The photograph in my header is of a place called Támara where an important scene takes place in my novel, Pilgrimage. I wrote the scene before I had ever seen the village, and when I finally visited there this summer with my friend Cecily Hilsdale (who took the photo), I had a big surprise because it was very different from how I had imagined (and written) it. The photo is a little deceptive. Because the church on the right is so huge, it looks like a small village in the middle of a plain with a low mesa in the background. But if you look just to the right of the big church (which would not have been there in the twelfth century when my novel takes place) you’ll see a much smaller church on a height of land. It is a small, Romanesque church, and it would have been there when the novel takes place.
Támara is not a village in a valley; it was actually built on a height of land with the small church at its highest point. And when we drove closer, we discovered that the whole hill had been surrounded by a wall from the late eleventh century. Can you imagine how much effort in men and resources it would have taken to wall in a place that lonely and isolated? But they did it for a reason. Támara is a perfect defensive outpost. From the church on the top of the hill you can see north all the way to the Picos de Europa, west through the plain, and east along the mesa to the pass which is a major route for people coming from Burgos. And if someone approaches over the mesa looking for trouble, people posted as lookouts on the top of the mesa can easily make it back in time to be safe and to warn the village the village of danger, which they can just wait out behind their nice, sturdy walls.
I chose Támara almost by chance to be the site where two armies meet. The truth was better than my fiction.