Jolly Olde England

On our occasional visits to England, we’ve taken up renting Landmark Trust properties, which are considerably less expensive than hotels, especially when friends and family join in. We usually rent an eccentric building such as a grange, hunting lodge, or folly. That comes with a kitchen, bath, bedrooms and medieval living quarters. We just returned from a weeklong stay at Wolveton, the 14th century stone gatehouse to a Tudor estate.

The owner introduced himself the first day, evincing his life-long passion for spirits, his disdain for British animal rights types, hoi polloi from the former colonies, and modern conveniences.

The latter was evident after we climbed the round oak staircase in the turret to our living room and realized he had removed the central heating and left bijou electric heaters around the massive stone structure that did little more than dim the already dim lights. What little heat they did produce was immediately vacuumed up the massive stone fireplace as we burned everything combustible.

We were thrilled with the lack of TV, amused by the lack of radio, chagrined by the lack of Internet and dismayed by the lack of either a telephone or consistent cell service. The owner pronounced such amenities “modern hogwash” and launched into a diatribe against Oliver Cromwell and liberal innovators. On politics, we quickly learned to maintain radio silence.

During our stay, we fell victim to many lovable and cloying British idiosyncrasies, some of which reminded us of home in rural Vermont. In Piddlehinton, we asked three different locals where the post office was and got three different answers that gave us a satisfying sense of having seen the whole town, if never the post office.

English food remains barely edible, though there are some delightful local cheeses, such as Stinking Bishop, being made in the rural countryside.

One evening at the Yammering Buttocks Publick House, I had crab gubbins, peamash, and herring roe on toast triangles, all washed down with two pints of Sheepknocker stout. Had I judged the food by the menu descriptions, I might have just been happy with my warm stout and gone back to our frigid gatehouse.

One of the more daunting challenges in England remains driving 50mph down the middle of a single-lane country road at night with your eyes glued to the GPS screen. The single lane is walled in by impenetrable hedgerows. There are occasional pull-offs into which the less macho driver must detour. On the two-lane roads, of course, one must remember to drive only on the left.

Sadly, the British no longer raise children, they raise small dogs, some of which now are admitted to Eton and Harrow. They are not yet accepted in college, but if one MP has his way, they will soon be covered by the National Health Service.

Many Britons told us that their country, like our own, had lost its way, but I can assure you they have not lost their great eccentricity.

Our visit reminded me in many ways of home.


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