By Michael Crane
Most people know that the United Kingdom is home to Stonehenge, damp weather, and Buckingham Palace, but did you know there’s also a hamlet called Bonsall tucked away in the heart of the country? Although smaller and more concentrated than its California sister, the two small towns share more than just their name.
During a trip to England last October, Dr. Derek King, holistic chiropractor and long-time Bonsall resident, visited Bonsall, U.K. as an unofficial ambassador from California. King has lived in Bonsall, CA since 1978, was the first honorary sheriff of Bonsall in 1992, and currently works out of Spallure in the Bonsall Village Center.
In the process of running for honorary mayor back in August, Penelope Richards-Clark, executive administrator at the Bonsall Chamber of Commerce, mentioned to King she had been in contact with her British counterparts, and he quickly volunteered to act as ambassador.
“I wanted to go see a certain brewery in Northern England, and since we were headed that way anyway, I looked up where Bonsall was and said ‘Let’s go make this happen’,” said King.
King and his wife, Margaret, arrived in Bonsall late in the day of Oct. 21 just as it began to rain. While Bonsall, California is relatively easy to find for anyone travelling down Highway 76, without GPS King said he never would have found the small English town.
“The Bonsall there, you don’t find it unless you’re looking for it,” said King. “It’s way up a windy road, through the hills and valleys, and it’s a small little community in and of itself.”
The compactness of the town itself was one of the first things that struck King. Centered around a small roundabout with a statue in the center, the pub, shops, and bed and breakfast are all just a stone’s throw away. In relation to Bonsall, CA, King believed “their whole town would fit inside half of the River Village Shopping Center.”
“It was really only one-way roads, cars parked on both sides, and if somebody’s coming down the street at you, you find a place to pull over and let the other person pass,” said King. “It’s about as quaint as you can imagine.”
Compared to the roughly 4,000 people living in Bonsall, CA, there are only about 850 people living in Bonsall, U.K.
On the same night the Kings arrived, a harvest celebration was taking place at the community garden, so they weren’t able to meet as many people as they had hoped. However, the Kings Head Pub, the local watering hole dating back to 1677, was still the center of the action.
“We were in the back corner in a smoky English Pub packed with patrons,” said King. “We literally had to get up and move every time somebody wanted to get to the bathroom to get out of their way, that’s how crowded it was.”
“We all hit it off and we talked until we were hoarse, and we tried to compare and contrast Bonsall, California with Bonsall, England,” said King. Aside from the difference in size, the English hamlet can trace its roots all the way back to the Middle Ages. King explained how his California hometown is known for horse farms and avocados, but after seeing pictures his audience was surprised to learn how much of a desert Southern California was.
“Both are just small towns that are known for a couple of things,” said King.
The conversation spanned politics, economics, and a variety of other topics, and the Kings were soon joined by Peter Fellows, board member of the Bonsall Historical Society.
“In my own personal view, the factors that make Bonsall UK unique are its beautiful isolated setting up in the hills, and a very good mix of people of all ages, both from longstanding families and relative newcomers, who are active in the village and make it a very lively place to live,” Fellows told the Boulevard in an email.
The number one thing King learned from his trip was “that you can make friends with people, total strangers, very quickly and have plenty to talk about when you can relate to them on a small town-to-small town relationship.”
After several hours of fellowship and friendship, the Kings walked just a few doors up the street to their bed and breakfast before driving on to Nottingham the next morning. The light of day revealed the lush countryside surrounding Bonsall.
“The whole area was just gorgeous green,” said King. “Hills, valleys, trees, pastures, white cows on the side of the hill, but it was also rainy and misty, with a little creek running right down the street to the center of town.”
King hopes that his visit has laid the basis for a historic relationship between the two identically-named towns. Although the two are not officially sister cities, Richards-Clark at the Bonsall, CA Chamber of Commerce hopes to maintain an ongoing dialogue and possibly start a student exchange or family house-swapping program during the summer months.
For more information on Bonsall, U.K., visit www.bonsallvillage.org.