Key Locations

The Topaz story takes in a number of interesting and scenic locations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. However, I have used dramatic licence to make a few changes to the map and I’ve invented some places entirely.

Milton College is fictional – but I spent some of the early 1990s in New Milton in Hampshire and this has probably shaped my thinking. The Jericho pub is almost certainly based on The Rydal (now Walker Arms) in New Milton and the Talbot Inn is probably the sadly lost Wellington pub in the same town.   The college itself is based on West Surrey College of Art and Design (WSCAD) in Farnham, where I gained a degree in Journalism although I doubt they had a lair with a ‘Q’ like professor living in the rafters!

Likewise, Lennoxville and Limehall are both fictional places in Northern Ireland. I realise there are places and suburbs of Belfast with similar names but these were invented for the book. Northern Ireland has had more than its fair share of atrocities over the years and I was keen not to remind parts of the real-life community of those times and opted to fictional key areas.

Nevertheless, The Bunch of Grapes in Belfast Road, Lisburn, was another invention. This is probably based on Lavery’s, which remains a magical pub in the (now) city and you needed to ring the bell to be allowed in. It’s also much bigger inside that its exterior suggests.  At one point there were 13 pubs on Bow Street/Market Square in Lisburn, 11 on Bridge Street and 7 on Chapel Hill.  The oldest independent brewery in Ireland is based in Hilden, in the northeast of Lisburn. Sadly, few remain, but Lisburn has a wonderful city/townscape.

Thiepval Barracks exists but has never been the home of the Royal Irish Regiment, that was a useful invention.  The Barracks remains the headquarters of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its 38th Brigade. It is now home to 2nd Battalion, The Rifles. From 1954 the barracks hosted the operational headquarters of No. 31 Belfast Group Royal Observer Corps who operated from a protected former nuclear bunker on Knox Road within the Barracks. The bunker, converted from a 1940s anti-aircraft operations room (AAOR), would support over one hundred ROC volunteers and the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation warning team responsible for the famous four-minute warning in the event of a nuclear strike. The ROC would also detect radioactive fallout from the nuclear bursts and warn the public of approaching fallout. The two organisations were stood down at the end of the Cold War. But the Young Communicators Unit is a purely fictional SIS team.

View from Cregagh Glen

Lisnabreeny and Cregagh Glen is a real-life National Trust site that takes in wooded glen, estate and green field to the summit of the Castlereagh hills on the edge of east Belfast. There is a former hostel (the birthplace of a famous poet, Nesca Robb) within the grounds and has carpets of bluebell and wood anemone in spring. It’s a must-visit NI-location. However, whilst it’s not an easy walk, near the top of the glen, there’s a memorial marking a temporary graveyard for American servicemen during the second world war. The intention in the book is clear, this is a terrifically rural and isolated spot and whilst the waterfalls make it idyllic, it’s also a brilliant hiding place!

Cregagh Fen

The Europa Hotel, Belfast

The Europa Hotel was one of very few hotels still operational during the Troubles and often hosted the press, international visitors and other key players in NI fortunes. The hotel was often a target for the paramilitaries due to its high visibility as a landmark building, symbolising investment in the city. The fact that the press corps were based there, guaranteed maximum publicity for any attack.  It has a reputation for being the most bombed hotel in the world but its also a lavish five-star venue which now towers over Great Victoria Street as the centre of a buzzing and modern city. The hotel was used due to its fame, height and central location.

Robinsons Bar

Likewise, the pub opposite Robinson’s Bar, which has a fabulous history itself. It’s over 125 years old and began life in 1846 as the Dublin & Armagh Hotel, built in response to the Ulster Railway Terminus across the road. At one stage there were four hotels in a row where Robinson’s now stands.  This included Robinson’s, the Crown and Anchor Temperance Hotel (now the Bookmakers), the Crown Hotel and the Adelphi (the old Beaten Docket). The name Robinsons Bar didn’t come about until 1914 and it remains one of the first and last places for people to have a drink due to the train and bus stations across the road.

Knock Road RUC Station (now PSNI), Orla Massey’s base, was at the heart of RUC operations. The base housed The Chief Constable’s Office, RUC Press Office and various headquarters staff.  It was also home for the personnel of the Special Support Units (SSU); the Headquarters Mobile Support Units (HMSU) and the Crime Department.  Interestingly, the Special Military Intelligence Units (SMIU), were all coordinated and controlled by the Head of Special Branch (HSB) in liaison with the Director and Coordinator of Intelligence for Northern Ireland (DCOINl). Therefore, the characters Jube Spencer, Clive Gentry and Orla Massey’s real-life equivalents, would have been very much based around this building, with MI5 and SIS staff in Palace Barracks.

The Black Bull stands on the corner of Torcross Road and Victoria Road, just inside South Ruislip in what used to be called the county of Middlesex. This real-life pub was where my father and uncle used to a have a few beers when we visited the area during my childhood.  I’ve tried to accurately represent the pub, but the café opposite is entirely fictional. My aunt’s house was pretty much opposite though!

London Docklands was in the throes of great change around the time of this book – the mid-1990s. Regeneration work had been underway since the late 1970s and the London Docklands Development Corporation were installed to oversee and design the work. One of the earliest residential building developments completed was Baltic Quay at the end of South Dock.  People purchasing apartments in the landmark building must have been taking a huge gamble on the potential success of the venture (near Rotherhithe), with the ugly derelict 1950s or 60s warehouses still standing. These warehouses on the east side of the dock were still in place when the London Docklands Development Corporation began to redevelop South Dock and hence the newly renovated storage facility featured in book one.


Author’s note:
I’m not a historian and whilst I take care to represent as much fact and detail in these comments, please excuse any oversights or mistakes.

Coming soon: key locations for books two and three.