Fleeting glimpse of Kate Middleton's childhood
Saturday 02 April 2011
Royal wedding fanatics wanting to peek into Kate Middleton's past can now roll up for a bus tour round the genteel countryside where she spent her childhood.
Her parents' first marital home, the church where she was baptised and even the family's local pub are all included on the day trip through villages in rural Berkshire, southern England, where the future princess grew up.
Riding the global wave of interest in the April 29 wedding between Middleton and Prince William, second in line to the throne, a local bus company has organised the tours.
Aimed at its regular day-trippers and originally intended as a one-off, the 33-seat bus was packed for its third foray into Kate's formative years, spent around the village of Bucklebury.
The "Kate Middleton Country" tour takes its passengers on a safari through the rolling countryside of western Berkshire, a little over 50 miles (80 kilometres) west of London along the M4 motorway.
"We're really driving through medieval, feudal England", says the tour's guide Charmian Griffiths, a white-haired woman in her sixties, as the bus negotiates narrow roads winding through woods and fields.
Foreign bus-trippers used to the bustle of London marvel at the picture-postcard scenery beyond the capital.
The wealthy, Conservative-voting area is sheltered from the financial squeeze gripping Britain.
This is still a farming community, the guide explained, but could not elaborate beyond horse breeding.
However, the abundance of horses is a shame as Middleton is supposedly allergic to them, Griffiths says: "I've read that somewhere," she adds.
The family's private life is closely guarded and neighbours are keen to keep things that way.
One teacher from Bradfield College, the independent school in the village of Bradfield, where Middleton was baptised, said she had met the family down the pub and they were "normal people" from a "very quiet little village".
Amid the neat 15th-century cottages and red brick houses of the daffodil-lined village of Stanford Dingley lies The Old Boot Inn, where the Middleton family are regulars.
The pub's landlord John Haley has been invited to the wedding at London's Westminster Abbey but Griffiths tells the day-trippers: "Please, please, don't ask him about the Middletons."
However, Haley, visibly delighted by his new-found fame, is more than happy to answer a few questions.
"How do you expect something like that?", he says, proudly showing off his gilded invitation bearing the royal coat of arms.
He said all the attention from tourists and international media was proving very good for business, but added: "I think it'll die down after the wedding."
He does not claim to be close to the family, but said Kate popped into the pub two or three weekends ago.
The landlord is one of several local pillars of the community invited to the wedding by the Middletons, including the butcher, the postman and the greengrocer.
The tour reaches its climax when the bus drives past the Middletons' home in Bucklebury village.
However, their home, a large, red-brick house, is only visible - and then mostly the roof - in a brief glance through trees which are fortunately not yet in leaf.
For lack of anything better, the guide passes round a photograph of the house, while at the same time revealing the source of her knowledge: newspaper cuttings kept in plastic sleeves.
A quick stop at the butcher's and the trip comes to an end, with passengers little the wiser about the origins of a woman rocketed to global fame.
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