When a friend in Southern California learned I was originally from the NC mountains, he told me years ago that I absolutely had to read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods about his hike along the Appalachian Trail. I downloaded it onto my Kindle, where it sat for a few years until I finally got around to it. Why did it sit there so long? I had never been a big travelogue reader, but one day I wanted something different to read and there it was – just waiting for me. I laughed, I cringed, I cried, I got really homesick for those green hills of my home state, and I became an instant Bryson fan. Thanks, Geoff!
It’s been twenty years since Bryson made his cross-Britain trip chronicled in Notes from a Small Island, so it was time to hit the road again to see what’s changed. The Road to Little Dribbling is this second ode to his adopted country and his trip takes him from Bognor Regis in the south of England all the way to Cape Wrath in the northern edges of Scotland. That’s a lot of territory to cover. One of the geeky things I love is that he’s completely enamored with ordinance survey maps and, once he explained what they provide for travelers, I could see how useful they would be. I wish we had that kind of thing available for exploring the U.S., where current travel maps seem to all be centered around the highway system instead. Below is a video interview done with him about ordinance survey maps, which only touches on them but gives you a brief glimpse of Bill Bryson and his dry wit.
“I first came to England at the other end of my life, when I was still quite young, just twenty.
In those days, for a short but intensive period, a very high percentage of all in the world that was worth taking note of came out of Britain…
Because of all the attention we gave Britain, I thought I knew a fair amount about the place, but I quickly discovered upon arriving that I was very wrong. I couldn’t even speak my own language there…
Needing a haircut, I ventured into a unisex hairdresser’s in Oxford, where the proprietress, a large and vaguely forbidding woman, escorted me to a chair, and there informed me crisply: ‘Your hair will be cut by a vet today.’
I was taken aback. ‘Like a person who treats sick animals?’ I said, quietly horrified.
‘No, her name is Yvette,’ she replied and with the briefest of gazes into my face made it clear that I was the most exhausting idiot that she had encountered in some time.”
“My time in Britain describes a kind of bell curve, starting at the bottom left-hand corner in the ‘Knows Almost Nothing at All’ zone, and rising in a gradual arc to ‘Pretty Thorough Acquaintanceship’ at the top. Having attained this summit, I assumed that I would remain there permanently, but recently I have begun to slide down the other side toward ignorance and bewilderment again as increasingly I find myself living in a country that I don’t altogether recognize.”
He cracked me up over and over again with his mostly good-natured grumblings about growing older, how much things have changed, and how much better things would be if “they” just did things the way he thinks they should be done. And then there are the wonderful hidden gems of Britain that he introduced me to along the way. My bucket list grew by the page of little English towns I never would have discovered without this book. The British Isles have long been on my bucket list and I’m delighted to find these off-the-beaten-path places to visit. But I might decide to avoid visiting hairdressers while I’m there.
Don’t tell him I said so but Bryson seems to be a bit of a lovable curmudgeon, a bit prickly at times on the outside but soft on the inside. And he is one funny guy. He doesn’t spare himself or anyone else in his travels; it’s all in there, the good, the bad and everything in between. And I laughed so hard at his dry humor that my sides hurt. When a cold wind is howling outside, like it is right now at the beach, I can’t think of a better way to warm up then to go armchair traveling with Bill Bryson. I hope you enjoy The Road to Little Dribbling as much as I did!
Can’t wait to read it? The Road to Little Dribbling is available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below. Just click the link and you can go armchair traveling with Bill (without braving sleet or snow)!
I’d love to get your comments on The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson and/or his other work, and/or this review.