Saturday, 8 January 2011

St. Abbs and Kathleen Fidler

The three books by Kathleen Fidler which are set on the Berwickshire Coast are Treasure of Ebba, The Gold of Fast Castle, The Deans Lighthouse Adventure.
Treasure of Ebba is the first in a group of two about the same groups of children. These are Nicol and Julie Milne and their cousins David and Sarah Drummond who live on a farm at St.Abbs. The story is the old one of members of the family who initially don't get on with each other. David has formed the impression that his rather bookish cousin Nicol is a "jessee" because he has had to drop out of a continental journey because of his period of illness with pneumonia. Nicol considers David to be a bit of a country clodhopper who is interested in nothing but the outdoor life. A part of the plot of the book is used to explore how they eventually overcome these erronious impressions. Both boys find themselves in life-threatening situations and their cousin to bring them to safety. The second strand of the story is about the way in which the four children begin to become involved in the history of that small area of the coast. In particular it is about the way in which they carry out an archeological dig on the remains of Ebba's church located on the St. Abb's promontory.
Nicol is a strickler for doing things the right way and insists on all the excavations being done "according to the rules". David just wants to get on with things but eventually begins to operate according to the methodical way in which the expedition is set about. There is an interesting explanation of how to excavate and record the results. The girls also follow Nicol's lead even though they admit that their main hope is to find some treasure.
Nicol points out that it is very unlikely that they are going to find anything. The following conversation then takes place:
"Then what are we going to dig for ?" David interrupted from his mound.
"Information," Nicol told him, "That's what true archeologists are really looking for, information. They want to learn how people lived in the past. They aren't digging to make themselves rich by finding buried treasure. If any object do turn up, they're of interest first of all for what we can learn from them of the people who made them." Nicol was serious and sincere.

The story that the children are trying to piece together is captured in the dramatic lines of the dust-jacket.
"Cut off your noses," said Ebba to her companions, "and the Vikings will not kill you." But when the Danes came in their long ships to Coldingham, to see what treasure they could find, everybody was killed, in spite of Ebba's plan. The little chapel on the cliff at St. Abb's was burned, and the grass grew over it; but after eleven centuries the site was still to be seen on St. Abb's Head north of Berwick-on-Tweed.
"Just the place for a properly-run Dig," said Nicol Milne; and Milnes and Drummonds began to explore, to see what they could discover, and to find any treasure which the Danes might have left behind.
David's friend Jimmy Barr introduces another note to the harmonious progress of the excavation. He is the son of the lighthouse keeper and Kathleen Fidler makes sure that she introduces the feeling of methodical service to duty that such a family has to undergo. Jimmy is patient and sensible where David is impulsive and rash. He too becomes caught up in the adventure of the dig and the links with the past that is all around his home. At the end of the book there is, of course, a tangible reward but there is also a much more important reward when the children's involvement in the enterprise is approved of by an expert and the period of exploration proves to be just the beginning of a new strand of their lives rather than the closed book that seems to be threatened.

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