This way to Bucklebury: the little Berkshire village where Kate Middleton's family lives.
The avenue of oak trees were planted for Queen Elizabeth I's visit,
quite a few centuries ago.
I don't think I've ever mentioned it, but we happen to live a couple of miles away from Bucklebury -- the village that a certain princess-to-be has put on the front page. Although I've yet to see any tour buses, our local newspaper assures us that Kate Middleton tours have commenced. For the many of you who might find it inconvenient to travel, (not to mention those who lack quite such fervent interest), I humbly offer up a modest tour of my own.
Of course she has been the royal girlfriend for years, but last week the usually low-key locals were abuzz about wedding invitations. I gave a birthday lunch last week, and most of my friends knew at least one person who will be watching the ceremony in person -- instead of on the television, like the other several billion of us.
Ryan, who is possibly the world's chattiest postman, received one of the coveted invitations -- and the news spread like wildfire, several days before the national news picked it up. I was collecting my youngest daughter from a sleepover in Bucklebury, and I heard it from a friend, who had just heard it from the favoured man himself.
There is never more than one degree of separation in any small village, and even though Ryan is not my postman, I've met him several times. One of my dearest friends used to live at the bottom of a track that runs off Bucklebury Common, and Ryan made it a habit to stop for a cup of tea and natter most days. He is the most singularly cheerful person you can imagine -- whatever the weather -- and he has probably set records for the length of time it takes him to make his rounds, as he seems to be friends with everyone on his delivery route.
Another invitee was Martin, the local butcher. I met him once at a friend's barbecue; unsurprisingly, he provided the meat. Bucklebury is the kind of village where many people still go to a butcher for their Sunday roast. I noticed that his signboard advertises "venison" and I couldn't help but wonder if the meat comes directly from the local deer, which are plentiful -- not to mention hazardous to drivers and pesky to gardeners. Deer stalking may be common, but camera stalking certainly isn't. I felt terribly conspicuous taking pictures by the side of the road. So far, this rural village seems as quiet as ever.
Kate Middleton's family lives just off "the Common" -- 344 hectares of land which has been owned by the same family since 1540. Until the 20th century, the villagers had open grazing rights. These days, it is more woodland than field, but 139 "commoners" have rights of "firebote" (to collect fallen dead wood for the fire) and "hedgebote" (the right to cut wood for fencing or hedging). Everyone has the right to use the many footpaths, and at any time of day you will see a variety of dog-walkers. It is not a law that you have to own either a black labrador or a Jack Russell terrier, at least as far as I know, but it does seem to be the accepted practice.
Peach's is the local newsagent . . . what Americans would call a "convenience store," but without the coffee pots, fountain drinks and bait. Unlike an American convenience store, it also doubles a post office. You can buy your milk and bread and newpapers there, not to mention a hundred other odd and unexpected things. In a much larger version of this picture, I can just see that the little boy is holding a comic (maybe the Beano?) and a KitKat. Truly, it is a prosaic place. All of the local children, including my own -- when they are playing with their Bucklebury friends -- have walked up to Peach's to get some sweets.
The proprietors of Peach's were also invited to the wedding, and collectors of wedding-related trivia may be interested in Prince William's snacking habits. According to Mrs. Shingadia, the Prince particularly likes Haribo (do you think he likes Starmix?) and mint Vienettas. I assume he doesn't bother with Lotto tickets, though.
The road from Bucklebury to Stanford Dingley is narrow and windy and definitely not bus width.
Nevertheless, I've read that The Old Boot Inn (more commonly referred to as "the Boot") is on the tourist circuit.
A couple of years ago, we were eating dinner at The Boot and Kate and her father were there as well. No one seemed to give them a second glance, but I was terribly aware of them. Not so my oblivious husband . . . who spoke to her at the bar, and never even realised who she was! When we heard that she and Prince William were engaged, my daughter said, "Just think, Daddy. One day you can say that you've spoken to the Queen."
As I was taking this picture, John, the pub's owner, came out of the front door. He said hello to me, quite graciously, but I was totally mortified. I must have looked like a Daily Mail photographer in my long wool coat and sunglasses. I felt like quite the stalker, with my Nikon camera trained on his humble establishment.
(I definitely don't have the temperament to be paparrazi.)
I guess that he will get used to the extra publicity, though, as he has also been invited to the royal wedding.
I wonder if he will rush back for this Royal Wedding Party?
I doubt we will be attending, but it would be fun to see who wins the Best Royal Wedding Hat contest.