It was noon in a small airport when Andy and I missed our plane. Don’t ask me how, don’t ask Andy how — All we know is that we were sitting in our gate and therefore watching our plane take off . . .
That was the start of our second trip to England together as we waited over the next five hours for our rescheduled layover to Ireland with flashbacks of our recent and eternal thirteen-hour layover to the Galápagos haunting our minds.
A tiny balding Sheltie trailed the ankles of a young woman. They passed our seats and passed again until both stopped beside us then settled into the last remaining place next to Andy. We began to talk, as strangers do when waits stretch ahead, elongated.
“She’s been through chemotherapy three times,” the woman told us. Her voice was a hypnotic whisper that seemed to mesmerized her dog, along with us as we leaned towards her for more. “She’s my therapy dog but in actuality, I think we saved each other” . . .
Later, when Andy and I finally got onto our plane and settled into our seats, we nestled into each other, exhausted before our trip even began. The entire way to England, I found myself thinking of what this woman said, thinking about those that come into our lives and find a way to, unknowingly, save us . . .
* * *
Day One: Sheffield
My Yorkshireman aimed to accomplish much the day we arrived in England so our suitcases were tossed aside and we immediately took off to pub-hop before an Indian meal. Seek and find more on tour of Sheffield through pubs . . .
Day Two: Castleton and Derwent Valley
Andy and I slept in, which allowed us to gain energy to explore Castleton. Here a castle and caverns overlook a picture-perfect English village. Seek and find more on our Castleton visit.
After, we pulled into a park with trails leading to Lady Bower Reservoir and Derwent Reservoir. A short walk took us up to a gothic-style damn then through one of the Peak District’s old forests. [Read More]
Day Three: Cleethorpes
Day Three welcomed a search for a good fish and chips shop, which brought us to none other than the seaside town of Cleethorpes. Seek and find more on our Cleethorpes wanderings.
Day Four Through Six: Windermere and Attempting England’s Helvellyn Mountain
I have never seen a more beautiful area. Situated in the Lake District, Windermere got its name due to the large Windermere Lake. It was foggy and misty when we arrived, which added to its charm.
Once in the tiny town, we ambled along the sidewalks, window shopping and stopping for bites to eat. Seek and find more on our trip to the lovely town of Windermere . . .
I’d be lying though if I said the reason we were in Windermere was to wander along sidewalks. The truth is our trip was centered around hiking one of Britain’s top-rated most dangerous mountains: Helvellyn.
Here, a knife-point ridge dips up and down so that even one small error would mean a thousand-foot cliff drop to the left or right.
The word ‘intense’ does not even scratch the surface, which means — if you know us by now — there’s of course a trail story filled with eagerness, sweat, emotion, fear, anger, and joy. Oh, and there’s also blood and goat shit. So for more on that pleasureable read, seek and find more on Helvellyn . . .
Day Seven: York and Sheffield
Train tickets purchased, York events determined and we were off! Andy has been avid to get me to York since first speaking of England, saying, “We must go — You’ll love it.” I was sold too, and how could I not be? He speaks about the Viking history, the best tearoom, the Gothic architecture, and more . . .
Somehow though, York is never in the cards for us together. Our first trip resulted in two booked train tickets never to be used because I became ill suddenly and this time, our plans continued to be thwarted.
Sure, we boarded the train for our short hour-ride. And sure, we traveled most of the distance there . . . before our train suddenly stopped. Raindrops began to slide down the window.
“Something has happened,” I told Andy. I could feel it in my bones and trust me, my bones don’t lie: I’ve managed into enough crazy predicaments by now to know.
“It’s fine, you need to relax,” he retorted.
So I bit my tongue as time passed on an unmoving train until, finally, the conductor announced an earlier lightning strike resulted in a massive communication shutdown for all trains in York. Flashbacks of our Galapagos lost-at-sea yacht trip that happened mere days earlier entered my mind before Andy interrupted.
“Are you serious?!” He was shocked — eyes wide, mouth agape. It was as if he truly couldn’t believe an event like this could actually happen. (Bless him. I would have thought that by now, he has realized if it can happen, it will happen with me.)
So Four long hours later, we and about twenty others were still on our halted train. Because York is a massive city, the conductor was essentially stuck and other trains were essentially piling up. That’s when the conductor determined the best way out was to go to the back of the train and operate it essentially in reverse.
“It will be five minutes to the next train station,” he told us calmly. Oh but those five minutes turned into two hours because the platforms were packed and had to be cleared.
Long wait after long wait, we eventually make it off the train and into sheer madness — over half of the trains were either delayed or cancelled while others were reported as being on time but those trains never arrived and the board never updated. No one knew how to leave. “Buses will be packed,” people said. “Taxis will be too costly to take home,” people mumbled. “But the trains aren’t moving.” There was confusion. There was frustration. There was gloom.
Time passed again as people watched the few trains that entered the station. “Where’s that going?!” they asked, grouping around rail staff. “Sheffield,” one of them answered so we sprinted to it, unsure of when it would leave. According to the board, it should have left that minute, which would leave us with a thirty minute ride back to Andrew’s hometown . . . but that half and hour travel-time turned out to be half an hour of sitting-time as the train refused to budge. Then, at long last we were moving back in Sheffield.
Needless to say following an exhausting day of going nowhere, we welcomed relaxation.
“Andy, can we just roam in your city?” I asked, knowing he wasn’t going to be persuaded easily. He has never been fond of showing off Sheff to me but after our failed plans, he had little argument to uphold so with a shrug of his shoulders, we ambled through his city and you know what? He actually enjoyed it. [Read More]
This day brought us to the reason we came back to England: One of Andrew’s best friends was getting married! It was here I quickly learned English weddings are the most amazing event. Bless Americans’ hearts, we think we know how to party but you have no idea until you’ve been invited to an English wedding. Here’s more on
- Twelve-hour incredible wedding ✔️
- Pimms at the start of the reception ✔️
Side note: Americans don’t get Pimms and it was beyond delicious. This is my reaction when I took my first sip.
If I remember correctly, I think I drew in a massive inhale before explaining “What IS this drink!” then downing it and requesting another” so . . .
- Another cheeky Pimms ✔️
- Speeches with champagne and beers ✔️
- What I’ll call ‘beyond-hors d’oeuvres’, meaning gigantic amounts of yummy cheeses, meats, olives, sundried tomatoes, breads, crisps, and more heaped at every table ✔️
- Replishment of hors d’oeuvers because well, why not? ✔️
- More drinks — Since the reception was in a super posh pub, it would be rude not too . . . ✔️
- English desserts (Pause here: Victoria Sponge, We hadn’t met. But I love you.) ✔️
- Did I already say drinks? ✔️
- And dancing hour after hour after hour… ✔️
(Note to Dan and Sarah: Thank you for allowing us in on your special day! The biggest congratulations again!)
Day Nine and Ten
Our story ends here with our last days spent with Andrew’s family and friends . . .
I got the opportunity to meet his beautiful sisters and their sweet husbands and children. This is also where conversation was opened this way: “How do you feel about President Donald Trump?” Here, Andrew and I found we were discussing politics — in a legitimate conversation — with a ten year old that not only wanted to know our thoughts but had educated information to back-up his feelings on the matter too. Meanwhile, the youngest — who was one years old — looked on with a smile and remained the entire afternoon both the happiest and calmest little girl I’ve ever met or seen. It all was remarkable and I was overjoyed to spend time with them.
After, we popped over to his best friends’ house where the parents of his friend also welcomed Andrew home. There was wine and snacks and great conversation and, in truth, I found myself blissfully melting into the sofa, not wanting to leave.
“Have you been to America?” I asked the parents.
“Yes, but I don’t know if we would go back. I found the people to be . . . ” and the father hesitated, as if worried he would offend me ” . . . unfriendly and rushed.”
“Oh no, what state were you in?” I already knew his answer.
“New York,” he told me and I couldn’t contain my laughter before explaining the South has a completely different lifestyle.
“That’s now how it is in the South — that’s where I’m from. There’s a lot of slow walkin’ and slower talkin’ — which aggravates many people and would probably aggravate those from London, for example. But in the South, people would invite strangers onto their front porches swings for a chat and give them sweet tea. There’s long talks and hugs and the words ‘honey’ and ‘darlin’ and lots of ‘y’alls’ — ”
“Do people really say that?” he asked, astonished then tested out the word himself. “Y-all?”
“Oh yeah! We say it all the time! ‘Missed y’all so much! Give me a hug!’ — That type of thing!”
“Well that’s wonderful new to hear! We were so worried — You’ve completely changed my mind!” he told me, relieved.
I smiled. Bless his heart, I thought, imagining all Americans as identical to those in New York. I was happy to set the story straight — give the English faith in America through stereotypes — and I felt proud to represent the more welcoming southern-half.
Speaking of culture fuss — Our last evening had us at the pub for a few cheeky beers with his best friends. Here, one of his oldest mates — who I had never met before — introduced himself then, directly after, questioned, “So do Americans really carry their groceries in paper bags? And do they really not pay for the bags?!”
The conversation hinged on my answer as he waited with bated breath and anticipation. “Of course we use paper bags — They are more environmentally friendly. And hell no, Americans wouldn’t pay for their bags. That’s crazy — You British tax your citizens for everything.”
There was a moment of astonishment then uproar-laughter. Apparently the English see Americans toting paper bags with groceries in movies and shows, and they find it unbelievable. This was hilarious and I knew from that moment, we would get along just fine.
Soon though, Andrew and I were on a plane headed back to America, our time in his home country in the past again.
It is strange how this trip felt different than our first — maybe it was because of the different places we went or the different people we were fortunate to spent our time. But the trip also made me feel differently too: I felt American . . .
Rarely are we aware of our nationality — It is a part of our identity, one we did not choose and one we do not make a conscious decision to be daily. But on the flight back, I felt aware and proud of being American — proud of being from the South with friendly, welcoming people, proud to call the States my home. So that when we did get home to our little apartment, we were greeted with our pup who scratched and licked us and our kitten who ran to greet us before begging to be picked up and kissed — that I thought it felt good to be home. It felt good to exist in that moment but also have a dramatically different home in another country that isn’t so far away.