"The Picts and the Martyrs" (1943) is the eleventh book in the much-loved "Swallows and Amazons" series by Arthur Ransome. This book like the first is set in the Lake District, but unlike most of the books does not have the Walker family in it. Instead Dot and Dick Callum arrive to stay in Beckfoot with the Blacketts, only to be not welcome at all when a stern Great Aunt decides Beckfoot needs her to look after it. So Nancy turns them into Picts living in hiding, while she and Peggy suffer nobly.
This is one of those great books in which nothing happens, yet
everything happens. Dot and Dick live the life of outlaws from a
Walter Scott novel. Through their eyes we discover how to catch trout
bare-handed. There are near escapes such as Dick having to hide in
the armadillo box, or Nancy coming back from a night visit to the
Callums. Every page is full of real detail about mining and the fells
and sailing and skinning rabbits and life back then. It also is
a refreshing refreshingly wholesome
adventure, to put a sense of wonder back into the mundane.
Reading this book is the next best thing to actually being inside its
This is also one of the influences on the thoughts in my head. From
this book I was infected with an interest in Picts and tribes and
their history. Nancy has made a scarab flag for the Callums and that
too pushed me towards Ancient Egypt and hieroglyphics and strange
languages. There's even a precursor to my love of Adventure games
in the contrivances Nancy uses to communicate like mowing messages
on a lawn, or hiding messages in an arrow as she did in "Swallowdale".
This book also is an amusing story illustrating what happens when
even for the right reasons we try to deceive. As in a farce things
just keep getting more complicated. The game is almost up right at
the end . . . but that would be telling.