DIVAGATING

By Gwen S. Clarke

A ROUND-TRIP TICKET TO PIDDLETRENTHIDE

The wee village of Piddletrenthide, in the south of England, has much to recommend

It, in addition to its memorable, if slightly quirky name. It’s within easy reach of Stonehenge, the English Channel, and Maiden Castle (which isn’t exactly what we expected it would be).

After a visit there, mid-1970s, I’d pretty-much relegated Piddletrenthide to a file folder and my memory bank, until I encountered Tracy Chevalier’s 2007 novel: Burning Bright, this week, in which the village becomes almost a character in its own right.

On our way to a conference in England, my husband and I carved out a few days to be tourists – Stonehenge was a good starting point. It was big. Now we could say we’d seen it. The English Channel presented it’s excuse of a sea-side resort to this Florida native, and came up sorely lacking. It doesn’t have a beach, it has a “shingle”, a brief rocky strip, that leads down to murky water considerably colder than the English beer.

As far as Maiden Castle was concerned, I thought it would be interesting to see what housed the soldiers as they scanned the Channel for invaders back in the Iron Age. We followed the signs to it, turning off the two-lane highway onto a grassy parking area – our rental car (with all its vital components mirror images of what we were used to) the only vehicle in sight; and us, the only living beings, except for cows, and more cows. “Maybe the castle is behind this berm”, said Himself. Over the earthen barrier we climbed, stepping carefully, only to come to another and yet another earthen barrier. From the top of it, to the south, we beheld the English Channel (currently free from invaders) and all around just more fields, berms, and cattle. Lessons learned: whatever had been there all those centuries ago had long since been reduced to earthworks, and English history requires a lot of imagination to interpret it.

We cleaned off our good shoes as well as we could and headed for late lunch stop at The Fisherman Pub on the way to our pre-booked Bed and Breakfast in the whimsically named village of Piddletrenthide. Yet another reminder that “we weren’t in Kansas anymore” was the fishing uniform in that neck of the woods: venerable tweed blazers, pastel dress shirts, knit ties, and neatly pressed corduroy slacks. To the man! Honest.

We loved our B&B on sight, a solid, square pinkish-stone residence in a country setting, close by the River Piddle. Its husband-and-wife hosts had a young daughter in the throes of living a dream, though with her British accent, it took some deduction to recognize that day’s birthday gift was a pony.

Fast-forward half of a lifetime to the book in my lap, whose main characters have traversed to London from – of all places – Piddletrenthide. Happily, by end of the book, they get to go back. I hated to leave the scene, myself, and, late into the night, continued reading the author’s notes and acknowledgments, one of which was to Mike and Sally Howard-Tripp, for “introducing me to the joys of Piddletrenthide”. The Howard-Tripps were our hosts in that time and place so far removed. I remain gobsmacked – a good Piddletrenthide adjective.

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