Diane & Paul Return to the UK Day 9 - Stoke Poges

Day 9 - Poem in a Country Churchyard, far from the madding crowd

Paul had two items on his itinerary for this trip, Coleridge's Cottage and Stoke Poges Cemetery, the scene of Thomas Gray's 18th century poem, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," a poem I first read in Mrs. Church's 12th grade English class and then at Otterbein. Much maligned by the Romantics, unfairly, we think. Many lines of this poem are embedded in our culture, "the paths of glory lead but to the grave" and  "far from the madding crowd," the latter of which Thomas Hardy used as the title of his novel. This cemetery claims to be the place the poem was written, and Thomas Gray is buried here. Seemed as much worth a visit as all the guys in Westminster...and some day, maybe there will be a woman poet buried in one of these places, and meanwhile, Plath is alone, up there in West Yorkshire.

Stoke Poges is also mentioned in Brave New World, and I gather it is in two James Bond films.

I had done the travel research using that great British took, the Journey Planner: http://journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk/user/XSLT_TRIP_REQUEST2?language=en
This online tool tells you how to take a train, bus, bike, feet, or car to anywhere in Great Britain, and we were testing its mettle these last two days. It told us to go back to Paddington, take the train to Slough, and then blah blah blah. With the ankle sprain, we planned a cab once we got to Slough.

We took the train to Slough, where we had learned via Wikipedia, there was an interesting drug bust in 2009 and there is still a stuffed dog "Station Jim" who in life collected money in the station for the fund for orphans. We missed him at gate 5 but thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can see him here:

In Slough, which looked like a small city of young people and new immigrants, we got an Indian cab driver who seemed amazed that we wanted to go to the cemetery, and he had to call for clarification on which one it was before dropping us off at the gate to Gray's field. There we walked for half an hour through curious fences and around cow patties before spotting the seven cows and this sign:

We saw two women walking dogs who were sometimes on the lead. We soon came around to the huge monument to Gray, which bears much of the poem, and then we went to St. Giles church, a very old church indeed, to the tomb of Gray. 

I had noticed that the church and Gray's field were on the edge of "Memorial Gardens" and we planned to walk those, too, but had no idea what we were getting into...in a good way. The Memorial Gardens is a burial ground for cremains, designed  to look not like a cemetery. No one is to have grave stones but instead small stone or metal plaques give names and dates for the deceased, and the idea is GARDENS, which were beautiful. Bowers of wisteria, that had finished blooming, small little plots with tiny stone markers filled with tiny flowers I have never seen, huge roses in the rose garden.  Heading into the place, we bumped
into the director, Yvonne, who invited us into the office to see the framed posters outlining the history of the place, which includes William Penn (who seemed to have gotten everywhere), Gray, and many many other people. We walked and walked the gardens, which include a 300 year old and a 600 year old tree, fountains, bushes and more flowers.

Then we asked Yvonne about a place to do lunch, thinking some little pub in Stoke Poges, but she had a great idea, the Red Lion. She warned us the walk would be "dodgy" in spots-- no sidewalk, no path--and she wasn't kidding about that. We were nearly run over twice (drivers!) and I fell into a ditch, but arriving at the Red Lion was worth it. I had lamb rump with sausages and asparagus and pearl onions, and Paul had mushrooms in a white wine sauce and one of the top ten beers of his life, a Sharp's Doombar. (I made him name the other nine to make sure he wasn't making it up.) We were able to sit outside and just sit. And then we got a cab back to Slough and a train back to London and the Tube to Euston Square--

--no we didn't because I got to talking to a young English woman about how badly she was treated by Miami Customs, and so I told her how badly I was treated by Miami Customs and then how badly everyone is treated at the Miami Airport, which is a viper pit--

and there we were, at King's Cross, and so walked our way back to the hotel through a rather residential city neighborhood by looking at the map and asking people, one a man who gave us two tourist tips for "his London." I forget the first, but the second was that St. Paul's Cathedral costs to tour, but there is a wonderful short free 5 p.m. music service which gets you in and good music too. I leave that one to you...or for us the next time we get back to London.

1 comment:

  1. Diane, the helpful stranger's first tip was Sir John Soane's Museum, near the Holborn tube station. Here's a URL: http://www.soane.org/