Published in Red Deer Express, October 5, 2011
No one told me I was going to visit a piece of heaven, but that is what I discovered.
I’ve watched the Jane Austen films; heard of the Bronte sisters’ brilliance; tackled some Shakespeare; and conquered one Charles Dickens book, but after living in England it’s only a drop in the bucket to describe the beauty that exists. Being a photographer and writer I’ve tried to capture landscapes and places, but there are some things in life you just need to experience for yourself to truly appreciate.
Riding the train into North Yorkshire that Sunday afternoon I was excited for all that the next few days could entail. A friend had connected me with a lovely couple and they were letting me stay for a few days in their home in a small village called Ripley. When the tall white haired gentleman dressed in a grey suit and tie picked me up, and shook my hand warmly, I knew I was in good hands. We’ll call them Edward and Anna.
As we drove home I marveled at the lush grassy hills of Yorkshire littered with happy fat sheep and dairy cows navigating the pasture with their mouths.
When we arrived at their 1750’s home in Ripley, Anna greeted me warmly and asked if I would like some tea. Edward showed me to my room – fit with two single beds, a large window and a massive fireplace. We then proceeded to the front room, parlor if you will, for tea and biscuits.
And thus began the learning of each other. Over the next three days we talked over multiple coffees and dinner about the Church of England, literature born from the land, family and local history.
The village of Ripley has 200 people and like many in England, it has a church, a pub and a castle. The castle has been in the same family for 700 years and they still live there today. I took the tour, of course. Oh to touch the very table that Oliver Cromwell sat at in the 1600’s during the Civil War debates; behold ancient furniture enjoyed in the Georgian period; or to capture the estate view that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years – was all overwhelming and honoring.
Edward and Anna “warned” me that people in the north tend to be much friendlier than in the south. “London can be so self-consumed,” they said. And to be honest, I didn’t feel so invisible. To York I went. I walked about Ripley like I owned it. And through Knaresboro to the market with Edward and Anna, oh, I delighted. Anyone who has travelled alone knows that any simple acknowledgement or human connection is welcomed!
And as one should, surprises always happen when travelling.
The “Dutchmen” were coming to Ripley on my last morning with Anna’s order of flowers for that week’s floral arrangements for an upcoming wedding. I waited outside the Castle gift shop, hoping to be of help. When the lorry pulled up I was shocked. I never expected two big burly men with tattoos to step out of a truck full of beautiful flowers. Apparently they make quite a successful business out of going to flower auctions and vendors in Holland and then selling to various customers throughout England.
What I have come to find in my travelling experiences is that if you truly want to engage in a culture, you must live in it. Be it three days or three months, I don’t think staying in a posh hotel gives you a true depiction of a country. A richer experience is denied.
Edward, the kind humble man, brought me a water bottle to cuddle at night. He woke me each morning with coffee in bed. Anna made me cheese and tomato sandwiches for my train journey home. I was privileged to stay in a home that dates back to 1750 and touch the cold cellar walls and imagine the stories that once were. And at the end of the day, it was nice to know someone was expecting me “at home”.
After seeing Yorkshire the scene of Mr. Darcy walking through the early morning haze to Elizabeth waiting somberly in the grassy field, isn’t so unbelievable now.
Stories wait to be heard, pictures wait to be discovered. And during the journey, the richest of experiences can be found in the home of a local, waiting to tell them.