“The Sooth”

So, Fish Meggie. The Sooth! Another big town, another big adventure for ye…”
Aye, I murmured, watching the waves far below us. The wide world.”

-Amanda Curtin, Elemental

I read these words on a train headed south through mist rolling in from the North Sea. I had picked up this novel – a story about a red-headed girl from a sheltered fishing community in the Shetland Islands – with passive interest. But what I find remarkable is how, despite the multitudes of books lining the wooden shelves at Topping and Company, I was drawn to this one. The more I kept reading, the more the tale of introspective and passionate Meggie Tulloch resonated with me at this precise moment. Like the heroine of the novel my thoughts often tiptoe toward the horizon; toward the “wide world,” farther and farther away from where they should be. And with graduation approaching, it seems that the world only grows wider. What’s next? Where will I go and what will I be doing? Who will I meet? These were questions that could not seem to quieten as I tried to enjoy my last few weeks in the United Kingdom.

This was especially pertinent given my destination, as throughout my time at St Andrews I had never made it to “the Sooth” (as a northerly Scot would say) and in particular London. My busy schedule would never permit a spontaneous trip, I could never scrape together enough funds, nobody would want to accompany me; I found that the closer my final flight back to Michigan loomed, the more these excuses seemed insurmountable. In hindsight, I realize now what it was that prevented me from exploring this part of the United Kingdom for so long. I was afraid: afraid that beyond the slow, burbling pace of mid-Michigan and Scotland I would drown in the deluge of frenetic energy that places like London thrived on. If I could not manage London in a single day, how could I ever manage to stay afloat if my post-graduate plans did indeed send me rushing straight into the center of London, New York, or Chicago?

However, I was forced to come to terms with the fact that all my apprehensions, excuses, and self-doubting was fueled by speculation. This, coupled with the immense generosity of Catriona (one of my closest friends), I was finally given the opportunity to experience what life in Southern England was like. And so I found myself boarding the train on June first for an adventure that by many standards was backwards: I was leaving the lochs and glens of Scotland for a place that, to me, was its own species of wilderness.


Godalming, a quiet town in Surrey, acted as my home base for the week. Prior to this the longest period I spent in England was a week in the Lake District during the easter holiday in my first year. The Lake District was remarkably Scottish in its pace of life and gently swelling hills, dotted with sheep. Yet being in Godalming had me feeling that, for the first time in a long while, I was well and truly somewhere new. Large Tudor-style homes lined the quaint streets with lush and fragrant “English gardens” beckoning you in. Contrary to its sleepy appearance, though, Godalming is commonly used as a film location, as one of its downtown streets featured in the 2006 film The Holiday and its outlying fields hosted the Roman masses of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. As a film buff, this bit of local trivia really struck my fancy.

On one of our rambles we stopped in the city park at a large gazebo, like something straight out of The Sound of Music, which becomes a community bandstand every Sunday. In one of those rare moments of coincidence you have to just smile and believe in the power of fate, a band called The Salts was scheduled to play for the Sunday that I would be in Godalming. The Salts are a contemporary folk music band that specialize in sea shanties, old ballads sung by sailors out at sea that often are in time to the rhythm of the various chores they had to complete while aboard. One of my not-so-secret obsessions is anything to do with the sea — pirates, sea shanties and ballads, sea monsters, sailing, and maritime folklore — and not even the June sun roasting my winter-paled skin could tear my attention away from the music. I was also awed by the sense of community wrapped in these weekly bandstand concerts, and felt as though I was privileged to experience this wee spot of local color.


However, I think what I most enjoyed about Godalming was the River Spey Walk, pictured above. While the sky was grey and there was a damp chill in the air, these conditions made the willow trees look more dramatic and enchanting. One of my favorite childhood stories was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows; and this moment, breathing in the crisp, clean scent of the river while listening to the trees whisper to one another made me feel as though I was living that story. I felt truly content, embraced by a landscape that had thus far only lived in the world of “once upon a time” rather than my waking life. Perhaps what also made this moment so special was that it allowed Catriona to see her home in a new way, as a place of enchantment rather than somewhere ho-hum and unremarkable. At last I was finally getting to return the favor she had done for me last summer when she visited Michigan: seeing the beauty and wonder in all places, even your own backyard.

The Saturday after my arrival in Surrey was the big day: my tour of London. Both excited and nervous I followed Catriona through the maze of tube stations until we reached Leicester Square to meet up with two of our other friends from university. Our first stop was Covent Garden for a Ben’s Cookie fresh out of the oven and to see the eclectic vendors bustling under the emerald canopy of Apple Market. While I was savoring a warm and gooey dark chocolate and peanut butter cookie, the first notes of Bruno Mars’s “Marry You” drifted through the courtyard. Suddenly, a flash mob broke out before us and a crowd gathered, smiles blooming on every face. As the song would suggest, this was a grand gesture of a marriage proposal; and the first flash mob I had ever witnessed firsthand. We all could not believe our luck with having the opportunity to experience something so charming as that, and the aura of cheer and celebration from the flashmob set the tone for the day to come.

Meandering down toward Buckingham Palace, the crowds became more and more congested. All of a sudden we ran directly into a mounted guard as war drums boomed in the distance. Unbeknownst to the three London familiars I was with, the Trooping of the Colour rehearsal was unfolding right at the precise moment we decided to see the palace. The four of us quickly made our way to the main circle outside Buckingham Palace to see the procession, which was a magnificent sight to behold. I was especially partial to the regiment of Scottish pipers, their sweeping tweed capes and bellowing bagpipes conjuring the lochs and glens I left behind, a comfort in all this newness. In the words of my friend Kathryn, it didn’t get more British than this, bar seeing the Queen (which may have been a tall order for the day). However, I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to see something that is indeed distinctly British in the heart of the country’s capitol.


After making our way through St James’s Park and Westminster Abbey, Siân suggested going to Borough Market for lunch. This was probably my favorite part of London, being the foodie that I am. Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, with vendors to entice any palate. Egyptian koshari, Thai curry, American soul food, German würst, produce stands, juice bars, sommeliers, fish mongers, cheese mongers, and a table of baked goods too delicious for this world crowded under the glass ceiling, humming with energy. I finally settled on a “classic” vegan cheeseburger from The Veggie Table and a fresh pressed raspberry and apple juice from one of the vegetable vendors. This was the perfect light yet energizing lunch to fuel a day of gallivanting throughout London.

As the day was drawing to a close it was evident that the four of us needed to be on our way back home, as the conversations and my already meandering walking pace were slowing. When asked about my venture to London, my most common response is to remark on the sheer sprawl of the city and how densely populated it is; I am certain that I saw more people in that single day than in my twenty-two years of living. However, I found the experience to be overall a very positive one. I think what made London much more interesting and simply fun to be in was the fact that I was with three friends who all grew up around London, and in Kathryn’s case, went frequently into the city and had shown several other friends the “must see” locales. Compared to my time in Munich two years ago, when I had never been in a city larger than Edinburgh and I was expected to be the Europe-savvy guide, London was so much more enjoyable in terms of city sight-seeing. Yet as our train drifted further out into the soft green borders of Surrey, I was thankful to once more be amongst the trees and the quiet of rural life.

I have already mentioned my fondness for all things oceanic and naval. How little I knew at the time that the wee sea shanty concert we stumbled upon would portend actually getting the chance to stand upon the decks of real nineteenth century British war ships. Despite being very ill, Catriona graciously took me on a surprise venture down to Portsmouth to see the HMS Warrior and the HMS Victory. Also housed at Portsmouth harbour is the Mary Rose, a war galleon built by Henry the Eighth that sunk in 1545. Raised in 1982, the Mary Rose has been painstakingly preserved for the past thirty-four years, in which it still needed to be continuously sprayed with water to preserve its integrity. However, the exhibit surrounding the ship has been significantly redesigned as the water and chemical sprays that have strengthened its water-logged wood were turned off to begin a drying out process. Thus I could not see the ship for myself, but I was content to learn this history and see some of the restored artifacts reclaimed from the wreck.

Aboard the HMS Warrior and the HMS Victory, with the brisk sea air tangling in my hair and the gentle morning sun seeping into my skin, I felt my imagination easing itself awake after a long semester. I walked towards the bow of the ship as softly as I could, wary that my presence would disturb the whispers of the past engrained in the deck like the salt of the sea. It is a moment such as this that I sometimes feel as though I truly am the “old soul” my mother claims I am. And maybe I was even a sailor in a past life, always away at sea. For it is near the water or on the deck of a boat that I often feel most at ease, most within myself; and the chance to see, to smell, and to touch a real historical naval ship such as this simply felt like coming home.

Following these busy jaunts to Winkworth Arboretum, London, Guildford, and Portsmouth, Catriona was certain that we had exhausted her home of adventures. Yet there was one last gem tucked away in the fields outlying Guildford that demanded exploration: Loseley Park. The current house pictured above dates back to the sixteenth century and holds within its walls a rich Tudor history. Today, the house is not only open to the public for tours and is often used as a wedding venue, but still serves as the home for the descendants of the original More-Molyneux family. While I usually bristle at the prospect of guided tours, I am thankful for the one through Loseley House, as our guide was not only exceedingly knowledgable about the property, but evidently passionate about the history of the house. A father and daughter duo accompanied Catriona and I on this guided tour and both kept asking thoughtful and intelligent questions about the furnishings, various family members, and the history behind the home. These two elements really enriched my experience of Loseley House, and made me wish that I had frequented more National Trust sites to be able to recognize paintings, furnishings, and historical attributes common to these stately English homes.

The secrets of the house were delicious to discover: a rare portrait of Anne Boleyn and a “scandal” involving the daughter of the Tudor builder, Sir William More, and the rakish poet John Donne. And contrary to many Americans who flock to see the homes featured in Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, Loseley House is the first stately English home I have visited, yet I do not feel that I have missed out on some grand experience after four years in the United Kingdom. Rather, because Loseley Park is “off the beaten track” a bit, I feel as though I had the opportunity to experience something a bit richer, a bit more special; to tour England as a true local might.

But what truly made Loseley Park remarkable was the sheer enchantment of the surrounding gardens. Around every bend there was a new delight to be had, such as a trellis of demure white roses or a secret bench hidden in a hollow of verdant green shrubs. The gardens were a spectacle straight out of the film Labyrinth, or a picture book I was fond of as a child entitled One Enchanted Evening. This was somewhere I could picture myself enacting one of my greatest life fantasies: running, barefoot and lithe, wearing a heartbreakingly beautiful ballgown under a clear moonlit sky.


As Catriona and I wandered deeper and deeper amongst this emerald sea, I kept whispering how I never wanted to leave. In this moment, caught between the physical completion of my degree and its ceremonial conclusion at graduation, all I wanted to do was pause and breathe it in slow and deep. I have no doubt that these four years spent in the United Kingdom will constitute some of the best years of my life, and it is because of these adventures I was so fortunate to embark upon with truly wonderful people. Without the companionship and generosity of people like Catriona I would have never been able to stand triumphantly aboard a nineteenth century war ship, nor lose my heart amongst the petals and vines of a hedgerow fairy tale. Yet just like Meggie Tulloch it was my time to face the wide world, the world beyond this dream that I had been living for four years.

As my train pulled once more into Leuchars station I found it difficult to fight the swell of emotion rising in my throat. Is “the sooth” where I would find myself after graduation, or somewhere even more foreign to me? While the time was approaching that I could no longer ignore these questions, I began to see the good in my situation. As this week in Surrey with Catriona proved to me, my time in St Andrews has meant so much more than just a physical adventure; it has been a journey into what constitutes true friendship. Over the past four years I have been welcomed into the homes of so many people — English, Irish, and Scottish — and had the opportunity to see so many diverse walks of life. This is perhaps what I am most thankful for during my time at St Andrews, forging these bonds with so many different people, yet finding a kindred spirit in each and every one of them. And while my future may be uncertain in terms of location or occupation, of one thing I can be certain: that I will always have a home with the wonderful people I have had the pleasure to call my friends.

The Cotswolds

Four years ago, the words “the beginning of the end” could conjure images of the first snowflakes on a pale November morning, or reading a favorite story for the very first time. What these three experiences have in common is a moment — the intake of breath and a smile — in which enchantment with the anticipation for what is to come takes hold. Four years ago, the experience of beginning my last semester of high school was distilled with this kind of breathlessness, because each passing day brought me closer to Scotland. The magic of this experience was, paradoxically, what I once thought was just a dream becoming a tangible part of my waking life. I could not wait to turn the page on this part of my story, from the prologue to the blank pages under “Chapter One: St Andrews,” too tantalizingly pristine. All I managed to do in those final few classes was daydream, picturing myself tramping through the wild Scottish glens, hair tangled with the crisp Highland air. Four years ago, “the beginning of the end” could only make me smile.

Today those words hold a different meaning, evident perhaps in the tardiness of this post about beginning my final semester at St Andrews. I almost cannot bring myself to acknowledge the fact that this is it, and there have certainly been times when I (quite wishfully) forget it. However, the things that should be the most significant indicators of this approaching end, like the words “Graduation Day!” marked brazen and red upon my calendar, actually do very little to make me remember. Rather, it’s smaller, simpler details — the last quavering note of a fiddle, the snowdrops blanketing the hills of Lade Braes, or tweed caps tipped in greeting during my morning walk — that reach right into my chest and steal my heart strings away. These are the little moments that make me remember how soon I may have to leave them behind. And for what, I am not altogether sure.

I began this semester with uncertainty, like the darkling horizon heralding a storm. I oscillated between appreciating simple joys, like a view of the sea from my favorite desk in the library or the word “aye” used in casual conversation, to remembering that this cloud was looming ever nearer, which ultimately dampened my spirits and left me in tears more nights than I care to admit. Where am I going to go when I graduate, what am I going to do, how am I going to be able to leave Scotland, will I be forgotten by everyone here: such questions were the rains that this cloud begot. In the midst of all this I stumbled upon the following quote by Roald Dahl:

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

These words had nearly the same effect on me as all the little details of my Scottish life: they stopped me in my tracks. For me they encompass all that I hope to accomplish in these final few months I have on Scottish soil: to give a resounding “aye” to as many experiences as possible, no matter how whimsical, messy, or outrageous they may be. As a result, I have created for myself a Fourth Year Bucket List.

Bibury, The Cotswolds, Gloucestershire: a bucket list village

There are those who think bucket lists are generally quite silly. And I confess the list that I currently have in mind is indeed absurd, overly sentimental, and ambitious. There are things that I admittedly do not have the means to accomplish, like horseback riding on West Sands or visiting all of the quaint villages and castles my heart desires while I am still in the United Kingdom. Yet just two weeks into the semester I was already crossing something off that list.

On the way home  from the annual BUCS cross country event, held this year in Gloucestershire, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the village of Bibury in The Cotswolds. Part of the reason why I so desperately wished to visit Bibury was that it was used as a location in one of my most beloved films: Stardust (this film is also the reason why I love snowdrops so very much, but that is a story for another time).

Quaint details from the village of Bibury

Tucked sleepily away amongst the velvety green farm hills of Gloucestershire, Bibury is every bit as picturesque and charming as an English village ought to be. Flitting amongst the snowdrops and the river meandering along the walking path, I felt my “Maggie Smile” stretching foolishly across my face, and found it difficult to suppress it. Though Bibury is a tourist destination, I still found myself thoroughly enjoying its quaint, quiet charm. More than that, though, the experience of seeing the kind of place that I once thought only existed in my imagination, living and breathing in what should have been a dream world, made my soul so incredibly warm.

But what I think made this adventure special was the generosity and patience of my teammates who agreed to journey with me to Bibury in the first place. I keep reminding myself how easily they could have dismissed my idea, citing Monday morning lectures, silly Maggie whimsy, or just plain and simple exhaustion as reasons not to venture out of our way. While this would have disappointed me, I could respect their desire. But they didn’t dismiss me, and instead took the time to wander those quiet little lanes while I frolicked merrily about.

This sentiment, I think, is what exists at the heart of my Fourth Year Bucket List. It’s not so much doing these things to say that I have done them, or because I may not have another opportunity to do so in the near future. Rather, it’s the joy of experiencing these things for the first time as the person I am now and feeling that joy with the people I have chosen to share this part of my life with, and they with me. The thoughts or emotions these experiences conjure for myself and the wonderfully unique people I have come to know are what I have come to value most about my time here in Scotland.

When I tell people the particulars of my Fourth Year Bucket List, some of them react by saying that there a certain points that could be accomplished if I waited a bit. There are places I could see, castles to tour, restaurants to dine in that would be more feasible if I returned to Scotland in my later adult life. While I do agree — and most certainly consider my return ticket to the States more so as a “see you later” than a definite goodbye to Scotland — I think these sentiments detract from the point of my bucket list. In essence, my Fourth Year Bucket List is my way of not being lukewarm, of embracing every inch of Scotland as widely as my wingspan allows. What I hope to remember for the rest of my life is not necessarily the doing of all these things, but the feeling in the exact moment of the experience and how it was shared with all the weird and wonderful people I have come to care so deeply about here at St Andrews as we are right now: young, uncertain, wild, messy, enchanted, and passionate. For this is the ultimate item on my Fourth Year Bucket List: to celebrate the past four years as whole-heartedly and enthusiastically as they deserve with the people who have been there through it all.

So I sign this post off eager for my next adventure, as well as in salute to the ones I have already been so fortunate enough to have. Here’s to muddy-legged, spring fed, tangled hair, damp leafed, fisherman sweater-clad joy like none other, and I can’t wait for even more.


By the Seaside

Upon returning to St Andrews at the close of my Christmas holiday, it seems that I have spent nearly every waking moment with the people in the above photo. In many ways, these people are very different from myself. Each of them hails from various corners of the United Kingdom, have been on wonderful adventures, and believe in things that really challenge me. Yet like a window made from pieces of stained glass, each one of these people possesses their own unique color, design, and opacity to create a vivid and remarkable whole. I find that each one of these people are beautiful and special in their own unique ways, and while they contrast with each other and myself, by putting them together you create something truly wonderful.

Such are the feelings that can appropriately sum my experience traveling down to Brighton the weekend of January 30th for the British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) cross country event. Initially I was a bit hesitant for the 20+ hour car ride (roundtrip) following so soon after my wearying flight back to Scotland. Yet the Taylor Swift jam sessions, quality banter, and getting to look out the window and see the whole of Britain pass me by actually made the car journey rather pleasant, as I got to see things I had never seen before and was in the company of people as enjoyable as the cross country team.

While my time in St Andrews has made looking upon the sea a rather commonplace experience, being able to see the sea at nearly the opposite end of the country was something I found rather special as well. This trip marks the first time I had ever been truly south in the United Kingdom, truly in the thick of English culture. In St Andrews, you at times lose perspective on where you actually are since this wee town is so incredibly international. That, paired with the multitudes of old American golfers I hear under my window, at times make me forget that I am 3,000 miles away from home. This in many ways has become a bit of a comfort to me, the Bilbo-esque homebody, as the familiar sights and sounds of St Andrews have slowly but surely become my second home. Yet, as I said before, I am beginning to forget that I am abroad, that I need to be drinking in as much of a new and different culture as I can before I graduate in a year and a half. Thus, this jaunt to Brighton was perhaps just what I needed to remind me of this incredible opportunity I have to be in the United Kingdom, to see a land and meet a people that, while similar to my home in some ways, are still beautifully different.

The actual cross country race, our main objective of the trip, took place on the Saturday following our long drive. As this race was just after the Christmas holiday, many in our company were worried as to how well this race would actually unfold. While cake, wine, and movie marathons seemlike a good idea for the entirety of December, they become your worst enemy when attempting to race some of the most competitive people in the country a few weeks later. The women’s event, 6.4 kilometers of punishing hills, pits of peanut buttery mud, and a field of nearly 500 runners made this race one of the hardest and most competitive I have ever participated in. While I used to be considered quite tough, cross country wise, in high school, that girl would not have stood a chance against the elite women participating in this race. With that in mind I started my race with the objective of having fun, knowing full well that I was not in any kind of superstar shape. Yet the mud, the hills, and the large field proved to my advantage as I finished in a respectable time of 33:25; I was able to use my strength to charge the hills, and the mind-boggling number of racers only meant that there was always someone to chase down and pass. I even shocked myself by out-sprinting four girls in the finishing strait, something I am never usually able to do. Thus, this race served to prove to me that I am actually in a bit better shape than I thought I was. Not only this, but the BUCS cross country race was simply good, muddy fun!

The hosting team, the University of Sussex, threw a great big after party for all the universities competing as a way for all the various British university cross country teams to celebrate together. This weekend in Brighton, for me, was full of new experiences not limited to being so far south in the country, for this after party marked my very first club experience. As I turned twenty-one back in December and anticipating the start of a new year and new semester, lately I have been saying how much I’ve been wanting to do something crazy, to carpe diem and keep adding to the list of all the things I have experienced since moving to Scotland three years ago. So, while a club is not really my kind of scene (and by “not really” I mean “not in one million years…”), I decided to give it a try as part of my New Year’s Resolution to abandon my reservations and simply dothings. As my friend Sam was telling me before we went out, “A club is really all in what you make it,” advice I really took to heart. Thus, I looked at the evening as simply a fun night of dancing and singing to grand ol’ tunes like “Don’t Stop Believin’” with some of my favorite people.

While it was a wild experience, one I will most likely not repeat, I am glad I did it, for it now occupies a space in my list of “Things I Have Done.” When I started university three years ago, I promised myself that I would say yes to as many new experiences as possible, for if I had the gall to agree to move 3,000 miles away from home at eighteen years of age, there really is no limit to what I can do. So, while going to a club in a place like Brighton completely defies who I thought “Maggie” was, I am beginning to be okay with the fact that I am multi-faceted, that I can enjoy a variety of experiences, and that I am willing to try new things even if they aren’t necessarily what I envision myself doing. In the end, this night out was actually quite fun, just being goofy and celebrating with some of my best friends before knuckling down for another semester. So while my introverted self may need to do lots of this for a few weeks to recover:

Bilbo: “I just need to sit quietly for a moment.”

I am starting to appreciate coming out of my shell more and more, and becoming more willing to abandon my reservations and simply live.

All in all, this weekend I had in Brighton with the cross country team will make it into my official list of “Favorite Times at St Andrews” that I will look back on fondly as I age. Though I am proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone for a little while, which makes this trip more memorable, but I think what I will mostly smile at when I recall this trip is simply the wonderful company I was traveling with. This weekend in Brighton was such a strong bonding moment with the core of the cross country team, and I feel as though we have come out of the weekend not sick of one another, but even closer friends. I feel as though I have finally found “my tribe” here at St Andrews, and I love being part of such a diverse group of people. Yet while each and every one of us brings something new, or quirky, or unique to the group, we are all united on a few basic principles: a fondness for the outdoors, a passion for adventure, and simply the love of a run. These tenets, methinks, are the foundations for the meaningful and strong bonds I have forged with these people, bonds I wouldn’t trade for the world. Now St Andrews, once that “brave new world” of the unknown and the intimidating, has truly become my second home.

I apologize for the lack of posting as of late, as well as the tardiness of this post after my travels to Brighton actually occurred. This semester has kicked off with nearly 400 pages of reading a week; and that, combined with training twice a week and riding once a week, has seemingly eaten what time I have to continue my reflections on being here at St Andrews. However, as spring break and the cross country away trip are in the not-too distant future, I will have many exciting adventures to report, so I will do my best to keep this blog fresh and up to date. There are still many adventures to be had, and the sunset time of my St Andrews life is nearly on the horizon. And so, “I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)”

Originally written 11 February 2015

To The Lakes

My mother used to read to me The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter when I was younger, which instilled a deep love of the countryside and quaint ways of life. Beatrix Potter still remains one of my idols, and I hope to emulate her in some way as I age. Thus, a deep-seated desire to visit the place she cherished most, The Lake District, was born.

Thanks to the immense generosity of my friend Kate, I have the opportunity to stay in The Lakes for an entire week. I depart tomorrow morning for this land I so far only dreamed of visiting. I cannot even begin to comprehend that I am fulfilling a dream I have held for about fifteen years. My excitement overwhelms me, and I am looking forward to finally being immersed in a land I had only read about. I feel as though I may lose my heart to this magical and beautiful place.



I spent most of my time at Thistlewood, the Allan’s enchanting home in Cumbria. Words cannot express how peaceful Thistlewood is. I could not believe that I was spending my days in a place right out of my beloved period novels. The surrounding countryside, the cozy interior, and the gardens made my heart sing. I hope one day I may return.


On my first full day in the Lakes, I was packed up and taken to Grasmere. Here, I was fortunate enough to sample the famed Grasmere gingerbread. I have never tasted true English gingerbread, and while it was not what I was expecting, the taste was pleasant enough for a cup of tea and a cozy moment spent relaxing. Adjacent to the gingerbread store was the Daffodil Garden where William Wordsworth (1770-1850), English poet, is buried.

After this wee detour we ventured up to Rydal Mount, one of Wordsworth’s homes in the Lakes. The architecture of the house captured my imagination. The surrounding gardens were incredible; I just tried to imagine what it must have been like for Wordsworth’s daughter to grow up in such a fairytale place.

Later, the Allens and I took a walk around Grasmere Lake. I was awestruck at the peaceful, picturesque setting of the lake.


There are places on this earth that one may yearn to visit with every fiber of their being. They pine for its hidden secrets, its adventures, and the vibrancy of its culture. However, they are sometimes let down. Then what do they have except gaunt and ravished dreams?

However, visiting Hill Top Farm, home of my Beatrix Potter, was everything I hoped and dreamed of, if not better. Leading up to our journey, I almost could not comprehend I would be walking the very paths she did, gazing upon the land she loved so dearly. Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted a life like Miss Potter’s, and yearned so ardently to gaze upon her prized cottage. I still cannot believe I visited such an idyllic and charming place.

After touring Hill Top, which is the most quaint cottage in all of England, Kate and I wandered about Hawkshead, the nearest village. After one of my favorite films, Stardust, I have deemed this village Wall, and hoped at every corner to meet my very own Tristan Thorne. Tea rooms were nuzzled deep within every cobbled alley, and charming gates marked entrances to many a cottage.

Later, we visited the Hawkshead Solicitor’s Office, where William Heelis, Beatrix Potter’s beloved husband worked. The office is since converted to a museum. 2013 actually marks the centennial of their marriage, as well as the centennial publication of The Tale of Pigling Bland. Many believe this story, of a little pig named Pigling Bland who falls in love with a beautiful black pig named Pigwig, Beatrix based off of William and herself. Above Kate and I are pictured posing as William and Beatrix, since replicas of their hats were available for dress up. That smile was on my face since Monday and did not leave until the following Sunday.

I ended my perfect day with some nice tea and my very first English crumpet back at Thistlewood. I finally know what a crumpet is, and I topped it with the most divine English honey. Perfect day indeed.


My final great adventure was a true mountain expedition in Blencathra. While many an Englishman may insist that these are mere hills in the Lakes, I am convinced they are mountains. With a smile carved onto my face and an intrepid heart I eagerly bounded up the snow encrusted “hill."  The view from the summit is something I will never forget. I truly felt as if I was an adventurer from my favorite tales, and I could not help but be completely at peace. The chill mountain air put a fresh vigor in my step, and I truly believed I could conquer anything life threw at me in that moment. Nothing can ever compare to a mountain view. Nature is so very humbling.  My final thought on this trip was my introduction to Fell Cottage, nestled warmly at the base of Blencathra. Though simple and humble, I think my heart has been taken. I have made it my personal mission to keep tabs on such a sweet abode, and perhaps one day, I could become it’s proud owner. Though it may be but a dream, this trip proved that dreams do come true if you remain true to them. 

My final great adventure was a true mountain expedition in Blencathra. While many an Englishman may insist that these are mere hills in the Lakes, I am convinced they are mountains. With a smile carved onto my face and an intrepid heart I eagerly bounded up the snow encrusted “hill.”

The view from the summit is something I will never forget. I truly felt as if I was an adventurer from my favorite tales, and I could not help but be completely at peace. The chill mountain air put a fresh vigor in my step, and I truly believed I could conquer anything life threw at me in that moment. Nothing can ever compare to a mountain view. Nature is so very humbling.

My final thought on this trip was my introduction to Fell Cottage, nestled warmly at the base of Blencathra. Though simple and humble, I think my heart has been taken. I have made it my personal mission to keep tabs on such a sweet abode, and perhaps one day, I could become its proud owner. Though it may be but a dream, this trip proved that dreams do come true if you remain true to them.

Originally written 24 March 2013

A Winter Wander Part II: Durham

Instead of heading to Alnwick Castle, the tour was shifted to Durham, a beautiful city just outside Newcastle. I recall seeing it from the train on my journey to St Andrews and commenting on how lovely it looked, so I was thrilled to get the chance to explore it.

Anyone that knows me well can understand how excited I became at sighting this pub. I attempted to go in, however, it is a very local establishment filled with swarthy old men, so I decided to leave. However, it was a very intriguing little pub with amazing history. The building itself was constructed in 1109 A.D.

Next we visited the Durham Cathedral, which was one of the most gorgeous buildings I had ever seen. I have never really visited a proper cathedral before, so I essentially wandered about with my mouth agape. Above is a finely crafted door knocker on the entrance to the cathedral.

Here is a nice vista of Durham seen from the cathedral tower. I climbed 325 steps up a narrow, winding enclosure to get to the top. It was fascinating to think of how many feet traversed those steps, and it put into perspective just how antiquated these places in the United Kingdom are. The view from the tower was breathtaking, and well worth the effort. The view itself was enough of a Christmas gift for me.

Perhaps my favorite part of the cathedral, though, was the cloisters. Everything was so peaceful in this courtyard, it was such a nice experience to see this place of sanctuary. Also, I was told that a few scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in these cloisters. As a film enthusiast, I always appreciate visiting locations used for filming.

The day concluded with chicken pâté, prosciutto-wrapped cod, and a tipple of white wine at The Cellar Door, a lovely and quaint restaurant on the way to the cathedral. The atmosphere was wonderful: soft lighting, fresh flowers on the table, good food, and a home-like feel. If anyone ever travels to Durham, this is the restaurant I highly recommend.

Originally written 19 December 2012

A Winter Wander Part I: Newcastle-upon-Tyne

On Monday, I journeyed down to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to begin a three- day tour of England and Scotland before I head home for Christmas. I thought it would be nice to use some of my down time to explore some of the surrounding area. So, I packed my rucksack for the first adventure: visiting the homeland of my mother’s family.

Newcastle is such a delightful city. Pictured above is a beautiful church near the town center. It was intriguing to see the place my grandmother, aunt, and so many others speak about so fondly. Though I am not acquainted with any of the distant relatives that live here, it was exciting to feel connected to the city somehow, in the sense that somewhere, my blood was roaming the streets just as I was.

I also visited the Castle Keep, the architecture of which was breathtaking. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, most of the keep was open to the public. There were so many wee corridors and secret chambers to lose myself in. I do not believe I will ever grow tired of visiting old castles, since I let my imagination run free and place myself in the time of their glory.

Newcastle was an amazing place, and I am so lucky that I had the chance to explore somewhere so important to my family. It was such a lovely trip that I’m excited to share with everyone when I return home for the Christmas holiday.

Originally written 19 December 2012