Feature 1 - Tuesday, June 30, 1998
By: Fran Field
I have always been an Anglophile, at least since I was in high school. The time was the mid sixties. The Beatles had just come on the music scene and The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five and Peter and Gordon were soon to follow. Everything British was "in" and I was in the thick of it. I dreamed of going to England on a student exchange program and I even went so far as to apply to several of the programs. My dream was destined to remain just a dream however. My parents were not wealthy people and they just couldn't afford to send me traipsing halfway around the world. My dream may have been gone but it was never forgotten.
Fast forward to the late summer of 1997. Two friends and I got together to plan a trip to England. The adventure was a biking trip sponsored by Elderhostel. My friends have been on several Elderhostel trips to Europe and they have always enjoyed them. I was finally old enough to go along as a guest of a member (Elderhostel members must be 55) and I couldn't wait to get started.
We planned our trip for May of 1998 and the waiting began.
On May 12th of this year we headed off to London. We had decided to go a few days before the start of the biking part of our journey and spend some time in London. After flying all night we got to our hotel at 11:30 am London time and headed right out to see the sights. Because of the time difference we were up about 36 hours straight before we finally went to bed on that first day in London but we were determined not to waste one minute while we were there. In two and one half days we saw a great deal of London from the top of a double decker bus. We could then decide what we wanted to go back and see more of.
One of my favorite places was the Tower of London. The guides at the Tower are called Yeoman Warders but are more familiarly known as Beefeaters. Our guide was very informative and funny as well. After the guided tour we went into the Jewel House and viewed the Crown Jewels. Not far from the Tower is Tower Bridge. This is the bridge most people are familiar with when they think of London and it has mistakenly been called London Bridge many times. As a matter of fact the American who bought London Bridge and moved it to Lake Havasu City in Arizona thought he was buying Tower Bridge.
While in the great city of London we also visited Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum and Buckingham Palace (where we saw the Queen and Prince Philip returning to the Palace). We also saw the London production of "Cats" and rode the subway (the tube) like natives. We found everyone in London we came in contact with very friendly and we'd go back in a minute.
After our time in the city we met up with the rest of our tour group and the biking part of our vacation began. There were 20 riders in our group plus guides and the van driver / bike mechanic. We rode in the section of England known as East Anglia, which consists of the counties of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. If you look at a map of England this is located in the southeastern part of the country, the bulge that borders the North Sea. We rode through rolling English countryside that defies description. It was picture postcard beautiful and then some. I took 17 rolls of film and if you had been there you would understand why. Around every corner was a sight begging to be photographed. Rounding a turn in a small town one morning we came upon a man in his overalls, Wellingtons knit cap and a walking stick. At the end of the leash he was carrying was, not a dog, but a big woolly sheep. It was a scene right off a post card! The roads we were on were very narrow, just wide enough for one car and yet they were two way roads. They were bordered by hedgerows that were anywhere from two feet to seven feet high and beyond the hedges were fields of yellow rape (a plant used to make canola oil) and purple flax. There were fields with many varieties of sheep, cows and many, many pigs. We saw houses with thatched roofs and beautiful gardens everywhere.
Because Elderhostel considers learning to be a lifelong process there is an educational aspect to all of the tours. The emphasis of our tour was the history of many old churches and abbeys in the area we visited. We had local historians come and speak to us about the churches in their towns as we toured them. We were taken by bus to the city of Colchester, which has the oldest Roman ruins in England. The Cathedral at Norwich is another of the old churches where we were given a tour. The bicycle guides who led our way were very knowledgeable about the area we were in and because they knew I was employed by the Postal Service and interested in post offices in other countries, they made sure to point out post offices in the towns we were going through. They also knew a lot about the local flora and fauna and could answer most of the questions we had.
The last full day of our trip was spent in Cambridge, the home of Cambridge University. We were given a tour of the outside of the various colleges that make up the university. Most of the colleges are closed to outsiders all the time and because it was exam time, we couldn't go inside any of the usually public buildings with a few exceptions. We visited the library of Trinity College, which was designed by Christopher Wren and the library of Samuel Pepys where we saw an original manuscript of "Winnie the Pooh" and some original works of Shakespeare. We also visited the chapel of King's College, which has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows in the world. In the evening we were taken on a ride on the River Cam in a punt, a flat-bottomed boat propelled by a long pole. It was a real treat because the guide told us the history of the bridges we were passing under and we got to see the colleges from the riverside.
All too soon, early the next morning, our journey came to an end and we headed back to London and the airport. It was the end of a trip I will never forget. I feel grateful now that I didn't get to England when I was a teenager because I got so much more out of it now than I would have then. From the seat of a bicycle I got to see an England that most tourists never see. I would do it again in a heartbeat and I hope I get the chance again soon
Contact Fran Field by Email....
Copyright 1997-11 The Daily ME, All Rights Reserved * Owned & Operated by Judy Craig Consulting