Yesterday I went adventuring. Well I say adventuring but I have been to Bourne End before, on several other occasions actually, but always in bright summer and spring sunshine. The visit today was my first time seeing Bourne End in its autumn coat.
Bourne End by the River Thames, on the way to High Wycombe, just next door to Marlow in Buckinghamshire is a very special place for Enid Blyton fans. Why you may ask? Well quite simply Blyton lived at Bourne End, in a wonderful house called Old Thatch.
Blyton and her husband Hugh Pollock moved in to Old Thatch in 1929 and she wrote about it in one of her Sunny Stories collections, and it inspired a series of nature books.
“It is perfect both outside and in … just like a Fairy Tale house … roses bloom everywhere – there are dozens all hanging gracefully down.”
“You enter through a funny old lychgate. There are big fruit trees shading one end of the house and a lovely silver-leaved tree at the other end.”
It was while living at Old Thatch that Blyton’s two daughters were born, Gillian Mary in 1931 and Imogen Mary in 1935.
Old Thatch still stands surrounded by its two acre garden with many of the features still there as they were in Blyton’s day. The house was also once an inn, reported to have been used by Dick Turpin and his horse Black Bess.
The gardens of Old Thatch are open to the public during the summer months, and they are a sight to behold. Ducking under the lychgate and into the gardens it almost feels like you’re in another world. It is easy to see how Blyton was able to write like she did in this fabulous place.
However, because of the time of year (it being November and everything!) I did not get to go into the magnificent garden, but satisfied my friend and myself by strolling down by the river, and admiring the beautiful autumn colours.
Our first port of call was to walk along the boundary of Old Thatch, admiring the brightest yellow leaves I have ever seen. We walked around the curve in the road and then noticed a footpath off to the fields.
Up for an adventure we started to follow the footpath but all too soon I discovered a small pond of water and a bridge that crossed it. It was almost directly opposite the bottom of Old Thatch’s garden and I thought it might have been part of the stream that had once flowed through the bottom of Blyton’s garden.
After crossing the bridge we headed back towards the River Thames, taking the footpath by the side of a field and under the wonderful yellow leaved trees. As we walked the ground became carpeted with yellow and it felt like we were walking on the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz (not very Blyton I know!)
We re-emerged by the old lychgate and set off with great speed towards the river path to enjoy the scenery.
The mist of the day added terrific amounts of atmosphere to a place so full of magic and serenity making you feel like there was an adventure around the corner.
Getting across the level crossing was the first excitement really, stopping at the big metal gates and peering along the straight track for a train (we saw one train slip past on our approach to the level crossing, but that is no reason not to be sensible and STOP, LOOK and LISTEN for trains!)
We scuttled across the tracks and were faced with the River Thames and
some boats, with the hills in the distance being barely visible above the clouds. We set off downstream, choosing muddy paths and civilisation in favour of wet and muddy fields (we did not escape those for long, I assure you!)
We walked along the path between the riverside houses, taking in the boats and the birds. We even came across an inquisitive goose as well as the ducks and moor-hens you expect to see along the river. Bourne End riverside is truly crawling with wildlife. Little birds flitted across our path and chirped overhead. I wish I was more knowledgeable on birds as it would have been nice to be able to tell you which birds were there. It isn’t hard to see why Blyton was so inspired to write her nature books when living in Old Thatch.
We walked with gusto across the sailing club grounds and through the marina where great boats were moored up, lifeless in the November gloom. For a short while we sat on a grass verge by the marina and watched the river flow past and the ducks floating about in the water, before we took the muddy path towards the bridge further down stream. Surrounded by fences, from the backs of peoples gardens and high trees and bushes, we felt as though we were in a sunken lane. Meeting people on this path is a battle of who can slip past first. Luckily the people who live in Bourne End seem to be some of the friendliest people around and are polite when you pass them.
Once we had reached the bridge we climbed up admiring the view of the river and the heavy fog. The train track runs directly parallel to the footbridge, so if you’ve timed your walk right, you can walk across the bridge with the train speeding past you. This didn’t happen to us today but it has in the past.
When we reached the other side of the bank, we continued downstream into the National Trust patch of land called (don’t laugh) Cock Marsh. Through some twisted and gnarled trees we walked the river back, getting thoroughly muddy and enjoying every second of it.
We stopped to watch the world go by on the other side of Cock Marsh, enjoying the autumn colours, the not too chilly air and the first heavy fog of the year. It is not hard to see why such a place could be such an inspiration to a great writer like Blyton.
After a little while we decided to turn back and face reality once more, but it was a pleasure to walk back through that lovely scenery, taking in everything once more.
Bourne End is a great place for ‘pilgrims’ of Enid Blyton because of Old Thatch and for the added fact that Peterswood in the Five Find Outers books is supposed to be modelled on Bourne End.
With that said, I feel I can now recommend that any fan of Enid Blyton, however big or small if they haven’t already, should make a trip to Bourne End and Old Thatch. A word of warning about visiting Old Thatch however, they are only open from May until August; so if that is high on your list when considering a trip to Bourne End, I do suggest that you check out their website and go when the gardens are open to the public.
However if you are lucky enough to live closer and don’t mind not seeing Old Thatch on your first visit, I urge you to explore Bourne End, and the river path in the Autumn. It is truly magnificent.
You never know, you may be so inspired by the magic of the place that you end up as the next Enid Blyton!
If you’ve been to either Old Thatch or Bourne End, why don’t you share your own experiences of your adventure?