When I drive through the English countryside I find that my pace is erratic. I cannot maintain a steady speed and calm hand when I round a corner and am faced with thatch.
Whether it tops a pub or an inn or a house on a hill, a thick roof of thatch reminds me of a tea cozy, holding warmth and love and laughter deep inside.
If there are climber roses or hollyhocks beside the door, I'm a goner. For the moment I forget every white-sand beach I've known, every castle I have coveted.
Among the thatched roofs under which I'd like to be ensconced this autumn day:
The Cat & Fiddle pub at Hinton Admiral in Hampshire. This white-walled, deep-thatched beauty in the New Forest claims to be one of the oldest pubs in England, tracing its early welcomes to the 11th Century when it was a hospice run by monks. Smugglers hung out there in the 19th Century; I happened along somewhat later.
The George at Castle Cary in Somerset. One of a thousand Georges among pubs, this honey-colored stone inn dates to 1452, and was built from the rubble of a nearby Norman castle. Its fireplace glows as merrily as the pots of petunias outside.
A Nautical Haven
In Cornwall I'd head for the Shipwright's Arms by the riverfront in Helford. This 18th-Century haven is steeped in nautical gear and lanterns.
A tiny heart stealer is the Smith's Arms at Godmanstone in Dorset, a one-room pub that claims to be the smallest inn in England. I am big enough not to argue.
In Wiltshire at Beckhampton is the Waggon & Horses, perhaps the prettiest of the lot, with its oddball gables and cobbled courtyard. I thought I had discovered this coaching inn, until I read that Charles Dickens used it as a setting in "The Pickwick Papers" for a traveler named Tom Smart.
But England does not have it all. Another great patch of thatch is on the Danish island of Funen, which floats to the west of Copenhagen. Here, many farmhouses and country inns called kros wear those thick crowns I love. Straa means straw in Danish, and tag means roof. The choices on Funen are rich, but if I could wish myself back there right now it would be to the 15th-Century Falsled Kro, a few miles south of Odense.
I would choose a window seat near the hearth of the half-timbered dining room and order grilled salmon, flamed over fennel. Then I would stroll out into the sun toward the small harbor at the end of the garden path. I would wave to the colts that prance nearby.
On a recent morning I asked to see their honeymoon cottage and was led to door No. 1. There was a fireplace in the sitting room, and a gazebo facing the sea.
It was all one could dream for--and more. It had a double bed and two singles.