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Laying out the Bones in Wiltshire with Kate Webb

  • Submitted: 24th January 2024

Wiltshire with Kate Webb

Today Kate Webb comes to BookTrail Towers. She has cake. I open the door straight away and pop the kettle on.

Laying out the Bones Kate Webb

Let’s head to Salisbury Plain shall we?

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

When I first set out to write a crime novel, I knew right away that I would set it in Wiltshire. I grew up on the southern edge of Salisbury Plain, and currently live on its northern edge, so I really didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

It’s the landscape of my childhood, one I’ve always found hugely evocative, and I knew its windswept open spaces, ancient settlements and run down farms would be the perfect place to set a crime series more about human frailty, long-held secrets and repressed emotions than it is about organised gangs or armed response units.

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Laying out the Bones centres on the fictional Old Hat Farm, a commune, of sorts, near the real village of Everleigh. There, on the fertile ground between two high sweeps of chalk downland, people have lived and farmed for millennia. I named Old Hat Farm after a round ‘hat barrow’ situated nearby, one of thousands of prehistoric burial mounds found all over Salisbury Plain. They often sit untouched in fields where farmers have ploughed and sown crops in concentric rings around them, often with beech trees growing over them (a “Wiltshire Tump”).

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

The marks of our ancestors are in plain sight here – and none more famous than Stone Henge. Bowling past that World Heritage site is the A303, a busy dual carriageway, the “Highway to the West”, where, in Laying Out The Bones, a young woman’s body was found, back in 2008.

Did Holly Gilbert jump from the nearby bridge? Or is the truth far more sinister? When crucial new evidence comes to light, DI Matt Lockyer and DC Gemma Broad seek the truth. This busy route, which has been travelled for thousands of years, now seems to blast angrily through the ancient landscape, and seemed a fitting place for such a violent death to have occurred.

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Wiltshire Tump

Wiltshire Tump (c) Kate Webb

This new evidence is the skeleton of a man, found in a hidden green hollow not far from Old Hat Farm. The dead man is Lee Geary, one of three people suspected of being involved in Holly’s death, and when it turns out that the other two suspects have also died in unexplained ways, Lockyer starts to wonder if some unknown person might have been out for revenge…

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Cherhill

Cherhill (c) Kate Webb

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Salisbury Plain is covered in these hollows, especially where the land rises, steeply, to the plateau. It drops into deep creases between the grassy slopes, and these crevices are often full of hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble. Foxes and badgers make their dens in them – fairies too, I believed as a child. These are the last places where the frost melts in winter; the last places the sun touches in summer. All but impenetrable, they’re perfect for concealing a body…

West Dean

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Lockyer is a Wiltshire man, too. Born and bred at Westdene Farm, where his family have scratched a living from the land for generations. It’s a sad place, in many ways, where the senseless loss of Lockyer’s younger brother is keenly felt. You often see farms like this in north Wiltshire: places where the house needs of a lick of paint, or there are tiles missing from the roof. You might also see a barn about to fall down or muddy ground. Livestock and the winter rain have an effect!  If Lockyer is a man with a kernel of sadness inside, then Westdene, and its ghosts, are a lot of the reason why.

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Researching the settings of this novel was literally a holiday at home for me. There are footpaths, bridleways and byways criss-crossing Salisbury Plain, forming a vast network of routes up onto the high plateau. The far-off horizon gives an amazing sense of space and freedom; golden with long grass in the summer, buffeted by cold winds in winter. It’s been unchanged for thousands of years. And after your walk, head into Devizes, a lovely old market town, and drop in for a pint at the British Lion pub, where you might just find Lockyer and Broad, chewing over their latest case…

Map of locations in Laying out the Bones

Thank you for such a trip down Memory Lane!

Kate Webb

Kate Webb

BookTrail Boarding Pass: Laying out the Bones

Insta: @kwebbauthor/

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