She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.
Keats- La Belle Dame Sans Merci
I’ve a huge affection for my old English teacher, not least because of his enthusiasm for poetry, but he did have one weakness, which was a tendency to blush, hence his nickname “Pinkie”. Of course we exploited his weakness to the full and I remember that we had a lot of fun by asking him to explain what “she took me to her elfin grot” meant.
As it happens, I’ve a weakness for “grots” and got the chance to visit two today, at Stowe Park. Pinkie would have reddened to the roots at the story of how the first grotto, Dido’s Cave, also came to be known as Randibus. The name Randibus came from the Vicar of Stowe in 1732, the Reverend Conway Rand, who was enjoying an innocent game of bowls when he was distracted by a maid playing on nearby swings. The sight of her petticoats as she swung high drove him to a frenzy and he chased her across the park. The poor girl took refuge in Dido’s cave where the randy vicar caught up with her and had his evil way. The consummation of the act was described by Gilbert West in his famous poem as an “auspicious deed”. It seems that if Pinkie had lived in the 1730’s there would have been a lot more for him to be embarrassed about.