Alison Payne, with foreword by Sir Ranulph Fiennes
“Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross
To see a Fiennes lady upon a white horse”
I have just been reading this most delightful book which my daughter recommended to me..It was so absorbing that I couldn't put it down. The author manages to integrate her present experiences and the earlier history in a most interesting way. We are also carried along with her romantic attachment which she makes along the way and anxious to know the outcome.
During her journey monies were collected for the Skin Treatment and Research Trust. This was an added responsibility which sometimes weighed heavily, if conditions became unfavourable for circulating with the buckets.
I am sure that many of you are aware of the Fiennes family association with the Banbury area and of their seat at Broughton Castle; the home of the Lord Saye and Sele and will find this book of special interest. Horsey folk will love the emerging character of "Mighty", a shire horse, with the stable name of "George" who is central to the plot.
Alison has set herself the task of trying to re-create Celia Fiennes grand traverse of the English countryside of the 17th Century. This intrepid diarist recorded things faithfully, leaving us an invaluable account of the England of that time as she faced the hazards and vicissitudes of travel in those days --- bad weather, poor, or ill-formed tracks, bogs, mud, highwaymen, and accommodations and food that went from the sublime to the ridiculous, as she stayed in stately homes or the poorest hostelries.
Catherine Bullen volunteered her services and accompanied Alison and George, driving the vehicle and being general organiser and dogsbody. The girls became fast friends during the course of their trip, and also acquired two dogs as companions, who of course added to their problems and pleasures!
Our 20th century equivalent had their back up accommodation in the horsebox, and which rapidly became cluttered, requiring periodic clearouts, but mostly were hosted en route. Inevitably George almost always fared best! Some stabling was very grand.
We visit some of England's prestigious dwellings, some which hosted her, as well as some spectacular ruins, as she tried to follow in the footsteps of Celia. We meet some very blue-blooded families, too. And so many people were kind and helpful, the horse associations, in particular. Her journey wasn't without danger and "close calls" but Alison relates her tale with humour.
Whilst Celia's diary provides glimpses of 17th century England, Alison gives us a picture of 20th century conditions -- the good and the bad. She felt a particular affinity to Celia, which grew as she proceeded along her route, and was thrilled to stay as a guest at Broughton Castle and be able to handle and read the original diary.
I was particularly pleased to learn that Celia Fiennes and I share 7th June as our birthdays --- a little apart you might say, as hers was in 1662 and mine 1931.
I hope that my account will make you want to read this book. You won't be sorry if you do, as you will share in so many interesting experiences and meet delightful people.
Pub.1989. Chatto & Windus Ltd. ISBN 07011 3437 2