Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Twenty-ninth Trip

Scotland, 1980s

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

Bodmin Moor

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


Gaffney said...

Loved this trip through your memory lane!

Corwyn Celesil said...

You have made me horribly homesick, and I've never even been to Britain. Need. To. Go. When I am very rich (as in never), I will take an entire year and just go places in Great Britain. I hope heaven looks like that.

Diana Birchall said...

Thanks, Sean! And Corwyn, yes, Britain is, quite simply, Paradise to me. There are places in the U.S. as beautiful (such as your own Montana), but England is unique for its mixture of history and culture together with the beauty. Actually, one point I wanted to get across is that you don't have to be rich to go a-traveling in England: I'm the living example of that! I made it the priority of my life, and, for example, don't own a house. All possible money has been spent on my trips...and well spent too. I've found it takes facility at figuring out ways, more than a heap of cash. For instance, this trip I can partly take as a tax deduction because I gave a talk, and as you'll see I stayed with kind friends quite a lot, rather than blowing too much money on expensive hotels. If you want to go badly enough, you'll find a way. Even living there for a time.

Elaine said...

Diana - I loved seeing all these photos. Last week I was with my sister staying at Tintern in Wales and one day we went for a walk in the Wye Valley. All so verdant and beautiful. One evening I went out for a stroll myself down by the river and past the Abbey and stayed out for ages so reluctant was I to go back to my room. I have travelled to many places but I really feel the English countryside takes some beating! I am sorry I was unable to see you this trip but as I am sure there will be another there will be time

Diana Birchall said...

Oh, yes, Elaine, we will meet again. Surely next trip! One of the things I wanted to do with this post, since I sadly can't live in England, was to remind you fortunate Angles of just what you have there. Of course you know it very well, but it's so easy to take what we have, for granted...

Anonymous said...

I particularly like " A castle somewhere..." I'm guessing the real name is now lost in the mists of time.
Good to see you can have an enjoyable trip to Oxford even though I wasn't there ;-)


Anonymous said...

I haven't been to England even five times much less 29 -- how I wish! -- but have made a few visits there. It is one of the two places I think worth getting on a plane foe. The other place is where my oldest son is living.
One time we were fortunate enough to spend 5 weeks. Never enough time to see what all I want to see.
Loved the photos.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Diana for this trip down your memory lane of trips to Britain [with a few Ireland thrown in!] - I agree with Bev - I laughed out loud about the "a castle somewhere" - I have too many of those pictures myself!

I look forward to your week of postings on your latest trek and Jane Austen adventures - I am green with envy [and I was just there!] - I completely agree with you that one cannot visit enough... Corwyn, just go - life is too short...


Diana Birchall said...

There were a lot of castles! (grin - good title for a travel book). That one was in Wales, that's all I remember. Which doesn't exactly help in narrowing it down!

That's right, there's never enough time, and you can't visit enough. I've gone as much as I possibly could manage and have not a single regret, which you will admit is remarkable in human experience!

Debbie Cusick said...

What wonderful photos, and what an amazing lifetime of memories you have. What a great post.

Barbara said...

Lovely catalogue of reminiscences. The hotel in Wales looks remarkably like The Feathers in Ludlow (England!) which I saw (but didn't stay in) recently on a recent walking tour of Shropshire.


Mary Robinson said...

Great to see your picture of Bardsey Island - I love the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales - a very special place.