We disembarked from the ferry and set tire on soggy English soil in the rain. It was evening and we woke a campground owner negotiating our way into a site since, for the first time in a long while we spoke the language! Thus, England began very pleasantly for us.
The rain never let up for long as we pushed north to London through deep muddy paths, spent a few days seeing the city, rode northwest to Oxford where it drizzled a bit more, and headed for the Welsh border, where we narrowly avoided catastrophic flooding purely by luck.
England had its wettest June since 1766, and the seemingly permanent damp-wool aura lingering around us is a testament to that. But though it was pouring more often than not, the English seemed in good spirits. We camped in a campground only that first night. All other nights we slept in farmer’s fields, or were welcomed into stranger’s homes. We found the English to be sweet and loquacious hosts, and over-dinner conversations often ran late into the night. We’d drag ourselves out of our sleeping bags the next morning and set off into the bleak day grateful for the evening’s warmth.
Even with 5.7 inches of rain falling in one month, we had little flashes of sunlight that showed off the gardens and pastoral landscapes that the country is famous for. The most surprising thing about England was the feeling that someone owns every little inch of the country. There are plenty of vast spaces, but they’re all surrounded by towering hedges of the same variety that lined the country roads we pedaled.
England felt like a postcard of England: straight and trimmed hedges, blooming rose gardens, and neat little boats flitting down the Thames. Imposing estates loomed behind iron gates and the flag was ubiquitous (though we were told these were either in tribute to the Queen’s Jubilee and in preparation for the impending Olympics).
We’ve been traveling slowly because my knee isn’t fully recovered, and this paired with the less-than-ideal weather gave us the opportunity to visit some of indoor England. We were especially taken with the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford that (rather splashily) showed off England’s rich history of science and curiosity.
As the country gears up for the Olympics, much talk/criticism has been devoted to the weather and the infrastructure. Although it will likely be damp, the palpable sense of cultural identity and the breadth of history that is underfoot in literally every piece of the country more than makes up for the cruddy weather.