When one thinks of England, one usually channels Jane Austen movies. Lots of grass-covered hills, wind-swept moors, and ancient stone buildings with nothing around them for miles. I finally found that part of England yesterday. We drove away from Oxford and suddenly there were stone walls for miles, perfectly square fields and sheep grazing in the grass.
We went to Sarehole Mill first where Tolkien grew up. He didn't have a very easy childhood. His father died in S. Africa (where he was born) when he was taking a trip to England, and his mother also died from complications with diabetes when he was still quite young. He lived with an unhappy aunt, in various boarding homes under a certain priest's guardianship, and finally on his own in Oxford. Despite the hardship, Tolkien had quite the playground to enjoy as a child and the thick forests, green bogs, fierce fords, and tall buildings that surrounded his early home may certainly have played a part in his later works. There was even a pair of tall towers in town that may have influenced him when he was writing a certain trilogy....
However, it's all conjecture, and I, nor the tour guide, can really say for certain what influenced him and what didn't, but he grew up in an area that was certainly reminiscent of the Middle Earth he created in his novels.
We then traveled to Birmingham where we visited the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Free chocolate. Good. Really lame rides through psycho chocolate-man town. Not so good. We enjoyed the historical portions but some of it was down-right creepy. And not Gene Wilder creepy because that would have been OK. Unfortunately you don't really get to see much of the manufactoring first hand, and I felt really sorry for the factory workers who have to watch people walk past them all day. Then the Cadabra ride. Oh man. My fellow riders and I were supposed to make funny faces when they did the automatic picture at the end. However, I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO DID IT. The picture that resulted is one of the most frightening images of me I have encountered, and I spent the next fifteen minutes bent over laughing. I look like a troll. I can't even post it on here because if someone who didn't like me got their hands on it, I would probably see it again...perhaps in a less flattering setting. Sorry, folks. If you want to see it, I might have to get you to sign a waver or something.
We then took a really long bus ride to Haworth. However, that's when we really got to see the hills of England. Gorgeous! If I could live in England, I would definitely want to live near Haworth. Our hostel was the best yet; it looked like an ancient boarding house with a huge, grand staircase, stained glass windows everywhere, and a English charm that made us swoon. Robin and I took a really long walk up one of the adjacent hills and we met two lovely English women. We tried to get them to take a picture of us but they were not familiar with digital cameras and they had the hardest time figuring out how to use mine. One woman finally got a picture, but she did it just as Robin was smacking her forehead in amusement (it was a great day for pictures). The other woman took over and took a picture with my right side cut off. Failed effort but a great story.
We had a late night pizza with our main professor, Julie, and talked about marriage and literature and England. It was nice and apparently entertaining because a fellow guest was in the room and commented on how "interesting" our conversation was as he was going to bed. At least he was honest about listening in. I guess.
In the morning we went to Haworth proper and saw the Bronte parsonage where the entire Bronte troop grew up. Sometimes I marvel at how one family can have so much talent. The Sedaris' are all really funny and peculiar. The Williams sisters dominate the tennis world. And the Brontes could all magically write amazing novels (or paint amazing pictures or both). Their story is a tragic one and it was interesting to walk the fields nearby, see the couch where Emily (of Wuthering Heights fame) died, and see the rooms where their famous works were created. The town itself should be renamed Bronteworth because almost every establishment is named after the family or the books (they apparently had a Jane Hair salon once upon a time). However, it was very picturesque and I would love to see it again some day.
Finally one more bus ride and now we're in Ambleside, England. To my left is Lake Windermere and a host of sailboats. It rained on and off today, but, no matter the weather, the sky was a beautiful mixture of blues and grays and greens. I can see why English people vacation here (including Philip Pullman). Tomorrow Robin and I will rent some sort of boat and paddle around during our first free day. In the meantime, I have to write something for class and continue reading for my paper. We may be traveling the countryside and enjoying ourselves immensely, but we are still doing quite a bit of work.
Tomorrow I'll just post pictures so you can get a better idea of what's going on. Our room is up a maze of stairwells and I left my camera upstairs. And that is where it will stay until tomorrow.
By the way, the weather finally broke and it's been extremely pleasant the past two days. I am one very lucky girl.