Strolling Through the English Countryside
In all of my travels, my favorite place to visit is Southwestern Virginia. I’m sure part of the reason is because it’s where my family is from. It may also be because I’ve been visiting that part of the world as long as I can remember. Or maybe – and I think this is the real reason – the first trip I remember was to Southwestern Virginia.
Any traveler thinks fondly of their “firsts:” The First visit to a new place or the First time out of the country. My favorite First is the biggest First of all: My earliest travel memory: We were packing to visit my Grandparents in Southwestern Virginia. This love for Southwestern Virginia became even more clear to me in a most surprising place: Whittlebury, Northamptonshire. It’s a small village about 90 minutes north of London.
It was there where I really felt an important link that makes our whole world, ours. The connections between the “New” and the “Old.” The English Countryside and the Commonwealth of Virginia are strikingly similar. When people move, they try to make a new place feel familiar. That’s the story of England and America. It’s one of the reasons we have what our governments call “A special relationship.”
After flying through the night, I landed in London about 10:00 a.m., and was picked up by a driver who smelled of strong pepper. If you’ve ever flown through five or more time zones, you know the odd floating sensation (especially after a night flight) of jet lag. It’s like your body and head are on different continents. Throw some pepper in the mix and things get even stranger.
Our ride began. After finally settling my pepper-induced sneeze attack, I nodded off to sleep.
A computerized GPS voice: “After 300 yards, approach the roundabout and take the second exit.” Bam! I was awake and sneezing again.
Four minutes later and the sneezing passes, I fell back to sleep.
“After 300 yards, approach the roundabout and take the second exit.” Bam! Awake, sneezing.
Three more minutes pass. Asleep, finally.
“After 300 yards, approach the roundabout and take the second exit.” Bam! Sneezing, awake.
Another five minutes . . . you get the point. And you’re lucky. I had ninety minutes of that. You’re only reading about it.
I’m usually good-to-go after a red eye to Europe with a quick nap, which I didn’t get because of the beating my senses of smell and hearing had just taken. So I was excited to check into the hotel. The front desk clerk had other plans. She told me – with a smile – that my room wouldn’t be ready for another several hours. So, in a dazed state, I headed into the nearby village for a bite to eat of something without pepper.
As I walked down a picturesque path toward the only pub in town, I said to no one in particular, “This is what it’s like to be in an 18th Century oil painting.” I then thought, “Why did I just say that out loud?” The answer? I was out of it! I glanced around to make sure no one heard me.
Anyway, speaking of the 18th century, the Preacher John Wesley called Whittlebury “the loveliest congregation as well as the liveliest society in the circuit.” I guess he knew what he was talking about – he probably had a clearer view than me since he didn’t have to fight jet lag. Today, the village seems to exist in support of Whittlebury Hall — the hotel, spa, and conference center where I stayed— and a Formula 1 race track which can be heard at all hours throughout the otherwise quaint village.
Because it was Sunday, the pub at the end of the path was pushing its “Traditional Roast Beef Dinner.” They had me at Traditional. I ordered, it came, and I felt like an English Lord enjoying an after-church meal with my family. Except I wasn’t a Lord. I hadn’t been to church. And I ate alone. By the end of my visit to Whittlebury, one of those things would change [Duhn, duhn, duhn]…please note my not-so-subtle use of foreshadowing. It gets exciting (as far as GreenerGrass.com posts go).
After lunch, I wandered around the village and into nearby countryside. It seemed safer than walking around Asunción at night, which I’ve stupidly done. During this walk, I realized just how much the area looks like that part of Appalachia I’d been visiting for most of my life. It was like an older version of the same thing. It felt like home. The people looked familiar. The houses looked like ones I’d visited. The landscape was basically the same. I guess it was probably why so many Europeans quickly felt so (relatively) comfortable in the New World. I mean, there was the whole surviving winters with very little food thing. But they made it work,
“This looks like home. We can have it. Plant a flag. Now, let’s pass out these blankets with smallpox to seal the deal.”
Seriously, there are so many ways people turn a place into home. And they do it by linking to “their” old world. It’s been fascinating to see connections between places.
Each of these elements were crafted by people who wanted to make somewhere new feel like someplace old.
So, remember the “foreshadowing” I mentioned? You may be wondering,
“Why did you go to Whittlebury? That’s not your typical tourist location.”
And your question is well-founded. The answer: I’d been invited to speak at a conference. The best part of speaking at a conference is that when you (1) speak at a conference and (2) don’t completely embarrass yourself, you receive a thank you gift. Please note: Both elements are required – you have to show up and not throw up. In this case, I met the prerequisites so I was invited to stand before the group to receive a gift.
The organizers handed me a box. At their insistence, I opened it in front of everyone. My mouth fell open when I saw what is arguably the greatest gift ever given: An actual Scottish Title. Yes, you read right:
I am now, “Your Lordship.”
It’s true! I was deeded 100 square feet of Scottish soil, which included a tree (planted on the plot of land), a plaque (also on the plot of land), and a title: “Your Lordship.” It seems few of my friends are taking this as seriously as I am. Still have some work to do there…
Time to go…
You may know I’m pursuing my goal of visiting 100 countries, so it only made sense to combine this business trip with a visit to a spot on my list: Scotland!
On my way out of town, I was reminded of my awkward encounter with Dr. Jeff the Malaysian Sudoku writer in Melbourne, Australia. On the train to London, still on a high from being named a Lord, a man approached me and struck up a conversation (not that unusual when traveling alone). Realizing I was not English, he asked me where I was from,
“North Carolina. It’s in the South. Have you heard of it?”
Looking wistfully in the distance and ignoring my question, he replied, “I’ve always wanted to visit the South again.”
“Yes.” He looked deeply into my eyes. “In all of my former lives, I was an African Slave. Louisiana. Alabama. Arkansas.”
I nodded and buried my head back in a Sudoku game. I got off at the next stop.
Now, off to Scotland!