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This novel is set in and around Christchurch in Dorset, England. That is where the narrator and protagonist, Jennifer Lloyd, lives. But it also involves other locations in nearby Bournemouth, Highcliffe, Swanage, Salisbury and Southampton.
Why did I choose real settings for my novel? Principally because I like to write 'atmospheric' fiction to give it more presence: hopefully I can make it seem more real because, as a writer, I can better visualise it. It's also great for those who know the locations, of course!
On this page I offer readers who haven't been to this beautiful area the chance of getting to know it - and of relating it to the novel. So let's take a walk together. Take your time. (And use the smartphone-friendly page to go with you on your phone!)
While I mention events which take place in the novel, I also take care there aren't any plot-spoilers!
Below are two sections:
The Christchurch walk (park in the Priory car park — BH23 1BU). Allow at least half-a-day, or a leisurely day with coffee and lunch. (If you choose a Monday, there is a lively market in the High Street - but get there early to park!)
Highcliffe Castle (park at Highcliffe Castle car park - BH23 4LD). This is the location for my fictional Solent House and Gardens. But it is NOT the setting. (In other words, fictional Solent House and Gardens occupy this space, but are not at all like the reality - except for the sea view.) You can get a snack meal or coffee there.
If you have a whole day, and good legs, you can do both walks, in the above order!
This is not a long walk in terms of distance, but how long it takes in time is all down to what interests you - and your pace! Allow half-a-day to meander and snack, or much less if you are a racer!
Start from the Priory car park and slip through the narrow brick archway at the rear left of the car park. You come out by anglo-Saxon Place Mill.
(Look inside at the artwork and gifts!) There are many places for a picnic near the car park, including the delightful little gardens to the left as you exit through the archway, or in the Christchurch Harbour area, to the right.
As you enter the harbour square, to the right, the Old Mill Tea Rooms offer a rest after your travels getting there (dog-friendly). Nearby, just up the road, there is another more up-market - and time-consuming - alternative on the left: The Upper Deck (dog-friendly outside).
Looking across the River Stour to the left from the harbour, you see the distant Hengistbury Head (setting for my novel Sandman).
Walk along by the river a little way to the right, and enjoy the beautiful setting, the swans, and note the bandstand. This sits in the grass area call The Quomps - where Jen's landlady had an incident with Jen's little poodle, Susie. (There's a water play-park at the far end of the grassy area.)
Turn back and head along the road beside The Upper Deck and turn right at the cross-roads. After a short distance, walking beneath tall trees beside the road, follow the road round to the left. You are in Quay Road. (The grounds of Christchurch Priory, the longest church in England, are on your right. (Hang-fire if you want to visit it, we pass the main gate shortly.)
Following the road you pass the Red House Museum on your left. (Another interesting place to visit, and you can even get coffee or tea in the gardens, which is great, if it's fine!)
Turn left and walk a short distance down Wick Lane and then right into short little Silver Street. At then end turn right into Wick Lane and follow it along. On the right you will soon pass The Thomas Tripp pub - where Jen sings in the novel. (They have live bands Friday and Saturday evenings - not Thursday, as in the novel).
At the end of the road you enter Church Street. On your left, on the corner, is Pizza Express (where Jen ate pizza with Ami Tan). If you turn right, and walk towards the wrought-iron gates leading into the Priory grounds, you will find the coffee bar called Soho on your left - where Jen first met Chief Inspector Freddy Moore. (Have you had coffee yet? Apart from Soho, there are many coffee shops in town.)
With Soho on your left, the main gate to Christchurch Priory is ahead of you, through the wrought-iron gate. (Well worth a visit. Find out about the 'Miraculous Beam' and how the stones miraculously kept being moved to this site overnight from St. Catherine's Hill. And, not least, find out about the unpaid worker
With your back to the Priory, follow Church Street to the mini-roundabout.
If you want a diversion into town, go straight ahead into the High Street, where you can explore and enjoy the shops (and find many other places for coffee or food). Pick Monday and there will be a market all along this street. Quite near the roundabout, on the left, is Bookends, both a bookshop and a gift and art shop. You can buy copies of my novel here! (Try the Local Interest shelf.)
Mid-way along the High Street, turn right into Saxon Square. There are many choices for places to eat and drink in the High Street and Saxon Square.
Next, retrace your steps along High Street to the mini-roundabout and turn left into Castle Street. You soon pass the gates on the right leading through to the ruins of Christchurch Castle on its own mound of a hill. (The novel says this is part of Jen's view from her studio flat).
Walk further along the street until you reach the bridge crossing the River Avon, and turn right into the path between the river and the mill stream. If you're lucky, you might see the fishermen in their flat-bottomed boat near the bridge, mentioned in the novel. Next to the river and the bridge are the seats where Jen likes to sit and think. Look back at the buildings on the road, to the left of the bridge, and that is, more or less, where I imagine Jen to live (although I cannot specify a building).
Follow the path between the river and stream (part of Jen's short jogging route), and this walk takes you back to Place Mill. During the walk you will see the rear of Christchurch Priory high up to your right, across the stream. Turn back through the brick archway into Priory Car park to complete your Christchurch walk. (Note: You can also get into the priory grounds through the gardens near the brick arch into the car park.)
As the novel says, the Christchurch motto really is: 'where time is pleasant'. Hopefully you found it so!
It's only a 15 minute drive from Christchurch Priory car park (mentioned above), to Highcliffe Castle. Follow the road past where I imagined Jen to live. Castle Street becomes Bridge Street. Keep following the road straight on, across traffic lights, then for a mile or so, until you eventually reach a very large roundabout. Look for the Highcliffe signposts. (Basically, you turn right at the large roundabout and then follow the short dual-carriageway to another smaller roundabout.) Cross straight over the smaller roundabout, and keep straight on and look out for the sign to Highcliffe Castle soon after a golf course to your right. You can park in the castle grounds.
Highcliffe Castle is merely the location I imagined for Solent House and Gardens. I chose not to use a real gardens attraction because of the dastardly deeds which went on there. In my head were several garden attractions in the south of England. (One is more like my description of Solent House and Gardens, but you will have to work that one out for yourself.) You can spend a wonderful half-day enjoying the Highcliffe Castle area - or longer!
Just about the only thing that matches my fictional setting is the wonderful view, between the trees, across the waters of The Solent to the Isle of Wight. You can best appreciate it standing with your back to the castle. If it is a sunny or clear day, you should be able to see the Isle of Wight across the sea. The so-called cliffs called the 'polar bear' should then be visible at the far right of the land. Why not enjoy a coffee outside at the café?
Imagine the café transported to that spot where the trees part and give you the wonderful sea view. Imagine the entire area, including the woods to the west of the lawned area, as being part of the public gardens of Solent House. Then you get near to the setting. Imagine a church to the east of the setting. Imagine the castle replaced by the house I describe. A lot of imaginings for you? Well, that's what being an author is all about!
While you're there, why not take a look around the castle and then a walk west (right), through the woods, to Mudeford Quay, along the coast. Watch out for the view through the trees of distant Mudeford Sandbank and Hengistbury Head.
There are several more coffee or eating options on this walk after you reach - and walk along - the promenade. It's a wonderful area and setting. If you get as far as Mudeford Quay, look across the waters to the Black House on Mudeford Sandbank. You are then looking at the setting for another of my novels, a psychological thriller called Sandman! (This website offers you walks linked to that novel as well!)
The way back? Forget a circular route! Go the same way back - or you may regret it!