The Road to Little Dribbling

The Road to Little Dribbling

Title: The Road to Little Dribbling

Author: Bill Bryson

Review by Jade Craddock 

In a list of fifteen things he doesn’t like – what he names reflex loathings – as item 8 Bill Bryson somewhat ominously includes ‘most book reviewers’. Admittedly he also includes people who say ‘stonking’ and writing mic instead of mike. Both stonking suggestions, duly noted.

But alas, I jest. And attempting a book review of an author who so clearly maligns ‘most’ book reviewers is somewhat dangerous territory. However, ever since reading Notes from a Small Island, many moons ago now, and incidentally both my first foray into the works of Bill Bryson and the travel-writing genre as a whole, I’ve been a fan. Anyone who can make their own travel adventures neither epically dull (we’ve all been subjected to the routine misfortune of having to sit through endless holiday photos – someone else’s not our own) nor grossly envy-inducing (we’ve all also had to suppress the green-eyed monster over the travel brochures detailing paradisal islands we’re destined not to go to) – which Bryson manages to do effortlessly, in part by journeying to locations and having the sort of travel experiences that would perhaps befit an episode of Watchdog, resulting in that age-old Britishism ‘rather you than me’ – is worth their salt. Add in Bryson’s customary wit (or maybe cantakerousness), and the outcome is singularly entertaining – for us, if not always for Bryson himself.

Inspired journey

The Road to Little Dribbling

Bryson reminds us of all that is unique to this ‘precious stone’

Twenty years on from his breakthrough Notes from a Small Island, The Road to Little Dribbling follows another inspired journey through Bryson’s adopted homeland, this time loosely following what is sure to become one of the lineal lynchpins of contemporary geographical understanding, the eponymously labelled Bryson line which denotes the furthest one can travel in Britain in a straight line without crossing salt water and runs from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath. So much, Bryson tells us, for the rule of law that has the longest distance on the mainland as that between John o’Groats and Land’s End, which is only feasible via ‘a series of zigzags’, a notion Bryson duly does away with in his typically practical manner: ‘If you allow zigzags, then you could carom about the country in any pattern you wished and thus make the distance effectively infinite.’ Furthermore, the people of Dunnet Head may have something to say about the uppermost point being John o’Groats, given as Bryson explains that it lies at a more northerly reach, as do several ‘other nubbins of land’. The Bryson Line then is the answer… well at least for the purposes of the book.

From Bognor to Cape Wrath, Bryson takes in, if not all the UK has to offer, at least a sample, good, bad and plainly ugly. And in the course of his wanderings, muses on the country, its landscapes and people, often shining a light on its foibles and flaws in the way only an adopted son can, with cutting frankness tempered by proud affection. But so too he celebrates its successes, including our universities and cultural heritage. Although there is one thing above all that emerges from Bryson’s latest travels, and that is in his appreciation of the natural world. And more than a homage to his adopted country, the book is a homage to Britain’s countryside. Though not without warning: ‘Britain has about 60 million acres of land and about 60 million people – one acre for each person’ – an awe-inspiring thought if ever there was one, yet one that is starkly forebode: ‘Every time you give up ten acres of greenfield site to build a superstore, in effect ten people lose their acres.’ Bryson’s is not a didactic polemic nor a vitriolic attack, it is simply a book that reminds us of all that is unique to ‘this precious stone set in the silver sea’. Long may Bryson be able to wander ‘this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.’

By Jade Craddock


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