Twenty-nine trips...It's not as excessive as it sounds. Consider: if you are a person who loves another country at least as much as your own, and make it a lifetime priority to visit as often as you can get your money and your body together, then by the time you’re my age, a visit every year or two will easily add up to some number like twenty-nine! The perspective that comes with time, like verdigris flopping out of a whale, operates here too. For it's interesting how my trips to England have varied, according to my age, cumulative experience of the country, and the deepening of my English friendships and literary interests.
Punting in Oxford, 1980s
In my early trips I did standard first-trip things, and each was wildly exciting. London theatre, my first trips to Bath and Oxford, first glimpses of the countryside, first stately home (I think the first I saw was Hatfield). Later, especially after starting to make friends, our trips developed into epic adventures and purposeful odysseys: island-hopping trips in the Hebrides; road trips in search of ancient ruins in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall; book shopping orgies; lush stays in castle hotels; seeking-out of writers’ homes, from Dafydd ap Gwilym to Charlotte M. Yonge. Later still, my trips tended to center around Jane Austen, academic conferences, and visits to old friends. The excitement level never diminished: only grew.
Paul and Peter at Hay-on-Wye, early 1990s
This latest trip was my first since the New Directions in Jane Austen Studies conference in 2009, and it was a glorious synthesis of all the things I love about England. The delight of being there, which has never left me, was mellowed and enhanced by the richness that comes from the burnishing of old friendships. This trip was about renewal, the recapturing of joy after Peter's worrisome health crisis. But, as ever, there were also new discoveries to be made. Johnson's old saw about if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, never seemed truer: one could go on for a thousand years, and always find something new and wonderful in the gentle old beauty that is England. My journal will follow, in installments, as a five-part series over the next few days.
Peter at the Standing Stones of Callanish, 1990s
For this introduction I've scanned an array of pictures from the richness of our trips dating back to my first in 1969, and then from when my regular trips began, in 1980. I have 25 huge fat photo albums! Maybe someday I'll get a decent scanner and digitize them all. And just think, without photography, all these would be only dim memories. Looking at the pictures, I see how our trips were our crowning joys, and how happy we were, on every single one.
The first Jane Austen seminar at St. Hilda's College, 1983. Peter with Jean, the organizer, who became a long time friend - we had lunch last week!
Romantically on the steps in Lyme where Louisa Musgrove fell, in Persuasion. 1990s.
An early trip to St. Agnes, the Scilly Isles, 1991. Our old friends Keith and Anne, and Keith's son Steve.
Me driving a riverboat on a family vacation on the Norfolk Broads, 1990s
Peter on Iona, 1990s
Peter and Paul at Tingagel, 1980s
The Hill of the Witches, a hard-to-find ancient tomb in Ireland. 1990s.
Skara Brae, Orkney. 1990s.
Paul with sheila-na-gigs, Northern Ireland
Peter and his mother, Vivian, the time we stayed at the Royal Crescent Hotel, Bath.
Peter and his mother in the Burren, Ireland
Peter salutes W.B. Yeats. "Horseman, pass by..."
Happy times at Wellwood Farm, Keith and Anne's home in Kent (1990s)
I had a thing for chickens...
Boxing Day, Wellwood Farm. With Keith's family, 1990s.
At the pub in Kent
First Pifflefest in Oxford - online friends with "noms" from the Dorothy L. Sayers list. Miss Layton, Miss Snoot, Vamping the Senior Common Room, My Gracious Silence, and me, Miss Schuster-Slatt!
House in Dorset, where we lived in 1969
Pink sea-thrift on an early trip to Scilly Isles (Bryher, 1990s)
With a very small pony in the Lake District
The touristy thing to do in the Aran Islands - but it was fun!
Devonish Island, Northern Ireland
Paul and Andrew with dinner
We always had fun on Wellwood Farm!
More fun at Wellwood
A castle. Somewhere...
Bardsey Island, where a thousand monks are buried. The sheep looks suitably forbidding because the channel is nearly impassible due to currents
Mother and son on holiday in Kent
Trebrea Lodge...a favorite hotel in Cornwall
Bluebell woods, Wellwood Farm, Kent
Grace O'Malley's castle, Ireland
Hotel in Wales
Two silly English friends, the Lake District, 1980s