Returning home to Felixstowe: ‘Stories are everywhere’

Novelist Hayley Long always thought her home town, on the Suffolk coast, was a bit of a joke but now she’s proud of its gentle charm

The alt city guide to York in England

It’s time for the Romans and Vikings to make way for a new insurgency in the North Yorkshire jewel: a sparky, creative scene fuelled by innovative music, food and drink outlets

Strolling the ancient hillforts of southern England

Here’s a vivid picture of prehistoric times on a walk in the Wiltshire Downs: one of 4,000 iron age sites across Britain and Ireland mapped on a new website

The Manton Rempville Mystery – start of Chapter 1

Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes surveyed the remains of Manton Rempville monastery with incredulity. He’d heard that a hundred thousand pounds had been spent on preserving the ruins and he couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. Ruins were ruins for a reason. The natural order of things, in Barnes’ mind at least, was gradual decay – preservation only delayed the inevitable, like applying skin cream to wrinkles or a new coat of paint to a rusting car. Besides, the ruins were open to anyone and there was no entry charge, so they were never going to get their money back.

Barnes stiffened slightly as he saw Detective Inspector Colin Knowles’ Land Rover chug into the car park and lurch to a halt too close to Barnes’ Morgan sports car for his comfort. He glanced down at the body and thought that Knowles, his boss, would find this crime scene interesting indeed. Barnes had heard that Knowles was on a new diet and that his latest culinary delight was vegetable kebabs cooked on his nearly new barbecue even in the depths of autumn.

Taking care not to get his highly polished shoes muddy, Barnes walked across the uneven grass as a low, cold wind whipped across the historical site, slightly disturbing his short, brown hair. He hadn’t seen much of Knowles in the past month as they’d both been away on holiday at separate times since the murders in Goat Parva. As he came towards him, Barnes noticed that even though the Inspector had lost weight, he still wasn’t able to tuck his Marks and Spencer shirt into his trousers.

“Good morning, sir, how are you today?”

“Fair to middling, Barnesy old son, the diet’s working well, nearly fifteen pounds lost.” Knowles gripped his much reduced stomach with some pride.

“How’s the gym going?”

“Gradually doing more on the treadmill, lifting a few weights, and getting some stretching done on those large blue balls they have. That’s not easy – those balls are bouncy as hell – I almost fell off the first few times I tried to lie on the thing. Anyway, not only can I see my toes now, but I can almost touch them too.”

“That’s good to hear, sir. The trick to keeping the weight off is by committing to a lifestyle change rather than thinking you’re on a diet.”

“Good point, Sergeant, lifestyle sounds very magazine-like though, very posh Sunday newspaper, but I know what you mean. Anyway, who do we have over there?” Knowles pointed in the direction of the photographer and Forensics team, who were investigating the crime scene.

The two men started to walk over to the eastern wall of the monastery’s refectory where the body had been found an hour earlier by Bingo the retriever, out on a long walk with his owner Adelaide Hills from Goat Parva. Both dog and owner were well known to the police from a few months before when Bingo had made a habit of finding bodies in the early morning.

“According to his credit cards, his name is Edward Pritchard; we are just running some computer checks to find out where he lives. It’s how he’s been killed that you will find interesting, sir.”

With his hands in his trench coat pockets, Knowles stood on the wall and looked down at the body lying on what would have been the refectory floor. Edward Pritchard had been run through with a sword and the handle was sticking out of his back on the left-hand side. Knowles smiled at Dr. Crabtree, the forensic doctor, who was examining the body.

“Dr. Crabtree, we have a real sword being used as a murder weapon?” Knowles would have rubbed his hands with glee if they hadn’t been warming up in his pockets.

“We do indeed, Colin, a very real sword. This is a heavy cavalry sword with a straight blade with one cutting edge whereas the other side has been thickened for greater strength. The blade is around three feet in length. It directly penetrated his heart and he would have died instantly.”

“Any prints on the handle?” Knowles looked hopeful when he said this.

“We’ll check back at the lab, Colin, can we move him now?”

“Yes, that will be all I think. We’ll be back at the station in an hour or so; could you have something by then in terms of fingerprints, time of death, and any ideas on a profile of who could have done it?”

“We’ll try, Colin – no promises, but we’ll try.”

“I presume the person who murdered Edward wasn’t aware of the type of sword they were using,” said Barnes, “because that’s a sword for slashing people with, not for running them through.”

“So, you would have expected a murderer who knew what he was using to have hit Edward here in the neck with the sharp side,” replied Knowles.

“Yes, sir, that’s correct.”

“So we’re looking for an ignorant murderer then? We show the suspects the sword and ask them how they would kill someone using the sword and those who opt for the neck slash are innocent?”

“They might be bluffing, sir, so we shouldn’t just use that as a method of elimination from our enquiries,” said Barnes, playing along with Knowles’ quite acerbic sense of humour.

“OK, we’ll just confine ourselves to telling the murderer, when we catch him, that he/she murdered Edward here in the wrong way. So where could the sword have come from? It’s not the sort of weapon you can easily conceal.”

“The nearest house is Manton Rempville Hall – you can see it just poking through the trees over there. That might be the best place to start.”

“Agreed – they probably maintain an assortment of weapons to keep the staff subdued and repel invasions by the local peasants in times of crisis. We should go there after visiting our oldest friend in Goat Parva, Mrs. Adelaide Hills, and her bundle of fun, Bingo.”

“It’s just like old times, sir.”

“Indeed it is, Barnesy. I just hope that this is the only body Bingo finds in this murder investigation.”

‘Off with their heads!’ – the 10 greatest quotes from Alice in Wonderland

Celebrate Alice’s 150th birthday by reading our top 10 quotes from the nonsensical and magical world of Wonderland!

The eeriness of the English countryside

Writers and artists have long been fascinated by the idea of an English eerie – ‘the skull beneath the skin of the countryside’. But for a new generation this has nothing to do with hokey supernaturalism – it’s a cultural and political response to contemporary crises and fears

British Traditions – Walking the Weasel

An excerpt from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

One particularly cruel mayor, Edgar Stride, decided to ride around the paths on a horse as he didn’t want to be bitten in the ankle by the weasel. However, his fear caused his death. The weasel’s leash wasn’t quite long enough for it to walk on the ground. Not wishing to be strangled, the weasel fought and writhed against the leash until it managed to sink its teeth into the horse’s haunch. This powerful nip caused the horse to bolt – Stride was knocked from the horse’s back when it ran under a low branch. Stride hit the ground hard and died from his injuries. His quick-thinking deputy, Mortimer Sanderson, jumped over Stride’s body and managed to pick up the weasel’s leash before it could effect an escape. He walked around the rest of the paths without further mishap. This act of quick-wittedness is now enshrined in the ceremony. Since that day, when the mayors approach the area known as Mortimer’s Leap, they have to sprint for approximately one hundred yards, ensuring that the weasel is keeping up.
Only when the role of ‘The Walking Weasel’ became an officially recognized position in 1661, to commemorate the
restoration of the monarchy, did the same weasel perform the ceremony more than once. Indeed, it’s understood that the
walk began to appeal to the weasel, as it came across the warrens of the local rabbits, which it could visit at other
times of the year. The record for the number of walks undertaken by one weasel is 6 between 1872 and 1877 by
Walter the weasel, whose son Barney succeeded him for a further 4 years. The ceremony has been performed nearly 540
times in a continuous line that hasn’t been broken by World Wars, Civil War, or the election of Margaret Thatcher.