Authors: Bill Bryson
Also by Bill Bryson
The Lost Continent
The Mother Tongue
Neither Here Nor There
Made in America
Notes from a Small Island
A Walk in the Woods
I’m a Stranger Here Myself
In a Sunburned Country
Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words
Bill Bryson’s African Diary
A Short History of Nearly Everything
A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Shakespeare: The World as Stage
Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors
At Home: A Short History of Private Life
At Home: A Short History of Private Life: Illustrated Edition
Copyright © 2015 by Bill Bryson
Map and line illustrations © 2015 by Neil Gower
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Doubleday UK, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House Ltd., London, in 2015.
and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, for permission to reprint an excerpt from “Canoe” from
The Complete Poems Third Edition
by Keith Douglas, copyright © 1998 by the Estate of Keith Douglas. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
Cover design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich and John Fontana
Cover photographs: landscape © Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo; sheep © Jodie Nash / Shutterstock; mailbox © Dostoevsky / Shutterstock; sky © Shutterstock
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Bryson, Bill, author.
Title: The road to Little Dribbling : adventures of an American in Britain / by Bill Bryson.
Description: New York, NY : Doubleday, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 
Identifiers: LCCN 2015027450 ISBN 9780385539289 (hardcover)
ISBN 9780385539296 (eBook)
Subjects: LCSH: Bryson, Bill—Travel—Great Britain.
Great Britain—Description and travel. Great Britain—Civilization—21st century.
Classification: LCC DA632 .B79 2016 DDC 914.104/8612—dc23 LC record available at
eBook ISBN 9780385539296
To James, Rosie, and Daphne. Welcome.
NE OF THE THINGS
that happens when you get older is that you discover lots of new ways to hurt yourself. Recently, in France, I was hit square on the head by an automatic parking barrier, something I don’t think I could have managed in my younger, more alert years.
There are really only two ways to get hit on the head by a parking barrier. One is to stand underneath a raised barrier and purposely allow it to fall on you. That is the easy way, obviously. The other method—and this is where a little diminished mental capacity can go a long way—is to forget the barrier you have just seen rise, step into the space it has vacated and stand with lips pursed while considering your next move, and then be taken completely by surprise as it slams down on your head like a sledgehammer on a spike. That is the method I went for.
Let me say right now that this was a serious barrier—like a scaffolding pole with momentum—and it didn’t so much fall as crash back into its cradle. The venue for this adventure in cranial trauma was an open-air parking lot in a pleasant coastal resort in Normandy called Etretat, not far from Deauville, where my wife and I had gone for a few days. I was alone at this point, however, trying to find my way to a cliff-top path at the far side of the parking lot, but the way was blocked by the barrier, which was too low for a man of my dimensions to duck under and much too high to vault. As I stood hesitating, a car pulled up, the driver took a ticket, the barrier rose, and the driver drove on through. This was the moment that I chose to step forward and to stand considering my next move, little realizing that it would be mostly downward.
Well, I have never been hit so startlingly and hard. Suddenly I was both the most bewildered and relaxed person in France. My legs buckled and folded beneath me and my arms grew so independently lively that I managed to smack myself in the face with my elbows. For the next several minutes my walking was, for the most part, involuntarily sideways. A kindly lady helped me to a bench and gave me a square of chocolate, which I found I was still clutching the next morning. As I sat there, another car passed through and the barrier fell back into place with a reverberating clang. It seemed impossible that I could have survived such a violent blow. But then, because I am a little paranoid and given to private histrionics, I became convinced that I had in fact sustained grave internal injuries, which had not yet revealed themselves. Blood was pooling inside my head, like a slowly filling bath, and at some point soon my eyes would roll upward, I would issue a dull groan, and quietly tip over, never to rise again.
The positive side of thinking you are about to die is that it does make you glad of the little life that is left to you. I spent most of the following three days gazing appreciatively at Deauville, admiring its tidiness and wealth, going for long walks along its beach and promenade, or just sitting and watching the rolling sea and blue sky. Deauville is a very fine town. There are far worse places to tip over.
One afternoon as my wife and I sat on a bench facing the English Channel, I said to her, in my new reflective mood, “I bet whatever seaside town is directly opposite on the English side will be depressed and struggling, while Deauville remains well-off and lovely. Why is that, do you suppose?”
“No idea,” my wife said. She was reading a novel and didn’t accept that I was about to die.
opposite us?” I asked.
“No idea,” she said and turned a page.
“Which part of ‘no idea’ are you struggling to get on top of?”
I looked on her smartphone. (I’m not allowed a smartphone of my own because I would lose it.) I don’t know how accurate her maps are—they often urge us to go to Michigan or California when we are looking for some place in Worcestershire—but the name that came up on the screen was Bognor Regis.
I didn’t think anything of this at the time, but soon it would come to seem almost prophetic.
I first came to England at the other end of my life, when I was still quite young, just twenty.
In those days, for a short but intensive period, a very high proportion of all in the world that was worth taking note of came out of Britain. The Beatles, James Bond, Mary Quant and miniskirts, Twiggy and Justin de Villeneuve, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s love life, Princess Margaret’s love life, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, suit jackets without collars, television series like
spy novels by John le Carré and Len Deighton, Marianne Faithfull, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, quirky movies starring David Hemmings and Terence Stamp that we didn’t quite get in Iowa, Harold Pinter plays that we didn’t get at all, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore,
That Was the Week That Was,
the Profumo scandal—practically everything really.
Advertisements in magazines like
The New Yorker
were full of British products in a way they never would be again—Gilbey’s and Tanqueray gin, Harris tweeds, BOAC airliners, Aquascutum suits and Viyella shirts, Keens felted hats, Alan Paine sweaters, Daks trousers, MG and Austin Healey sports cars, a hundred varieties of Scotch whisky. It was clear that if you wanted quality and suavity in your life, it was British goods that were in large part going to supply it. Not all of this made a great deal of sense even then, it must be said. A popular cologne of the day was called Pub. I am not at all sure what resonances that was supposed to evoke. I have been drinking in England for forty years and I can’t say that I have ever encountered anything in a pub that I would want to rub on my face.
Because of all the attention we gave Britain, I thought I knew a fair amount about the place, but I quickly discovered upon arriving that I was very wrong. I couldn’t even speak my own language there. In the first few days, I failed to distinguish between
car key, letters