One Year In: The Top 10 Things I Love About the UK

Last weekend was our one year anniversary of being back. We celebrated with a lovely pub dinner with my mum and her partner Ian, as they were staying with us for the weekend and the next day, we went for a brilliant walk through fields of newborn lambs.

I’ve been thinking about this post and wondering what to say. In a way it’s a bit daunting. I was going to do a love/hate type post, but there’s genuinely not much to write in the ‘hate’ column. (The Daily Mail can wait for another post). In the end, I decided just to tell you the top 10 things I love about this country. And I’m hoping when I’m done, you’ll tell me your favourite things.

Let’s go backwards like on Letterman.

10: The Pubs

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People will tell you pubs are dying, and while it’s true that many have closed, I don’t think it’s true to say they’re dying. They’re evolving. They’re adapting to changing economic situations and in some areas, perhaps it’s also the case that they’re going away. But in most cases I think what’s happening is a cull. In the past if you ran a pub, it was enough to have decent beer and open doors. Now you have to really work at attracting people in – you have to give them a reason to buy alcohol from you rather than in the supermarket where it’s cheaper. This reason can be anything from a warm welcome and some fun activities in less affluent areas, to gourmet food and fine wines in the richer parts of the country. Pubs are just like every other business now – they have to give people a reason to choose them over some other leisure activity. The ones that do are packed. The ones that don’t close down.

Here where we live, there are tons of lovely cosy pubs serving good food (with lots of vegetarian options which still blows our minds). They often have a roaring fire and the good ones have locals gathered around the bar making idle conversation, some with their dogs at their feet. This last year, I’ve loved popping in for a quick drink, going out for Sunday lunch or taking friends and family to our favorites.

9: The Food

We all miss fish and chips when we leave and there’s nothing better when you’re hungry and in need of comfort food, but food in Britain has simultaneously stayed the same and changed massively. The things that are the same – marmite, scampi in the pub, Mr Kipling’s cakes, Yorkshire puds, crumpets – are as good as ever, but there is now so much more. Being a ‘foodie’ is an actual thing now, perhaps thanks to celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, and many pubs now serve meals that are on a par with most New York restaurants. As for actual restaurants, they too have raised their game. England’s certainly long given up its reputation for glompy food served cold and stodgy. But there’s still nothing to beat a good custard tart 🙂

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8. Market Towns

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Market towns are an absolute treasure. We arrived back to one (Knaresborough) and we now live in another (Skipton). Most were first given market charters back in the 1400 and 1500s, and to this day, one or more days a year see stalls set up in the market squares selling everything from farm vegetables to clothes. But even when the market isn’t there, the cobbled market squares give each town its own distinct character, and I love walking across them thinking of all the people that have gone before.

7. Churchyards

Ditto with old churchyards. One of the most atmospheric we’ve found so far was in Stainburn near our rented house, but every village and town has its own ancient churchyard, filled with higgledy piggledy gravestones, each telling a different story. I always love spending time walking through them reading the stones and thinking about each life – the babies that died at birth, the wives who passed away young, the young men who died in wars, and the older people who lived in to their 70s or 80s – all fascinate me and there’s something very peaceful about spending time with them. Perhaps it’s the sense of being removed from your own petty cares for a while, and reminded that life is short and sweet.

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6. Abbeys and Castles

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Again, the sense of history permeates almost everywhere in Britain, but nowhere more so than in the ruined castles and abbeys that dot the landscape. We have our fair share in Yorkshire and Phil and I have visited many of them. Fascinating, fun, thought-provoking, and again a somehow reassuring reminder of how small and unimportant you are in the scheme of things, and yet also how connected you are to every fiber of the country’s history, as though an invisible thread ties you to these places and these lives lived long ago.

5. The Gardens

I love how important gardens are, and how almost everyone does some kind of gardening, even if it’s just pots out in a little back yard. On our street in Bronxville, I was the only person who was out in their garden growing flowers all summer – everyone else had low maintenance shrubs and a lawn. Here, I’m in the majority. Can’t wait to get out in my new garden now that the weather is warming up!

4. The Sense of Humour

Bill Bryson, the American author who chose to live in England and writes about his experiences, once wrote:

“Watch any two Britons and see how long it is before they smile or laugh over some joke or pleasantry. It won’t be more than a few seconds.” (Notes from a Small Island, Black Swan,1996).

It’s true and I love it.

3. The Countryside

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I have waxed lyrical about this in enough of my other posts, but I’ll say it again: there is nowhere I find more beautiful than the British countryside and specifically, the area of Yorkshire where we recently bought a house. I feel like the luckiest person on earth to be able to go out for a daily walk among sweeping green hills, sheep, stone walls, beautiful stone cottages and wild romantic moorlands. This place is gorgeous and if I thought there was a God, I would thank him for letting me live here.

2. Friends and Family

They’re the reason we came home, and being here with them has been everything I could have hoped. We have had friends over for dinner, met them for lunch, reconnected with people we haven’t seen in years, spent time with our parents and siblings … all of it has been such a treat after more than 20 years away. Here’s my mum and her partner Ian on a walk we took when they came to visit our new house last week.

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1. Finally Fitting In

I don’t want this to sound as though I have anything against Canada and America, because the opposite is true. Both countries were amazingly goos to Phil and I and we gained enormously from our experiences there. For almost all our time away, I was happy and we lived very lucky lives. But you can’t make yourself fit where you don’t belong and on some deep level that encompasses everything I’ve already talked about, I never really found a way to fit in either country. The sense of humour was different, the history wasn’t there, the countryside was lovely but in a very different and sometimes alien (to me) way, the food often didn’t appeal, people had interests I couldn’t share (the Superbowl for example – Oy!) and beliefs and attitudes I couldn’t understand because I hadn’t grown up with them. None of that is true now. I get it here. There are things that annoy me (have I mentioned The Daily Mail?) and things that surprise me, but all of it makes complete sense to me. I’ve learned that’s a very precious feeling.

Honorable Mentions

Go to my new house (love!) and the NHS (double love!).

What about you … what do you love most about Britain?

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10 thoughts on “One Year In: The Top 10 Things I Love About the UK

  1. As I was reading through your list Louise, and agreeing with each point in turn, I was thinking “I know what my No.1 love is but I can’t think what I might use as a picture when I add it to Louise’s list”. Then there it was…at your No.1 too… of the myriad things I adore about this country and of the many, many ways in which I am grateful to be home at last, the No.1 thing I love is the complete and utter sense of belonging. Of fitting in. Of understanding and being understood. If all the other things I love didn’t exist I would still be full of joy for that one glorious thing.

    We are fortunate indeed…..

    • Thank you for the new photographs
      I noticed the poor condition of the graveyard???
      Weeds and grave markers falling???

      • It’s a disused church that is maintained by a charity. The weeds are cut back once a year and sheep graze there too. The grave markers falling down is just the nature of an old graveyard – you’ve been gone too long 😉

    • “Full of joy” is a perfect description. I’ve never felt so happy about everyday life. I wish I had done this years ago! But then maybe I wouldn’t appreciate it so much if I hadn’t been away so long (and got so old!)

  2. Great post! The only thing I would disagree with is the “gardens” category. I have lived in America for ten years now, and one of the the biggest and most disappointing things I noticed on my return visit recently, was how many people had paved over their front gardens to park their cars. Most families have two cars now at least, and it makes my heart bleed to see all those lovely greenspaces sacrificed for a silly car. There were entire roads I walked down in suburbia, where every single house on the street had paved over their garden with flagstones or tarmac. I live in Portland, OR, where every house has a beautiful garden, and big tall trees are everywhere. A lot of the streets in the UK looked really cheap to me in comparison, chiefly because of the lack of lush, green vegetation that works wonders for ugly architecture. Rant over!

    • I guess it depends where you live in America and where you move to here, but maybe a lot of those houses with paved over front yards actually had little gardens at the back. I don’t know anyone here who doesn’t take care of a little plot of their own – even those who don’t really like gardening make an effort. One of my close friends has a tiny front yard but when you get round the back of his house, he has created a beautiful cottage garden.

    • i found that too, so many people in england completely paving over their front yard, and i was surprised because when i was growing up my mum and dad spent endless hours making the front garden look nice and full of flowers (as did all the neighbors)…it must be a new trend. I don’t like it much…oregon is green and beautiful, but some states like florida and most of the south are dry, humid and virtually nothing grows 😦

  3. I love this thoughtful post. I’d never thought about number 4, but you’re right, and it’s why it took me ages to work out the conversational dynamics when I went to the US. I suppose I was always looking for the opportunity for a joke, while other people weren’t. I used to feel like conversations were interviews – and now I can see why.

    Thanks for the insight.

  4. I love your favourite things about england, i miss all of those things..living in America i find i miss almost everything about life in Britain. There’s just no history or culture here, and no where nearly as beautiful as the english countryside. Your photos are lovely, I completely get the joke thing too, it’s just different..people are just different and no matter how hard you try or “adapt” you can belong somewhere you don’t.

  5. What a lovely list …. and very insightful. I have been away from the UK for 19 years now and have been struggling for the last few years with an increasing desire to return home. Logically I cant rationalise why I feel this way … Surely I should want to stay where I am where its warm and sunny and pleasant?.. But despite all that something always eats away at me – as you’ve put it so well, its that sense of belonging. I cant ever change the fact that I didnt grow up here and neither did any of my family. Thanks for such positive comments!

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