I spent much of my childhood bouncing between the homes of grandparents, cousins and summer friends in Drayton, Sutton Courtney, Steventon, and the other villages and towns on and around England's rolling Wiltshire Downs. I've been back several times as an adult -- twice as a father -- and still revel in revisiting the diversions of my youth: The Uffington White Horse prehistoric hill figure; Wittenham Clumps, a pair of wooded hills and ancient forts; the footpaths around the Thames weirs at Sutton Courtney; and even the modest Sutton Wick duck pond in Drayton (pictured below), where both sets of grandparents lived across the High Street from each other.
This is one of the most underrated parts of England. Millions of visitors take day trips from London to the Cotswold Hills and Stonehenge -- both less than an hour's drive from the Drayton Triangle, as I call it -- as well as to Oxford, the world-famous university city 20 minutes north. It could be that Didcot Power Station (pictured above), the concrete monstrosity that rose over the region in the late 1960s to near-universal dismay and distain, has caused tourists to bypass the area. If so, I owe it a debt of gratitude for the uncrowded pubs, serene villages and countryside (pictured below), and lack of tour buses in the Triangle.
These days, I also derive great pleasure from bringing my daughters along, and watching as they gaze wide-eyed at the White Horse's 110-metre-long chalk body (pictured below), or hurl crusts of bread into the swirling Thames, drawing ducks by the dozens.
Relatives who still live in the Triangle chuckle when I outline our repetitive itinerary. It probably seems strangely quaint -- boring, even -- when compared with the iconic sights of London or even those of Oxford. But I will never tire of the Triangle, or of reliving those halcyon days and sharing them with my family.
Next time we visit, however, something will be missing. Part of it is already gone: In the early morning of July 27, the three southern cooling towers of Didcot A -- the coal-fired plant; Didcot B is fueled with natural gas -- were spectacularly demolished. (The rest of the coal plant will apparently be taken down brick by brick over the next few years.)
I would have liked to have been among the thousands of spectators who turned out for the implosion. My late grandfather Harry, however, would have been there no matter what. He despised the power station. An avid painter of English landscapes, he resented its grey brooding presence. But when I saw its plump concrete smoke stacks loom over the horizon on the way from Heathrow, I knew that a summer of non-stop fun was about the begin.
Granddad Bisby invariably excluded it from his bucolic watercolours. But if I'm ever feeling nostalgic, I may just Photoshop it in.