Travel Journal

'Get back to where you once belonged'*

(Sunday 2 August 2015) by Mariken
We caved. After we visited Wales, in the rain, we moved to the Peak District, in the rain. We camped in a place called 'Hope', in the rain. From the Peak District we went on to Yorkshire Dales National Park, in the rain, and on to the Lake District, in the pouring rain. Over a cup of nice, hot tea, which we could barely afford, we decided to give in and move back to France.

That wasn't an easy decision. Although we had already seen a lot, there were - and are! - still plenty of places in the UK we wanted to visit. And we had planned to visit Ireland after the UK and we were both looking forward to that. However, we considered that both in terms of weather and costs, Ireland would probably not be any better than the UK. Additionally, we did not want to spoil the positive memories of Ireland we have. Still, we had dreamt of Ireland and the UK for a long time and it is never easy to give up dreams. But most importantly, it felt like failure. Like we aren't capable of dealing with bad weather and equally bad exchange rates. Like we are not true travellers. Defeated by a country we had such high expectations from.

Truth is: we were never really happy in the UK. We had a lovely time with Charlie and Emilio, we saw beautiful places and visited interesting sites, we experienced a lot of friendliness and true hospitality and we even had - at times - good food. So it feels kind of wrong to say that we were not happy, like we are some spoilt children. Rain, however, is not a problem when you have a house or a even a hotel room to go back to, where you can strip off your wet clothes, put them on a heater and take a hot shower followed by a nice cup of hot tea. When you are camping, when there is no way to get dry other than stay in your tent (and then what do you do with your wet clothes?), when the only way to get tea is to sit in the rain to wait for the water to boil, or go to an expensive pub, which is even more expensive for us because of the bad exchange rate (and meaning your clothes will get wet), a month in the UK seems rather long. But obviously it can't be only the weather and the costs, although that has played a significant role.

Somehow, British society is rather schizophrenic. On the one hand there exists the familiar picture of the stiff upper lip, the famed English traditions, sophisticated people who are scrupulously polite and lace every other sentence with 'dear' or 'love', who drink their tea at set times and with their pink lifted. The reality is that this is only true for a very few, selective upper-class people. The majority doesn't know a thing about English traditions, drinks beer in litres rather than tea and does not hold back at all. Many things we regard as quintessential English are not only unaffordable for us, but also for many Brits themselves. Not everyone lives in a cute cottage, drives a Bentley or drinks from Wedgwood cups. There exists an enormous difference between the haves and have-nots, clearly visible in e.g. supermarkets. Try to visit ALDI and Waitrose on the same day and you get the picture. And although the majority of the people is very friendly and hospitable, society as a whole breaths its verdict upon you everywhere: 'Pay and display', or be left out.

They toot the horn about democracy and freedom repeatedly, yet camera-surveillance is everywhere and the list of prohibitions ('no overnight sleeping', 'no parking', 'no turning' etc.) is endless. Wild camping, on the other hand, is allowed, provided you are on public access land. Everywhere you go you see the most ridiculous warning signs, in castles you are warned that ancient monuments can be dangerous (clearly more dangerous than modern monuments), that you can fall off the stairs (which obviously can't happen at home), that you can bump your head etc., in musea they warn you not to lean over a barrier which is 1.40 metre high as you can fall over (if you're 3 metres tall that is), on plastic bags is the warning that as they can cause suffocation, they should be kept away from children (rather than explaining them why it is a stupid idea to put a plastic bag over your head, like I was told when I was still a toddler). The catch is that these warnings are not given out of genuine if somewhat exaggerated concern, but because companies can be held liable if it turns out that people are too stupid to watch their feet or do insane things like climbing over a man-high barrier. I know the Netherlands isn't exactly what you would call a laid-back society, but in many aspects the UK beats us convincingly.

Maybe I am now more negative that the UK deserves. I know every country has its flaws, as every country has good things, and obviously, so has the UK. Despite their reputation of being a culinary wasteland (not my words!) we had delicious Welsh cakes, hearty Scottish oatcakes, lovely mature Cheddar, chocolate in different, interesting flavours, all yummy (thanks, Charlie and Emilio!) and good beer (from a bottle, not from a tap, as they seriously can't tap beer in the UK!). We had some lovely climbing days in different parts of the country, despite us not being able to do proper trad climbing. English landscapes are beautiful, the hedgerows, the sea cliffs, the sedate hills and the mountains and I simply love the quintessential English cottage architecture. The UK still has plenty of wildlife and we have seen deer, pheasants and rabbits in abundance. One night a fox even walked past us and did not look particularly disturbed by our presence. Becoming a member of Cadw (pronounce as 'kadoe'), the Welsh heritage association, allowed us to see many interesting castles in Wales for free. We spent two lovely nights in a B&B in Conwy, where we were invited for a free pizza dinner on the second night, to celebrate the birthday of the son of the owner. That same owner had to do some laundry and offered to do ours as well.

So you see, plenty of positive experiences, but somehow the UK was never our place. And then I think back to what a Welsh mountaineer, aged 80, told us: 'the bravest decision to make is the decision to go back.' So we're back in France. And it feels like home.

*From 'Get Back', by Lennon/McCartney. In the interest of full disclosure: the full text can be found here.

  • Verandering van plannen by Aafke
    • Inderdaad by Mariken
  • Back to continental Europe! by Marije
    • Genieten van Frankrijk by Mariken

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