The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
In 1973, on his first visit to Britain, Bill Bryson landed a job at a psychiatric hospital and married a nurse there. It was a serendipitous visit and, after a brief return to the states so that Bryson could finish his degree, the couple settled in the North of England. In 1995, prior to returning to the United States once again, Bryson took a final trip around his adopted country, a journey that became the basis for his much-loved travelogue, Notes from a Small Island. Twenty years later, the author once more traverses England for The Road to Little Dribbling.
“By population, Britain is the fourth largest island state, behind only Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines. By wealth, it is second. Measured by decent music, old stony buildings, variety of boiled sweets, and reasons for not going to work because of the weather, it is number one by a very large margin.”
From the Scottish marmalade heir who restored the prehistoric stones at Avebury to the signing of the Magna Carta in Runnymede Meadow, Bryson crisscrosses the land, regaling readers with a variety of historical, cultural and personal anecdotes along the way. A former Commissioner for English Heritage, Bryson knows England as well or better than most natives. In 2003, Notes from a Small Island topped a British poll of books that best represented the country.
Bryson mines the stories that lie beneath the landmarks and he regales us with superlatives. With him we visit England’s best small town, most pleasant and improved city, most beautiful bay, and oldest park. He takes us among the wild ponies of the New Forest and the traffic jams of nearby Lyndhurst.
While in Cambridge, he peels off a gem of a story about early-20th century Nobel laureate, Sir Lawrence Bragg who, because he missed gardening, took a job as a gardener for a woman who “had no idea that her gardener was one of the most distinguished scientists in Britain.”
While making no bones about his love of England, neither does Bryson pull punches when pointing out matters of social decline. He delves into the history and methodology of British road numbering as a precursor to regaling against the inanity of most British systems. He takes a stand against those who advocate building in London’s designated green spaces, and he rails against litterbugs.
“I read once that the furthest distance the average American will walk without getting into a car is six hundred feet, and I fear the modern British have become much the same, except that on the way back to the car the British will drop some litter and get a tattoo.”
Whether on the footpaths in England, walking the Appalachian Trail, or beating new paths down under, Bill Bryson always packs an ample supply of his celebrated wit; you can count on The Road to Little Dribbling being both educational and entertaining.
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