This week I’m ignoring our designated topic to write about the journey I’m embarking on Wednesday. I’m going to England, mostly, though dipping a toe into Wales and an elbow into The Borders of Scotland.
The best part is that I’m going for seven weeks.
You read that right. Seven weeks. Excess is my middle name.
In November of 2002 my parents, my sister, Sarah, and I took the first of what we call our Gene Pool Tours of Britain. We have a lot of English, Cornish and Scottish ancestry, so we decided it would be fun to see where umpteen generations of our forebears had lived. We started by visiting the parishes that bear our surname in England and Crowan Parish in Cornwall where some of my mother’s family came from.
The following autumn, my mother and I went back to Cornwall and tracked down her ancestors in churchyards between Hayle and Penzance. The photos here are from that trip. That’s a picture of my mother at Tintern Abbey.
Three years ago, my parents and I went again, this time to the Southeast and Cumbria. We visited places our ancestors had lived, almost all of which have silly names like Bletchingley and Dorking. I find myself maybe not quite proud, but sort of impressed that both my parents have ancestors who lived in Dorking. This, I suppose, makes me a double dork. But perhaps everyone already knew that.
Gene Pool Tour #4 will be a family trip, too. My parents and my sister and her daughter are coming, as well as one of my cousins, the brilliant and talented writer and artist, Natalie Sudman. We’ll have a week in the Midlands (don’t ask – it has to do with my dad and his time share points), a week in Yorkshire, and a week in Northumberland checking out the homelands of the seventh-century Bernician dyna
sty that inspired my Warlord Kings series.
Mom, Dad, Sarah and the Leezlet (that’s my niece) leave the tour at the end of September. At that point, Natalie and I will rendezvous with a trio of ultra-stupendously brilliant and talented writers, Alicia Rasley, Judith Stanton, and Lynn Kerstan for a week in a small village in County Durham. After that, Natalie and I will wend our way southwestward toward Cornwall, conducting a loosely structured Stone Circle and Used Bookstores Detour. Then comes a week in Cornwall within spitting distance of the houses our great-great grandfather and his cousins lived in a hundred and fifty years ago.
Despite all the coming and going and toing and froing, a journey like this is, above all else, a pilgrimage. I’ve been dreaming of this trip since I came home from the last one with new questions and ideas. I’ve studied: history, Old English, Welsh, church history, archaeology. I’ve poured over maps. I’ve formulated hypotheses about everything from who Æthelfrith of Bernicia’s mother might have been to why having loose ligaments might be of benefit to hard rock miners.
It’s almost time for the magic of walking new paths and meeting new people, time to listen to the voices my preparation has invited. Some may be the whispers of those long dead. Most will come from the wild array
of accents and opinions of 21st century Brits. For the next two months, I’ll be sharing what I hear.