The trip was to attend a lecture (put on by the Frome Society for Local Study as part of the Frome Festival) by biographer Hilary Spurling on Anthony Powell and his house The Chantry, which is just outside Frome.
Hilary, who knew the Powell well, is currently working on his official biography and her lecture delved around in some of her preliminary thoughts about Powell's relationship with the early 19th century house he occupied for the second half of his life. That was a relationship, she suggested, which was one factor in making Powell's magnum opus A Dance to the Music of Time the novel it is; without the country solitude Powell would likely not have been able to write Dance in the way he did. This made for a hugely interesting lecture, although as Hilary commented these were early thoughts and she had been reluctant to expose them to public view so early in her writing process. (This also explains why there will not be a text made available.) If they are a sample of the depth and perceptiveness of her finished biography it will be just brilliant.
Following the lecture Noreen and I went, with Anthony Powell Society Chairman Paul Nutley, to La Bisalta, Frome's most superb Italian restaurant for a delicious late dinner. This is a small family-run restaurant in a converted house on the edge of the town centre — and actually a restaurant Powell knew but under its previous owners. Despite arriving, unannounced, after 9pm we were warmly welcomed and magnificently fed and watered; so magnificently that none of us could manage a pudding! I had a really delicious hot Antipasto Caldo, which came to the table literally sizzling on the plate, followed by a wonderfully rich Tagliolini with porcini mushrooms in a cream sauce, washed down with some well-chilled Peroni. Paul and Noreen both had duck breast as a main course, which they reported to be equally excellent. We staggered off to our respective dormitories not much before 11.30! ★★★★★
Noreen and I were staying in the Archangel. According to Paul, who knows Frome well, this was until a few years ago a very scruffy back-street pub. But it has now been heavily refurbished as a small, contemporary hotel, bar and restaurant. The style is a fusion of the old rustic (stripped stone walls) with the contemporary (stainless steel, dark woodwork, bare pipework, strange-shaped sinks and sumptuous sofas which it is impossible to climb out of). Our room (above) was a strange fusion of Goth with dark purple paintwork and soft furnishings, mostly bare (old) plaster walls, and a huge photographic mural of Fra Angelico's Angel of the Annunciation. The bathroom was the size of most people's sitting room with a steel bath the size of the Titanic! The bed was heavenly soft, especially after what had been a tiring day. Breakfast was excellent, everyone was extremely friendly and although not cheap it wasn't unreasonably expensive either at £125 for a double room including breakfast. The owners deserve to make a success of what has clearly been a huge investment. ★★★★★
The return train journey from London Paddington to Westbury was painless and on time despite getting drowned by a torrential rain-shower boarding the train on the return journey. Paul kindly conveyed us to and from the station. ★★★★★ again.
We were away from home for just 27 hours, but it felt more as if we had been gone the best part of a week! An all-round super trip despite not having any real time to explore Frome itself.