Whither shall I wander?

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.

Famous and half-factual folk legends, nursery rhymes with hidden meanings (like the one above), ghost tales and facts stranger than fiction.  Above all, a good mystery. 

These are some of the sorts of things that I think enticed me to come to Great Britain back in 1991. That, and good Old English pubs serving real ale branded with unreal names (such as Theakston’s Old Peculiar, Bishop’s Finger, Abbot Ale, Tanglefoot – to name but a few – and not to forget the diabolically strong Dog Bolter at a Firkin pub somewhere near Hackney, Stoke Newington or thereabouts).  Yes, it was these along with leather seats or couches to sit on, and perhaps plough shares, potties or bed pans hanging as decorations on the walls. 

These were the kind of establishments that I had been introduced to on a first brief four day jaunt that my friends had led me on for my birthday on the previous year – and before jetting off to sail around the sunny Turkish coastline for three weeks.  They were certainly a far cry from the booze barns I was used to back home in Australia and New Zealand. I mean, there was still the booze (lots of it), but just set in quirkier or quainter surroundings with a lot more tales (and often singing) to go with the ales.

Certainly it wasn’t the weather that welcomed me there!  I thought April would be warm, as it is the start of spring, and so good enough to camp out in the small cyclist’s tent I had brought with me.  Boy, was I wrong!

The first place I had planned to give camping a go was in the grounds of the Youth Hostel at a place called  Duntisbourne Abbots, a small village just off the M4 on the way down to Bath.  The snow that fell that night was so heavy that I was forced into staying in the creaky old former rectory – and I swear that there were ghosts in that place!

The Old Rectory at Duntisbourne Abbotts

The Old Rectory used to be a youth hostel, on the right pillar a trace where the YHA triangle used to be can still be seen.

The other attraction was the smallest pub in England that was one mile walk down the road – which was especially long in the snow that night I arrived!  The pub was just the front room of the house, with a small bar – and that was it!

The New Inn - smallest pub in England at the time in 1991. Now a private house.© Copyright norman hyett and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Sadly, on retracing steps again fifteen years later, there is no longer a Youth Hostel in The Old Rectory and the smallest pub is now a private house.  Just like the plaque that had disappeared from the wall opposite what is now referred to as Winchester Palace, these two little iconic establishments are no longer open for business or the public. 

Maybe the ghosts in The Old Rectory were too much – or just not publicised enough. Still, on my return down that road in 2006, I did discover a good enough pub just off the main highway that served pretty good food called Five Mile House.  Certainly there’s not much else for about that distance around the place – and even that has struggled in recent times from what’s shown on the web-site, as it is now in new hands from the family that owned and ran for 100 years.  Still, it looks to have good publicity!

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About Matt's Tale

A New Age travel writer, seeing the old in the new and the bold in the blue - but mainly seeking the freedom to be, as much as to do. His tales come from meeting modern day travellers following their likes of King Arthur to Geoffrey Chaucer, leading him on to places considered "Camelot" and different ways to see Canterbury and cafes a lot. Email: mattstale@yahoo.co.uk Twitter: @mattstale
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3 Responses to Whither shall I wander?

  1. love the names of the villages and places in the UK.
    what a shame about the Abbey. and food is all important for any traveller so I guess it will have to be a short visit to that village.
    hmmm, interesting about the nursery rhyme. it’s fascinating to explore the origins of these.
    have you been to St Sepulchre’s Church? was on the Oranges and Lemons circuit.

  2. Matt's Tale says:

    Ah, yes, Oranges and Lemons – say the bells of St. Clements! You will have to tell me what you know about the origins of that when we meet. Have you blogged on this yet? If so, have not seen it – but would be interested to know what ap-peals (ha, ha) about it for every church on the circuit.

    I am still a little bothered about why it should matter about it being a fact or a lie/ smear about the origins of the nursery rhyme I’ve mentioned in this blog – and look forward to talking about thoughts on that with you. Certainly it does not seem to be a problem with the origins of other well-known nursery rhymes, such as “Ring-a-ring a rosey” (which is about recognising signs of the Black/Bubonic Plague).

    However I have also heard and read variations online about where the origins “Hark, Hark, the dogs do bark” comes from – and it is interesting that they are different to what my understanding was about it, as learned from my great aunt growing up. I did not come across anything on the path that my journeys took – but it may well be worth blogging on at some stage and see where that takes me on a journey physically.

  3. Pingback: Beyond The Sea – and Sky! | mattstale

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