The UK has so much to offer aside from its standard, tourist drawing cities. (but if you want to hear all about how much I adore London, go check out “Things to thank: London”). The countryside is quite beautiful, sprinkled with unique small towns filled with culture. If you’ve read your fair share of nineteenth century novels, you may have heard Jane Austen make references to the town of Bath or Chawton. Or perhaps you’re familiar with the sublime poetics of William Wordsworth as he describes the scene of his childhood at Tintern Abbey. Even if you haven’t explored the British countryside through the lenses of great writers, I’m sure you’ve heard of Cambridge, Oxford, or at least Stonehenge. Regardless of your prior knowledge of this region, you’re about to hear some key points about some quaint towns.
The first stop on my tour around this country was at Stonehenge. It was cold and rainy as a double decker tour bus full of exchange students studying at the University of Westminster pulled up. Me along with the 60 others begrudgingly filed off the bus onto another smaller bus that would transport us closer to the monument. As the small bus strolled down the country lane, I couldn’t help but think that Stonehenge was really in the middle of no where. Rain pelted the windshield as we got as close as the roads would allow us, and had to walk from there.
With my trench coat closed tight around my body, I started down the road with one of the student groups. As Stonehenge came into view, my thoughts drifted away from the cold rain. The mystery surrounding this monstrosity is captivating. Though there are many theories on why it was built and who built it, we really will never know. There’s a certain beauty to this kind of unsolved mystery. Drawn in by the curious structure, I hardly noticed that the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to shine through the breaks in the clouds.
Following our trip to Stonehenge, we piled back on the tour bus to head towards the town of Bath. I had scarcely heard of Bath before, but it’s named for the hot springs founded by the Romans when they settled here. What I was most excited about in Bath wasn’t the Roman Baths, but it was the well known Jane Austen museum (I know, super dorky). But Jane Austen name drops Bath in a few of her books, so me and another Austen enthusiast set out to find it. Tucked into a regular row of town houses was the small museum, and as we wondered around the narrow halls, I was thankful that someone else was just as interested as I was. We celebrated our indulgence in this little gem with tea, cakes, and champagne before heading back to meet with the group.
Our bus pulled in to the town of Oxford right around dinner time. It felt late, and most of us weren’t really feeling up to more touring. We were set to stay at a hotel in town overnight, but before the daylight ran out we strolled around Oxford University’s campus. Though my stroll was sleepy and distracted by the thought of dinner and drinks, I do remember the absolute beauty of the architecture on the campus, illuminated by the glowing clouds and darkening blue sky.
The next morning felt gray and groggy as we all got back on the bus (which we all were beginning to hate). We were heading for Wales, a country where there’s more sheep than there are people. Wales was such a quiet country, the towns we passed through seemed barren. It was another day peppered by rain showers, but something about the weather felt right.
There’s an image I always associate with the feeling of sublime. It’s a painting of a man standing at the top of a mountain looking out over gray clouds. As we approached the sublime setting of William Wordsworths poem: lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, all feelings of sublimity were being evoked at once. Tintern Abbey is an old montasery, established in 1131. In 2015, it appears to be the majestic ruins of a castle, carpeted by wildflowers.
Our next step was Glouchester. I’m sure our tour guide told us some very interesting facts about Gloucester, but I can only tell you two. The first is that this town is on the water. The second, well, does this moderately well lit church corridor look familiar to you?
Well if you in anyway claim to be a Harry Potter fan, or if you’ve ever watched ABC family’s Harry Potter weekend, it should look familiar. This church served as the setting of Hogwart’s corridors in the series. Our tour bus was set to leave town at 4, and church was holding service up until then. Four of us stood anxiously outside the church, constantly checking our watches and nervously looking at the church doors. Everyone else was back on the bus, but we were really hoping to get a look.
There was a woman standing out front the church doors, as I’m sure they get tourists wanting to intrude on services somewhat frequently. At 3:55, she peaked her head in the door and looked back at us. “Alright service is just finishing up so if you’re real quiet …”
“yes! Yes! We’ll be very quiet and we’all only be a minute!” We were already rushing past her into the church and towards the long hall. We snapped out pictures, took it in, and giddily power walked back to the bus. There were a lot of jealous faces peering over seats.
My last stop on my countryside tour was sans tour bus and exchange students. My sister had come into London over her birthday, and we decided to spend the day in Cambridge. Sarah had read about something called bunting, which is someone equivalent to gondolas in Italy (though the name is much less elegant). We purchased wine, cheese, and crackers before heading to the dock where we’d meet our bunter.
He was a very nice man who’d lived in Cambridge his whole life. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember sharing a glass of wine. It was graduation day, and as we bunted down the river through Cambridge campus, families happily celebrated their university graduates.
We spent the evening in a bar across from campus, where I’m sure many intellectual minds had once met. We ate authentic fish and chips and Sheppard pie and drank wine and beer. At night as we watched the bunters as the sun set. I decided that if I were to move anywhere in the U.K., I’d go to Cambridge.