(Part 2 of a 3-part blog series on my trip to England last month – in case you missed it, here is Part 1)
The first half of my jaunt into England was spent away from the big city: Bath and some surrounding areas, including Stonehenge, Chawton, and Winchester Cathedral, then north to the Peak District, where we stayed in Buxton and Bakewell.
Bath, situated on the edge of the Cotswolds, was a charming, bustling smaller city. It struck me as similar to a town like Bowling Green, Kentucky in atmosphere: there were a lot of young people, probably due to the university located there, and the city had a busy, energetic vibe to it.
Alongside that energy, though, were the ever-present reminders that this place is old. Nothing brought that home more than visiting the Roman Baths, built in the first century around a hot spring, reinvented and modified over the centuries. It was a vacation/holiday destination in the 18th Century (which is why it’s the setting of Northanger Abbey, the gothic satire written by our beloved authoress, Jane Austen.)
I considered not visiting the Roman Baths, but that was one of the highlights of the city for me. I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to see the interesting and beautifully preserved rooms just beneath street level.
I peeked in the Pump Room, took a walking tour of Bath, marveled at the Royal Crescent. I saw the house of Beau Nash and took pictures of the path mentioned in Persuasion. I stopped short at drinking the water from the Bath spring, however. Frankly, all the descriptions I’d heard made it seem like pretty foul stuff.
Our stop at Stonehenge was surprisingly moving for me. The locals look at Stonehenge tourists with a vague, roll-your-eyes amusement – a kind of “Oh-you-Americans” condescension. They tell you how people used to be able to walk among the stones, but now you can only walk around them with a ton of other people who are walking around them. Big deal.
What they don’t understand is, Stonehenge is probably the oldest evidence of civilization I’ll ever see in my lifetime (unless I go someplace like Egypt or China one day.) In America, we have natural sites that are ancient: the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Appalachian Mountains, etc. Perhaps some Native American artifacts and sites that are older than the 1600s. But we don’t have ancient structures like Stonehenge. And what a structure it is! Mysterious and timeless, standing out in the middle of nowhere, bold as brass. Makes you feel simultaneously insignificant and relevant, as if you are a tiny speck belonging to something huge—the great march of time.
Although the train ride north to the Peaks was arduous (that’s what you get when you travel during the Rugby World Cup, and half of green-shirted Ireland is trying to get to Cardiff to cheer on their team) the small towns of Buxton, Disley and Bakewell were lovely. We had one of our best meals at a little restaurant in Buxton called Barbarellas, and we enjoyed our stay at the Queen’s Head Hotel. The people in the Midlands were friendly and very kind to us.
As expected, the elegance and wealth displayed at Chatsworth was overwhelming, like the Biltmore on steroids. I can see why Chatsworth is believed by many to be Ms. Austen’s inspiration for Pemberley.
The gardens at Lyme Park (the setting for the exterior of Pemberley in the BBC 1995 miniseries – yes, the one with Colin Firth) were meticulously gorgeous, even in October.
Being a small town girl, this section of the trip was where I felt the most at home. The scenery is breath-taking on the edge of the Cotswolds and in the Peak District. I loved my time in London (as you’ll see in the next post), but the small towns and countryside in the west and the north really stole my heart.