Friday 8 May 2020

Travel stories — the Vale of the White Horse

Thirty-one thirsty years ago in the middle of July I went to a wedding in the Vale of the White Horse. It was not a great time for me. I had split up with a girlfriend and the idea of celebrating a marriage was the last thing I really wanted to do. However, it was the marriage of my mate with whom I used to play in the same band, used to write songs with and with whom I once shared a musical vision that never took us anywhere (but on the other hand it did help me with writing oddly enough). We’re still friends, though we haven’t written a song together for a long time. 

I was staying in Goring-on-Thames and the wedding was in a small village called Aston Tirrold, in the non-conformist church where my mate’s father was minister. I walked from Goring to Aston, over the Downs in a suit and well-polished shoes beneath a gorgeous July sun and thought of how 100 years before my ancestors in Wales would have walked over hills to weddings and funerals similarly dressed. I felt connected. 

Despite the emotional turmoil I was then going through I felt a real sense of tranquility in those hills (and later that year I even thought of moving out that way), but apart from the wedding my main memory of the day was arriving at the village pub, which according to Wikipedia was the Chequers and is now the Sweet Olive gastropub. 

Here I met my mate, his brother who was the best man, and a couple of others, who sadly I can’t remember. I don’t remember the beer either, I don’t remember what I drank, but it was beer — but what I do recall is the quietness of the front bar, the murmurs and the conversations, nervousness in the ascendancy perhaps, the comfort of the bar, and then as I write this I recall the previous night when I had arrived from London and we had all gone to a pub by the Thames and drunk Brakspear’s and I thought how wonderful it was to live in a place like this where pubs like this were on the doorstep and were so much better than the pubs I knew in London. 

Then it was time to go to the church and then the meal and that evening there was a spare seat next to me and I was told that the married couple’s friend couldn’t make it as he had been invited to a party on a boat on the Thames. 

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