This is Blakemere, a magical place in Delamere Forest. It is no more than a few minutes’ walk from where my gran’s cottage used to be but I never set eyes upon it until about ten years ago. That’s because it is not much more than a decade old. Well, no, actually it dates from the end of the last ice age.
Blakemere and the many other meres and mosses of this part of Cheshire were formed when great blocks of ice from melting glaciers sat in shallow depressions, gradually enlarging them and filling them with meltwater. The result was a pepper-potting of small peat bogs in and around the ancient forest and the creation of an environment in which a rich variety of plant and animal life flourished.
A couple of centuries ago, Delamere’s eco-treasure was forced to make way for a more pressing need – land for the growing of timber for warships. French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars were brought in to drain the peat bogs. If those men had felt any pangs of guilt for helping to reclaim land for timber which could be used against their own country, they need not have feared. The boggy land simply wasn’t suitable for the growing of oak. During the past fifteen years or so, work had been progressing slowly restoring those ancient wetlands. Blakemere is a shining example of a renewed mere.
If only I had known, as a youngster playing in the forest, who had dug those drainage ditches which we enjoyed leaping across. But I visualise them now as I walk the forest lanes. And having just seen Les Miserables, I see the tortured face of Jean Valjean among the many prisoners dragging a stricken ship into dry dock. But I see also a French officer, a man of rank who is allowed privileges which are denied others. On a Sunday afternoon Jean-Luc Anquetil, who is on his honour to return to his quarters by five, is sitting astride a fallen tree trunk. He is carving a tiny model ship from bone.
What business did Solomon Whitaker have with Jean-Luc Anquetil? Judith will find out. She does have the document which Solomon wrote and if it doesn’t tell her all she needs to know, she will work out the rest for herself.
Okay, something we’ve got to get straight – Judith Whitaker’s name is not Judith. Not. That’s the name her mum uses to tell her off. Like when she hasn’t had time to tidy her room. Judy, not her mum, that is. Get that? Her name is Judy. And not Jude either, at least not when her dad is around because he plays the guitar in a band which is just so embarrassing. Like the time when they were playing at a Rotary Club social, a members drag your kids along sort of thing and she had to go. And two of her friends were there and her dad – God, can you imagine it – he only had to go and sing that stupid Paul McCartney song. Hey Jude. She wanted to crawl under the seat.