Monday, August 2, 2010

England!

A few weeks ago, I watched Hamish and Andy's Caravan of Courage Great Britain and Ireland on You Tube. The boys spent 12 days touring the UK and had some interesting experiences such as spending a night in a haunted castle, getting a wooden snake valued at Antiques Roadshow and searching for the Loch Ness monster. I'm not sure how they came about their adventures, but it certainly inspired me to get on the road and just see what happens. Plus, there were a number of things I wanted to do in England, some of which have been on my wishlist for many years. This included finding the filming location of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, seeing Haworth and the home of the Bronte sisters, spending a night in a Cotswold village, touring Christ Church College legally, as well as spending some time with friends in Bishop Auckland and Sheffield.

So, with the boys' sense of adventure as my inspiration, minus the caravan, bagpipes and pipe flute, I left London with no set plan or hostels booked and only a vague idea of a return date. Very uncharacteristic of me as I usually love to be organised. I did, though, tell my housemate that if she didn't hear from me for a string of days to come find my body, which she kindly agreed to do.

Many times, I have read on travel blogs the fun of travelling solo. You get to dictate where to go and at what pace, when to get up, where to eat, and most importantly, you tend to meet more people. I wondered whether people said that to make themselves feel better and was, in all honesty, a little anxious about doing it alone. I can now attest that backpacking alone is truly one of the most liberating and rewarding experiences I have had. Sure, on arriving at Haworth’s Bronte Parsonage, I would liked to have had someone to squeal with (or at), but I would not have made it there in the first place without the gentle nudge of my roommate Annalina whom I had only met a day earlier. She raved about the parsonage and gave me all her travel instructions, bus timetables and the promise that I would not be disappointed. Her instructions were spot on and I was not disappointed.

Having read Jasper Fforde's novel The Eyre Affair, I was worried that the parsonage museum would be geared more towards tourists than literary enthusiasts. It was pleasing to find the house well cared for and displaying a solid collection of actual objects belonging to the Bronte family. While we weren't allowed to take pictures inside, I took this sneaky snap of the dining room as this is where the girls did a lot of their writing.



The information plaque reads, 'In the evenings, after the rest of the household had retired for the nght, the sisters would read and discuss their writing whilst walking around the table.'

As described in an earlier post, I made the pilgrimage to Lyme Hall, the National Trust property used in the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Here are some pictures from the visit.







I'm glad that this trip has taken me off the beaten track a bit. Visiting my ex-teacher in Bishop Auckland has allowed me to see parts of England I probably wouldn't have otherwise ventured. Durham, Seaton, Marsden Grotto, Eggleston Hall, Souter lighthouse and an enjoyable walk through farmlands and woodlands from the village of Hett which put my lazy body to the test. And the food! I ate so well those four days. It was nice being reminded that meals don't all come out of jars and packets! I've been inspired to be more daring with my cooking on my return to London. Thanks to my friends in Bishop Auckland for such a wonderful stay.

Sheffield was a different pace all together. I arrived during Grad week where the streets, by day, are lined with grads in gowns with their well-dressed parents, and by night turn feral and manky. I had fun though, being reminded of my uni days and indeed drinking days, of which I have had few since leaving Melbourne. My friend, who I met in Magaluf (something good did come out of that trip), still had a dissertation to write but nonetheless took time out to show me the best of Sheffield.

Another benefit of travelling alone? Market stall owners want to chat you up then give you free food. Sheffield happened to have a market set up the entire weekend I was there and this kind French man told me I was pretty and kept giving me sausages to try, despite my insistence that as a backpacker there is no way I can bring back sausages as souvenirs. The nuts and dried fruit man also gave me baklava for no charge after I told him how I haven't had it since leaving home. I had the money in my hands already too!



Somewhere in between I also visited York (awesome hostel), Scarborough (best cod and chips I've ever tasted), Whitby (home of Dracula), Liverpool (don't miss the International Slavery Museum) and the Cotswolds (cute, picturesque, bring a good book cos there's nothing to do after 5pm).

My last stop was Oxford. This was the only town that I had already previously visited before. But that was four years ago and I stayed only three hours from memory. I wanted to return to Oxford to see Christ Church College properly, the setting for the Harry Potter movies. Again, I have been in Christ Church before. But let me explain what happened last time we were there. My friend and I arrived at the gates just before 6pm, well after the college was closed to visitors. We needed to be back in London that night but desperately wanted to go inside so after being turned away by security, my friend instinctively pointed at a sidegate where a group of people were walking in and said we were with them. Well, that changed everything and we were allowed in. Following the crowd, we were led into the chapel for the 6pm Evensong service. By this stage it was too late to get ourselves out of the situation and we sat for an hour singing, or rather mumbling, things we had no clue about. At the end of the service, we snuck away from the crowds and ended up at the entrance to the dining hall, where we enthusiastically took Harry Potter inspired photos before being spotted by security. It was when the short, plump and angry looking woman radioed for back-up that we decided to remove ourselves.

Anyway, visit number two was less rushed but certainly less exciting. I realised that our previous visit pretty much took us to all the places that were included in the tour anyway, but with plenty more tourists and cameras. Katie from Wagga who I met in the hostel and who spent the day in Oxford with took this picture of me outside the dining hall. I have another picture almost identical from four years back where I looked much guiltier. I think it's on my computer in Melbourne, otherwise I would have posted the two side by side.



So after 17 days on the road, I returned to London with a bag of left over travel snacks, a much bigger bag of dirty laundry and more postcards than I would know what to do with. And being summer in England, not a hint of a tan.

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