The story is set in the recent present and it quickly becomes apparent that the story-teller Paul is subject to many of the same insecurities and confusions prevalent in society generally. He attends the funeral of his estranged mother where he meets one of her ex-colleagues – an interesting older man: James. It is whilst staying in James’s cottage in the far reaches of a Yorkshire moor that Paul meets and becomes associated with the small community who live together around the cottage in an isolated location called the Mount. Ostensibly there to complete his latest book (based on the life and works of Sir Walter Scott), Paul is soon distracted from his task becoming intrigued by the nearby characters and their uncommon beliefs and behaviour. Very soon he finds he is deeply attracted to his next door neighbour and despite his affair with her he feels shocked and surprised in equal measure by her apparent lack of moral restraint and the way she flouts convention. However, given his lack experience with the opposite sex and the distortions of his childhood he has little with which to compare the emerging situation. It is only when the celebration associated with the Solstice takes place that he begins to comprehend the primitive context in which he finds himself and the possible implications.
By way of his mother’s research, recently unearthed by James and through the friendship of a local notable landowner called Richard St. John Smith, a story emerges that began centuries ago concerning a band of gypsies and their relationships with Richard’s ancestors. He discovers that the peculiar mix of conditions that prevailed also involved one of his own antecedents. Unfortunately a tragic occurrence cuts short his stay in the cottage, forces an end to his infatuation with his neighbour and abbreviates the possibility of his future research.
Although Paul’s is the voice of the book his frailties are increasingly apparent and may be seen to serve as a catalyst for many of his actions and the options he chooses.