Boxing Days

An initial attempt at a Yock Valley railway map

As many of you know, over Christmas and the New Year I joined in a Twitter readalong of John Masefield’s 1935 classic The Box of Delights under the hashtag #DelightfulXmas.

You may also know that this involved a chapter-a-day discussion, enlivened by creative tasks such as literary efforts and artistic responses.

Before I post a review you may like to see some of my own contributions to #DelightfulXmas — in two parts, this being the first — and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting young Kay Harker and his cohorts maybe this may stimulate a desire to make their acquaintance!

The Box of Delights opens with Kay Harker arriving by train at Musborough Junction, where he has to change platforms for a connection to his home town Condicote and on to Tatchester, Yockwardine and Newminster. At Musborough he encounters not only Cole Hawlings, a Punch & Judy man, but also two suspicious clergymen travelling to the theological college in the Chester Hills.

#DelightfulXmas rail links to Condicote Junction

Masefield is doubtless reconstructing his childhood train journey from Warwick (where he went to boarding school between the ages of ten and thirteen, from 1888 to 1891) back to Ledbury for the Christmas holidays. He would have changed at Worcester, passed below the Malvern Hills and on to Ledbury Junction, on the north side of the town. The train would have then gone either to Hereford and beyond or south along the canal.

My initial sketch map merely indicated the train stops but I felt the orientation was all wrong. The second map instead suggests some equivalents between fictional and actual stations: Musborough is Worcester, Hope-under-Chesters is perhaps one of the stations under the Malverns, Condicote is Ledbury, Tatchester would be Hereford, and Newminster perhaps Leominster.

The canal wharf at Ledbury (

As Masefield largely based Condicote (the name of a real village in Gloucestershire) on Ledbury in Herefordshire, I also designed a sketch map of the fictional Condicote overlying key places in the author’s birthplace, such as the railway station, his birthplace The Knapp, the canal and so on.

Kay Harker’s Condicote

Hopefully if and when you come to read the fantasy this map may help you orientate yourself.

Finally, in this bird’s eye view of Condicote and environs I offer this sketch map based on Kay Harker’s earlier adventures in The Midnight Folk (1927). I omit details of the town plan and only give the places mentioned when Kay travels abroad from Seekings. I hope to discuss more about both places and timelines in the two books in a follow-up post after the review: as we will see, the two novels are a mash-up of two different places and periods in Masefield’s life.

Condicote and environs

Part Two follows tomorrow, when there will be other creative responses to readalong prompts

10 thoughts on “Boxing Days

    1. Yes, I’ve got this, Jo, bought it after a recommendation by another blogger! Previously I’d relied on Barbara Strachey’sJourneys of Frodo (

      But, like you, I’ve always been fascinated by maps — here’s one recent discussion ( and here’s another ( — but I’d say that possibly as much as 5% or more of my posts touch on cartographic matters!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Awesome! I’ve not seen Strachey’s “Journey’s of Frodo” – I’ll have to look that one up!

        When I was first learning creative writing in junior school we created imaginative maps as a starting point for longer fiction. (We were KS2 at the time, so longer fiction wasn’t that long!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Strachey’s book is all hand-drawn and clearly a labour of love, though amateur (in both senses of the word) compared with traditional cartographers and modern CAD systems.

          I hope the prompts for your maps done in the juniors were more imaginative than the cliché of the desert/treasure/pirate island that I used to see duplicated ad nauseam in primary schools!


  1. I shall refer back to this at the appropriate times, Chris. I started The Midnight Folk in November, intending to follow up immediately with The Box of Delights at Christmas, but events got in the way and I’ve decided to retry Midnight Folk in the summer (more seasonally appropriate) so Box of Delights will be a treat for next Christmas. I shall enjoy your thoughts on it when the companion posts to this one appear 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s never to late to sample the, ahem, delights of Masefield’s two tales, Sandra, and certainly more atmospheric to read them at the appropriate time of year. Hope you find my posts helpful whenever you read them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rich

        Hello, this is Rich.
        Sorry it’s been quite a while!

        I really didn’t arrive at any different conclusions regarding the map, and you’ve managed to get further than I did – I think you’ve cracked it.

        When I tried to work out Kay’s route, I had also identified Warwick as the origin of the journey (Masefield’s school) and Ledbury as the destination. This gave a kind of northeast to south west journey as on your excellent map. So far, so easy. But I couldn’t identify where the change of trains (musborough) would have taken place in reality, which meant I was stumped in terms of using real world geography as a basis for a map.

        I also just assumed that Blunafon was Birmingham, given the name.
        This probably isn’t the case, and the assumption confused my efforts.

        Incidentally the only reference to a Blunafon I could find was a Blunafon Bluecoat school (a kind of charity school I understand?). No idea where this was, but it could have been an inspiration.

        I looked at the real world stations on the route to Ledbury, and tried to compare them to those listed in BoD, but they were different in number to the stations that Masefield had set out, and really didn’t seem to be direct real world equivalents. I looked at contemporary rail timetables, pre-Beeching lines KH might have taken, but really couldn’t make concrete decisions. So I gave up.

        One interesting thing I noticed was that there is a place called Lugwardine in Herefordshire, on the river Lugg. Location is east of Hereford. This at least seems an obvious inspiration for Yockwardine/The Yock. I’m sure that examination of maps in the area would give more linguistic clues.

        Also – and, you may know of it – but the Masefield novel The Hawbucks is also set in the Condicote/Tatchester area, and yields many additional hints as to the geography. It even opens in Condicote station, and states that Condicote is 9.5 miles from Tatchester. This distance is somewhat shorter than the 15 miles from Ledbury to Hereford. Familiar places such as King Arthur’s Camp pop up. But also many other tantilizing locations:
        Beaten Hill, Compton, Monks Ebsbury, Killdown, The Cheddeson Arms, Tuttocks Court, Tatchester Assembly Rooms.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Good to hear from you again, Rich, and yes, so easy to fall into a rabbit hole with these two books (and I haven’t read any of his other novels — though I believe TMF’s Crowmarsh Estate also occurs in his adult fiction). I’m afraid that, living in Wales, I can’t get past Blunafon reminding me of Blaenavon, so if there is a bluecoat school of the same name that’s intetesting, even if a quick google revealed nothing!

          The lesson to be learned I suppose is that authors are free to fabricate whatever and however they like from their store of memories and of real life, so inserting extra stations on a real railway line is his perogative! 🙂

          The Lugg as the Yock? I shall have to look further!


Do leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.