The British Isles have acquired a distinct Disneyland flavor in the time between my visits there last month and my previous fall and winter hitchhiking adventures around England and Scotland in 1972. I enjoyed a daylong 15 mile trek across rural Oxford meadow where each hedgerow was a gently mysterious passage revealing different vistas and rural flavors. My trek also illuminated changing societal trust levels caused by the transition between the largely homogenous British society of the early 70’s and the tensions of the current combined “invasion” of tourists and refugees during the second decade of the new century.
Travels with my brother and sister-in-law had centered on a family wedding in Glasgow – between a classical clarinetist in the Manchester symphony (first name Fraser, spelled correctly) and Bay (Bayard – more about his namesake later) – a musical theatre writer and performer. A lovely young woman sporting elfin ears led the ceremony, followed by a rambunctious Scottish country dance.
Steve and Kitty had not seen much of the Isles, so our tour centered on tourist attractions including two “canned” English villages packed with tourists. I pined for the villages where I had quaffed pints of hand pumped ale before bedding down in nearby fields 45 years before – waking to search out the village milk man for a cream topped glass pint bottle of whole milk to wash down a town bakery crusty roll wrapped around a hunk of sharp English cheddar, fuel for my day’s adventure.
My inspiration for years of working to establish trailheads in our communities were inspired in England where I had found, and found again, trails which traverse open fields to passages through livestock yards adjacent to farmhouses. A good Ordinance Survey map is critical to navigate these trails which tie villages together along medieval ways across private lands. One apparent dead end in the often complicated transition between field and village left me standing in what obviously was someone’s backyard.
An initially suspicious man came out from his house to determine who the interloper was. He alluded to the different times, telling me this “used to be the trail,” but with what he called a new reality; he had to cut it off. We were soon exchanging international pleasantries as he led me the street and down it to his village’s centerpiece, Waterperry Gardens, where an Opera performance was to take place the same evening.
The hedgerow sections of the trails were overgrown with blackberry bushes; fence climbing structures were, in places, rotted making swinging up and over barbed wire difficult. On this Sunday I did not see anyone enjoying a country walk in perfect cool weather until finding a man wielding a hand scythe in battle against the head high vegetation; sweating in his efforts to free up one heavily clogged passage. In halting English the glowing young man told me he recently arrived from Thailand, out for, he said, some community service centered exercise.
As with most strangers in a strange land I have met, he was working hard to become a member of the community he longed to join.
In Stratford on Avon I walked in a garden where Shakespeare had raised his family. Among his sonnets written in brass letters embedded in concrete, this one caught my attention. “Those lips that Love’s own hand did make breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’.”
We all share this lovely planet where all of us long to share in the love of the tribe. Paths we follow from village to village celebrate how – no matter where we hail from – we are all neighbors sharing the place we call home.
Andy Miller would like to help you find a path from your house strait to the playground. Contact him if you are willing. Lonesomehut.com