Saturday, 6 March 2010

Muggled thinking about Budleigh Salterton

Should Budleigh be on the Harry Potter trail?

Budleigh Salterton has achieved fame or notoriety in many ways. It was gently mocked by Noel Coward in Blithe Spirit for what he saw as its stuffiness.

For motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson, so the story goes - it was a typical name for a Bentley driver, leading the presenter of BBC television's Top Gear to stage an ill-fated episode of the show when he drove that £110,000 Bentley Continental GT onto our pebble beach.

Understandably, perhaps, he thought that its four-wheel-drive system would get him off again.

I think the association I'm happiest with - and it's a sort of literary link which the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival organisers may like to be aware of - is with the J.K. Rowling books. In a scene which the Tourist Information Centre people did not know about when I asked them, Rowling's character Professor Dumbledore brings Harry Potter to Budleigh Babberton, a small muggle community which features a village square containing an old war memorial surrounded by a few benches, a deserted inn, and a church clock-tower which chimes on the hour.

Ok, so the nasty 'God's waiting room' image of our town is reflected in the fact that Dumbledore has come to Budleigh Babberton with Harry to try and coax someone called Horace Slughorn out of retirement. And I've learnt via Wikipedia that muggles in Rowling's world are non-magical people "often portrayed as foolish, sometimes befuddled characters who are completely ignorant of the Wizarding world that exists in their midst." But the Professor does describe the place as "charming." And I can understand why retired people wouldn't want to leave Budleigh; it's a delightful little town as I hope you can see from this website.

It's pretty clear that Rowling was thinking of Budleigh Salterton. After all she was brought up in the West Country and studied at Exeter University, only 15 miles from our town.

Picture: Dark Lane, an enchanted place
But the creator of Harry Potter and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry may have overlooked some of the enchanted corners that you can find in Budleigh if you know where to look. A few minutes from where I live is an otherworldly setting worthy of Tolkien or even the fairy-tale world of Arthur Rackham illustrations. That would explain why Benjamin Simpson, a writer and photographer from Los Angeles felt magically transported in Budleigh's Dark Lane in January this year.

"With the trees growing together overhead, and the road only wide enough for a small car, it is always twilight in this passage," he writes. Peering into the dark crevices of ancient Otter sandstone we see "roots climbing down the walls, like fingers trying to pry the chasm apart," as he so picturesquely puts it.

Picture: Snow White and Rose Red, illustration by Arthur Rackham, from Little Brother and Little Sister and Other Tales By the Brothers Grimm. London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1917.

And, he continues, "somehow I suddenly feel like a Hobbit, or a Troll, living underground."

No wonder. Is there anything like that in Los Angeles?

1 comment: