Lately I have been greatly missing England, so perhaps today is a suitable time to relive some of my happiest moments there.
My most extensive trip to the UK came nearly three years ago, when my family and I spent close to four weeks in the glorious May sunshine of London, Yorkshire, East Anglia, and Wales. The trip was not short on excitement, and yes, the weather was actually sunny- perhaps contrary to popular belief, England does get some perfectly agreeable days, particularly in the summertime!
Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace beneath a sunny sky
I credit this vacation for irreversibly piquing my interest in all things World War II, as we saw many fascinating military sights and toured at least three museums on the subject. Up until then, I had been interested in WWII and the 1940s, but not to the rather obsessed extent that I am now.
What was amazing about this trip was that military stuff was everywhere, and not just in dedicated museums. We came across many RAF bases on our travels; almost every day we saw a different type of military aircraft overhead; and each cathedral we visited- York Minster, Ely- had a window or plaque commemorating those who fell in the World Wars.
Perhaps the most exciting aviation episode came when we serendipitously passed RAF Lakenheath as several USAF F-15 Eagles were on the tarmac and preparing for takeoff. Needless to say, once I noticed those beautiful 4th generation fighters, it wasn’t long before I was standing with my camera at the ready beside the base’s chain-link fence!
F-15s at RAF Lakenheath
Two of these planes were already powered up, which added to my delight. To me, airplanes exemplify freedom, and fighter planes in particular are beyond magnificent. So imagine my excitement when one by one, the F-15s taxied down the runway, their engines spewing flame into the already sweltering May air.
F-15 taxiing at RAF Lakenheath
This was one of the most thrilling moments of the entire vacation, and how fortunate I felt to have been there at precisely the right moment to see such incredible aircraft in their element! From Lakenheath, we went on to Castle Rising in Norfolk, where about one hour later the two F-15s screamed overhead. Unfortunately, they were going slightly too fast for me to take any photos!
I miss the regularity of such occurrences in England- the past few months at home have passed without me seeing anything more than a traffic-spotting Cessna in the sky. One reason I love the UK because everything is crammed into a small area, which means that there is a pleasingly high concentration of military bases!
I also miss Wales- Snowdonia especially is gorgeous, as I found out in May 2011. My family took two day trips into Wales from Shrewsbury, one of which may be the most emotional day I had on that vacation. Our journey took us through some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen, on a day that went from perfectly sunny to mysteriously foggy as we gained altitude.
Evidence of mining activity in North Wales
Inquisitive Welsh lamb soaking up the sunshine- I hate to think where this little guy is now!
Fascinating rock formations
The road we took twisted through this unbelievable scenery, and before long we were in what seemed to be misty, low-lying clouds. This fog lent a peculiar atmosphere to the already spectacular landscape, and I felt very odd. We drove along with the windows open until it became so cold that we were forced to close them; and I felt almost as if we were in a different world. The combination of the eerie cloud, biting cold, and harshly beautiful landscape was like nothing I had ever experienced previously.
Clouds over the Welsh mountains
Once we had descended out of this alien landscape, we toured Sygun Copper Mine. The mine, long out of commission, is built inside a sort of Welsh ‘mountain’ which my brother and I decided we wished to climb. I never thought that I would enjoy mountaineering, but ascending this particular summit was wonderful, and I am intensely proud of this personal feat!
The view which met our eyes at the peak of our ‘mountain’
The final stop in Wales was the charming village of Beddgelert- set amongst rugged mountains beneath a coldly grey sky, this village was the cause of much distress for me. Being part Welsh, I grew up knowing the story of Prince Llywelyn and his faithful hound Gelert, whom he impetuously (and wrongly) killed, thinking that the dog had mauled his infant son. And apparently- although the story seems to be only a legend- Beddgelert is the resting place of Gelert.
Gelert’s Grave- a beautiful place to rest
Seeing the alleged grave was very emotional for me, melodramatic and fond of canines as I am, and I solemnly laid a bunch of buttercups on the grave as many others had done before me. Maybe the legend was simply invented, but when I stood looking at Gelert’s Grave, I felt that the story nonetheless embodies the loyalty and affection dogs have towards their fallible human companions. There is no better friend than a dog, and dogs are undeniably beloved in Britain.
This post hardly documents even three full days of that fabulous four weeks in Britain, so stay tuned for more highlights!