A DAY WITH ROALD DAHL IN THE ENGLISH COUNTYSIDE by RJ Furth
Sandy suggested that we visit Roald Dahl’s house in Great Missenden in honor of Dahl’s 100th birthday. I’ve never read any Dahl, though I enjoyed the Matilda movie and, recently, the very entertaining Matilda musical in London. For many children, and adults, Dahl is a favorite writer whose books contain tales of nasty adults, special children, creative language, and happy endings. I agreed to accompany Sandy because it meant a trip to the English countryside, something we don’t do often enough. It was a trip I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to any visitor to London who is a fan of Roald Dahl or simply wants to escape the city for a taste of rural England.
Buckinghamshire is an beautiful area just west of London that features rolling hills, green pastures, and upscale quaint villages that have far more BMW’s, Range Rovers and Jaguars than tractors. Pubs that used to offer meat pies and bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) now serve tapas and ceviche. Cottages have names posted out front (Greenfields, The End, Hearthstone) instead of numbers, and lawns are carefully manicured with nicely trimmed trees and bushes. Great Missenden is a single-road village with freshly painted shop fronts and no trash on the ground. What is does have is a terrific little museum dedicated to Roald Dahl, who did most of his writing there.
The museum’s exhibits are clearly aimed at kids, offering plenty of pictures, audio recordings of Dahl himself, drawings and plenty of hands-on activities. There is also Cafe Twit. The tiny cottage in which Dahl wrote has been moved into the museum so you can see his ratty chair, writing platform (balanced on the arms of the chair) lamp and writing implements. Dahl explains his writing process in a recording while you peer at his writing space. There are also walls that feature photos of famous writers who discuss the authors that inspired them to write. (Kazuo Ishiguro was a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.) Perhaps the best part of our day was the hour walk through Angling Spring Wood and Atkins Wood, two lovely forests that inspired Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and a scene from Danny the Champion of the World. As we walked through open fields and damp, fragrant woods, we heard the shrill call of red kites, a bird that had been reintroduced to the region twenty years earlier. Strolling through the open fields we were treated to the sight of the kites circling overhead.
Most visitors to London tend to stay in the city, understandably since it is so rich with history and culture. There is always a new neighborhood to visit, a new museum to view, new food to try. I would recommend a half day trip to a place like Great Missenden for a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to see what makes Great Britain such a terrific destination. Yes, it rains more than Denver or Phoenix, that’s why the countryside is so verdant. Besides, a beer and some tapas after a walk in an old English forest is a perfect way to spend some free time.