‘It’s kind of perfect living around here,’ says Sharon Bolton, best-selling crime author and resident of Bucks village, Long Crendon. ‘I’m very close to two cities that I love, London and Oxford, plus it’s so beautiful, with the Chilterns and picture postcard villages.’ Ain’t that the truth? Sharon moved to our ‘hood from London in 2000, ditching a city PR career for writing when her son Hal, now 15, was a baby. Sense of place is very important in her novels and she’s previously anchored her stories in the Shetlands, the Falkland Islands and a spooky creek in South London (more on that later). Her brand-new thriller, Dead Woman Walking, has the most gripping first chapter you can imagine: a group enjoying a balloon ride spot a murder being committed below, shortly before their balloon hurtles to the ground…. This one’s set in rural Northumberland but where are Sharon’s most favourite places? She won’t tell us where the bodies are buried but, happily, she will tell us where she loves to hang out in her spare time.
THE BALLROOM EMPORIUM, Oxford
This is essentially the world’s biggest dressing up box. It’s a vintage shop with a glorious collection of ball gowns, prom dresses, vintage wear, hats of all descriptions, fur coats, military costumes, second hand cashmere, formal wear hire – just about everything you can name and tons of stuff you never thought of. The smell hits you the second you walk through the door – jumble sales, old ladies’ wardrobes, the back of deep, deep, cupboards. It is a shop with a million stories. I once bought a beautiful, dark crimson, full-length evening gown there for an awards ceremony.
THE ANGEL RESTAURANT, Long Crendon, Bucks
This is our local fine dining experience in our village. There is a focus on seafood which seems strange because we couldn’t be further from the sea here, but fresh produce comes in every day. My nephew, a talented professional chef works there now, but we’ve always loved it. The menu is inventive, full of fresh ideas and their weekday set lunch is fabulous value.
THE SHELDONIAN THEATRE, Oxford
My son is at school in Oxford and each year they hold a concert in this gorgeous, Christopher Wren- designed building. A couple of years ago they performed Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which is my favourite piece of classical music – you’ll recognize it as the haunting, satanic music from The Omen – so I was beside myself with excitement. Amazing music in an amazing location.
CHRISTMAS COMMON WOODS, Christmas Common
This stretch of woodland in the Chiltern Hills is one of my favourite places to walk our lurcher, and I’ve been going there with friends since all our children were little. It’s quite small but relatively easy to get lost in. In the spring, it’s a ravishing sweep of bluebells but in autumn and winter it takes on a decidedly eerie feel. At dusk one year we stumbled across a beech tree strung with hundreds of shiny brass pennies, which was spookily thrilling. It turned out to be a wonderful sculpture. It’s also a great spot for discovering dens.
This Italian delicatessen always makes me feel happy. Umberto says food becomes art in his shop and he’s absolutely right. His multi-coloured, many shaped pasta is a joy to behold, alongside the charcuterie, the cheeses, the antipasto, the biscotti, the oils and 100-year-old balsamic vinegar. And his service is superb – he’s so knowledgable and passionate about food. My top tip is to head for the anchovy paste-stuffed olives. Fabulous!
WADDESDON MANOR, Waddesdon, Bucks
Before our children started school this was a regular Friday afternoon haunt for my friends and me – the young mum hangout. We walked, bird-watched at the aviary, played in the caves and at the playground and then had tea in the Stables Restaurant. On one memorable occasion, we narrowly avoided being snowed in for the weekend. We left late in the afternoon and it was snowing so hard, it was six inches deep, which made for a hairy drive down to the road, but it looked magical, like Narnia.
BUCKSUM FARM SHOP, between Long Crendon and Shabbington, Bucks
This is a tiny, under-the-radar shop that’s only open twice a week, currently Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning, although, to be safe, do check the website. I love buying local, fresh, seasonal fruit and veg here and they continually surprise me with new products. They grow lots of the produce and the rest is local, so you know it hasn’t been flown in from Chile. At the moment, there’s wild garlic, rainbow beetroots and white broccoli. They also have a a few deli bits – I like the Chilterns rapeseed oil and local apple juice.
THE POTTING SHED, Monks Risborough, Bucks
I sometimes do a Sunday morning run that ends up here. I’m a rather reluctant runner myself, but my family and lots of my friends are very keen. We meet at Wendover then run through the Chilterns, past Chequers, to The Potting Shed, a little café attached to Askett Nurseries garden centre. The full English breakfasts are delicious, the staff genuinely seem to love their customers and dogs are very welcome. It’s a little gem and at 10.30am on a Sunday morning it is packed.
BLACKWELL’S BOOKSHOP, Broad Street, Oxford
It’s wired into the DNA of an author to love all bookshops but this one could be my favourite of them all. It’s an Oxford institution and there’s something Tardis-like about it. It’s modest on the outside, but goes on forever once you’re through the doors. With online shopping being so easy, you can forget the joy of shopping in real life – sometimes we choose a book because of its look, feel or the expertise of the staff. I recently bought a gorgeous special edition hardback of Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent here – I wouldn’t have clocked it online. I love the experience of going into the shop and discovering something I didn’t expect.
THE VICTORIA ARMS, Old Marston, Oxon
Who doesn’t love to punt? My idea of a perfect summer day is to hire a punt at the Cherwell Boathouse and then drift lazily down the river for lunch here. The food is classic pub grub but it’s main draw is the location. It’s long garden slopes down towards the river, and I like to sit there enjoying a glass or two of cold white wine – which makes the journey back upstream afterwards seem less like hard work.
DEPTFORD CREEK, South-East London
OK, this sounds a bit weird but walking along this tidal tributary of the Thames, when the tide is out, is an amazing experience. When researching my books, I speak to my police contacts and one of them told me about it. It’s the setting for two of my novels, Like This, For Ever and A Dark And Twisted Tide, with my heroine Lacey Flint living on a boat there. The photo above shows my son Hal while we were recording a video trailer for the first novel. It’s like a secret pathway through London, a journey through its industrial past. There’s a sense of menace, because the concrete buildings lining it are so high. If you’re going to walk it, you must go on a guided tour run by a local trust – it’s too dangerous to go alone. You have to wear waders and it’s not suitable for small children.
Sharon Bolton’s new novel, Dead Woman Walking (£12.99), is published 20 April