Thursday, 23 May 2013

"O, to be in England, now that April's there..."

[My wife and I recently, and briefly, returned to the UK after 16 months enjoyable "exile" in the Falkland Islands, which are 400 miles east of South America; and 600 miles north of Antarctica.  Flowers, trees and song-birds are in short supply here, so it was with some anticipation we looked forward to seeing and hearing the signs of an English Spring again.  I know many readers of this blog live in the UK, but, apart from the UK and US, many readers are from Germany, Romania, the Philippines, Turkey, Pakistan and Brazil, so may not be aware of the delights of the English countryside!

As you may know, this week's title comes from Robert Browning's "Home Thoughts, from Abroad", which seemed to sum up many of the pleasures of visiting the UK in April/May.  I've reproduced it at the end of this blog.]
Falkland's escort sees us off....
In the previous blog, I described our short stay on Ascension Island en route to the UK.  After 4 days there, we boarded the next north-bound plane to RAF Brize Norton, the base from where Falkland's flights operate.  (They also fly to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan....)
Fruit & veg stall, Teddington, Richmond, Surrey.
Soon after arrival, after a relaxing 9-hour flight, we were speeding along the Oxford bypass.  Well, I felt we were speeding.  I was doing 60mph, more than I had done for 16 months on the Falklands, but everyone was overtaking me.   And unlike on the Falklands, no-one was giving a cheery wave as they passed....

A welcome sight...
But soon, we were in more familiar stomping grounds.  Since we'd left Teddington in January 2012, some new additions to the landscape, such as a fruit and vegetable stall and a gold post box, had appeared.  The fresh veg was a welcome sight, as were the prices - about 75% less than those in the Falklands!!
Gold post box, Teddington
The post box has been repainted in a tribute to local Olympic hero, Mo Farah, and even the FARA charity shop had changed its name in his honour!  Mo used to train in the local parks....
Nordic Walking at Hampton Court Palace.
As I met up with old friends, I was often asked what life was like in the Falklands, and what I missed about the UK....
Swan nesting in Bushy Park, Richmond.
Apart from friends and relatives, I knew that I missed the tree-filled parks around where I used to live.  Richmond Park is famous, but Bushy and Home Parks, adjacent to Hampton Court Palace, are also stunning.
Park parakeet - exotic resident.
So - we missed people, trees and the vast choice of restaurants!  One pub in the Cotswolds had a menu of about 20 different dishes, all with asparagus, which was in its brief season.
The asparagus season was at its height
A couple of night's stay in the Cotswold Hills reminded us of how beautiful the rolling English countryside could be....

A feature of the British countryside, that we don't enjoy in the Falklands, are the miles and miles of excellent footpaths.  Endless routes can be explored, without worrying too much about navigation skills.
New Cotswold stone wall
The Cotswolds Hills (for those of you who don't know about them) are rightly a popular walking area, with lots of "chocolate-box" villages, hills, valleys, streams, and an abundance of lovely country pubs.
Walkers meet rider and horse
The hills are made of a beautifully-coloured limestone, which makes a stunning building material.  Most of the cottages are built of Cotswold stone, which weathers to a mellow honey colour.
40-mile views to Malvern Hills and beyond.
Rising to around 1,000 feet, the hills afford views across southern England, and to Wales in places.
Apple blossom.
One aspect of a British Spring that I used to take for granted is the abundance of blossom.  We walked around orchards full of apple trees in full bloom.  I even tried a bottle of local cider...
Cotswold cottage
The village we stayed in was a typical Cotswold place - ancient cottages built when wool provided wealth for the region, but now a quiet backwater, populated by escapees from city life.
Cotswold village
Built on the side of a steep hill, our village had no through traffic, so was very quiet.  But it did have a pub on the hill which provided views across 7 counties!

Another pub we visited, this time in Yorkshire, had a Infallible Weather stone outside it.  Seems to be as reliable as most weather predictions, as far as I can see!  Boynton's Infallible Weather Stone (at the Nag's Head, North Yorkshire), viz: 

"If rock is wet - it's raining
If rock is white - it's snowing
If rock is moving - it's windy
If rock is casting a shadow - it's sunny
If rock is hard to see - it's foggy
If rock is warm - it's warm out
If rock is cold - it's cold out...!"

"Yorkshiremen are never wrong."  Hmmmm.
From Yorkshire, we headed north to Scotland, my birthplace, and crossed the border at Carter Bar, where a piper greets travellers!  Perhaps in years to come, border controls and passport checks will be done here.... I wonder how the referendum on Scottish independence next year will go?  There is now an added complication with the possibility of a UK referendum on whether to stay in the EU or not.
Walking onto the Arran ferry.  The gangplank was missing!
Will Scots vote to remain within the UK, and then find themselves being taken out of the EU by a majority of voters elsewhere in the UK?    Who can say?  You don't see a Referendum for years and then three come along at once (the Falkland Islands recently had one.)
Floral display in Brodick, Isle of Arran.
In Scotland, I briefly re-visited the Island of Arran - a great place for relaxing and enjoying the outdoors.  A frequent ferry service transports passengers and vehicles the 12 miles from the mainland to the capital, Brodick.
Local shop with an international outlook
Brodick is a large village, strung along a sheltered bay, and has plenty of amenities, but retains a laid-back atmosphere.  People find themselves slowing down after arrival and getting used to "Arran time".
The bank goes to its customers
Here, the bank comes to you, and honesty boxes can be found for everything from duck food to home-baking to golf courses.  You are trusted to be honest, and that reminded me a lot of the Falklands.
Hopeful duck.....
There may be other parallels with the Falklands. Many Falkland Islanders keep ducks and hens.  Perhaps visiting tourists can be persuaded to pay for duck food in Stanley?  
Catching up with  friends and relatives in the UK!
By the way, when we visited Scotland, the blossom was only beginning to emerge.  So, it seemed to be about 3-4 weeks behind its normal schedule.  I now read that the UK has had its coldest Spring for 40 years.  A number of friends commented that their recent winter seemed to last for 6 months.  They, too, had been uplifted by the arrival of Spring, in the shape of blossom!

All too soon, we were heading back to RAF Brize Norton, for the long flight south to the Falklands.  Next time, I'll report on what it's like to travel from Autumn in the southern Hemisphere, to Spring in the north, and back to Winter, in the space of four weeks!

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoy your Summer!


Home Thoughts, from Abroad

O, TO be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!



  1. Thanks for the tour of lovely parts of the UK. I have been enjoying on TV shows about the English countryside and other on the coasts of Britain. They are interesting and lovely.

  2. You're welcome, TPitS!

    The UK has some beautiful countryside, I agree. If you, or anyone else, have any questions (or suggestions) on this blog, please let me know.

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