Geordies and Pubs and Sheep, Oh My!
So we just got back from ten sunny days in England, and I have to admit, I felt a bit cheated. Sunny? Sunny I get here in Texas. If I'm taking a holiday in England, I'm there for grey, rainy weather, thank you very much, and a bit of cold, too. OK, we got maybe two or three days of that, which I guess is more than you get in May in Texas but only because we were in Newcastle, which is nearly as far north as you can get in England before running smack into Scotland. I mean, I packed my raincoat, and took it home unused.
But to be honest, I really can't complain. (Sure, I just tried, but I really can't.) It was a damn fine vacation, sunny weather and all.
The primary reason for going - well, ok, primary excuse - was an academic conference. A colleague and friend was organizing it and had invited us to come, so we figured, what the hell - why not? A conference on travel writing sounded interesting, and an international conference always looks good on the ol' CV (the academics' version of the resume). We didn't know what to expect from the conference itself, but hey, visiting friends in England is really never the wrong thing to do.
The conference, as it turned out, was fantastic. Lots of fascinating papers, and great people. I stayed awake, jetlagged, from 8 am to 10 pm the day after we arrived, simply because it was so damn interesting. (Admittedly, all that tea helped too.)
Newcastle - the conference city - is an interesting place. There's a great deal of regional pride, which is true for a lot of areas (Texas, anyone?), but the Geordies (Newcastle-ites) have an odd way of expressing their pride: Real Geordies, it seems, never wear coats. Our friend there promised us both 40 degree weather and "lots of skin - no, no, really!" I didn't believe it, not when it was about 45 degrees cold and rainy - who's going to get skimpy in that? Ah, but I didn't realize that some years ago, a Geordie girl in a TV interview had explained, "I'm from Newcastle, and I don't even own a coat!," and that had turned into the inofficial motto of the area.
Granted, we didn't see the flesh when we were walking around the university. But, faced with our disbelief, our friend took us to the club district - and lo and behold, it was true. Flesh everywhere, and the only coats around were the ones on us conferencers. Skimpy was the order of the day. And because this was as true for the 18-year-olds as it was for the 60-year-olds, that was not generally a good thing. But still, we were duly impressed, as the girls and grandmothers in halter tops and miniskirts walked by and we, in turn, huddled in our coats.
From Newcastle, we took the train to New Mills, a village in Derbyshire. It's about half an hour from Manchester by train, and we were fully intending to spend some time in Manchester during the week we had in New Mills. Ha. Never made it.
We simply fell in love with the countryside. It was so green - living in Texas, you forget how green things get in the cooler, wetter north. And so relaxing - the whole countryside seemed designed for walking, something you also lose touch with in Texas, where people look at you funny when you suggest that you'll be walking the five blocks to the post office, thanks. In fact, walking is enshrined in British law; public rights of way exist everywhere that cut straight through agricultural fields. Going from village to village? If you'd like to walk, no one's complaining.
No doubt part of the relaxing atmosphere also came from the friends we were staying with, who were laid back and mellow, and who themselves quite enjoyed walking, and also appreciated following up that walking with a nice pint. Because of course, the pubs should not be forgotten; when rambling anywhere, it's important to stop and smell the Theakston's Old Peculiar. The friend I was visiting is someone I've known since seventh grade, and we've been long-distance friends since eighth grade. We only see each other every five years at most, but it never ceases to amaze me how well we still get along, and how much it all just seems to click.
So we spent our days in New Mills wandering from one village to another, strolling somewhere between two and seven miles a day. In Austin, this would probably kill you from smog alone. In Derbyshire, it was supremely relaxing, especially when interspersed with many a stop at many a pub. We walked through many fields filled with sheep and a few with cows (who were, oddly, more timid), and everywhere it was green, a deep, lush green I can remember from growing up in Michigan but that I haven't actually seen in years.
We went to Hayfield, and Buxton, and Furness Vale on accident (we were trying to go to Disley, but when you're walking through fields it's easy to take a wrong turn), to Hope and Castleton and Howarth, and we loved just about every minute of it.
When our time was up, we weren't ready to leave; and if it weren't for the cats and for the new wood floor that my not-quite-in-laws installed while we were gone well, we would've been sorely tempted to stay and wait for rainy weather.
I Have Known