Pilgrimages are an ancient part of the human experience. We went to Canterbury on Thursday last week, shown around by local lad
Having whined about the cathedral, the West Gate is much cheaper and great fun; you can even try on a replica helmet, whether or not it fits you:
But Canterbury was not the object of our pilgrimage last week. On Thursday afternoon we girded out loins and headed to deepest Buckinghamshire, to visit the shrines and relics of F’s current favourite author, Roald Dahl.
We stayed overnight in Missenden Abbey, in the village of Great Missenden, which markets itself as a conference centre and event venue but does B&B as well for £65 per double room – a very decent breakfast, I must say. Before heading to the first of the Roald Dahl museums, F and I decided to do a bit of exploring, and by use of sophisticated intelligence techniques (ie asking the locals) we located Gipsy House, where Dahl lived until his death in 1990. Mrs Dahl still lives there, and prefers to keep her privacy (though opens up her beautiful gardens for fund-raising events a couple of times a year); but again, we can at least prove that we were there:
Then it was time to go to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre on the High Street in the village.
You have to book your time of visiting in advance, and we had opted for opening time; this meant that we had free range around the two big biographical galleries, though by the time we got to the third room we had been joined by a school group (schools in England, bizarrely, have not yet started their summer holidays). It is very beautifully designed and laid out, with each of the galleries featuring lots to look at for both adults and children:
Items on display include Dahl’s childhood correspondence, early drafts of various works including Charlie and the Chocolate factory, his invitation to the White House for dinner with Mrs Roosevelt, and lots of photographs and filmed material. There are, of course, also relics like the very sandal which Dahl sent to Quentin Blake to serve as a model for the illustrations of the Big Friendly Giant:
And you can see film material of Dahl himself, talking about his life and how he wrote, sitting in his special chair in his writing hut in the garden of Gipsy House:
Heck, you want to do more than just see Roald Dahl’s special writing chair?
The theme of the third room is very much about getting visitors to think about how to write (and there are bits of that in the first two galleries as well, but it is the third room that really emphasises it). Doesn’t photograph terribly well, but it’s friendly and stimulating.
Also you can dress up as the Fantastic Mr Fox.
We stayed for two and a half hours, and F would certainly have stayed longer.
The Roald Dahl pilgrimage, Phase 2: Aylesbury
By now the rain was pouring down, but we set off to the Roald Dahl gallery of the Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury ten miles away. Most of the museum is free but you have to pay (and again it is advised that you book in advance) for the Roald Dahl parts. There is one corner of the two-storey complex which has biographical material:
But the emphasis of the whole gallery is much more on exploring the world around us (ie basic science), viewed through the themes of Roald Dahl’s books. The galleries are filled with fun things to look at and do, beautifully illustrated:
This is my favourite picture of the lot. Apparently there used to be things called “records”, and if you stick a toothpick through a plastic cup, and hold the toothpick to the surface of a spinning “record”, you can hear a sound! (I suppose they may have built more sophisticated machines for this way back in the old days.)
We stayed for over an hour, and again could have stayed longer (but really needed lunch at that point). I felt the whole day was summed up very nicely by the quote on the wall of the stairwell, taken from Dahl’s last book, The Minpins:
By now the rain was coming down in torrents, and flood warnings were starting to spring up. I was concentrating on driving, but did manage to get this one picture of a waterlogged junction on our route to Wiltshire:
A lot of people had it worse, and apparently it’s not over yet. But we are now in Northern Ireland, where the weather is pretty good, thank you!