Read more: an ode to Betjeman country continued

By Julie Myerson, Mail on Sunday

Last updated at 19:05 21 October 2002

Next morning we taste the slower life, dawdling in and out of the antique arcades. Whatever previous generations have cherished or abandoned you can buy it here, from regimental badges to horse brasses, from silver hairbrushes to jugs in the shape of, well, anything.

This is true tea-room country - in the early Fifties, before Betjeman's television career took off, Penelope opened her own tea rooms - King Alfred Kitchen, near Wantage.

To further supplement their meagre poetic income, she also ran the Mead Waterfowl Farm and, sure enough, when we wander down to the Kennet and Avon Canal, there are ducks bobbing up and down poetically in the bright Berkshire sunlight.

Not that the dog cares - unable to chase them, all she wants is a walk - so we take her up to Hungerford Common, a huge, slope which begins the climb up to Inkpen and Coombe Hill.

Inkpen has always jealousy guarded its rambling routes and most of the walks round here bring you back to Coombe Gibbet, still standing bleakly on the ridge above.

After an ebullient lunch in the Swan Inn on Inkpen's Lower Green, we decide it's time for an antidote to the shiny luxury of both The Vineyard and Wendy's Party.

We combine the drive home with a visit to the Sandham Memorial Chapel. Outside, this is a dull-looking, non-conformist red-brick building but inside it's a masterpiece, the walls entirely covered with murals by Stanley Spencer. No luxurious comfort here - scenes of First World War trench agony - but it's unique and not to be missed.

'The thing is,' I say as we set off back to London, 'Betjeman was so nice to write back to me like that. He must have received hundreds of letters. He needn't have. I wish I could have told him that I at least became a writer and I actually shared a stage once with our current Poet Laureate...'

'Yes,' says Jonathan, 'But remember what Andrew Motion told you then? That he spends at least half of his day dealing with all the correspondence!'

I try to ignore this uncomfortable detail as we speed back into the blue-orange glow over London.

Travel facts

The Vineyard at Stockcross ( tel: 01635 528770) offers two nights' half-board accommodation from £300 per person.

For further information on John Betjeman and Uffington call Tom Brown's School Museum (tel: 01367 820259).

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