There’s a wonderful 18th century, neo-classical stately home near my house called ‘Belmont.’ Containing the finest clock collection in England, it is an exquisite property on a commanding and beautiful spot in over three thousand acres of prime Kent countryside. The name derives from its elevated position and extensive views. Belmont has attracted a new generation of fans in recent years, thanks to the CBBC production series of ‘Hetty Feather.’
I’ve been a regular visitor throughout my life and drove past the house every day for a decade and a half. About seven years ago during one of the guided tours, I peered into a roped-off room set up as a nursery. It struck me how sad the fine toys looked, waiting for long-departed children to come back and play with them. Fast forward to 2019, and I knew I wanted to feature that room (and an estate inspired by Belmont) in my fifth horror novel: ‘The Shackled.’ I took two visits and another guided tour to refresh my memory as writing commenced. Thus, ‘Bridechurch’ – home of the tragic Rosalind Layton and her rocking horse – came into being.
Bridechurch features in one of several side-story chapters which introduce us to shackled spirits, who – for a variety of reasons – have remained trapped between worlds after their deaths. Thanks to the courage of little Rosalind, readers are treated to another visit to Bridechurch in the denouement.
There are various features from the fictitious estate you can experience in real life at Belmont. These include the nursery, master bedroom, staircase, kitchens, stable, orangery and gardens. When we meet Rosalind in 1815, she is a ten-year-old child with a deep love of horses.
At the end of the book in 2019, our main protagonist Samantha Riley finds the house open to the public. She stops with her family for refreshments in the stables, which have been converted to a tea room. You can do the same at Belmont and even walk through the archway alongside. The place the book ends as Samantha hums Rosalind’s signature tune: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’
I’ve included photos I took from some of these spots, along with this article.
‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ was a popular song during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In ‘The Shackled’ Rosalind sings it with the household cook. Her frightened ghost sings it while she rocks on Geraldine the toy horse. And she sings it to bolster her resolve and take action during the intense story climax in a dingy Rochester warehouse. Finally, as I’ve already mentioned, Samantha hums it during a modern day visit to Bridechurch.
There’s a delicious joy that comes with fiction writing, when an already outlined scene gets textured with additional details that add an unexpected richness to the overall tale. I wanted readers to sympathise with the little girl and how the manor staff loved her. In a story about setting trapped spirits free to cross over, this traditional ditty ended up becoming an anthem for the entire book. Its lyrics took on a new significance and enabled me to wrap the novel up in an emotive style I know many of my readers have come to appreciate.
If you’ve never experienced Belmont and find yourself in Kent, I hope this post and the novel will inspire you to take a visit. It makes a wonderful day out.
‘The Shackled’ will be available in paperback and Kindle formats from 19th September. It’s also free to read for ‘Kindle Unlimited’ subscribers.
I’ll leave you with a fine instrumental rendition of ‘Over the Hills and Far Away,’ performed by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.