Yes, my friends, I went to England this summer. I went during July, when the temperatures in Memphis were sweltering in the humid 90s. I went with my husband, who is English, and we visited his family in Yorkshire, God’s Own County, with forays to the Lake District and to Scotland. I’ve been an Anglophile since I was a child, influenced by books, of course: Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and All Creatures Great and Small and Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters and more. And now, in my mid-life, I have been to England twice. Here are some photo collages, pared down from the hundreds of photos I took, and more commentary than you probably want. (Feel free to just look at the pictures!)
The view out our 2nd story bedroom window included this grand old house, now divided into flats, as well as the lovely garden (back yard). Note the moors in the not too far distance. And the flowers were some of my favorites, ones that can be difficult to grow in most of America because it gets too hot or too cold or doesn’t rain enough or there are too many bugs: Sweet pea, fuchsia, delphinium, crocosmia… Yes, the sun was well up by the time I was having my morning tea; many people in England tend to think the day should start a bit later, rising perhaps before nine, perhaps after. My kind of schedule.
The moors! I walked on the moors as often as I could, even though my out-of-shape flatlander body made me stop frequently on the steep climbs, gasping for breath while other people strolled past me gaily, always saying hello. It’s just how people are in Yorkshire; you walk past someone on a nature path, and you greet them. And the paths are all public footpaths, even when they go through farmer’s lands where sheep are grazing. In England, you don’t have to drive to a park and then walk around in circles; you get on a footpath from practically anywhere, having pulled off to park in a dirt parking space on the edge of a narrow road, and you wander.
You’ll note that in one photo I’m prepared for all weather: hoodie sweatshirt, windbreaker, sturdy hiking shoes, capri jeans, and a hat. (You don’t want to go on Ilkley Moor without a hat, trust me.) The sheep standing alone and staring at the camera was very much affronted when my Brit walked by it and woke it up from a nap; the other three seem to be playing peek-a-boo in the bracken. All of these are taken in and around Ilkley, one of several lovely little villages in Yorkshire, where most of the houses are made of stone and you can get fresh eggs at any number of farms just outside of town.
I’ve been a tea drinker for years. I got into the whole Earl Grey latte thing, and the expensive loose teas of different flavors. But now I drink Yorkshire Tea, every day unless I’m very sick, often several times a day. With half and half (not actually the English way: they use milk) and real sugar. And yes, it really does make things better to have a nice cup of tea. Of course, it makes things EVEN better to have that tea with scones, clotted cream and jam, preferably at an outdoors cafe in a beautiful spot. As for other types of English food–this particular meal of fish & chips (with mushy peas, which I like but apparently most Brits don’t) was especially good, crispy and warm and eaten at a cafe by the river. The Scottish scallops–in Scotland–were the best I’ve ever eaten. English food isn’t actually that bland, though there’s more sausage than I would usually go for and little-to-no dressing on salad–if you want spice, you can always get a good curry.
As for gin & tonic, my drink of choice, I thought England was the be-all-end-all with its Hendricks and Bombay Sapphire, but Scotland’s Edinburgh gin was amazing. And that gin bar was so perfect: no televisions, comfortable seating for large or small groups to sit and talk to each other, and gins I’d never heard of from around the world. And they had Fever Tree tonic, which was essential because England mixes fake sweeteners like aspartame into whatever soda they want, whether or not it’s called “diet.” Even if fake sweeteners didn’t give me a stomach ache (or make my abdomen bloat, for which I had to buy anti-gas pills that all–guess what?–contained fake sweeteners), it ruins a beautiful g&t to get that weird aftertaste.
One of the amazing things about England is the history. It feels like History with a capital “H” (Brits would pronounce that “haitch”). In Skipton Castle, I was struck by just how many people lived and worked inside–filled cooks, soldiers, servants, family, and visitors, those rooms would get small fast. Harewood House was impressive, though considering the natural beauty of Yorkshire, it’s hard to believe Capability Brown really needed to move all that earth around. (Incidentally, I heard that beds were canopied because there were always rats in the ceiling, and the canopy prevented you from waking up with rat droppings on you in the morning. Ick!)
Fountains Abbey was absolutely gorgeous–the ruins felt like a cathedral to nature, though medieval monks would disapprove of that heresy. One cool thing: the informational flyer simply had “green man” marked on the map, with no explanation. I knew that meant an image of the green man–one of the coolest multi-cultural symbols around–was somewhere. It took us a while to find it, but there it was!
Finally, but most impressively, I saw a neolithic stone circle. From what I’ve read, my experience was way better than going to Stonehenge (no, I haven’t been there yet–haven’t even spent time in London yet, besides going through on the train). It had been a cloudy day, but when we got out of the car the sun came out, and we found ourselves on a hilltop with incredible views from every angle. The stones seemed both magical and mundane, shocking in this rural setting and yet somehow inevitable. I felt, as I did in so many ancient structures in England, the vastness of the human desire to connect to something greater and more mysterious than the physical eye could see.
The Lake District is the place of the Romantic poets, and I could see why when we took a 2 day trip over there. Every view is a postcard; every moss-covered ancient stone wall could, possibly, exist in both this world and the fae world. It’s a friendly landscape, with hills that are almost mountains but still walkable. We didn’t actually go on any lakes or get to walk beside one–a rare lapse in the wonderfulness of the English trail system–but like in Yorkshire, on every path you acknowledged other walkers, old and young, like you and not, generally with an accompanying dog, with a word and a smile. Oh, and in case you didn’t know it, Brits love their dogs, take them everywhere, and don’t dock their tails, no matter what breed they are. I loved it.
We spent a three days in Scotland, and it rained or was cloudy all day every day. That bit of blue sky you see over Edinburgh Castle happened the last day, and only for a few minutes. Before that we were in the south edge of the Highlands, and it was misty and lush, with more vertical, forbidding surfaces than we saw in England. Intrepid walkers from all over Europe passed us on the paths, trudging along under huge backpacks and not smiling or making smalltalk. They were the real walkers, soaked through, I imagined, because it was hard to believe they could stay dry in that weather. I missed my Yorkshire tea there–none of the tea tasted quite right–and read a whole lot of brochures and historical plaques that confirmed the Scots were, indeed, a fighting people.
I’ll close with a photo of Bolton Abbey, one of my favorite places in Yorkshire. Don’t forget your wellies!
Ok. I’ve got loads more to say, but I’ll end for now. I’m thrilled to get to indulge my Anglophile self as an adult. I think if there were a gang sign for “Anglophile for life,” it would have to involve tea. And you’d flash it at other people, and whoever then immediately put the kettle on, you’d know was one of you.
Speaking of which, I’m off to make a nice cup of tea and nibble on a chocolate digestive biscuit…