To the Midlands! Leicestershire, more specifically. The birthplace of fox hunting, where roads still have horse paths (I got such a kick from seeing riders next to us when we were in cars). Where we literally partied all night at Margot’s. Where we picnicked at Bradgate Park. Where we made flapjack and went summer berry-picking.
Essentially, the best July in my memory, and when I learnt that British summers are beautiful.
You can see more of why here.
THE NORTH is what it says on the roadsigns leading up to these parts of the UK. The thought makes me laugh, because it’s akin to THE GREAT UNKNOWN or ENTER WITH CAUTION. What’s less known, perhaps, is that coming from the north, the roadsigns to London similarly say THE SOUTH, and I think the northerners sometimes certainly need more warning about what they’re driving into.
Because the north is lovely! Outside of Manchester or Leeds, it’s greener, muddier, hillier, friendlier. There’s so much more to England than London and its cosmopolitan flurry. Sometimes, the soul needs some country quiet.
*These photos are 3 years old (!), and from full albums found here:
My visits to England have become gloriously, blessedly hard to count. Tom and Daisy’s wedding in late August this year provided the perfect excuse for me to visit in 2012, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubillee, and just after the by-most-accounts successful London Olympics. It was slightly amusing to find London in the cleanest and tidiest condition I’ve ever seen it—like seeing your always-in-jeans next-door staircase neighbor dressed in a spiffy tux for his first Oxford ball—but that really was to be expected, given the amount of global airtime that the country has gotten these past couple of years.
My very small collection of photographs from this visit are here.
My sister will bear testament to the fact that I went around squealing, “I’m in England!” on the day we arrived. It just happened to be a rare sunny weekend, where we were actually sweating at points and questioning our more rainy-and-chilly-directed wardrobe. During our 5 days or so in London, we managed to get two museums under our belt (The Victoria & Albert, and the Natural History Museum), pop in and out of one palace (Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived, and where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are due to set up shop), visit Yen at Christie’s, walk past Portobello market’s shops at closing time (my bad), attend Sunday service at Holy Trinity Brompton, and have several Marks & Spencers’ picnics and Pret-a-Manger lunches. We spotted one celebrity (Billy Nighy!), overheard several adorable conversations by British children, and shopped ourselves silly at Bicester Village.
Yen and Ju were the bests hosts, giving us free reign of their pads and helping us find our bearings round the the city. Jotting down some mealtimes here, for fond-recalling afterwards: mussels and fries with Yen and Duncan, then drinks near Covent Garden; the meal at The Prince pub near Yen’s home in Notting Hill; picnicking on M&S stuff near the V&A with Yen; M&S scones in Yen’s little two-storey aparment; Indian cuisine in an insanely popular restaurant with Ju, John and Andrew; Pimms at a posh pub by Ju’s recommendation.
I of course had to stop at Oxford, and dragged my sister around the city for a few hours, showing her the Sheldonian, the Rad Cam, High Street, Pembroke and the Royal Blenheim, where we had humongous pub lunches. She couldn’t quite believe the way I marched into the quad, after a quick word with the porter, and let us into the chapel and turned on the lights just so we could have a look at the stained glass windows. And she thought my stop to write notes for friends and leave them in their pidges was quite amusing as well. But she put up with all of my quirky behavior and reminiscing quite well, probably knowing on some level as I do that I’m just trying to savour as much of Oxford as I can, before my friends all leave it and I lose excuses or even the ability to visit, what with limited finances and leave from work.
Then we headed up North to Doncaster, where we stayed by Doncaster Lakeside. It turns out that Lakeside is home to another outlet shopping spot, which was much more our speed (think Gap instead of Gucci), so we continued our shopping spree there! We also took a massive walk around the lake and soaked in the English “countryside” (suburbia?). Tom Waters came and picked us up for Tom Sandeman and Daisy’s wedding the next day, which was a gentle, full-day affair, unfurling from the quaint chapel in Bawtry to a marquee on a family friend’s estate, where we moved from canapes to afternoon tea, to roast dinner, to 17 different flavors of ice cream with gorgeous toppings! (Trust me to remember the day in food!) The entire wedding was so Daisy in flavour, and Tom gave the most personal yet funny groom’s speech I’ve ever heard—all in all, the only downside to the wedding was the circuitous and at times scary driving we had to do (or rather, poor Tom had to do), getting lost a few times and there not being much light after nightfall.
The final chapter of our visit was a long drive to the Waters’ house in Cheltenham. It was so lovely to see the Waters’ again, and wander around Cheltenham again, experiencing south-east English life outside of London. Except for a very unfortunate pick of movie—Burn After Reading? How about before? I take full responsibility for finding this one, yikes—it really was a lovely way to cap off our trip, especially with the bus ride to the airport taking us past so many signature rolling hills and languishing sheep. The branston pickle and cheddar sandwich that Jane kindly made me for the journey was an extra special treat!
The one thing I’m strangely grateful for was how much less emotional I was on this visit than the previous ones. Part of it was probably the fact that I was stuck on Ojakgyo Brothers, a 58-episode Korean family drama series that I would retreat to every night, when everyone else was asleep. I should be embarrassed about this, but when I think about it, I’m glad for the way it distracted me and kept me from getting too re-attached to England and allowing me to be too aware that I won’t be returning for a good long while, in all likelihood. But maybe I was also less emotional because I’ve become.. secure, about England. That it really has proven special to me, that I will always feel connected to it, wherever my friends end up or whether we stay in close touch, that when I cheer for British athletes or musicians or actors or films it’s not just glory-hunting or novelty-searching, but genuine personal investment and pride, that it’s a place I have come to love and will continue to love in all of its idiosyncrasies, rubbish weather and all.
Tom nailing his groom’s speech. Perfect comic timing! Also, the bride MADE these pennants herself! All 150 metres! #travel #uk #england #bawtry (Taken with Instagram)
The table settings. Daisy’s fingerprints, all over. :) #travel #uk #england #bawtry (Taken with Instagram)
Filing out of the lovely Bawtry church. #travel #uk #bawtry #england (Taken with Instagram)
Tom and Daisy’s wedding! #travel #uk #bawtry #england (Taken with Instagram)
See? The North is nice! #travel #uk #doncaster #lakeside (Taken with Instagram)
Erm, okay… Point taken! #travel #uk #doncaster #lakeside (Taken with Instagram)
We venture North for the wedding! Here’s Doncaster Lakeside. #travel #uk #doncaster #lakeside (Taken with Instagram)