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.
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 🙂
8. Market Towns
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.
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.
6. Abbeys and Castles
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
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.
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.
Go to my new house (love!) and the NHS (double love!).
What about you … what do you love most about Britain?