Inside England - Volume 1

Summer 2004


There are many ways to experience a country. You can pay someone to haul you around in boats and buses and point you at things they think are worth seeing, or you can do it on your own. The obvious attractions can be found in tour books, where the number of pages dedicated to a particular offering could indicate its desirability (or importance). Here I describe blending, a process of experiencing subtle and delightful offerings of a culture, many of which would be impractical, if not impossible, to include in tourguides. Even so, as I describe specific experiences that I found extremely enjoyable and/or interesting, this is not recommendation to repeat exactly what I did, which is probably impossible anyway. This is a recommendation to try a process that will allow you to discover and enjoy your own experiences. Opportunities are limitless and everywhere.

Blending is an extension of the WWT, DoWhaLDo (Do What Locals Do) principle. Vacations are for relaxing, extreme pleasure, enlightenment, and for revival, although maybe not all in the same trip. Visit the standard tourist attractions. Squirm shoulder to shoulder through millions of natives, beggars, and tourists to see the Taj Mahals of the world, but don't wait until you have seen everything you are supposed to see before experiencing things that a tourist is not supposed to see. The places one rarely hears about, places that are rarely seen by tourists, are just as delightful and almost certainly more relaxing. Look for them and enjoy them. They are everywhere. The absence of tourists is one of the reasons why they are so special.

Like most countries, England has many wonderful sights. A lady seated in behind us at the theater told her friend about a trip she had just completed to England. "How long were you there?" her friend asked.

"Oh, well, we were there for 10 days." was her proud reply, imagining 10 days in one country is a lot for an American. What did you see during your visit?" was the next question.

"We saw everything except Stonehenge," was the reply.

I would guess that most Americans, even those who have been to England more than once, have little idea how much England has to offer the adventuresome traveler. And I am sure that this statement applies to almost any country. I visited England many times before finally discovering what are, for me, the most enjoyable experiences the country offers. They include such entities as: Public Footpaths, Open Gardens, Cathedrals, Churches, Festivals, Canals, Morris Dancers, Marketplaces, Stately homes, Villages, ruins, and Scarecrow Festivals.

People develop and invent unique pastimes to entertain themselves, some related to the history, religion, geography, and climate, and some with no obvious origin. Therefore, they are usually unique to one place, one of a kind, and not exactly what one could see anywhere else. Experiences designed by and usually available only to the residents can be enjoyed by the adventure seeking tourist who has extra time to explore and who knows the process. Bound up in such experiences are the culture as well as the environment; they are the very heart of a society.

A short cut in the process lies in meeting, making friends with, or being lucky enough to have relatives in other countries, and then joining in with them. Except for the obvious problem in timing, one can visit friends and relatives and simply go along with them. Another way is to take up residence for a few months, although most people cannot afford the time or expense until they approach retirement. Many home swapping programs exist that make this possible. Building friendships in foreign countries and maintaining these over many years is yet another. Lacking these short cuts, local libraries, newspapers, and the Internet are alternatives. Once the process begins, you will find yourself continually stumbling onto interesting attractions.

Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs)

One of the best ways to visit villages and even large cities is to use the ubiquitous Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs), which are especially good in England. They cost less and are often better than even the finest hotels, and they are everywhere. One method, although a bit risky, is to start looking for B&B signs when you arrive in a place you would like to stay. Even though I have never met disaster with this procedure, I admit being anxious a few times.

The Internet makes the process more plannable, since many B&Bs are now listed and make reservations by Internet. One can rent a room or even an entire house just about anywhere in England. The people are friendly, and best of all, the locals always have suggestions for taking in the special local attractions. Take advantage of the fact that people who run the B&Bs love to help you enjoy yourself with a personal touch. It is their profession and they like to feel they are providing a good service. If you cannot stay with a friend or relative, a B&B is the next best thing, and sometimes even better.

Pauline and I are extremely fortunate in that our British friends often invite us to spend an evening with them in their homes when we are in their neighborhood (as we do if they visit Bedfordshire or California). This provides an immediate resource of local information. Local events include antique and art shows, open gardens, Morris Dancers, air shows, glow worm hunts, music festivals, and so on. We even went to a Scarecrow Contest where the residents of a village compete to design and display in their yards the best scarecrow. Seriously, this could catch on.

Public Footpaths

The Public Footpath is a wonderful concept in England, which the British take so much for granted that they rarely even brag about them. Even tour books pay little attention to them. No such thing exists in the United States, so we have no concept of the meaning of the ubiquitous, wooden "Public Footpath" signs. In the USA we have great nature trails, regional and National Hiking trails, and parks, but nothing resembling a Public Footpath.

One reason for this is that we don't have villages in the same sense as England. England is crisscrossed by many thousands of miles of well-marked Public Footpaths that connect many thousands of tiny villages sprinkled across the country.

One can walk from one village to any other over these paths, most of which have existed for hundreds of years and which farmers are required by law to maintain. All fences are equipped with gates and stiles, and footbridges cross the rivers and streams. The designs of these structures are as varied as one can imagine and some have their own trademarks. Some of the bridges are an experience to cross. If you have your lady with you, don’t forget to take advantage of the "kissing" gates. Trap her in there and don’t let her pass without paying the price.

Kissing Gate on a Public Footpath-Trap your lady and extract the toll.


One could never run out of interesting footpaths that lead through tiny villages, woods, streams, past colorful pubs, ancient churches, thatched roof homes, windmills, canals, and historical sites. One is never far from such a path anywhere in England.

One hundred meters from our Flitwick home a public footpath passes through the Two Moors National Trust Reserve to the villages of Greenfield (one mile) and on to Flitton (another half mile) and beyond. The path follows the River Flit, which is lined by comfrey, foxgloves, the ever-present stinging nettles, and dozens of other wildflowers. Along the way one passes a few pubs, thatched roof houses, a mausoleum, a medieval church, and Pussy Pond (Don’t ask me why they call it Pussy Pond). In August you can stop along the way and pick and eat plump blackberries so prolific that they literally weigh down the vines.

Flitwick Moor Public Footpath-I painted this scene.


Blackberries in Flitwick Moor-Eat them right off the vine, but not down lower than a dog can pee.


Flitton-Along the Two Moors Public Footpath. Notice the thatched roof. I am standing by the White Hart Pub and the Flitton Church and Mausoleum.


Watch out, however, for the stinging nettles. This plant is unlike anything we have in America. All you have to do is touch it and a crystal of formic acid attaches to your skin and burns like hell. I once dropped a blackberry into a patch of nettles. That is the last time I will ever attempt to recover a dropped blackberry. Nettles are, strangely enough, good to eat, if you pick them with gloves and cook the hell out of them. As you would guess, every year there are stinging nettles eating contests in which contestants eat these things raw.

Keep a sharp lookout and you may see a montjac, a small version of a deer about the size of a big dog.

A few miles south of Flitwick is the village of Sharpenhoe. Towering above are the Sharpenhoe Clappers, named after the French for rabbit warren. This public footpath provides a great vantage point to look over Bedfordshire. From this trail one could observe a crop circle that had magically appeared in a wheat field below.

Jimbo and Jim Walking the Sharpenhoe Clappers


A few years ago a public footpath was opened that follows Hadrian's Wall from coast to coast, about 70 miles. You can walk for days along the ruins of a 2000-year-old wall and occasionally pass forts and other more complex structures from the Roman era. You also pass other villages, churches, bridges and beautiful scenery.

A coastal footpath follows the coast for hundreds of miles, and almost any section of it provides walkers with magnificent views. Along the Devon and Cornwall coasts are some of the most stunning views in England. Around Tintagel is one of my favorites. Such walks pass windmills ranging from the modern to the medieval.

Whether passing from one village to the next, through the moors, dales, and forests, the public footpaths are one of the most amazing offerings of England free for all to enjoy. One does not need to walk for many miles in any single outing. Thousands of one or two hour loop walks provide a delightful array of sights. In 2004 a new law, the CROW or Citizen Rights of Way, was passed giving people even more access to lands, not necessarily limited to the public footpaths. Land Barons and large land owners fought this in the courts but ultimately lost. One notable loser was Madonna, the singer, who did not want her privacy invaded.

Local libraries and tourist offices usually have maps or books that identify and recommend the most colorful public footpaths. The Internet is a good resource if you can get past the marketing traps. However, nothing beats the advice of a local walker.

The British Canal System

Another British phenomenon is the system of picturesque man made canals, which crisscross the country, punctuated with thousands of manually operated locks. Originally built during the industrial revolution for transportation of cargo, the canals are now maintained largely for pleasure. In England one is never far from a canal, and a public footpath accompanies most of the canals. Canals and public footpaths are two major, unique features of England that are rarely a part of the typical tourist itinerary and that are delightful to experience.

Heading into the lock-Two boats at a time in this one.


Passing through the locks-It is all done by hand.


The canals support an entire community of long boat owners passing back and forth through hundreds of locks. Watching the boats go through the locks, or better yet, assisting with the lock gates and watching tons of water raise or lower a boat 5 to 10 feet to the next level is great fun. And of course, the ultimate is to make a journey on one of the long boats.

Lichfield and Ticknall

Pauline and I have enjoyed some events so much that we return each year to repeat the experience. One such event is the Lichfield Music Festival, which takes place in July. Our friends John and Patti, who live in nearby Ticknall, introduced us to this festival. It takes place in the Lichfield Cathedral and also surrounding churches. For an entire week each year, small symphony orchestras and chamber music groups put on a variety of shows. What a wonderful way to experience music, in a medieval cathedral; the acoustics are amazing. During the intermission, members of the various organizations serve drinks in tents on the cathedral lawn. Concomitant with the music festival is an art festival, put on by local artists, also in the cathedral.

Some of these occasions feature well-known musicians and actors. For example in one evening event, Sir Alan Bates, a famous English actor, read a Tolstoy story to a background of music.

John and Patti always enhance our experience with the local flavor. They share with us not only their home and friends but also their talents, and canal long boat, on which John graciously hosts trips and meals. It’s fun to watch other boats working their way through the locks, but doing it yourself is the ultimate. The scenery along the canals is also interesting, and one can quickly feel the camaraderie of the long boat community. For some reason the boats tend to bunch up around the pubs.

Dinner on the Long Boat


The Dales of Yorkshire and Lancashire

I think I must have first learned about Dales from our visits with our friend, Margaret, who lives in the village of Micklethwaite near Bradford in Yorkshire. She has guided us along delightful walks in Yorkshire and Lancashire. In June 2004, we joined Margaret and drove to the Northwest coast along narrow roads through the countryside to Morecambe Bay. In Bolton-le-Sands we linked up with a mutual artist friend, Chris, with a plan for walking the Lancashire Dales. Morecombe Bay, in addition to being beautiful, is notorious for its quicksand traps and dangerous tides. Many people have lost their lives after being caught up in them.

Every turn presents a potential painting subject, and my temptation is always to stop and break out watercolors. Christine’s artistic virtuosity provided me an especially high concentration of pleasure, since her artistic interests matched mine. Just walking around her lovely home with walls covered with watercolors of local scenery told me this was an artist’s heaven.

From Chris’ home one can choose trails along the coastline, the canal, and nearby Dales for astonishing walks. Our longest walk was from the village of Millthrop to Dent in the Yorkshire Dales, about a six-mile walk. As we drove through the Dale to reach our starting point the increasing numbers of hikers along the roadways told me that this was something special. Everywhere in England is near a beautiful walk; when British walkers drive for hours to do a walk, you can guarantee that it will be something really special.

British friends teased me for years before I learned how to distinguish villages, towns, and cities. A typical village in England has one pub, a store, and a dozen houses and sometimes a church. The church is likely to be a thousand years old and worth a visit. Villages have names like "Little Snoring" or "Nether Wallop", and are usually surrounded by farms and woods. The ability of the British to maintain the countryside atmosphere is absolutely amazing. You could never guess that the population density in England is actually larger than most countries. Unfortunately, the automobile explosion and the gridlock on the narrow roads belies the country atmosphere. Automobiles have really screwed up our world almost everywhere.

Entering the tiny village of Milthrop, we left our car, and immediately photographed a most beautiful garden in front of an old stone house before leaving the road to follow the public footpath that crossed a wheat field. The next six miles presented an always-changing view of hills, streams, agriculture, flowers, cattle and sheep. We stopped for a picnic along a stream, and devoured what had to be the best sandwiches ever made, before continuing along the river to Dent. A farmer in a nearby field was harvesting wheat, and birds flocked along behind him, apparently capturing the exposed insects. Dent is a medieval village, which is known for its "Terrible knitters of Dent" (Terrible meant terribly good), who apparently produced classic designs that were coveted by many people. After a midafternoon tea in the local teashop, Chris’s brother arrived as previously agreed and took us back to our car at Milthrop.

Front Garden in Milthrop


On Sunday, while the others attended church I elected to walk along the canal to sit and paint an especially picturesque scene that Chris had pointed me to on the canal. As I painted, I imagined that the only thing that could have made this better picture would be a little boy with fishing pole projecting over the canal. Even as the thought persisted and I had some doubts that these canals even supported fishing, the universe dealt me another one of those special moments that make me wonder how much we create our own environment.

A young boy walked up and asked me if he would disturb me by fishing in the exact spot where I had imagined placing him in the painting. He could have chosen any spot along a hundred miles of canal, but he chose this exact spot. I immediately added him into the painting.

Bolten Le Sands -I painted this scene. The fisherman showed up later, so I added him.


Kettlewell and Surroundings

Two great hikes in Yorkshire followed the river from Burnsall to Grassington and a five mile loop trail that began and ended at the village of Malham. Nearby lay the village of Kettlewell where the movie "Calendar Girls" was filmed so we could not resist a visit there. I think that we were the only car in the village. We parked immediately in front of the town hall, where the ladies had met in the movie, and we walked to the corner teashop, which in reality is a gift shop. A scarecrow contest was underway in the surrounding area. The church at Kettlewell was another treat. There are so many footpaths in Yorkshire we will not run out of places to hike and most of them are worth a second go.

Public Footpath from Burnsall to Grassington-Another painting done here.


Kettlewell-This was the tea shop in the movie "Calendar Girls"


Malham Cove-The village of Malham is at the end of the trail you can see below.


The Cathedrals of England

The people of England have been building cathedrals for over a thousand years, and in spite of Henry VIII, who destroyed many of them in the mid fifteen hundreds, about 50 magnificent cathedrals still exist. I found a deck of cards with 48 cathedrals to measure my quest. By summer 2004 I had logged up 20 cathedrals scattered over England.

It is really hard to say which are my favorites because each of them is my favorite. Each one has a character of its own . Some people consider Lincoln Cathedral to be the most spectacular. When we visited Lincoln, we managed to join a special tour of the rafters that took us through the bell tower, the rafters, and even out on the cathedral roof. I saw parts of a cathedral I had never seen before. The old city and castle around the cathedral definitely add to the overall ambiance.

Lincoln Cathedral from the Town Square


Wells Cathedral has some of the most spectacular sculpture outside, unique rock steps and architecture inside and an ancient clock that features a black and white knight fighting every hour. For over five hundred years the white Knight has managed to win every time.

Wells Cathedral-Outside Sculpture


Salisbury Cathedral contains one of the best versions of the Magna Carta as well as one of the oldest clocks in existence. (And Stonehenge is nearby.) Beneath the church tower the floor is marked at the tower center position showing how much it has drifted around over the centuries. Some of the seat-of-the-pants construction rules in those days were not adequate and towers have been known to collapse.

One should not simply walk into a cathedral and look around and leave. A good cathedral should be savored with several visits at varying times of day. One should sit in and around them and contemplate their beauty and history. These are massive structures constructed by thousands of workers sometimes over hundreds of years. Imagine cutting and moving these massive stones completely by hand. Within the cathedrals are ancient artifacts, bones, tombs, catacombs, jewels, paintings, sculpture, books, and spirits.

Like icing on the cake, all of these cathedrals have tearooms that must be visited and treated like palate fresheners. Some of them feature homemade cakes produced by volunteers who act as servers. Hopefully, this delightful treat will not be eliminated by our litigious societies attempt to eliminate all risk of danger or using mishaps to enrich our lawyers and ourselves. (Some noises have been made about outlawing home made treats from public access.) I always try the home made cakes, and I haven’t been poisoned yet.

Even those religious establishments that Henry the Eighth destroyed are worth visiting in the form of ruins. Glastonbury is a good example. When the Bishop of Glastonbury failed to cooperate with Henry, Henry had him murdered, mounted his head at the town gate, cut up his body, sent bits of it all over the country as a warning and destroyed a magnificent Abbey. The abbey grounds contain well-preserved ruins of many buildings and graves, one of which is claimed to be that of King Arthur. Of course, this is not the only place claiming to have King Arthur’s remains. To be completely fair to Henry, the blokes running the Abbeys were not always saints themselves.

England is covered with such ruins of Abbeys, Castles, and forts. A little imagination is all it takes to enjoy hours hanging out in these places, and they are rarely crowded with tourists.

Glastonbury Abbey Ruins- Henry the Eighth’s contribution


Near Glastonbury is Glastonbury Tor, a tower atop a local hill. The climb up the hill is not for wimps, but the view on top is well worth the climb.

Glastonbury Tor-Not a climb for Wimps


Many of the villages are blessed with ancient churches that date back through the centuries. Pauline always looks for angels in churches in paintings, sculptures and carvings. Some of the churches are widely known for ancient wood -carved angels in the church roofs. In South Creake, a small village near Fakenham, we found two churches that had especially exciting angels built into the vault. These angels are over 400 years old.

Angels in the Rafters of South Creake Church


The Norfolk Coast

The Norfolk coasts are filled with wonderful sights, including seaside villages, The Broads, and the City of Norwich. We stayed in various quarters including a B&B in the village of Blakeney, a rented house, and the Maidenhead Hotel in Norwich, immediately adjacent to the cathedral. We found all of these on the Internet.

The Broads are hundreds of manmade lakes that resulted from peat mining pits dug hundreds of years ago and subsequently filled by high tides. This part of England has turned into a boating community that reminds me much of Florida. Surrounding the lakes are swamp like areas filled with unusual birds and plants. Wooden footpaths have been constructed in many of these bogs, providing a never-ending adventure through swamps and lakes. The paths also contain hides, where one can wait to observe birds that may land nearby.

Ranworth Broad, Norfolk


Many picturesque villages dot the broads, and also windmills that were used to pump the water out of the bogs . At the ancient Ranworth church, we climbed the church tower and found a breathtaking panorama…...and a wonderful teashop. The pub at Ranworth offered a great lunch and a pint of bitter that tasted even better after the climb.

Horsey Mill, Norfolk-Another painting.



Althorp is the stately home of Charles Spencer, the Earl of Althorp, pronounced "Althrop". More recently, as well as more famously, it is the burial place of Princess Diana. As of 2004, one can still visit, during the summer months, special exhibits at Althorp memorializing Diana, the home, and the burial place. Charles Spencer, himself, often hangs out at the memorial and signs copies of his books. On our visit we had the honor to speak with him as we collected his autograph. The place was not crowded and was a very pleasant, tasteful experience.

Althorp-Diana, Princess of Wales Burial Site


Aragon Days

Practically every village and town in England calls itself the "Historic Village of ….....". Apparently this is possible because given enough time, someone or something major will show up everywhere sooner or later. England had kings, queens, Vikings, Romans, wars, and so on all over the country, so if one showed up in a village, it can be called "historic". We checked in on the town of Ampthill to participate in its Aragon Days Celebration. Ampthill was the home of Ampthill Castle where Catherine of Aragon stayed during part of her marriage to Henry the Eighth. The celebration included musicians, dressed in period costumes and even Henry the Eighth, himself and Catherine of Aragon. They cut a ribbon on the reopening of the Greensand Ridge public footpath that had been refurbished.

The ribbon cutting was followed by a walk along the refurbished footpath past Houghton House (the "House Beautiful" of John Bunyan fame) to the next village of Maulden, where tea was served in an ancient church. As a special treat, a church bell ringers group gave us a tour of the bell tower and a demonstration of bell ringing while we were in the tower. Behind the church we visited the Mausoleum and saw the tomb of relatives of Robert the Bruce.

I have described a few ways to blend, to get inside a country, to know the very heart of a culture,………………… but I saved the very best way, the one I found the most effective, for the end of this installment. The very best way is to find yourself a gorgeous and wonderful native, take her walking on one of the public footpaths, enter a kissing gate, and keep her there until she agrees to marry you.


Gate to the 12th Century St. Peter and St. Paul Church where our wedding was blessed.



Coming Soon




Morris Dancers


Open Gardens