EnglandPosted: August 8, 2011
So, we find ourselves in England. Cambridge actually. Cambridge England!!! Cricket, Colleges and Varsities! All here. The “greens” are common, and the “commons” are, well, green! In fact one of the first things to notice about England is how many names they have for a patch of ground! Common, Green, Moor, Dale, Pitch, Croft, Crag, Meadow, Bog, Marsh, Field or a Fen! I could go on.
Cambridge, is of course, first and foremost a University city, and has the youthful vigour and bustle happening in full force. We are parked on Cambridge Cricket oval, and since we arrived Saturday and stay until Monday, we won’t pay for this prime position patch of land, a 5 minute walk to the old centre! Our first day we explore the city and its gardens on the bikes, and ride around “The Backs” of the Colleges, along the River Cam, lean across the famous bridges, and watch the young future leaders of England push a punt for tourists.
The second day we decide to choose a day trip. The best way to do this is place a map of the area on a wall, pick a dart, close your eyes, and throw it! You can’t help but hit an historical, organic or arty point of interest. Antonio and I choose a walk along known Roman roads. This can go on for 25 MILES!! If the Brits are not thriving in their bustling cities, they must be” rambling” in their countryside. There are, wait for it, 140,000 MILES of “public footpaths” in the English countryside. By public, that does not mean on public land. Most of the time you are crossing farmers private land – but its been deemed a public right of way, and he is responsible for making sure its maintained in a passable condition!
As you can imagine, Public Footpaths are everywhere, often hardly noticeable, a walking map is just a spiders web of lines and passes. Stiles across stone fences, kissing gates, paths through farmers milking areas and around barns, past a local pub! Its an incredible, beautiful and interesting way to absorb England. But beware, although there may not be spiders and snakes in England, the country side can still “bite.” Nettles and thistles of the stinging variety are always ready to strike.
Almost as common as the Footpath signs are “bridleways.” These I try to ignore as I always wish I was horseriding on them and get homesick for Beauty!
We must admit, its taking us both a bit to “re Anglicise” ourselves and “get into the English groove!!” There are the obvious differences to Europe of course – measurements in feet, yards and miles. Driving on the left side of the car on the left side (which Antonio is brilliant at adjusting to). Perhaps being on the Continent of Europe for the past 7 months, we were thinking landing in the UK would be much of more of the sameish! Not so! Its different here. Whether its the climate, or countryside, the fact that everyone speaks English. We are really not sure. But we are surprised that we are both needing to adjust, shaking off our continental airs and slowly settling into a British way of life.
The countryside is wonderful – there is a strong sence of being a part of natures cycles. Ash, Beech, Sycamore, Elm and Oak, giving the first hint of dropping golden leaves onto green, green grass. Hedge bordered fields of wheat, a shimmering beige. It’s harvest time. The weather is perfect for it. Its pleasing to see the tractors and harvesters working tidily in tandem across a field. We appreciate the sense of satisfaction for the farmer, seeing his big, round bales of dry hay, scattered like a giants’ thimbles, or a tip truck full of crisp fresh grain going to the granary.
We are charmed by the old English countrypubs, with a very high standard of countrypub fare on offer, and are delighted to see so many seemingly thriving and restored in a lovely way. Their names are classics and always accompanied by an olde wordly picture board. These, I’m told, part of years gone by when literacy rates were low. You always knew which pub your mate was at by looking for the picture.
The other noticeable part of England is its Shires! Each Shire, so far completely different. Cambridgeshire, flavour of a prestigious university. Lincolnshire, a flat, wheat filled working land. Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales, instantly greener, sheep with black faces, dry rock stone fences have replaced many of the hedge fences.
All of them include their share of olde worlde stone villages and cities. A city like Lincoln. Stunningly situated at the top of a long climb up from the modern metropolis of dress shops and cafes, the Bishops Palace, the Cathedral and the Castle volley for who really is the “King of the Castle”, one being more impressive than the next – we think the Cathedral wins!
We settle for a couple of nights in the Yorkshire Dales, and having the perfect weather, go walking of the public footpaths, before driving on to take in the superb lakes district.
To conclude our whistle stop tour of England, we traverse the country along the famous route marking the northern most point of the Roman Empire. Hadrians’ Wall, built by Hadrian, Emperor in the first century AD, and designed to keep out the fierce northerners of England with a 6 meter wall crossing 79 miles, from the Irish Sea on the West Coast to the North Sea on the East. Many parts of the wall still exist, and Antonios’ pride in his ancient ancestors is plainly seen.
There is sooo much I would still like to stay and see and do in England. I scour a small locally produced brochure promoting the Dyke Neuk Show at Meldon. I want to stay two weeks to attend and see who wins the category, Best Gladioli (three spikes allowed), or the Best Head of Wheat, or the Best Stick of Rhubarb. I want to know which local child under 5 makes the best vegetable monster, and which child between 8 & 14, is the best dog handler in that category. I also, of course, want to see the dog who wins The Dog with the Waggiest Tail!!
England has overwhelmed me. I had not realised there would be so much see and experience and learn. Like Italy, centuries of civilisation will do that!! In Italy, we had 3 months. In England hardly one week. I feel like we are a couple of dragonflies, flitting by, dropping now and then to taste a morsel and off again.
Alas, we move on and are inches away from Scotland. Neither Antonio or I have been there before. I’m expecting a land of low lying mist, men in kilts and lots of those really wooly, big, bulls. We will see!