LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — There Are Not Enough Adjectives: England, Scotland, Wales (And Dublin)

“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” — Chaucer

Late last summer, I spent a month in England, Scotland and Wales (with a day and a half in Ireland on my return). It is a trip I’d been planning in my head for 40 years.

Most assuredly there are not enough adjectives to describe all of the wonders I saw and experienced. I joked that by the end of my journey I had completed an ad hoc degree in the history, art, architecture and geography of Great Britain. As for Ireland, I was just there for an overnight and almost completely winged it in Dublin, where I went to see the Book of Kells.

As a child, I traversed the Pacific twice and since then, I’ve visited Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, but this was my first transatlantic journey. Although I had carefully planned the flight so that I would sleep, I hardly slept because of my excitement. I gasped when I saw Ireland and cried at the first sight of Britain, at long last.

I sat on this bench outside St. Paul's after Morning Prayer, waiting for admittance time for self-guided audio tours and reading Times from this pleasant spot.
I sat on this bench outside St. Paul’s after Morning Prayer, waiting for admittance time for self-guided audio tours and reading Times from this pleasant spot.

From the moment my feet hit the ground at Heathrow, I was on-the-go, armed with coffee, British pound notes, my passport, a carry-on bag (travel underwear is the secret), umbrella, raincoat and newly purchased comfortable walking shoes, along with all of the research I’d done in preparation, months of reading guidebooks and such and a lifetime of reading the literature of Great Britain and watching English films and television. Oyster card in hand, I quickly mastered the Underground (Tube) and London buses and acquired my National Railway Senior Pass for many train journeys to come. I had seven days on my own and then joined a guided tour.

I paid for 99 percentof my purchases with my phone via Google Pay (“contactless” is what they call it in the U.K.). Also on my phone were many apps for navigating mass transit and such, and all of these photos were taken with my Google Pixel phone.

No cooking or cleaning for a month! Morning coffee with the Times of London each day as my companion.

At Hatchard’s (“Booksellers since 1797”), near Picadilly, I purchased two Moleskin journals into which I scribbled hundreds of words. Later, our intrepid guide, John, gave us each a U.K. map to follow as we traveled to and fro. There were only two rainy days in the month I spent there, which is remarkable for this part of the world.

Scone, clotted cream and strawberry jam at Polperro, Cornwall.
Scone, clotted cream and strawberry jam at Polperro, Cornwall.

My priorities were castles and palaces, gardens (which were at peak bloom), parks, cathedrals and museums. I stopped to look at nearly every statue I walked by (and there are many) and ate all of the local delicacies, including haggis when in Scotland. I gobbled up a Cornish pasty every time I had a chance and consumed more scones with clotted cream than one probably should, however, most days I walked from 10 to 13 miles in addition to taking all the forms of mass transportation. And if there was a tower, I climbed it. All of the pastry was divine — I’m going to have to rethink my pastry making now.

By the time I joined the guided tour, after seven blissful days on my own, I was more than ready to let someone else take care of the required details and quite enjoyed having my luggage handled by a porter who called me “Madam.” I was blessed with the delightful company of 19 travelers, 10 of whom were from Australia, two from Canada and eight of us from the U.S. Our guide, John, was from London. He filled each day with adventures and shared with us the myriad details of his country’s rich heritage. John quickly pegged me as someone who might ask a record number of questions along the way.

Tawny Owl, Haverthwaite Station, Lake District, England. (I later heard Tawny Owls calling in the night in Cornwall.)
Tawny Owl, Haverthwaite Station, Lake District, England. (I later heard Tawny Owls calling in the night in Cornwall.)

Although I was not on a birding tour and was making observations on my own, I compiled a decent list of new life birds, with a couple of assists from Brian (one of my tour companions), who is from Australia but had grown up in England. When I couldn’t make the identification, I would text a photo to my daughter in North Dakota who would text back confirmation of the species — which was fun. The app “Merlin” also rendered vital assistance. Here is my list:

Mute Swan, Rook, Ring-necked Duck, Red Kite, Coal Tit, Great Crested Grebe, Common Wood-pigeon, Eurasian Jackdaw, Black-headed Gull, Great Cormorant, Common Swift, Common Buzzard, Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, White Wagtail, Tawny Owl, Northern Gannet, Eurasian Magpie, Little Owl, Greylag Goose, Grey Heron, European Robin, Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, Mistle Thrush and Tufted Duck. My traveling companions were amused when I would listen to owl calls on Merlin from my seat on the bus. Owl Discovery had four captive owls at the Victorian-era train station where we embarked while visiting the Lake District.

I was on the move every waking moment and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Midway through my visit, I hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, at a very fast pace and reveled in the views of the Firth of Forth. When I rejoined my companions, they were astonished that I had squeezed this hike in, with a full evening yet to come at a Scottish Cabaret.

Because so many wonderful words have been recorded about Great Britain by far better writers than I, my photos will mostly tell the tale, with annotations. This is a fraction of the places I visited and the pictures I took. (You can also Google all of these places and objects to learn more on your own.)

What a glorious part of the world! I feel very blessed to have been able to visit and hope to return someday. We were all very aware that we were witnessing an extraordinary time in England’s history. The daily headlines and frequent commotion at Parliament Square were ample evidence.

Everyone asks me what was my favorite, to which I say, “all of it!” Every single thing I saw and did was my favorite. I can die happy now. (Well, I still have lots of U.S. national parks to visit. And then there is France and Italy, more of Canada, and return trips to the U.K. and Ireland on my horizon).

You can see a map and the list of all of the counties I visited here. Sorry Miranda, but London is the “greatest city in the world” if one manages to dodge the silently lethal bicyclists amid the cacophony of lorries and buses.

Here is something Bill Bryson writes in his book “The Road to Little Dribbling”:

“If you tried to visit all the medieval churches in England — just England — at the rate of one a week, it would take you 308 years. You would need additional vastly daunting lengths of time to visit all the historic cemeteries, stately homes, castles, Bronze Age hill forts, giant figures carved in hillsides, and every other category of built structure. Brochs would take a decade to see. All the known archaeological sites in Britain would require no less than 11,500 years of your time.

“You see what I am saying. Britain is infinite. There isn’t anywhere in the world with more to look at in a smaller space —nowhere that has a greater record of interesting and worthwhile productivity over a longer period at a higher level. No wonder my trip didn’t feel complete. I could never see it all.”

And he lives there!

Finally, as my month ended, a long flight to North Dakota via Dallas, on which I watched four feature films in a row! It was good to be home, in the arms of my waiting husband and daughter, filled with happy and priceless memories, where I can begin to plan my next visit to Great Britain — hopefully sooner than another 40 years! Think I might spend some of my coronavirus quarantine time watching “Outlander.”

2 thoughts on “LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — There Are Not Enough Adjectives: England, Scotland, Wales (And Dublin)”

  • John Burke March 19, 2020 at 10:38 am

    My Civil Procedure professor in law school read to us an excerpt from Bleak House on the last day of class: “Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.”

    Thank you, Lillian, for sharing your travel experiences and your wonderful photos. My high school English Literature teacher overcame my Irish prejudice and converted me into a dedicated anglophile. I was extremely fortunate to have worked in the Europe-Russia group at Boeing, so spent 16 years traveling to these and other places across the Atlantic, and getting paid to do so!

  • LILLIAN R CROOK March 20, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    and as you well know, I envy you


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