An Anglophile is a person who likes England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I am an Anglophile I’ve been lucky enough to fly to the British Isles at least a half-dozen times, staying as long as six weeks on one occasion. I return there whenever I can scrape together the money and an excuse.
The first international trip I took (that was not a group tour) was to London. We speak, more or less, the same language! My wife Sally and I did all the touristy things—Hampton Court, high tea at Harrods’s, pubs. My friend Fuzzy, who also made the trip, and I stood in a queue for three hours to get into Wimbledon. When we got to the entrance, we paid four pounds (six dollars) and fifteen minutes later, we were at Centre Court watching Chris Evert. In America, we would have been required to pay $2000 for the privilege of buying a ticket, then another $2000 for the ticket, and the seat would have been in the nose bleed section.
I love England and their values, their civility. I love their history which is, after all, our own history, up to a point—July 4,1776 precisely. I love their weather, at least when I’ve been there, which has never been in the dead of winter. I love their accents. I love the vistas and the quaint villages. I love their public transportation. I love their local shops. I love their pastries and cheeses. I’ve even been known to enjoy their peculiar peat-smoked whiskey.
My travels there included a six-week exchange with the Rev. Dr. Robin Routledge, a Baptist pastor in South Yorkshire. He and his family came to Columbia, SC, lived in our house, drove our car, and preached for Greenlawn Baptist Church for six weeks. We lived in his house, drove his car, and I preached at his church for six weeks. Jenna was about 17 and Julie age 9. We loved the experience.
Twice, I went to a continuing education conference at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Great weeks. Sally and Julie were with me for those trips. St. Andrews is the loveliest town in the world. One day, the director of the school informed us, “The Old Course will be open for strollers after dinner.” Can you imagine the Augusta National ever opening its hallowed gates to its neighbors so they could wander around the fairways? For free? Not in my lifetime.
For our thirtieth anniversary, Sally and I scheduled a week in Ireland. Randy and Diana Wright invited themselves to go with us and we gladly said, “Yes.” After all, it was our thirtieth anniversary, not our first.
Another year, Randy and I spent a week on the Isle of Iona, Scotland, for a retreat at one of the world’s thin places. A thin place is a location that seems to provide easier access to God, with not so thick a barrier, not as much stuff getting in the way between heaven and earth.
Peter May is a fine Scottish author who has written three mysteries (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen) about the Outer Hebrides, Scotland’s most westerly islands. His portrait of these remote, windswept, wet, dark islands fascinated me. I’d never been beyond the Inner Hebrides (Heh-breh-dees). I needed to be in Turkey this summer, and a bit of investigation showed it only cost $300 round-trip from Istanbul to Edinburgh. I bought the ticket and traveled solo on this portion of the trip.
The Outer Hebrides requires a lengthy ferry ride from Ullapool on the lonely northwestern coast of Scotland, a land of one-lane roads where sheep have the right of way. If two cars meet, one of them must pull to the side of the path so the other can pass. At the Summer Isles Hotel in Achiltibuie (a four star Bed and Breakfast isolated twenty-one miles from anywhere) I stayed in the room where Charlie Chaplain routinely vacationed. Because of the hotel’s isolation, it turned out to be supper, bed, and breakfast, which was fine since the dinner was six courses and exquisite, and the dining area overlooked a loch and small islands.
In the small restaurant, it was hard not to overhear the conversations of the other patrons, ten total, including a pair of newlyweds and an elderly couple. Later, I confirmed with the proprietor that the older woman has Alzheimer’s and her husband continues the tradition of bringing her to this beautiful retreat where they have been vacationing for decades.
The bookends of marriage.
Great food. Even breakfast was fine—haddock and poached egg over spinach with English style toast, coffee, etc. No haggis.
My stay on the island of Harris in the town of Stornoway was all I hoped it would be and shorter than I hoped it would be. The land tends toward bleak and spare, unlike the town itself which could easily be in a festive New England setting. I drove to see the Callanish Stones, another thin place and similar to Stonehenge, though not as popular because of its seclusion.
One of the reasons I travel is to get a feel for size. The distance between the Hebrides islands meant the ferry schedules were not going to allow me to lollygag as long as I wanted to, so I headed back to the mainland.
Found my way to St. Andrews. Ate cheese (from I. J. Mellis) and pastries (from Fisher and Donaldson). Visited Scone Palace and, of course, had a scone. Peacocks in the garden. Took a tour of a distillery that produces the rare Glenturret single malt Scotch. Got off a secondary road and found a small village with a Pictish Stone–a Celtic Cross with the crucifixion on one side and creation on the other side.
End of the first leg of my summer excursion. Second Leg was Turkey.