Now comes the part of my journey (after first heading to Ireland, and then to Scotland) where I get to say . . .
I MADE IT TO ENGLAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
*confetti guns going off*
*uproarious cheers from the crowd*
*Champagne corks flying*
*Calm and respectable reading of magazines.*
Wait. Say what?
Truth be told, my friends, the experience of seeing England for the first time was rather surreal. We had just left Scotland and were briskly clipping through the countryside on a train. I tell you . . . the train is totally the way to go. The day was glorious and bright– a perfectly cool, sunny autumn day. We passed field after lush field of green, occasionally spotted with quietly grazing sheep and a tractor or two. Lazy clouds drifted overhead. Our fellow passengers on the train leafed through magazines and read quietly.
It really was amazingly beautiful. Europe uses rail transportation so much more than we do, in the US. And honestly, I loved it. There were trains and subways everywhere, and hardly anyone needs to own a car. Whisking through the idyllic Scottish countryside, I felt like we were in an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. I kept waiting for the “Troublesome Trucks,” but it was smooth and beautiful the entire way.
I asked one of our traveling companions (who was following along with our journey online) to tell me the precise moment we entered England. I had worked for this for 3 years, and I wanted to know the second my eyes beheld it. He said we were getting close. Almost there now . . . just about to pass from Scotland into England . . . Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . .
I took a picture of my face at the precise moment we crossed the border. I’m not sure why I did this. I think perhaps it was because the entire experience had been so surreal from the start. When I started my blog three years ago in an attempt to one day get to England, I don’t think I ever really thought I’d get here. I kind of forgot about the end goal because I found that I enjoyed food styling and writing about the things that I loved. Who knew if anyone would ever read it. Who cared. I was writing for me– because it was cleansing for me to have a creative outlet where I could be “Emilie” instead of “Mommy,” or “Mother of Autistic Child,” or even “Adult.” It was nice to have something that I could work on, at my own pace, that I actually enjoyed and wasn’t forced to do. It was a breath of fresh air in the otherwise responsibility-laden life that many of us lead.
I don’t deserve the beauty I was able to experience on this journey, but I am so grateful for it. I have dreamed about this trip every night since I came back home. And somehow I just knew I’d want to see my face and read its expression when I got back. I wanted to remember that moment forever. This is the face of pure, unadulterated wonder. Joy. A smile that says, “Look at that. We did what we set out to do. We accomplished our goal. And WOW isn’t it gorgeous here?” Gratefulness. Thankfulness. Yes. I’m aware they are the same thing. But I was so grateful that I needed 2 words to describe it. 😉
England was every bit as beautiful as I’d ever imagined. Truth be told, much like passing through state borders back in America, it was hard to tell a difference in landscape right there, on the Scottish/English border. There was a small sign that said we were crossing, with the English lion on the left, and the Scottish unicorn on the right (Scotland chose the unicorn as its national animal because in mythology, the unicorn is the only animal which can defeat the lion. I’ll leave you to imagine why ;).
We started to see the landscape change slightly. The pastures and sheep were still there, but they started to become fewer. They gave way to the sea. Lighthouses. Little bobbing fishing boats. We passed through tiny little towns which felt like we were passing through A Christmas Carol (each town seemed to have a church with a steeple, a small cluster of houses, and one main road. Cobbles. A little shop or two, and then we were through it and on to the next one).
There were still plenty of rolling hills between the towns. It truly was a beautiful landscape. It was neat, also, to start to hear some British accents on the train. That was one thing I always enjoyed– when we got on a flight or a train to our next destination (Scotland, France, England . . .) you could always find some people heading back home with the accent or language you were going there to hear. I thoroughly enjoyed the crisp British accents intermingled with the thick, wooly Scottish ones as we sat there, gazing out the windows. It was a magical experience.
I am breaking up the British portion of this trip into 2, because honestly, London needs its own day. Plus, I have too many pictures to fit into one post. 😉 Our English portion of the trip started out in York. Why York, you say? Is someone obsessed with YORKIES?????
Actually, the Yorkie dog actually came from this area, as locals bred the dogs specifically to catch rats in the clothing mills which used to be common around here. From the moment I saw the British Union Jack flying proudly over the trees, my heart gave a little shiver. So much history. So much beauty. So little time.
I’m here. I’m really here. I made it to England. And if I don’t talk, no one will know I don’t live here. (Yes I really did think this. haha).
I was trying to take a photo of the York sign at the train station, and this lady helpfully got into my shot and ruined it.
Well, I guess she didn’t ruin it. But I have to wonder how many clandestine “vacation shots” I have appeared in, over the years, when I inadvertently stepped into someone’s photo. I’m probably out there in thousands of strangers’ vacation albums, without even knowing it. Maybe they have even cut me out with scissors. And that would hurt. Because I’m nice.
Well, that and because scissors are sharp.
So anyway, why York, you say? What is so special about YORK? Unless you are going to talk about York peppermint patties, WHY ARE WE HERE?????
I’m so glad you asked.
You see, waaaaay back there when I was trying to determine what to name this blog, and I was trying to think where I’d like to go, I took a look at my pinterest account. Overwhelmingly, I had pinned pictures of England. That’s what made me choose England as a destination in the first place. I knew I had dreamed of it, and why not try to see if I could go there, one day, and see it.
But WHY ENGLAND, you ask. Why had I pinned so many pictures of this place? What was it about England that had me mesmerized? Why had I so long wanted to go here?
James Herriot. That’s why.
“James Herriot” was actually the pen name of actual real life veterinary surgeon James Alfred Wight, who lived and worked in the tiny town of Thirsk, just a few miles from York (I took, you guessed it, the train to get there). I fell in love with his books, as a kid, and watched the All Creatures Great and Small movies over and over. We used to read his books aloud during road trips and even listen to the books on tape on vacation (remember those old cassette tapes that would get snagged, and you had to rewind them back into the cassette with a pencil? Good times).
His writing style was absolutely magical . . . I could close my eyes and imagine the rolling green hills of the Yorkshire Dales, or the tough, hard working hands of the farmers he worked with. I laughed at his description of his boss, Siegfried (an absent minded, bombastic, hilarious character) and Seigfried’s brother, Tristan (a handsome playboy whose presence at work was more exception than rule, unless a pretty girl happened to be the client). I have always personally felt that the best writing can take me from laughing so hard my sides ache, to crying tears right along with the characters in their losses and pain, to sitting back and uttering a satisfied “Mmmm that’s so true. So, so true.” These books took me on the gamut of each of these emotions every time I read them (and I have read them many times over the years. They never get old). I think the books can be summed up beautifully in a quote by their author: If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.
When we planned this trip we knew we would never have enough time to see everything, so everyone got to pick one “I can’t leave without seeing this.” The James Herriot Museum was my “Gotta see.”
After riding the train from York to Thirsk I walked about 30 minutes along a quiet stretch of road on what turned out to be a very cold day (especially jarring to me when we had just finished the month of August which was around 100 degrees at home). The wind was cold, with the temperature in the low 50s, which doesn’t sound *that* cold until you factor in the icy wind. I was clutching my thin spring jacket tightly around my shoulders and wishing I had a winter hat or scarf as my ears and nose ached to chilled numbness. The interesting thing is that Wight’s real life kids, Jimmy and Rosie, said that the house was often so cold during the fall and winter months that the curtains would blow freely, even with the windows closed, because the house was so drafty that winter air was constantly blowing in. The house did not have insulation, so all the family members crammed into what looked to me like a small closet (it was actually a small office, roughly large enough for 4 people if you really squished in) in the evenings, just because they could heat a fire, close the door, and stay warmer than in the rest of the drafty old house.
Mrs. Hall’s kitchen made me smile. It was actually quite large compared to the rest of the house, since she was cooking for 3 families in this home (and often company, too, on top of that). It was simple and sunny. On the table was one of her original grocery store ledgers. I could well imagine slipping into this kitchen and sitting at the table, talking with her, when I had a bad day. And yes, she probably would have slipped a pan of beans in front of me to snap, or perhaps apples to peel, while I sat there. Nothing was wasted here– especially not time.
While I was here (clandestinely charging my phone, which was gasping for power), I met a local farmer and his wife “on holiday” for the day. They had been dairy farmers all their lives, and I had a magical conversation with them. They told me about long, hard days and no holidays. Even to go away for the day required setting up “a relief milker,” because the cows don’t take a break. I told them that my grandpa had been a dairy farmer– and he said he would rather die working than ever go to a nursing home. They nodded with understanding. “Once a hard worker, always a hard worker,” they said, nodding gravely. At the end I hugged them– and I couldn’t help but feel that these people were the precise ones from the books I had loved from childhood– the dales people– men of few words, with muscular, hard working hands, weathered faces, and honest eyes. They were my favorite part of the visit. It was as if the book came alive, just for me, for that moment, as they stepped out of the pages of it.
On the far side of the kitchen was the laundry, and even looking at the laundry setup makes me tired. No wonder nudist colonies were invented. If it took this much equipment and time and elbow grease to wash clothes, then I’d think twice about wearing them, too. 😉 Mrs. Hall did the laundry here when she wasn’t working on the other side of the kitchen. Even thinking of that scrub board thing . . . I’m not sure what those were for, exactly, but no thanks. If you look closely out the window you can see “James Herriot’s” statue in the garden, where he nursed Tricki Woo back to health. No doubt you could often look out these windows and see him coming or going, on his way to another farm and another call. I loved it.
Speaking of laundry– one thing that we encountered time and time again all throughout our trip was the strange washing machines. In the UK they seem to have a washer/dryer unit that functions as both, with just one machine. This sounds great in theory. You put your clothes in to wash, then you don’t even have to move them when they are finished– just hit dry and VOILA! Your washer becomes a dryer. Sounds great, right? Nah, not so much. The laundry in those double duty machines seemed to take forever. I don’t know if because it is a washer as well as a dryer, maybe it doesn’t get all the water out or something on the first go round? Maybe we just had crappy rental units. But the wash took about 2 hours, and the drying took about 4 hours. Oh– and your load had to be like, a single outfit of clothing. And get this. One machine had an option for a 9 (NINE!) hour wash. Holy cow. I don’t know what the British are doing in their clothes, but I’m guessing that if anything I owned was filthy enough to warrant a 9 hour wash, I’d probably just throw it out. So perhaps Mrs. Hall’s method wasn’t so bad, after all. 😉
At the end of the house tour there was a small museum with memorabilia from the show, which ran in the 70s. Robert Hardy played Siegfried and was always one of our favorite characters. There were little notes from the show (some from fans, some from the actors, themselves), and even a little mock set where you could walk through and see how they created a set and filmed a program that looked like it took place in a small, closed off house while keeping all the “rooms” open for the cameras.
When my tour was done I sat in the garden, looking at the statue of James Herriot. I ate the apple I had brought and toasted his health. I then spent a few hours walking and looking around the town of Thirsk. I saw a small market square where a musician was playing a saxaphone on the sidewalk, passed a few cozy little pubs where people were taking tea, and then walked into a glorious old church (they told me this was the most “recent” wing– “young– from the 1400s” 😉 and was amazed when they told me to explore freely– and did I want a cup of tea?
Overall, I loved my first foray into England. But the journey was only half over, and the best was yet to come.
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