I live in Sandy.
It’s a town on the busy A1 between London and Peterborough, and on to Scotland. A place to drive through for most, maybe stop for petrol, flash through on the train and gaze bored out the window at a platform.
But that’s unfair.
It’s a proper little folkloric and historical gem that not too many know about. A place of Roman Road and ancient settlements, Iron Age forts, Danish Camps in the age of Vikings on the banks of the Ivel, ancient woodlands and walking trees. More recent it was home of Sir William Peel, a recipient of the Victoria Cross and whose father - Sir Robert Peel - was founder of the old Bill, and is today a haunt for birdwatchers with the headquarters of the RSPB. For me though, it was the countryside just to the east of the town that inspired me to pen Nightjar.
From the centre of town follow Cambridge Road to the footbridge over the main line that connects Kings Cross to Peterborough, and from there on to Edinburgh. Here Sand Hills rise wooded in an Iron Age contour fort called Caesar’s Hill or Caesar’s Camp, the Lookout by some. It stands tall over Sandy. An ancient place of oaks that rise from the ground to walk the Greensand Ridge. It's true. I have pictures of these very entish creatures.
It’s peaceful too.
Provides an uninterrupted view across the low ground and flood plains to north, south and west; a real strategic point. Magpies sit trees and watch, buzzards and kite fly overhead, and Ravens sing in mournful belch. At night I’ve seen foxes run and jump, play; the darkest silhouettes against stars and moon behind them. Then it is another world.
So too are the wooded slopes that surround it.
It’s easy to imagine blue-painted tribes of Celts in the trees, Romans in armour on timber palisade. In a soft breath come Druids to the trees, golden sickles ready. It's here I first pictured Nightjar, on this hill. An immortal creature. He is of the trees, plays a flute and lives to spend the turn of a moon with his love eternal.
For the brush of her lips he will lead the sons of men into danger.
So next time you happen to pass through Sandy (and most do without ever noticing), stop. Park in its little centre and walk the Cambridge Road. Cross a bridge that echoes Stephenson and under which the Flying Scotsman often hurries. Then climb the hill to another world.
It’s that easy.