Gardens to Gables

Adolescent Impressions of the British Isles

I hesitate to describe my affection for England as a love affair, but if one must trace the roots of my repeated trips, the origins would be found in a pasty,skinny freshman in high school sporting a trench coat, bad 1980s hair and a scowl. (I was a freshman in high school. Scowls were my favorite accessory.)
Trench coats and fairly big hair  compete for attention with the Tower of London.
My middle sister was the impetus for our three-week tour of London, northern England and Scotland, as she was studying abroad in Reading, England. Aghast that one of their children must spend Christmas apart from the bosom of the family, my parents packed up to bring Christmas to England.As the only child still living at home, I got to miss two weeks of school and take my first trip overseas.
What role did that whirlwind journey play in my soon to unfold current adventure? If one counts Cadbury Bourneville chocolate, Bailey’s Irish Cream and riding on trains as guideposts and influences…well, then everything. (Transportation, alcohol and chocolate do still figure largely in my life)
Despite my surliness, everything I saw thrilled me. Reading, I thought, was the most magical city of all. There were tiny grocery stores, complete with fresh fruit on stands outside the display windows. Houses constructed of brick whose tones and patterns were alien, yet intoxicating. (Obviously I was already smitten with architecture) Though the landscape mostly slept through the winter, I peered through iron gates and over hedges to glimpse the glory of English cottage gardens. And that was before the delights of London assailed my senses.
The house in Reading. 
The British Museum thrilled me – especially the Lindow man. Peat bogs = the epitome of coolness. Hyde Park, even in the rain, provided a spectacular glimpse of how an urban population enjoyed their open spaces. For a girl used to being in the middle of nowhere, the teeming of a city – the largest city I had yet visited – almost gave me whiplash. Madame Tussauds – before the many divorces of the royal family – was a fun tourist trap.
 Edinburgh smelled. Roasting malt wafted about, providing a curious sort of consciousness for the traveler on the sleeper train from London. Scotland, I thought, looked like home (though apparently there was a record snow back in Mt. Sterling at the time). The rolling hills sported more sheep than I had ever seen gathered at once. Only cattle dotted the rolling hills of my home. 
We spent Christmas in York, and being naive Americans, were dumbfounded by the lack of open restaurants on Christmas Eve. Our supper that evening was courtesy of the local golden arches. The foreignness of Boxing Day was punctuated by a great horde of loud, drunken revelers, who seemed quite ridiculous to me. (No foreshadowing of my college exploits here at all…) In Chester, we huddled together in our freezing room at the B&B and watched a miniseries of a Judith Kranz novel on a ridiculously small TV. My sister and I bonded in ways we never would have in the comforts of home.
There was a great deal of crying when we took our leave to return home, knowing my sister had another six months before she would be back on the Prewitt Pike. I returned to the drama of high school life, about which I remember hardly a thing now. 
The memories that persisted, however, centered, (albeit foggily – again, see ungrateful surely teenager) on how lucky I was to have spent those three weeks out of the comfort zone of my hometown…and how bewitching and fascinating I found the land across the pond.
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