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The past is so very, very close...

So, here I am, researching for the next Esther and the Professor, the last Lavender House and the first in a new series of books, which takes me out for walks to see places not as they are now, but as they once were, which is both fascinating and infuriating because so much of what I’m trying to uncover was once so everyday that no one thought to record it.

Harbourside Park is in the middle of renovations at the moment, so there are tantalising hints of the past. A gallows. A windmill. Steamer Point. The site of the plague burial grounds, which, obviously, I can see why they didn’t want to make into a tourist attraction! The old powder house, which is ruined, but why? Given that it stored gunpowder, did something go wrong? The 1837 Isolation Hospital? No, I don’t have a clue about that… Yet.

And yesterday, because we were walking down to the Quay along the incredibly beautiful Harbourside at low tide, we spotted another gun emplacement and the remains of Steamer pier. In the afternoon, I got distracted (yes, I know that happens a lot but the diversions are so interesting and so often turn out to be useful that I could always call them research and you’re far too nice to laugh, aren’t you?) So I wandered onto eBay and looked for antique postcards of Poole, Parkstone and Sandbanks. We won’t mention how much I’ve spent, but I’ve been meaning to alter the pictures on the stairs for a while so they’ll look amazing there and be incredible research. It turns out that I was right about the Steamer Pier, because there it is, complete with steamer, and from what’s written on the back, it took passengers across to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Which is amazing in another way, because many, many years ago, in the time Before Children, my husband and I went across from Poole Quay to Cowes on the Paddle Steamer Waverley. Which looks to have been a different sort of boat, but we retraced their steps, just as I retrace them mostly unknowingly but sometimes consciously almost every day.

Poole’s been around a long, long time you see. They’ve traced it all the way back to the Iron Age and King Canute (yes the one who tried to hold back the sea) used it as his base while he pillaged the area but it really started to grow after the Norman Invasion of England in 1066. There was a little misunderstanding with the King when he gave permission for the town to be built nicely under his eye on the Studland side of the Bay (home to Windy Bay) so Corfe Castle could keep an eye on it, but somehow they built it on the other side of the bay once he’d gone, so they couldn’t, which probably suited the smugglers and pirates very nicely…

And I’ve wittered on quite enough, but if you are interested, then I’ll happily tell you more because it’s all still there under the surface of modernity, waiting to be noticed and, I like to think, honoured. Because Poole, like everywhere else, isn’t just a place. It’s the people. It’s the dog walkers we chat to, the fishermen landing their haul (Lobsters and a couple of socks when we were down there.) The volunteers who run the lifeboat museum, who are happy to pause and chat and know so much about the history and the heartbreak and heroism. The people who, frankly, don’t care much about big events and news. They’re more interested in the egret (like a punk heron) In the beautiful oyster catchers. In the pod of dolphins. In how the cygnets are doing, and I’ve learned so much from them and from history. In the end, what seems to matter is what I do today so I’m going to get on and do it and if you’re doing anything interesting then please, let me know.

So, today’s picture has to be one from Friday’s walk, and it’s the Fisherman’s Wharf, just up from a little beach where I paddled for a while to cool my hot toes. When you read the last Lavender House book next year you’ll see this area a whole lot more, and I hope you’ll fall in love with it at least a tiny fraction as much as I have…


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