England, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways

The iconic logo for The Tube, as the London subway system is locally known
The iconic logo for The Tube, as the London subway system is locally known

You’re driving along a country road at dusk, navigating through hills and along hedgerows. The sky is turning lavender, while over the rolling  hills a mist is creeping down the slopes. Any moment you expect a Druid to appear, collecting mistletoe for some ancient ritual…

You’re at a subway stop deep in the bowels of the earth. The tracks disappear into black holes in both directions. A small electronic sign on the ceiling advises you of how long you have to wait while you read and re-read huge curved billboards on the wall across from your platform. Soon a sooty puff of air blowing out of the tunnel like a dragon’s breath announces that your train is approaching.

Where are you? In England, of course.

England is one of my favourite places to visit, evidenced by the fact that my hubby Mike and I have been there at least half a dozen times. England was where I first learned about a decent cup of tea, had a meal in a 600-yr-old pub, saw thatched roofs and 1000-yr-old tombs, and generally fell in love with this beautiful, quirky country. Every time we step out onto British soil we feel like we’re in our second home, even though neither of us has any British background in our families. There’s just something about the place that fascinates, amuses and endears people. Every time there’s a celebration in Britain, thousands of Anglophiles around the world either attend in person or make their own party at home.

Why the hubbub? I imagine everyone has their own slant, but I can list some general reasons:

–          The Brits can and have turned just about anything into an excuse for a celebration: royal wedding, royal birth, QueThe sign for the Black Friar puben’s Jubilee, Bank Holiday, cricket test matches, Wimbledon…even afternoon tea, which humble beverage they’ve elevated into a national pastime and a sprawling multi-level industry that has included china makers and silversmiths, tea purveyors and smugglers, tea shops/salons/rooms, and probably the largest variety of sweets in the world. Everything the British do is larger-than-life and seems a lot more fun than the way we live over here in North America.

–          Tradition: there’s a sense of solidity and comfort in traditions that have literally been handed down over hundreds of years. One of the most fun things to do in a visit to London is to attend the nightly Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, which has been going on for over 900 years without missing a night. You can walk the streets and halls of places you’ve read about, eat a typical English meal in a pub complete with a pint of beer, and buy products from purveyors that have been endorsed by the Royal Family  with a Royal Warrant. You can shop where James Bond does, stand under the sign at 221b Baker Street for an obligatory photo at the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and then walk across the road to buy some memorabilia, and bring home mugs with a map of the Tube to remind you of the wonderfully eccentric but efficient subway system.

–          English culture is a wonderful mixture of playful, grandiose, eccentric and murky that continually reinvents itself, making it relevant to every succeeding generation. Where else would you find things like an annual count of mute swans in open water (which officially belong to the reigning monarch), or having a race that involves rolling  rounds of cheese down a hill? To balance that, you can be uplifted by the sounds of Evensong filling the massive stone chambers of a cathedral, watch Phantom of the Opera at the London theatre, or stand in front of the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. The fact that there’s a living monarchy makes every bit of history just as important today as it has been for centuries.

–          This rich cultural heritage has provided the inspiration for some of the greatest classics in literature, music, film, and fertile ground for some of the most innovative artists around today. On top of that, if you’ve read it in a book or watched it in a movie set in England, you can likely find it in real life à England excels at preservation, making it a paradise for pilgrims. Because the British empire touched so many countries at its height, inspiring the famous saying that ‘the sun never sets on the British empire’, visiting England is a trip of instant recognition for people around the globe, and the culture, particularly in page and film, continues to enthrall us all, from the legends of King Arthur to Shakespeare to Downton Abbey to Harry Potter, and everything in between.

–          England loves visitors! The transportation system is fantastic, many museums are free, there’s a pub to rest your feet practically on every corner…in London they’ve even thoughtfully painted instructions at every intersection for walkers to “Look right” or “Look left” so that visitors don’t get run over adjusting to the reverse traffic directions.

Atmospheric front of the Red Lion pub
Atmospheric front of the Red Lion pub

While the world basks in royal baby excitement, even if you can’t be there in person, celebrate at home with a good cup of English Breakfast tea and fresh scones draped in Liberty’s crème fraiche and Greaves strawberry jam. Then take the next opportunity to book a trip to England, whether it’s a glorious week exploring London, which you can never tire of, or including some extra time to go out to Stonehenge, Bath, Nottingham, or wherever takes your fancy, and drop me a note if you need help planning your trip.

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