Yorkshire, England 3/11/2010
Stepping down the stairs of the plane onto the runway of the small Leeds/Bradford airport, I smile to be back in England. My good, fellow book-loving friend, Becca, is there to meet me outside. In addition, our friend Kirsty will be taking the train over from Manchester to spend the next couple days with us. We have all been part of a lovely, little book club group of 16 over the last couple years, but seeing as how they’re here in Britain, we haven’t yet crossed paths. How wonderful to final meet them in person! All it takes is a mere hop across the Atlantic. 😉 Once at the car, I first attempt to jump in on the wrong side of the car, which is the right side, momentarily forgetting the English drive on the opposite side. This happens more than one during my short stay in Yorkshire.
Becca, the ultimate hostess, has prepared lovely plans for our day and spirits me away to enjoy a taste of my favorite things in England… grand manors and castles, cozy book shops, quaint villages, and the beautiful countryside. We accidentally take a long residential detour before Becca realizes she accidentally input the postcode for Wembley London instead of the castle in Harrogate. I had just been telling her about my recent travels to London and how I can’t wait to go back; perhaps she was trying to make it happen today! 😉
Passing by the airport again, we’re soon driving through the oh-so lovely English Countryside. Green rolling hills, with houses and small clustered towns spread throughout. I notice the long stretches of stone walls, which naturally recalls the Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall.” Kirsty later tells me about an ancient law that still exists mandating that you rebuild a stone wall if you knock it down. What’s interesting about the walls is the patterns are completely random and sporadic; they aren’t blocking off anything except open land. Not even livestock. After commenting, Becca tells me the landowners used to sell small plots of land, hence the walls. I find the random “higgledy-piggledy” (I finally got it right, Becca! No more ‘piggly wiggly’ for me. ) patterns are more charming than our square blocks of fields in America, but being a bit of an anglophile, I find charm in most things British.
After some driving, we arrive at the 700 year old Ripley Castle in Harrogate. 700 years old, and I’ve never heard of it… just another of the thousands of castles in Great Britain! Ripley Castle is and has always been home to the Ingilby family, dating back to the 15th century. It’s currently owned by Sir Thomas, of the 28th generation. Impressive! Imagine have a family history so easily traced back! We start by exploring the grounds. The sun is out, so it’s actually not freezing. Here I stand with a perfectly preserved castle behind me as I gaze across the lake to the endless plane of green dotted with trees and small pathways. Suddenly, images of British Period films and Victorian novels come to mind. I imagine noble ladies with parasols “taking the air” in the gardens. I have these thoughts a lot in England.
Becca and I hang out for a bit getting to know each other better while admiring the view. Despite being long-distance, I feel like I’ve known her for ages! We both share a passion for books, history and travel so there is much to talk about. We discuss the American melting-pot heritage; how so many of us are an assorted blend of European cultures. I’m English, Irish, German, and French on just my mother’s side. It’s hard to imagine the solid heritage of a country over five times as old as my own.
Eventually we stroll inside just as a gentleman is kicking-off a guided tour of the castle. He is so knowledgeable that I enjoy myself immensely! I learn the Ingilby family still lives in the upper section of the castle, leaving parts of the bottom open for visitors. The family has served British royalty, including the fascinating Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I. This castle has also hosted Oliver Cromwell… as an overnight prisoner! I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you my excited ramblings about the Tudors and British history in general. I did mention I was an anglophile, no?
I continue to be enthralled by the history that all happened where I’m standing. I love this about Europe, and never fail to experience awe when standing in places where endless history occurred, especially when it’s locations of my favorite periods of history. (Ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and Tudor England). I enjoy the rest of the tour and afterwards Becca and I troll the gardens and grab a cup of coffee until it’s time to pick up Kirsty at the train station.