My Own Wardrobe
It had been several years since I’d visited nearby landmark Thornton Abbey by the time I sat down to write ‘The Door to Caellfyon’. And what is the significance of that? Well, one door in its commanding medieval gatehouse had provided inspiration for the tale. There’s more about that in my blog-post ‘Fifty Years in the Making’. The door, after all, was my equivalent to C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe.
Flights of Fantasy
I made the most of the winter sunshine yesterday to revisit the abbey, now in the stewardship of English Heritage. I was curious to discover whether the mental imagery I had transferred into the opening scenes of my book were accurate or whether they were (like the tale) simply flights of fantasy. I took some photographs while I was there. I’m adding these here, together with those relevant passages from my story. Judge for yourself the accuracy of my recall.
For anyone who hasn’t followed my previous posts and know nothing of the children’s fantasy story I’ve been working on for a number of years, chapter one opens with my protagonist, Levi, being led to the abbey (Thornley Abbey in my book) by his uncle who wishes to show him the fantastic and mysterious door that – unbeknown to Levi – leads to Caellfyon … a land far, far away.
Levi’s Steps to Caellfyon
As they walked, the road bent sharply once again, this time to the left, skirting the edge of a large open field. Beyond this stood a line of trees, oak and beech mostly, their ancient limbs twisted like the gnarled fingers of old men. Behind them stood a tall and imposing limestone building.
‘There she is,’ said Seymour, pointing. ‘The abbey itself is nothing more than a crumbling ruin yon side. What you see there is the gatehouse. Splendid isn’t it.’
They had skirted the field edge and the stark and brooding façade of Thornley Abbey’s gatehouse now reared before them. He immediately sought the door Seymour had spoken of. Sure enough, high in the wall and right of centre was the timber door. Even at this distance Levi could clearly see a large stone lintel above the door, engraved with ornate carvings. A thrill of excitement ran through him and he gave a slight, involuntary gasp.
Just as he was beginning to believe his blood had frozen in his veins he saw Seymour stoop to enter a low opening in the ancient monument’s fence. Several foot-squelching seconds later he, too, entered the abbey grounds and dashed for the archway ahead.
Here a large ornately carved arch loomed above him. The remains of two colossal gates hung on massive hinges, their timbers held open by thick rusting chains bolted to the walls. To the right of one of the gates was a narrow doorway and it was to here that Seymour was heading.
Once Levi reached the door he saw that the ancient steps, cold and narrow, coiled upwards out of sight. Already, Seymour had disappeared round the first tight bend. Levi paused a second, considering the uneven treads. Each step was smooth, dished at its leading edge like a pillow after a long night’s sleep.
Levi did not need to look down to see how steeply the curving staircase dropped away behind him – did not have to see the hard, unforgiving edges of the stone steps to realise a fall from here would be appalling. He snatched at the railing with his free hand and held on tight.
Levi followed his uncle upwards and, several steps later, was relieved to see a side stair branch off from the main spiral, leading to a small landing.
To Levi’s left was a huge, leaded glass window. Muted daylight filtered through its grimy pains casting pail bands of light into the room, painting the floor with a dull mosaic. To the right, several yards away at the other end of the hall, was the largest fireplace he’d ever seen.
Together they crossed the hall and entered the slender passage, branching left. The air here was close and musty, reminding Levi of the small under-stairs cupboard back home. He hurried to keep close to his uncle, who was stooping along the low passage, his shoulders brushing both walls.
The opening Levi had seen was nothing more than a small, square chamber set into the passage. In one of its three walls was a large, black door studded with formidable square-headed bolts. Half way up the door, on one side, was a thick, iron hasp. Sure enough, the brass padlock hanging from it was open. Seymour turned and grinned at him.
‘Here, have a look through this,’ he said, pointing to a knot-hole half way up the door. Levi squatted and peered through the hole.
He peered sidelong towards the mystery door. Seymour was no longer there. Wherever the strange opening led to, his uncle was already there. He warily shuffled along as he’d seen his uncle do, and was soon at the doorway. He glanced up to the engraved lintel he’d first viewed from the road. Carved images of several animals spanned the huge stone beam. These were animals unlike any he’d seen before. Ratty looking, armour-clad creatures, standing upright and brandishing fearsome weapons, paraded across the stone’s surface. The effect was sinister and ominous – far more than the procession of diabolic gargoyles that stared down accusingly from the wall above.
A Mystery No Longer
After working on ‘The Door to Caellfyon’ for many years, with these and other scenes swirling around my head as I batted the keys, it was a delight to revisit this fine Lincolnshire monument once again. More than that, however, it was a surreal experience as, once I reached the door that I knew led onto the moss-covered ledge, I wanted to open it and step out. And the reason for that? The strange opening that has puzzled me for many years is no longer a mystery as I now know what awaits on the other side.
Find out for yourself: The Door to Caellfyon, paperback or Kindle versions from Amazon