It’s no real surprise that I’ve set a story in Wales, one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited. Though I spent a mere three days in the country, I’ve never been able to forget it.
Several years ago, my family flew to London and rented a car, heading into Wales because there were castles I had to see. (Everything you’ve heard about driving on the left is true!)
In the rain, we traveled north, crossing a long, historic wooden toll bridge in Snowdonia. When we arrived at the toll house, the sole travelers on this road for miles that day, we were convinced we’d somehow taken a wrong turn. Historic as it is, we’d somehow missed it in the guidebook. Lonely and deserted, the bridge was barely wide enough for two cars to pass! I have to admit, I gulped a bit.
Our first Welsh castle was Harlech, a castle in northern Wales built between 1283-89. Perched on a rocky promontory, it juts outward towards the sea.
We passed through the main gate, stopping for a moment to admire the murder hole through which, I was informed, boiling oil was poured (I am raising boys). Then, in the wind and rain, we climbed its spiral staircases and walked its ramparts.
Caernarfon, the sight of investiture for Charles, Prince of Wales in 1969, was by far our all-time favorite castle. It was enormous and extensive. We explored it for hours as the boys pretended to fire arrows from its ramparts and windows. To my delight, this castle also came with a medieval walled town attached.
We spent the night in town inside its walls and enjoyed dinner in a pub older than the USA. We were lucky to be seated near a large party of locals. As I listened, the conversation slipped back and forth between Welsh and English… and I learned what Welsh rarebit was. (Hint: it makes an appearance in my story.)
I rather insisted we visit Bryn Celli Ddu, a prehistoric site on the Isle of Anglesey. There were some tense moments as our GPS gave us instructions in perfectly pronounced Welsh (or horribly mangled). Either way, it didn’t help us read the signs much. After a few wrong turns, we once again began to worry we were lost… but soon arrived at a car park no where near the passage tomb. Signs pointed us to a path that marched us around and then into a field. En route, we met a lovely couple out for a walk with their dog – a sheep dog, adopted into their family because he was afraid of sheep.
No visitor center awaited us, not even another person. The site was simply open to the public for exploration. Not as grand as a castle, but just as fascinating for the mystery it presented.
With a beautiful moat surrounding it, Beaumaris is also located on the Isle of Anglesey. One gate can be accessed via the sea. Again we walked the ramparts, viewed a nearby field filled with – you guessed it – sheep and explored its interior.
Our last castle, Conwy is located on the north coast of Wales upon a river. Famous for its two fortified entrances and eight towers, it too is massive. The views from its walls were magnificent.
This was the trip that cemented my love of castles… and though there are no castles in the story I’ve set in Wales, the beautiful countryside planted the seed that would one day become A Trace of Copper.
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Though USA TODAY bestselling author Anne Renwick holds a Ph.D. in biology and greatly enjoyed tormenting the overburdened undergraduates who were her students, fiction has always been her first love. Today, she writes steampunk romance, placing a new kind of biotech in the hands of mad scientists, proper young ladies and determined villains.
Anne brings an unusual perspective to steampunk. A number of years spent locked inside the bowels of a biological research facility left her permanently altered. In her steampunk world, the Victorian fascination with all things anatomical led to a number of alarming biotechnological advances. Ones that the enemies of Britain would dearly love to possess.
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