The latest stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us to Daresbury, one of the numerous villages located in the rolling Cheshire plain, which was the inspiration for the village near Bluebell House, home to Bryony, Bethany and their tutor, Mr Eyre in Following the Green Rabbit.
Daresbury is not so physically close to Alderley Edge as the fictional village in the novel, but the overall impression of this pretty little village, with its narrow lanes and Victorian cottages, was the perfect backdrop for the action that was to play out in the story.
I first stumbled on this quaint little village (I’m hoping it still is) during a narrow boat holiday back in the 1980s. Searching for lunchtime refreshment, we set out from the canal, and struck out towards the nearest village, which actually turned out to be quite a tidy step! Even now, I remember the hedgerows that lined the narrow lanes, where we picked blackberries for a not-very-successful dessert that evening. We passed the church, and a little further along, we found the all-important ‘Ring’o’Bells’ public house.
Not at all relevant to my story, but of interest, is the fact that Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was born at the vicarage in Daresbury. All Saint’s church has some wonderful stained-glass windows depicting scenes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
There’s a print of this lovely depiction hanging in my bathroom. Was it from this connection that I unconsciously introduced a strange green rabbit into the story? We don’t actually visit the interior of the church in the book. If we had, it might have sent Mr Eyre down a whole new rabbit hole. But I digress.
The village green is a key location in Following the Green Rabbit, but as far as I recall, there isn’t much of one in Daresbury, and I found myself remembering the one in the village in which I grew up, in Upper Poppleton, near York, way across the Pennines in Yorkshire. I have the impression that there were stocks on the corner of the Green at one time, but I think that’s just my imagination!
Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit’
The village was a pleasant fifteen minute walk from Bluebell Wood House. The narrow lane was lined with leafy hedgerows where insects buzzed. “We collected blackberries and elderberries for jam along here last year, Mr Eyre.” Bryony pointed out a row of tall bramble bushes. “Look Bethany, there are so many again, and they’ll be ripe soon.”
“And did you eat as many as you picked?” Mr Eyre said, laughing as he rummaged about in the bushes, examining the fruit. “I know I did as a boy.”
“Do they have blackberries in London?” asked Bethany.
“Well, not in the city itself, apart from in some of the parks. But I grew up in Kent. I only went to London later on.”
They walked a little further. “So tell me, ladies of the flowering vine and house of figs, what other useful plants can we find here in the hedgerows?” He rubbed his chin. “You know we really should’ve brought a flora.”
“Yes, you know, Miss Bryony, a book for identifying flowering plants. No doubt your Papa has such a volume in his collection?”
“Oh yes, I’m sure he has.”
Mr Eyre plucked a couple of likely samples from the hedge and tossed them into Bethany’s basket. He crouched before her, eyes wide with enthusiasm. “Maybe you could try drawing some of them?”
Bethany nodded happily.
“And I could label them,” added Bryony.
“Splendid idea,” Mr Eyre exclaimed, rising swiftly to his feet and waving his forefinger in the air. “Using the original Latin names, of course.” He spun around and pointed down the lane. “Now let us press on into the village.”
The lane broadened out at the crossroads at the edge of the village which boasted a line of neat brick-built houses arrayed around the village green. There were couple of stone water troughs for passing horses and, much to Mr Eyre’s delight, the old village stocks, which fortunately were padlocked shut, or otherwise, no doubt, he would have felt himself obliged to demonstrate.
The post office and general store was on the far side of the green. Mr Eyre lengthened his stride on seeing his objective and the girls almost had to run to keep up.
The little bell above the door tinkled as Mr Eyre opened it. Rosy-cheeked Mrs. Gilbert was standing behind the post office counter. She greeted the two girls warmly and asked when they were next expecting a letter from their parents. “So exciting dealing with post from so far away!” she exclaimed. Bryony answered politely and swiftly introduced Mr Eyre, who she noticed was twitching with impatience.
He rubbed his hands together. “Mrs. Gilbert, delighted to make your acquaintance. Tell me, have you a package for me? I am expecting one.”
“Likewise I’m sure, Mr Eyre, I’ll have a look in the back.” Mrs. Gilbert bustled through into the storeroom. A few moments later she returned with a parcel almost the size of a shoe box neatly-wrapped in brown paper. She looked at it inquisitively, peering up at Mr Eyre from behind her half-moon glasses.
“May I?” Mr Eyre put his hand out.
“A mystery parcel from my newest customer. What can it be?” she said curiously.
“Aha, you will have to wait and see, Mrs. G.” Mr Eyre replied, touching the side of his nose. He turned to the girls. “Miss Bryony, Miss Bethany, will you accompany me further?”
“Well I never did. Not a word of an answer,” said Mrs. Gilbert to herself as they left the shop.
Following the Green Rabbit is available in paperback and ebook.
Image Credits: GoogleMaps, haltonheritage.co.uk