Thursday, September 01, 2005

London, Day 5: Be vewy quiet; we're hunting wabbits! 

Generally speaking, I don't like books that feature talking animals. Charlotte's Web is the one exception I can think of that proves that rule. Both Mike and Annabelle, on the other hand, adore such books. Last Christmas I decided to get Mike a copy of Watership Down (a book I thoroughly loathed in tenth-grade English class), and he loved it. One of his main goals for our time in Europe was to get to England to see the REAL Watership Down.

Did you even know there was a real Watership Down? I certainly didn't. But Mike found this website, The Real Watership Down (check out the amazing photos!), and he was determined to make a pilgrimage.

If Watership Down were in the United States, I'm sure they would be selling tickets to get in, as well as hawking souvenirs. In fact, there would probably be some unfortunate soul in a giant bunny suit selling stuffed rabbits and posing for pictures with the kiddies. In England, however, Watership Down is just in the middle of freakin' nowhere, and it takes a bit of determination to find your way there.

I got a lot of help in planning our trip from this site, The Blue Cathedral - Watership Down. I even wrote to the author for advice, which he very graciously provided. By and large, we followed his plan for getting out to Watership Down, except that we took the train out of London rather than a bus.

The train goes from Paddington Station to Newbury. While we were standing around in Paddington waiting for our train, Mike shouted out, "Look, there's Richard!" Richard? Who the hell is Richard? Well, sure enough, it was Richard, our tour guide from the trip out to Salisbury and Stonehenge! It felt very strange to run into somebody familiar in a London train station.

Once in Newbury, we took the 32A Basingstoke bus out to Kingsclere, which is a charming little town. I thought this storefront was especially picturesque:

I had hoped to pick up a map of the area once we got to Kingsclere, but we were out of luck. We stopped in at the Swan Hotel for lunch though, and the bartender as well as a couple of locals at the bar were very helpful. The bartender even lent us a brochure that had a wonderful map with the hike clearly marked. If you're going to try to find the down, I sincerely recommend that you find a copy of this brochure first!

After lunch, we pointed our toes out of town, assured by the folks at the Swan that we would see hundreds of rabbits on our hike. It didn't take us long to get lost, but it did take us a good 20 minutes to figure out that we were lost and another 20 minutes to unlose ourselves. The weather was gorgeous though, and I was having a grand time taking pictures of Fred and the kids from behind (I am always the caboose) as well as some of the pretty scenery:

Eventually, we found ourselves on the right path, and Mike and Annabelle set off at a run:

What you may not know (I sure didn't) is that a "down" is a hill. So you have to go up the down! The view from the top is worth it though:

We saw plenty of piles of rabbit poo on our way up the down to indicate to us that, yes, rabbits do indeed live there. Pellet the hamster was outraged to discover that his name means "rabbit poop," so he went into a sulk and renamed himself Dick Johnson. (Please don't tell him.) Ears, however, was truly in his element and happy to return to the family homestead:

We hiked up one end of the down, all the way across the top, and down the other end. On the way down, we saw sheep grazing in a field. Mike and Annabelle yelled "Baa" at them, but they didn't seem to mind:

Here's a picture of Mike and Annabelle with Ears with Watership Down behind them:

Given that we had only one day to devote to our literary pilgrimage, I was determined that we would also go by Nuthanger Farm, which is where--in the book--Hazel freed a bunch of rabbits from a shed:

We returned to Kingsclere absolutely exhausted. While we were waiting for the bus back to Newbury, we ate munchies from the small convenience store and chatted with 2 very friendly Jehovah's Witnesses who were collecting recyclable trash from around town.

You're probably wondering how many rabbits we saw? One.

Oh Bonnie...how many "cool mom" points did you get for that hike? It looks like just a beautiful day!
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