About thirty years ago, my mother and I went to England to visit friends from Maine who had moved to North Yorkshire. Their cottage was just outside Whitby, tucked among rolling hills and a vista so broad that it seemed you could see halfway across the country. For me, it was love at first sight, and as our friends very kindly drove us from beautiful spot to beautiful spot, I knew I had found my heart’s home. This was only emphasized by the flowers—even the smallest yard had pots of spilling color—the wonderful tea, and the large number of dogs who were out and about with their people. Finally, England is the home of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and J.R.R. Tolkien, three very different but nonetheless brilliant writers. How could I not fall in love?
For a variety of reasons, it is highly unlikely that I will ever return to England. But I can visit via books (and blogs!), and it was with great pleasure that I read Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. Bryson is perhaps best known for A Walk in the Woods, which was recently made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. In the movie, the terrific Emma Thompson played Bryson’s wife, and in real life, Bryson’s wife is indeed English. Because of this, the lucky fellow is actually allowed to live in England—yes, I am envious—and The Road to Little Dribbling is an account of his traveling from one end of Britain to the other, from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the north. He dubs this route the Bryson Line.
But as to be expected from this lively, discursive writer, Bryson does not exactly follow this straight line. Instead, he zigs and zags his way through Britain, going to Wales, Cornwall, the Lake Distract, North Yorkshire, Hampshire, and many other places, touching bases with the Bryson Line from time to time. Along the way, he visits museums, walks in the countryside, and drinks a fair amount of beer. Ever curious, Bryson writes about the history of the many places he visits. Then, of course, there is his famous snarkiness—his acerbic observations and crotchets—amusing but fortunately kept in check. For this reader, a little snarkiness goes a long way.
While not without its criticisms—no place, of course, is perfect—The Road to Little Dribbling is in essence a love letter to England, and for Bryson, as for me, the countryside is his greatest love. At the end of the book he writes that he loves England for many reasons, but chiefly because of “the beauty of the countryside. Goodness me, what an achievement….there isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in than the countryside of Great Britain. It is the world’s largest park, its most perfect accidental garden. I think it may be the British nation’s most glorious achievement.”
So well put and so true. I have decided that The Road to Little Dribbling is a book for the home library—I borrowed it from our town’s library—and I will be putting it on my wish list.