A Matter of Britain
The County of Salisbury
Starting characters are, by default, natives of Salisbury, a county in Logres, the most important kingdom in Britain. Consider the information in this section to be what your character would learn just by growing up at the court of Salisbury.
Salisbury is one of the most interesting places in Arthurian legend. It is one of the most densely populated areas. Many of the great events are going to occur here — the Battle of Badon, which will establish Arthur as king of Logres, for example; and the final Battle of Camlann, which concludes the campaign.
Many interesting places are here, as well, such as Stonehenge, most famous of the ancient monuments; and Amesbury Abbey, to which Arthur’s mother will retire early in the campaign and to which Queen Guenever will retire near its end. Many interesting landmarks are nearby, especially the dozens of prehistoric mounds, stone circles, and the unusual White Horse. Camelot, the future capital city, is also nearby.
Salisbury is thus a good place to start.
Salisbury County, proper, consists of all the holdings of the Earl of Salisbury. This fief consists primarily of the city of Sarum and the large land area on Salisbury Plain around it. The fief is composed of good farmland, and provides other good forms of income for the count — fisheries, taxes on merchants, and tolls from the bridges.
Most of Salisbury County is covered by a series of rolling grassland hills called the Salisbury Plain or Salisbury Downs. A layer of chalk is under the surface layer of soil, so they are also called chalk downs. The land is tilted gently, rising in altitude from the lowest part in the south east to the highest in the west. The Salisbury River and its tributaries cut the plain into a set of upland blocks. Its highest points are about 900 feet above sea level, but most of the higher lands top out at about 600 feet.
Player-knights will have spent their lives riding upon the plain, and will have the eye to tell where they actually are. Like anyplace, the closer one looks the more details can be seen. But for sanity’s sake, and the good of the game, the maps provided name the significant features in an area, but not all of them.
The rivers of Salisbury are extraordinary clear. Fish are abundant, and the Salisbury Avon has more types of fish than any river in Britain. They run over chalk and generally have a pebbly bottom. Curiously, in the coldest winters the fast-flowing rivers freeze along their bottoms.
County Salisbury contains large areas of woods and of Forests, and provides a good example to show the differences between these two designations. It’s important to remember that Forests are not always wooded, and woods are not always Forests! Modern usage has made these largely synonymous.
Forest, as a legal definition, designates an area whose resources are reserved for an individual. Most Forests are royal and belong to the king, but some are private, such as the Chute Forest in Salisbury. Private Forests have all the same reservations and rights as a royal forest. The owners of the Forests may grant a license, called a Liberty, to either individuals or the residents of a specific settlement, for certain specific resources. Licenses have an annual cost. Violations are fined heavily.
Sailisbury County has a temperate climate and is generally wetter and milder than most of Logres and Britain. Proximity to the sea grants temperatures without extreme changes.
Spring occurs from mid to late March. Sunshine and showers are common with cold nights and sunny days. As the days lengthen damp and wet weather gives way to summer temperatures and warm afternoons that are prevalent by the end of May.
Summer, which is when most adventuring occurs, is from June to August, and often into September. Temperature has a maximum of about 68-77° F. Most days see some sunshine, but they often do not last all day. Common are several days of warm, dry weather followed by a thunderstorm. Rain is common, but relatively warm, generated by local evaporation and subsequent fall. Summer generally has only light winds, from the south-west.
Autumn is from September to the end of October. The season moves from summer-like dry weather to periods of heavy rain and thunderstorms interspersed with warm sunshine, then to winter gales. Occasional days of warmth and cold nights occur, decreasing as winter approaches.
Winter is from later October to the end of March. It is mild, wet and windy. Frost is rare, occasional and short-lived. Cold snaps occur in November, but February and March are the coldest months. Snow occurs only rarely, usually not more than seven to fifteen days a year. It usually melts after the sun rises. Wind is strongest in the winter, from the south-west.
The county includes one large city, Sarum, which is described in detail in its own entry, three smaller walled cities (Wilton, Warminster, and Tilshead), and dozens of much smaller manors and villages that are not shown on the maps, but which are generally clustered in the river valleys around the cities. It has five castles. The one in Sarum is very strong, and is also behind the city walls; the other four (Devizes, du Plain, Ebble, and Vagon) are common motte-and-bailey castles. Note that Amesbury Abbey is not part of the county, but is held by the Church.
Several towns and cities are cited in this description as “local markets.” This means that the local farmers bring their excess grain and livestock there to sell, and also go there to buy goods or produce that they do not make or grow. Sarum, however, is the central market and is the only place at which some types of goods are available for purchase. These include good cloth, clean salt, and anything from outside of the county.
The roads shown on the maps are nearly all hardpacked dirt roads, the best travel routes available. Thus, there is no real road from Tilshead to Warminster, even though they are but 10 miles apart. Rather, rutted tracks and hunters’ trails connect these. The good roads are more heavily traveled, and the only ones used by travelers passing through the territory. The poor roads are less used, mainly by locals traveling within the region.
The Old Tracks have been known since the Bronze Age, and traverse high ground. Though they are usually dry, they are difficult for horses, which are reduced to traveling a mere 5 miles per day; hence, mainly peasants on foot use them.
The King’s Road runs through the territory from Levocamagus to Sarum, and then onward towards Dorchester. This used to be a Roman road, and is both wide and paved, though overgrown at the edges and with many tufts of grass cracked through its surface.