I had a great Christmas present last year. Mia and Millie had booked a Newberry Tours weekend away for me to visit Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire; I was even invited to take the lady of the house along with me. For those not in the know, Great Missenden was the home for over 30 years of Roald Dahl, without doubt, the greatest ever writer of children’s books. The date we had agreed on was 24th – 26th February 2013.
Newberry Tours is a small family travel firm based in Barry, in the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan. Its logo is superb
New York Calcutta Barry
The founder member and director is Gaz Newberry, a travel guru who specialises in low cost, high interest travel. He is sitting on an offshore account (Sully Island) with funding to undertake his next major trip to his 50th country, a remarkable record.
The sixty-one days since Christmas have been hard, keeping the excitement under control. When the day arrived, we anticipated having a wonderful time and at the last minute, family circumstances meant that we were able to take Alfie, our grandson with us. The lady of the house was quite beside herself and I made a mental note to pick up some ‘Tena for ladies’, just in case she lost control completely. She is not Roald Dahl’s greatest fan, but a weekend away with her favourite son Gaz and daughter in law Keri and all three grandchildren, Princess Mia, little angel Millie and Alfie was almost too much to cope with. She was so very excited. When she saw me packing my case the night before she expressed surprise and admitted that she had quite forgotten I had been invited.
We left home on Sunday morning for the drive to Great Missenden. We had a Newberry Tours hotel booking – the de Vere Hotel in High Wycombe.
It is set amidst beautiful Chiltern countryside and has beautiful landscaped gardens overlooking the Hughenden Valley; the hotel combines a classical mansion house with purpose-built contemporary buildings. It has 18 acres of grounds to explore; sadly for us it was far too cold and our itinerary was far too full to enjoy these properly. Uplands House is in a prime position for visiting attractions and places of interest in London, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire and Great Missenden of course!
The journey was uneventful, although we had only just passed Newport, when the lady of the house announced that she needed to pass water! Great! I knew that it was too far to go back and drive around Roath Park Lake, but when I suggested that the Severn Bridge was coming up, she gave me a stern look and announced that it was a bathroom that she needed! We drove on and she began dozing off, so I managed to drive past a few before she woke up just before Leigh Delamere, so I had to pull in. As she made her way out of the car, she muttered … ‘You be good a good boy chubby chops and Alfie and I looked at each other not quite sure who she was talking to!
We both smiled, before waving to Mia and Millie in the car next to us. They are such sweet girls and all three of them get on so well.
The lady of the house returned, suitably refreshed and granted me permission to move on.
We were really excited when we saw the hotel, we recognised it at once from the brochure Newberry Tours had provided. We booked in and were soon settled. We had decided to eat out and found The Blacksmith’s Arms, a little eating place, where all seven of us enjoyed a meal and each other’s company.
We all slept well back in the hotel and looked forward to our time in Great Missenden the following day.
Great Missenden is a large village in the Misbourne Valley in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire, England, situated between the towns of Amershan and Wendover. The narrow High Street is by-passed by the main A413 London to Aylesbury Road. The village is now best known as home to the late Roald Dahl. the internationally famous children’s author.
Great Missenden lay on a major route between the Midlands and London. Several coaching inns, particularly the Red Lion and The George, provided rest and refreshment for travellers and their horses. Once the coaches stopped running Great Missenden declined in importance and prosperity, becoming an agricultural village. Over the years Great Missenden has become a commuter village for London with writers, entertainers and even Prime Ministers among the residents.
The village is overlooked by the mediaeval parish church of St Peter and St Paul. Its position away from the village suggests an earlier settlement round the church with a move to its present location in the early Middle Ages.
One special dwelling in the village, Gipsy House, was Dahl’s home from 1954 until his death in 1990 and many local scenes and characters are reflected in his work. Dahl is buried in the church just outside the village and children still leave toys and flowers at his grave. In June 2005 the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened in Great Missenden to honour the work of Dahl. Great Missenden was also temporarily home to Robert Louis Stephenson, the writer of famous works such as Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is currently home to actor Geoffrey Palmernd his wife Sally. Model turned cookery show presenter Sophie Dahl (granddaughter of Roald Dahl) and her husband jazz musician Jamie Cullen aso live in the village.
We first visited the little library in the village that inspired Dahl to write Matilda. It’s the story of a little girl, with terrible parents, who loves to read and strikes up a friendship with her teacher… the lovely Miss Honey. It’s a superb read.
We then looked across at The Post Office…
The Post Office received hundreds of sacks of mail every year from Roald Dahl’s fans all around the world when the great author was alive. The postman would deliver up to 4,000 letters a week to his house and even now they continue to arrive, these days many of them by e-mail as well. He would often write back to the children this little ditty…
‘Dear children, far across the sea,
How good of you to write to me.
I love to read the things you say
When you are miles and miles away.
Young people, and I think I’m right,
Are nicer when they’re out of sight.’
Poem to schoolchildren
We knew the Roald Dahl museum was closed on a Monday, so it gave us a chance just to explore the village and visit the great man’s grave. Walking along the High Street we noticed an old preserved garage with two petrol pumps.
These were the inspiration for Danny Champion of the World, my second favourite book to read to kids. Danny the Champion of the World is the much-loved tale of how Danny and his father outwitted the mean Mr. Victor Hazell.
Danny thinks his dad is the most marvellous and exciting father a boy could wish for, much like me I guess, my dad was wonderful too. Life is happy and peaceful in the little petrol filling station and their gipsy caravan, until one day Danny discovers his dad has been breaking the law. What’s more, soon Danny has to join his father as they attempt to pull off a daring and devilish plot against horrible, red-faced Mr. Victor Hazell.
We admired the museum from the outside and then looked across the road at the timber-framed building called Crown House, 70 High Street. This was Roald Dahl’s inspiration for Sophie’s ‘norphanage’ in The BFG.
‘From across the street, Sophie watched and held her breath…’ The BFG (1982)
From here we strolled up to the church to visit the grave of Roald Dahl. Near his final resting place there is a commemorative seat, which nestles under a tree and contains the names of all the author’s children, and there are some giant footprints leading from the seat to the actual grave… Some children had left pieces of writing and letters and there were a number of coins of the actual grave. We were not sure what they were about!
It was very cold, so sitting here, enjoying the peace of this small village graveyard and the spectacular view, was not really an option; so we made our way back to the village and enjoyed a nice cup of tea in the village bake house. Alfie and Millie were asleep for most of the time, but their chance will come as they grow older to discover more about the great man… and I hope I have many opportunities to share with them the magic of the stories.
We had agreed to make the afternoon ‘kids’ time’ and we made our way to something called Playtrain, a kid’s soft play centre. Playtrain describes itself like this…
Over the last 3 years Playtrain has become High Wycombe and the surrounding area’s premier children’s activity centre. We have all that you and your under 8’s could need for a few hours of fun, food and entertainment.
We pride ourselves on our fun and friendly atmosphere, our healthy eating cafe and excellent facilities. We have a super play frame, soft play areas, a healthy food café, a quiet room with library, countless toys, an arts and crafts room, 3 fantastic party rooms, luxury toilets, changing facilities, an outdoor fair weather garden, internal CCTV, ample parking, computer games, free Wi-Fi, bouncy bus, air hockey, karaoke, photography studio, visiting entertainers, shop, bubble machine, comfy seating and much, much more…
It seemed to good to be true and while in reality it was a great place for Mia, Mille and Alfie to enjoy, it did show signs of being very well used!!
They were all tired when we eventually made our way back to the hotel. Once Mia, Millie and Alfie were ready for bed, the lady of the house graciously gave me permission to visit the hotel lounge and watch West Ham play Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. I enjoyed this time with Gaz.
We had set aside Tuesday to visit the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. The museum claims it caters for 6 – 12 year olds, how strange when generations of kids who have grown up under Dahl’s spell would surely appreciate a visit to this wonderful little place. I noticed one little quote in the museum, which said that Roald Dahl never lost his childlike view of the world. I hope that people can think that the same applies to me. After working with children for forty years, I have tried to keep my outlook on life like that of a child – I have tried hard to put away childish things – not always successfully – but looking at the world in the way a child looks at the world can be a wonderful thing.
I agree with Raymond Barbier when he said
‘When we are young the world seems so new and there is nothing that can hold us down for long. When we grow old we forget how wonderful this world truly is. When we are children, we find delight in the simple things in life. When we are grown up we think money and possessions are what makes our life have worth. Seems to me we had more wisdom as children than as adults and we knew what life was really about back when we were young. We grew older and colder as time went on, we have forgotten how to be our true selves and lost the spirit of happiness. We easily get consumed by our work, bills and the daily fight to survive. We forget to stop and smell the roses, we forgot how to play and have fun. We worry too much about what other people may think or say if we let loose and be silly. Some of us have even become bitter from all the harshness we have faced in our adult years.
Life is not a job, it’s a chance to be who you are to the fullest and a chance to experience the world we live in. We should look at the world with the heart and eyes of a child; we should see the beauty and wonder of this world. We should leave behind the bitterness and mistrust we have learned to have through all these years and embrace the spirit of friendship and community. We shouldn’t allow our jobs or careers to be the main focus of our life. We should make our family and our friends and God the main priority in our life because they are what make our life worth living. We should love and forgive like we did as children and live each day like it’s a new adventure not like it’s another day to survive.’
That is exactly how I have tried to live my life.
The museum did not let us down! It had a fantastic bookshop, three main areas, one dedicated to BOY, my favourite book and another with an exact replica of the little garden building Dahl used to write in, with the genuine contents of the shed exactly as they were the last time he wrote in there… it was really interesting. Also interesting was the fact that Gaz is the same height as Miss Trunchbull and I am the same height as The Vicar of Nibbleswick!!
It was so good to see the original drafts, written in pencil, of books like Danny, Champion of the World and some of his Revolting Rhymes, including one that never got into print.
There were stars and stripes, like the one he got when his nib broke in St Peter’s and he had the cane from Captain Hardcastle. It even had the original copy of The Lost Penny a story he was writing when his nib broke!!
After the museum visit there was one last treat left…a visit to The Café Twit.
The teashop in the museum was a great place to enjoy a cup of tea. On the menu were BFG cookies, Miss Honey Scones and best of all Bruce Bogtrotter’s cake. Nothing would have prevented me from buying and tasting a piece of this. It was delicious, Matilda would have approved!
I decided to lead on the drive home and I suggested to Gaz and Keri that we could go up the M40 and branch off on to the A4 and go via Gloucester to avoid paying the toll charge on the bridge.
We found the M40 easily enough but after some time, when we saw signs for Coventry, Birmingham and another saying ‘Welcome to Cadbury World’ I began to think either I had missed the A4 sign and turn off or someone had moved it!
However we arrived home safely £6.20 better off having not paid the Severn Bridge toll charge, but calculated we had spent 45 minutes extra driving time and just over £7 in petrol.
One thing we did get right though was the giving and receiving of a very special Christmas present. Thanks Mia and Millie, it was a truly wonderful gift; it’s one that I will never forget. Thanks to Gaz and Keri and the lady of the house for being such great company and Jas and Kate, for letting us take Alfie.
We really had fun.