Langbarnby, Misterley and Rawscar.

The Manor on the Moors like it’s predecessor The Little Church by the Sea is set in the fictional area of North East Yorkshire. If it was real, it would appear on the maps north of Whitby but south of Guisborough … somewhere ….

Alice is living in Rawscar, the seaside village at the heart of The Little Church by the Sea which would look a bit like this:

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Runswick Bay (my photo)

Langbarnby is slightly further inland, it’s a moorland village about three miles away from Rawscar. In my imagination it looks not entirely unlike Goathland, but it’s slightly closer to the sea (Goathland is in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors, surrounded by a sea of heather. It’s gorgeous. Go there!)  The two villages are closely linked: they share a vicar for a start, and a traditional rivalry that still spills over in the Shrove Tuesday football game that I’m writing about in my next novel.

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Goathland (photo from Pixabay)

Misterley Manor is on the Rawscar side of Langbarnby.  It’s not based on any real place though in my imagination, as I’ve already said, it looks a bit like Grey Towers, the stately home on the edge of Middlesbrough. Misterley is a made up name. (Of course ALL the names were made up by me in the first place …) Whereas both Rawscar and Langbarnby are names that could feasibly be of Old Norse origin (a nod to the Viking settlers on the north-east coast of England) “Misterley” was invented by the Lattimore family when they became rich (as was their own surname) because “Langbarnby Hall” didn’t sound grand enough!

I’m not an artist, by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a quick sketch that I drew for my own use of the area around Rawscar and Langbarnby. Please forgive the poor quality of drawing, the fact that it isn’t to scale and you’ll have to imagine the moors and the hills for yourself! (Basically, the moors come down to where the old railway line is).


New directions

I’ve been thinking a lot about books  and what I like about them over the summer as we visited York, the Lake District and Northumberland in the campervan, which gave us time for relaxing and reading

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My lovely husband relaxing in “Big Blue” who is not very big and only partially blue.

And it came to me, one cold, wet, windy evening in a field near Keswick , that what I like most about reading is being taken somewhere else.

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A cold, wet, windy field near Keswick.




Somewhere else.

The most vivid example of this I can remember was over 20 years ago when I was on holiday in Turkey. Picture the scene, similar to the one above; I’m sitting in thirty degrees of sunshine, beside the pool, I’ve got a cup of apple tea in one hand and a book in the other. But one of my clearest memories of that holiday isn’t the pool, but what I read. I was reading “The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx and I spent a couple of days of my Turkish holiday mentally  in Newfoundland. Which, in my imagination, was somewhat colder than Turkey, but just as memorable.


Newfoundland. Slightly colder than Turkey.

Then I thought about my own writing. The first thing I do is always create a setting for my characters – as yet I haven’t used any real places though. I’ve created fishing villages, stately homes and now I’m working on a Lake District valley. Each new place has to have its own architecture, geography, history. It has to have the right name, and I have to create a map or a plan. Once I’ve got the place right, the rest follows.

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Runswick Bay, one of the places that inspires me and that features in “Little Church …”

So I thought it made sense to spend a bit of time thinking about places in fiction, real places and imagined places in my own fiction and that written by other people. I’ll be writing some posts about places that have inspired me, some posts about places in my own novels and reviewing some novels by my favourite writers which have a strong sense of place of their own. I might even ask some of my writing friends to tell me about the places where they set their novels.

And who knows where else “Big Blue” might take my imagination?

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“Big Blue” in a field near Keswick.



Superstition, the supernatural and the sea.

It’s Halloween, the time of year when thoughts turn to stories of the supernatural, and given that The Little Church by the Sea has at its heart a ghost story,  it seemed like a good day to consider the ghosts, myths and legends that surround the Yorkshire coast.

Some stories are heard in many places. Robin Hoods Bay and Runswick Bay both have “hobs”, mischievous spirits that live in caves (the one at Runswick Bay isn’t entirely mischievous, but is said to cure children of whooping cough if asked nicely). Then there are the barguests,  terrifying ghostly dogs, who haunt the moors and the cliffs of North Yorkshire, heralding death.

black wolf

The life of a fisherman was hazardous at the best of times, and any number of local superstitions grew up around the sea – boats would not be launched if the fishermen met a woman or a pig on the slipway, so unlucky was that considered to be. Whistling on board ship was considered to be an ill omen, but tying a stone with a hole in it to a boat would ensure good fortune (further inland, such stones were said to protect against witches). Seagulls were said to be the souls of drowned sailors, and if one flew into the window of a house, it was bad news for the family inside that house, as it was a portent of death …

One cottage in Runswick Bay is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl, who was locked into a cupboard for a punishment, and sadly died. The sound of her ball tapping on the inside of the cupboard is still to be heard there.

Robin Hood’s Bay is haunted by a headless farmer, who fell drunkenly onto the railway track one night, only to be killed by an oncoming steam train. Though his mangled body was buried, his head had disappeared and no trace of it was ever found – but some say that the ghost of the headless farmer is still searching …

Whitby has many ghost stories. Most famously, the bells of the Abbey are said to have been stolen and then lost at sea – and if you listen carefully, the bells can be heard ringing under the waves. St. Hilda herself is also said to be seen in ghostly form at one of the high windows of the Abbey ruins. Brown Bushell, turncoat during the English Civil War, was beheaded for treason but his ghost is still said to haunt his ancestral home at Whitby, Bagdale Hall. The story that haunts me the most is one of a beautiful young girl who was very fond of her appearance, and used a particular hair oil to make her hair shine. unfortunately the hair oil was extremely flammable, and one day the inevitable happened, her hair caught fire and she was horribly burnt. But the young girl’s ghost still haunts Whitby – sometimes to terrify passers by, and sometimes to warn others of an impending fire and save them from sharing her terrible fate.

morning ghosts

There is no real story of a “Maiden’s ghost” searching for her drowned lover, lost in a storm at sea, I made that up entirely … but if you walk through the twisting yards of Robin Hood’s Bay or Runswick at night, it’s easy to imagine that there could be …


Images used:

Featured image, of Robin Hood’s Bay, is my own photo.

Morning ghosts by Andris, licensed under creative commons: link to original image:

Rare New Jersey Black Wolf by Nosha, licensed under creative commons: link to original image:

Bering Sea in mist foggy scenics, Wikimedia commons 


Bob Woodhouse, author of many local history books about the North East of England, provided me with several tales of superstitions, and I also used “The Haunted Coast” and “13 Ghost stories from Whitby” by Michael Wray, Chris Firth and Anne Marshall published by Caedmon Story Tellers. ISBNs 0953640531 and 0953640507. (These books have some lovely illustrations too).

Runswick Bay

DSCN0500There were several villages in North Yorkshire that helped to inspire the fictional village of Rawscar, the setting for my forthcoming novel “The Little Church by the Sea”. Village number one is the lovely Runswick Bay, which has one of the few coastal thatched cottages on the whole of the North Yorkshire coast. (I haven’t researched extensively, but it’s the only one I’ve ever seen). The thatched cottage doesn’t appear in the book though!

DSCN0507The little village tumbles down the hill, the paths between the cottages only big enough for a wheelbarrow, no room for a car. With some very few exceptions, the people who stay in Runswick Bay have to park in the village car park and walk to their holiday homes. There are a few full-time residents of the village, but most of them live in the flat bit at the top of the hill; not so picturesque but easier to reach by car!



The beach is long and sandy and the tide comes in right up to the bottom of the scrubby cliffs. At the far end of the beach is the sailing club, which can only be reached across the beach or by boat. Clustered around it are the last remaining beach huts, hidden in the scrub.


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These aren’t the conventional brightly coloured rows that you would see at Whitby or Scarborough, built for tourists to keep their buckets and spades in. The beach huts were built last century by the locals and they would live there in the summer whilst they rented out their cottages to holidaymakers.



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Due to coastal erosion very few now remain, this one, perched precariously on the edge of the muddy cliff will probably not last out the next winter. There is something very poignant about these disappearing buildings that appealed to me so much that I set two crucial scenes in “The Little Church by the Sea” in a beach hut just like this one.

There is, however, one crucial thing that the village of Runswick (Runs’ick to the locals) lacks – there is no church, little or otherwise!

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Beautiful Runswick Bay.