Traveling the English Countryside
A Journey Through The English Countryside by Nick Villanueva – A Different Kind of Traveler
Traveling to UK is something I’ve always wanted to do, and while there, of course, you know, visit pubs, drink afternoon tea, see the Queen–in no particular order. However, back then, I never seemed to have the time or enough resources but this time round, I finally did it and went recently. The best part about this whole trip is that, my dear friend, Simon Bush, created an itinerary for me so I didn’t have to make any travel arrangements, as I was clueless on the subject of where to go. So, armed with Simon’s itinerary, all I needed to do was hop on a plane and show up at Heathrow airport.
London, as what some of my British friends would say, is mostly gray and cold. And I love it! One thing I don’t normally practice when I travel is doing the touristy stuff like most people would, because I’ve always thought I am not like most people. However, on this trip, I did just that, in London– all in one day–Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing street, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, London Eye, Harrod’s, Bond Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, London Bridge, Tower Bridge and pubs, of course.
I love the city life, yet I find touring the countryside a lot more interesting with scenic views and fascinating lifestyles, for such an experience I traveled by train to Oxenholme and stayed at this self-catering cottage called A Corner of Eden (www.acornerofeden.co.uk), in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria. A hundred-year-old farmhouse converted into a cottage by its current owner. This self-catering concept is very popular among the Brits and tourists here in the UK. From Kirkby Stephen (from Carlisle) I caught a train going to Settle, intriguingly not a commercial line but a designated tourist route, which will take you along the most scenic route you can ever see from a train ride. The English countryside is full of spectacular sights– the flat brown landscape areas, green slopes and mountains, not to mention countless cattle and sheep. I think I’ve seen enough sheep to count during sleepless nights, to last me a lifetime.
Driving north through M6 was literally a breeze until reaching Edinburgh, a city of contrasts, a Georgian new town with an old-world medieval feel. My stay in Edinburgh was only for a couple of days, so I decided to do another touristy thing and saw the Royal Yacht Brittania; a decommissioned royal yacht of her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II, from 1954 to 1997. And while in Edinburgh, of course, I had to try the traditional haggis, tatties and neeps, the best one I’ve had at a place called The Witchery by the Castle (www.thewitchery.com), a quirky boutique hotel with a lavish, Gothic dining room.
We drove further north to Ullapool through Inverness, to reach the Scottish Highlands. On the way up, I literally experienced all kinds of weather–sun, rain, snow–while inside the car. Oh, I saw Loch Ness, and it wasn’t scary at all, because there was no real monster. We stayed at this quiet B&B called Ceilidh Place (www.theceilidhplace.com) in the small town of Ullapool (surprisingly in the surrounding areas of Wester Ross—does that place sound familiar?), where I had the most wonderful seafood meals and the best selection of single malt whiskies originating from the islands, lowlands and highlands. And I was lucky to see The Dalmore distillery in Alness at some point. Let me tell you, I had never seen snow before, until one night when I was standing outside the B&B in freezing cold weather (about -1 degree Celcius), and those white things started descending from the sky. At first, it was rain and snow (sleet as they call it), then suddenly there were hailstones. It didn’t bother me at all, I was actually quite happy to be there in the middle of it because at that moment, I felt like a little kid again.
There is one beautiful remote spot which I will never forget in Scottish Highlands called Achiltibuie, where the gorgeous snow-capped mountains meet the beach waters leading to the Summer Isles. It is also in these nearby islands where the Harris Tweed comes from, the cloth made from pure virgin wool, hand-woven, dyed and spun by the islanders of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Only then can it be called genuine Harris Tweed. My friend said it is world-renowned and one of a kind, so I got myself a scarf, apparently a very expensive Harris Tweed scarf.
On the way back to London, we took the Caledonian Sleeper from Inverness to London St. Pancras station. I have to say, I had not tried a sleeper train before, and this one was almost very pleasant. After arriving in London, there was no time to waste as we had to take the Great Western Railway from Paddington station to Penzance en route to Cornwall, the Western most tip of the Southwest British peninsula. From the train station, we drove a few miles to get to this B&B/pub called Gurnard’s Head (www.gurnardshead.co.uk), where some of the best meals I’ve had during this trip came out from this kitchen. Speaking of food again, while in Cornwall, you have to pay a visit to Rick Stein’s Seafood restaurant in Padstow and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall by the beach. Both served simple and very good food. And I was very happy.
I thought I had already taken a lot of trains during this entire trip, but I had to take one last sleeper train back to London, before heading back to reality. My final full day in London was spent doing things most quintessentially English. I had the most amazing afternoon tea at The Goring (www.thegoring.com) in Belgravia, with traditional tea, perfect sandwiches, and delectable scones with a dollop of jam and yes, lots of clotted cream. On a full stomach, we headed to Victoria Palace Theater to see Billy Elliot, the musical. It was a very good production, a testament to British talent. We ended the night with some pints and a whisky or two at a pub nearby. I sipped my last drink and I know I will miss this. I’d saved the best for last indeed.