Avril was born and raised in the beautiful and historic region of Cumbria, northwest England, but now resides in Ontario, Canada. A lover of history, legend, and romance, her books embrace those elements. Her Celtic roots also weave their way through much of her writing, and she does have a wee bit of a dark side too, which sneaks out now and then.
She also has a pretty amazing family, some fantastic friends, and a very cute pooch.
Feedback on her books is welcome, and replies to emails (providing they make it safely into her inbox) are guaranteed.
Facebook page: facebook.com/Borthiry
Tucked away in the extreme north-west of England is the county of Cumbria. Like the rest of Britain, it has been invaded and occupied by a variety of aggressors, all of them craving part or full possession of the windswept Brittanic islands perched on the shoulders of continental Europe. Cumbria has played host to Romans, Norsemen, Vikings, Saxons, Scots, and Normans.
The county is flanked by five others, which form a semi-circle around it. Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland are English, while Dumfriesshire is Scottish. The western border, not counting the odd estuary or firth, is embraced by the Irish Sea.
It is a true palette of nature; a gallery of stunning vignettes blessed, or perhaps cursed, by some of the most changeable weather in the United Kingdom. It is also a harsh region that demands respect, and shows no mercy to the ignorant. There are coastal estuaries where tides rush in faster than walking speed, and rugged mountain tops where dense, bone-soaking clouds materialize in minutes from previously empty blue skies.
Once off the main routes, drivers have to negotiate twisting one-lane roads, originally carved out by man and beast. Some of the steeper mountain passes are sanctified daily by the prayers of those who dare to test their mettle behind the wheel of a car. When you're down to second gear with no summit in sight, and the engine sounds like it's about to stall, the blood-pressure does tend to rise a little.
One of these roads - Hardknott Pass - shares the honour with another of being the steepest ascent, or descent, in England. Originally built by the Romans, this single-lane stretch of terror is almost two thousand years old and climbs 1289 feet, with a heart-clenching gradient of 33%. Part way up are the well-preserved remains of a Roman fort, complete with evidence of central heating and toilets. From the top, on a clear day, you can see the Isle of Man. It's worth the white-knuckle drive.
The tough little Herdwick sheep, grazing on wiry mountain grasses, make nothing of the steep terrain and rocky outcrops. They have, after all, lived here for a thousand years. But they have a master. The shrill whistles of shepherds echo around the valleys, each perfectly formed note a command for the obedient black and white Border Collies who herd the flocks. They, like the sheep, are a local breed, their intelligence and agility unsurpassed in the doggie kingdom. These dogs don't do boredom. They want to work. They want to learn. It's in their blood. I know - I owned one for eighteen years.
Mile upon mile of dry-stone walls amble up and over the fells, not a teaspoon of mortar in any of them. Yet most of them still hold firm even after so many centuries. Those that have fallen can be repaired, if need be, by local folks who still practice the ancient craft. There are even houses and churches built the same way, with not a speck of mortar to be found in their weathered walls.
People often refer to Cumbria as the Lake District, although strictly speaking, that's only the name of the National Park that lies within the county. The Park receives almost 16 million visitors a year; a remarkable number, when you consider that only 50,000 people actually reside full time within its boundaries. Traditionally, the Lake District is known for its beautiful scenery, and from a literary standpoint, is associated with the works of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter.
A fine list of notables to be sure, but as I intimated earlier, there's far more to the history of Cumbria than some well-known - and relatively recent - literary figures. The bones of mythical kings and warriors lie beneath the prehistoric Cumbrian soil; celebrities of a much older time, their legendary names and archaic language trampled beneath the feet of invaders and washed away by a cascade of ten thousand seasons.
Cumbria was originally the name of an ancient Celtic kingdom whose boundaries in no way match the county lines of today. It is thought to have been much larger, pushing south to what is now North Wales, north into southern Scotland and east into parts of Yorkshire. As with other areas of Celtic Britain, the region was ruled by a number of fierce tribal kings and sometimes queens.
The old Cumbrian language was Brythonic, one of two insular Celtic languages, the other being Goidelic. These languages originated in the British Isles and Ireland, separate and apart from the European Celtic tongues. Brythonic and Goidelic have both, in some form, survived to this day, whereas all of the European Celtic languages have long since vanished.
You will likely know Goidelic better as Gaelic, which is still associated with the people of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland.
The Brythonic tongue was most common throughout what is now England and Wales, southern Scotland, and northern France (taken there by migrants from Britain). It eventually split into four distinct dialects: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, and Breton. This explains, of course, where Cumbria got its name but, of the four dialects, only Cumbric has not survived. In fact, most historians agree that it probably died out around the 12th century AD.
The Brythonic roots can still be found in many of the local place-names, though. Blencathra and Helvellyn are two examples of mountains that bear Cumbric names. The Cumbrian hill farmers also use a strange language when counting their sheep and livestock. Some say this goes back to the lost Cumbric dialect, but no one really knows for sure, and it remains a subject of ongoing discussions. Maybe it's a secret language known only to the sheep! My father spoke it, so I've heard it many times, and it certainly bears no resemblance whatsoever to English.
Old Cumbrian legends? They abound, if you know where to find them.
Most of them are, in fact, chronicled in old and middle Welsh, where the historic region of Cumbria is usually referred to as Yr Hen Ogledd, or The Old North. It is an area synonymous with legend and folklore, much of it localized and passed down through the generations. Celtic legends, to coin a very modern phrase and in my steadfast opinion, kick ass.
I think it's because they often tantalize us with what is supposed, rather than what is exactly known. Superstition was a large part of life back then, and frequently plays a part in many of the old tales. This mystical aspect invariably leaves room for imagination and conjecture. You might start off with only a few speculative threads, but before you know it, they've been woven into the equivalent of the Bayeux tapestry.
The Arthurian legend has deep roots in Cumbria. There's speculation that Merlin (Myrddin) himself spent his life living wild in the forests of Eden, having gone mad after killing his nephew in a nearby battle, which is documented in the Welsh annals.
For me, as a writer and lover of history, the inspiration from such tales is priceless, and there are so many more of them. It's an endless source!
Today, Cumbria is a haven for hikers, sailors, anglers, and nature lovers. There's any number of quaint villages and charming pubs. It boasts luxurious lakeside hotels, some of the best restaurants in Britain, and home-from-home Bed-and-Breakfasts. It continues to attract writers and artists who seek and find inspiration.
It is, in effect, still hosting hordes of invaders from all over the world. I hope some of them, at least, understand the powerful history of Cumbria that lingers behind the well-orchestrated commercial facade. There's a timelessness to be found in its weather-worn heart, the haunting influence of a mysterious people whose roots pushed deep into the land of their birth.
Their branches, I believe, still live on.
Following a life changing event, I left Cumbria in 1987 and moved to Canada. I love it here, but my heart is often pulled to the east, and my mind frequently transports me to the places of my childhood. It's in my blood. I'm proud to say that my line goes back to one of the first Cumbrian families ever to be documented in the original parish registers, as well as ancestors in North Wales and Ireland.
Thanks for sharing this particular walk back home. I hope I can share another with you someday. There are plenty of paths to explore!