The Sceptered Isle: Pre-Brexit travel report from David Godley
Following travel report is from David Godley of Long Branch. I have included just one photo; I will add more when time permits. David, thank you for including the headings! This makes my work as a blogger much easier, when the headings are already in place.
David Godley writes:
The Sceptered Isle, Spring Sixteen
If Britain is not a nation of walkers, it should be. It has gentle hills almost throughout. It is a living architectural museum with an abundance of archaeological treasures such as Stonehenge, Roman ruins such as Hadrian’s Wall, fantastic Norman churches, a wealth of mediaeval buildings (many of which provide sustenance for the walker) and a cacophony of edifices from the rich Empire days. A fine collection of ultra modern buildings has been assembled in London. None of these can be appreciated from a vehicle.
The expansion of settlements has not been allowed to spoil the rich countryside which is full of fields, trees and farm animals, although there are current threats. Britain oozes charm with its vernacular architecture. There is a strong interest in the countryside as demonstrated by the multiple country-oriented TV programs.
The tight mosaic of public rights-of-way is based on ancient pathways for workers and people going to market, church or school. They are enshrined in 1:50,000 and 1:25000 maps that cover England and Wales. Right to roam on the many fells was established in the 1930s in a stand off between the conurbations of Manchester and Sheffield and large landowners. The Peak District in Derbyshire was the first National Park.
It is easy to fall into conversation with other walkers, especially “in the local” where they tend to congregate after some fresh air. Fortunately eccentricity is alive and well in Britain. We visited friends and relatives throughout the length and breadth of UK in April 2016. One friend follows strangers to listen to their conversations; another friend wants to move to Texas!, a relative’s retirement plans are to run for the Monster Raving Loonie Party and I was given a French dribbling mat for my 70th. Boaty Macboatface was the overwhelming winner in a poll to name the Navy’s 200million pound arctic explorer.
A bonus to travelling around is that, even in this modern age, accents vary astoundingly, variations occur even in towns 10 miles apart. Liverpool, where they talk “scouse”, has a completely different dialect to the rest of Lancashire. Vocabulary and grammar are different again. Another melodic sound is the omnipresent blackbird which sings two notes at a time and is rival to the revered nightingale. Sheep and lambs bleat in fields all over the north of England and Scotland and are much more up-close and personal than in any other country.
Planning has been strong in the UK with a definitive separation of town and country. This is beginning to weaken recently through underfunding of local government and impact of population increase. 1500 houses around Gloucester have been approved in the green belt for a new reason – critical housing need. This opens the gate for more green belt development. Additional rights of development have been given which impact neighbours. And the skill of good tree pruning is being lost across the country; instead of removing limbs to keep the full tree shape they are being butchered into lollipop shapes which leads to multiple sprouting.
Historically the Brexit referendum was in progress, it was the Queen’s 90th and Shakespeare died on his birthday 400 years ago. Leicester, a small midlands city, which was last in the Premier League just over a year ago and with no previous league winning history, was about to clinch the soccer title. At the beginning of the season it had a 5000 to 1 chance. Also in Leicester the cure for Alzeimer’s in fruit flies was discovered. Leicester also boasts a new museum for Richard III whose skeleton was discovered recently under a car park. He was the last king to lead troops into battle (1485).
Britain is a mid tax nation but cost of living can be quite low if you know where to find deals. It is easy to travel 2 hours on a bus or plane for ten pounds or less. Toby’s is a carvery where Christmas Dinner is served year round with unlimited fresh cooked yorkies, ten types of vegetables and copious trimmings for much less than the cost of the raw ingredients. A large brown loaf can be less than 50 cents at Aldi supermarket.
The poverty divide issue is strong particularly in the richer south east. The millennials are caught with high student loans, precarious jobs and no chance of getting on the housing ladder unless they have rich parents or grandparents. Jeremy Corbyn, the authentic but probably unelectable, leader of the left is a result of protest voting which seems to be cropping up all over the world.
There is a large array of newspapers available covering the whole political spectrum. The Sunday Times can last almost the full flight back to Canada.
There seems to be less inconvenience in Britain than Canada. People who have a regular job and only save in a building society or tax free retirement funds do not have to fill in tax forms; tax is deducted at source. There is no service tax added to items and tipping is not customary in pubs. Almost all full time workers are entitled to over five weeks of leave and part time workers the equivalent.
Pubs are declining in number quite rapidly but you will never be far from a quaint 17th century inn. Coffee houses are making a big comeback. Micro breweries and cideries and unfranchised coffee shops are making inroads into big business. We noticed a large population of dogs in pubs with their owners. According to inquiries to masters/mistresses this is the result of spouses wanting to go to the pub but make the excuse “I am just going to take the dog for a walk.”
Animal welfare is a huge issue. Most meat and poultry is free range. This does not mean being able to turn around in a stall. The minority of eggs on the shelf are labelled from caged birds. Vegans and vegetarians are catered for everywhere. There are no commercial GM products grown.
Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge, dating from the 1100s is one of the finest National Trust properties. The owner of the former priory bought objects he thought were beautiful rather than concentrating on a certain style. He placed them in his Elizabethan manor house which is surrounded by huge grounds with flowered and forest walks. As with everywhere round the country there were hosts of daffodils. The National Trust for England owns over 300 historic properties and all of them are free to Canadian National Trust members.
Whitby, the new trendy destination
Evocative smells are of fried food especially in Whitby, the world’s capital for fish and chips restaurants. It has taken over from Scarborough as a tourist hotspot partially because of its strong images and atmospheric setting. Its population has hardly changed in over 200 years, the date of the first census. The fisherman’s name and boat are chalked up on a restaurant board and if there is no time mentioned then it is yesterday’s fish. Cod, usually cooked in beef fat, tastes succulent and scrumptious so there is no need to order upscale fish varieties. The eerie abbey ruins were where the Synod was held in 664 to establish a common date for Easter. Whitby is the home of Bram Stoker, inventor of Dracula. Goths congregate in the town.
Falkirk, the other new trendy destination
Falkirk, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, is now a must see tourist town. It had a good start with multiple sections of the Antonine Wall, the furthest north the Roman Empire extended. Recently two new attractions were added: a barge wheel to link the upper canal to the lower one and a sculpture called the Kelpies, perhaps the best in the UK, symbolising Scotland’s work horses.
Britain is a relatively safe country. Murders are significantly less than Canada in terms of rate per population. Counter-intuitively the winding roads and roundabouts are safer than the straight roads and traffic lights of Canada. But walkers beware; there is hidden danger in the countryside: my wife injured her leg getting over a stile.
David Godley April 2016
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