As you may already know, in recent months I took my very first trip to England. That may be a surprise, considering my age and the fact that most of what I write is characterized under the moniker “For English Majors.” But be that as it may, this was my first time.
Much of the last five years of my life has been spent, dealing with the aftermath of my parents’ passing away. I tried to help my Dad through my mom’s passing, with my siblings coming back and forth to Florida as they could. And when my father became unwell, we all spent about four months traveling, not from the four corners, exactly, but certainly from three corners of the United States to the fourth, where he was. Assuming a quadrilateral of very strange proportions, with three corners well East of the Mississippi.
My father, unfortunately, passed at the end of that time, despite his apparent partial recovery. We are happy now, that at least he had a few weeks outside the confines of a hospital or nursing home, to live more or less normally with my sister.
His death brought new challenges for me. I enjoyed the dubious privilege of being executor and arranger-in-chief of the funeral, house sale and other details too numerous and boring to mention. I had heard that it takes at least a year to finish an estate, and two years, if it is complex. His took three. And shreds of it still lie on the floor of my house, to this day. My parents’ memory cries out from the furniture, from the file cabinets, from the boxes yet to be unpacked after our move.
When the estate was substantially done, my husband and I began looking for a new house. We had been in our old house for thirty years and had always wanted to move closer to Jacksonville’s urban core. Now, with no more small children to pick up from school or ferry around, and only one left in college dorms and one adult child with us, it seemed like a good time. Now or never, as they say.
After six months of looking, about a year ago, we moved. By June, all my children had converged on the new house with us, and it was a joyous, though short, season. My eldest daughter soon packed up to go to Pennsylvania and East Sussex, England for a year and a half,in which she was to work at internships at two great gardens: Chanticleer outside Philadelphia and Great Dixter near Rye. She won’t reappear in Florida again until October of this year. Assuming she does not change her mind. For who could blame her?
My second oldest, a daughter, moved to the property when her lease was up. My college son stayed on for the summer but gladly picked up and left come August, to live in the dorms again. My older son with autism remains with us for the duration.
My eldest daughter being in England was of course the impetus, for us to plan a trip. And when I say us, I mean me.
I found a lovely tour of National Trust properties and other private residences by Albion, (now called National Trust Tours.) The tour itself was named “South of England Stately Homes and the Isle of Wight.” This is a link to the 2024 trip (5/6-15) but it is essentially the same itinerary as ours.
As you can probably guess, the trip was fabulous. The tour limits your reach to the middle Southern section of England, so everything is readily drivable by coach.
We were told frequently that the British say “coach”, not “bus” when referring to the vehicle used for tours like this. This is just one example of the many times on this trip, that we were faced with the incongruities of the British and American versions of our common language.
Now of course, when I say fabulous, I mean for me. And I would say also for the vast majority of our companion tourists on the coach. They came from all points in America, and various backgrounds and levels of experience with travel. We were probably among the least traveled of them. Some told us,they go back again and again, year after year.
Not a bad way to live, I think.
For my husband, the tour was more fraught. Although he had no qualms with the tour itself, he took the experience in with a different lens, so to speak. I would look at a stately home and be impressed by its size and architectural details and overall magnificence, and think, “What wonderful things humans are capable of!” He would instead wonder, “What great crimes must have been committed, to amass such ridiculous amounts of wealth?”
It reminded me a little, of when we used to take our young kids to the cry room at church, and all during the service, my husband would criticize and ridicule the poor priests and parishioners, although in a respectful whisper. He is a born heckler and skeptic, and I love him for it. His perspective made the trip and the conversations we had with others all the more interesting.
It also kept our sense of ourselves more down to earth. As people who have read or viewed lots of series with manor house settings, it’s easy for us to imagine ourselves in one of those homes, perhaps playing one of the leading roles. That is part of the fun of travel, for me, imagining what it was like, to live in such places. But a surprising number of the English people we met were at least as ambivalent about their own national relics and what they represented, as my husband was.
The tour was certainly an English Major’s dream. We saw art, we saw historically important buildings from medieval to Tudor to Victorian, we took in the stiff sea breeze on a ferry to the Isle of Wight and the pastoral countryside near Jane Austen’s House and Chawton House in Hampshire. And we never had to set foot in a car or attempt to drive on the left side of the road. Which to us as Americans who usually drive on the right, seems more like the wrong side.
But my husband and I had already done that. For five days before our tour, we spent time looking at various gardens with my daughter. We did rent a car. And my husband drove, bless his heart.
As a Turkish restauranteur said to us, after we had completed that first leg of our trip, “I’m glad I didn’t have to drive behind you!”
But more about that in future installments, which I’ll be writing in the coming weeks, as I have time. The first three will come out simultaneously, then we’ll see. Not too many photos in those three, Im afraid, but I’m just getting started. I’ll be going through the trip chronologically, bit by bit, and I hope you will enjoy the ride.
My next installment talks a little about why this trip was such a aberration compared to most of my adult life. Or, in kinder terms, why it was such an adventure.
Copyright 2023 Andrea LeDew
To read an essay musing on the value of travel read Who Only England Know. For the next in this series, read Adventure.