Across the pond

Grace Berchem

(Photo courtesy of Grace Berchem)

One of the many joys of London life is that the thought of traveling across the country for a weekend getaway does not feel nearly as imposing and daunting as it might in Appleton. London is an amazing and exciting city, but it’s always nice to see another side of things. So after three weeks in London, I decided to head north for a little repose from the hustle and bustle of city life.

I spent my weekend in the Lake District, which is a mere three hours by train. It is well worth the trip for its sheer beauty, complete with green countryside, rolling hills and charming little towns. It was made even better by the limited traffic and general lack of tourists. However, for an English major and self-professed English nerd, my trip to the Lake District felt very much like a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

William and Dorothy Wordsworth famously lived in Grasmere, which is a part of the Lake District. Their home called Dove Cottage was frequented by the likes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas De Quincey. William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” with the famous line “I wandered lonely as a cloud” was written here.

Basically, like most of England, it is steeped in historical significance; England loves the past in a way it is difficult to understand coming from the States. While America is busy reveling in its youth, the English savor old age. I have never seen such commitment to the past and tradition. It is something I have been trying to wrap my mind around since I got here.

Of course, I went to Dove Cottage, the Wordsworth Museum, the Wordsworths’ graves and the wild daffodil garden. I went on a tour of the cottage and the guide relished in things like Wordsworth’s suitcase and the painting of the family dog. It was really very charming and really very English. Dove Cottage is preserved largely as it was when the Wordsworths lived there. They had even insulated the walls of one room with newspaper, which was left completely intact and readable.

While in Grasmere, I felt myself growing nostalgic for a past I was not even a part of. Clearly, I was not alone in this sentiment as the town was going through great pains to cultivate a garden of a certain species of wild daffodils made famous by the aforementioned poem.

Maybe that means I am starting to pick up some English sensibility in regards to the past, but I still have a long way to go. After all, it is difficult for me to fathom any amount of time longer than my own lifetime, let alone a couple hundred years or even thousands of years.

So I suppose I am cultivating my appreciation for the past, but I can’t imagine a better place to do it. In the past week alone, besides the Lake District, I have seen Brougham Castle, Westminster Abbey, Bath and Stonehenge. Of course, that doesn’t even include the places I pass daily like Hyde Park, Kensington Palace and the countless buildings and sites that make up the history of days past. It is a constant living and breathing history lesson; it seems I can’t turn a corner without learning something new.

On the long list of places I need to see while I’m here, Windsor Castle is up next. It is the home of the current queen, Queen Elizabeth II, but has been around for nearly 1,000 years. The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the British Library are just a few places still coming up on that list. I already know that three months is not enough time to get to everything, but I certainly plan on trying. I expect I will continue to be awed and amazed as I try to get my head around thousands of years of history.