police procedural, as Nora manages to ruffle the feathers of the investigating officers on each case. Nora stays in the Lake District for Book Three, May’s newest volume, The Scarlet Wench.  This time a theatre troupe arrives at Ramsey Lodge to put on Noel Coward’s play “Blithe Spirit.” Chapter epigrams are lines from the play where a series of pranks and accidents escalate to murder at the lodge.

Despite its natural beauty, or perhaps because of it, I’m not the only mystery writer to find the lure of the area lends itself well as a stark contrast to more sinister deeds. Martin Edwards’ Lake District Mysteries feature DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historial Daniel Kind. Rebecca Tope’s series revolves around Simmy Brown, a florist with a Windermere shop who works in Troutbeck. The illustrious Reginald Hill set the majority of his last stand-alone, The Woodcutter, in Cumbria.

With its great wealth of natural beauty, the Lake District is a difficult place to leave. Despite it nature-filled setting, in Nora Tierney’s world, murder still finds its way there.

The Scarlet Wench
In the third Nora Tierney Mystery, American writer Nora awaits the arrival of a traveling theatre troupe that will put on Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at Ramsey Lodge in England's Lake District. Her son now six months old, Nora must juggle parenting with helping her friend Simon Ramsey run the lodge. She's also hoping to further her relationship wit the only lodge guest not in the cast: Detective Inspector Declan Barnes ostensibly there for a hiking trip. When a series of pranks and accidents escalate to murder, Nora realizes her child is in jeopardy and determines to help Declan unmask a killer.

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Marilyn Levinson said...

Thank you for taking me back to my fond memories of the Lake District. My favorite was a visit to Wm. Wordsworth's home -- the one he lived in before Dove Cottage. I enjoyed The Blue Virgin. I must read about Nora's adventures in the Lake District.

Marni said...

Marilyn, Dove Cottage us a favorite of mine, too, such unforgettable beauty in the area!

susansloate said...

LOVE the photos of the Lake District, Marni! I keep being told I have to go there--and it's definitely on my bucket list--but your pix make it look so enticing I may have to find a way to get there sooner! Thanks for the fabulous info--and I love THE SCARLET WENCH!

marja said...

I'm not much of a traveler, but your post makes me want to visit the area. Thank you so much for sharing such fascinating information.
Marja McGraw