It was clearly shown on the AA Road Atlas of Britain, right there on Map 19. It was a stop I very much wanted to make.
We were motoring south on the A34 from Oxford to visit our friends in Romsey.
There at a small town of Tufton, was an attraction labelled SILK MILL.
Admittedly, when I think of the UK, I think of wool and room-temperature beer and the most baffling game on the planet, Cricket.
But, I never think of Silk Mills. Here’s the sum of my knowledge of silk: It comes from a worm, Bombyx mori and it is native to China. How it gets from the worm to my multi-colored neck-tie is one of those mysteries of life I never looked into, like computer chips, digital technology, why New Jersey is called “The Garden State”, the fact that Charlie Manson almost got married, and how gravel-filled barges stay afloat.
Back to the A34.
I knew we needed to go west first then east to get to Tufton. Somewhere in a series of roundabouts, I ended up heading southwest. The roads were narrow (no surprise here) and the hedges were close by the road’s edge (again, no big surprise).
We drove for a few miles. I was still holding out for a sign to the Silk Mill.
Then, like a vision of Brigadoon, was a church steeple and the thatched roofs of a small village.
Where were we?
Before we had a chance to check the Atlas, a road sign appeared. We were in Barton Stacey. It was quite close to Newton Stacey and a few miles away from Sutton Stacey.
My diuretic was doing its duty so I found a place to pull over near the church. There was no one about, so I went through the gate and found a totally obscure place among three huge trees and a garbage bin.
I took care of business.
I turned around and found myself looking over one of the most peaceful English churchyards I’ve yet to see in this country…and I’ve seen quite a few. It was quiet as a, well, a churchyard. The tombstones were unreadable because of the accumulation of moss and lichen.
I tried the church door and found it locked. A sign said there was a key at the village market across the road. I walked over and asked for the key after buying the latest Guardian.
We entered the church and signed the little guest book. I read a small card that explained that the church was about 1,000 years old! I put the card down and zipped my jacket. I was chilled to the bone. I hope for the sake of the faithful that the sermons were kept short.
Mariam, meanwhile was looking over a financial poster that detailed the church fund-raising efforts. We were both amazed that they had managed to raise over £10,000!
I was reflecting on this amount when I walked back to the store to return the key. How could such a tiny village raise that kind of money?
On the way back to the car I walked past an old British Telecom Phone Box. You know, the red ones they show in all the old English movies? But, I had to take a second look (a double-take as they say). This was not a phone booth anymore. It was a lending library!
I peeked inside and saw some titles I wouldn’t mind reading, but I already had about 358 titles stored in my iPad so I couldn’t justify borrowing a book. Even if it was from a decommissioned phone booth.
We drove on to make our first stop in Winchester.
Later, at our friends’ home in Romsey, they said that the money most likely came from the wealthy residents of Barton Stacey. This little rich village could afford to pay for the upkeep of the church…and to keep the town the way they wanted it, quaint and quiet.
My best guess is that if I return to Barton Stacey in twenty years, I’d find the same village but I wouldn’t be able to buy a MacDonald’s cheeseburger.
That thought was totally fine with me.