SOON AFTER these review books arrived, I took wing to Heathrow with my wife. The two guides have been our companions on a Pan Am jumbo, in a rental flat in Knightsbridge, and in British rail carriages and a car on country roads in East Sussex. I write now from Bexhill on Sea, and The Post's London bureau will telex my script to Washington. Lest you be inclined to raise an eyebrow at one reviewer's superhuman devotion to duty, I hasten to spare you that fatigue by confessing that we planned anyway to visit England, and it was just a happy coincidence that the books came along when they did. Both are the work of professional historians, who suffer uncomplainingly from chronic Anglophilia, a sometimes infectious malady.
The logistics of the Crowl book are, to say the least, unusual. "It is," as he tells us in his introduction, "part history textbook and part gazetteer, the two parts knit together by a simple system of cross- reference. The book is designed to escort the intelligent traveller through time as well as space and to link the visible present with the invisible past." The narrative part, consisting of 500 densely factual, oversized pages, covers with unflagging energy British history from the Old Stone Age to Clement Attlee's Labor victory after the war in Europe ended, neatly assimilating, as it proceeds, references to palaces, churches, stately homes, railway stations--you name it.
When Crowl gets round to the extraordinary concentric circles of standing stones which compose Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, he economically summarizes the stages of construction, remarks on the adjacent parking lot and the tourist crowds, and outlines seven hypotheses to account for why they (that is, the stones) are there. Most likely, Crowl opts, as a Bronze Age temple to the gods of the sky, although I like the view--of which, I suspect, the National Enquirer has not yet gotten wind--that it is a cosmic power center used by extra-terrestrials as navigational aids for their souped-up saucers.
With guides in hand we called at Pevensey Castle, not far from Eastbourne. Crowl gives this commanding, today pastorally situated, ruin three stars, his highest rating for a historic site. (Winks mentions Pevensey not at all.) Three stars may be a bit much, but it was certainly worth a look. The outer walls have stood for 1,600 years. "The Norman keep," according to Crowl, "was begun by Robert de Mortain, the Conqueror's son, in the late twelfth century." Actually, William's half-brother, not his son, built the great tower, or keep, and not in the 12th century, but in the 11th. (Elsewhere Crowl gets these facts right.) Well, all guidebooks should be used with caution.
But will the intelligent traveler take this one along at all? It is an expensive, physically unseductive artifact, printed on excessively heavy paper and weighing in at just under three pounds. No illustrations; just endpaper maps of the Welsh and English counties and of the London postal districts. Were I limited to one guide, I'm afraid this wouldn't be it.
Winks well might. I missed this attractively produced and well received book in its first incarnation--it was written for the American Bicentennial (or, as our English cousins would say, bicentenary) --and am delighted now to get to know it in the revised edition, "expanded and completely updated." Winks sees his guide as being especially American in three respects. First, he makes a point of referring to sites rich in Stateside associations: Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire, for example, the modest manor house that was George Washington's ancestral home. Then, Winks gives proper attention to the sorts of places and activities that Americans tend to be big on-- say, national parks, of which there are officially seven in England, and three in Wales, apart from officially designated "areas of outstanding natural beauty." Pride of place goes here to Lake District National Park, with its walks and climbs and monuments, and its connection with the Romantic poets, not to mention Beatrix Potter of Peter Rabbit fame. Winks makes much of literary associations, so, should you be a Baker Street Irregular, you can prepare to have your blood chilled by the baying of the Hound of the Baskervilles in what is now Dartmoor National Park.
American literary connections get their proper due also: for example, the address, on Wellington Square, where Thomas Wolfe worked on Look Homeward Angel. Winks is unembarrassingly patriotic, as well as Anglophilic. "Americans," as he says, "carry their sense of place around with them, and if either my praise for the English countryside over the American, or my singling out an American-related scene with patriotic zeal, bothers your sense of identity, that's your problem, not mine." So there. The sentence nicely illustrates the author's engaging personal style. He is, patriotism notwithstanding, a Stilton rather than a processed American cheese man, and you'll find no processed prose here.
People venture abroad for all sorts of reasons, some of them idiosyncratic. I was therefore glad to learn that Winks and I share a common passion for curry. In fact, every time I touch down in london, before heading for my hotel, I am off to Whitfield Street (not far from the British Museum) for a curry fix at the Diwan-e-Khas, washed down with a salty (nonalcoholic) lassi, a wonderfully quenching yogurt beverage. Winks' top choice for an Indo-Pakistani nosh, as my Italian grandmother would say, is the Khyber Pass, as Crowl does not), in South Kensington. My wife and I took him up on it. They don't, we found, do lassi, or channa (curried chick peas), another favorite of ours, but their prawn patia-- sweet, sour, and spicy--was wonderful, as was their aromatic fried rice. We look forward to sampling other restaurants on Winks' short list. Meanwhile, gentle readers, bon voyage--and bon appetit