Christmas Time in the UK
This trip, I only intended to go to London (for the fifth time this year!) (No random venturing to find the workplaces of my ancestors this time.) I booked my tickets months in advance for a great price and was excited that I would finally get to fly Icelandair! Right before the trip, I noticed that I somehow booked two Reykjavik to London flights, rather than a round trip ticket. So I called Icelandair to fix it, but they wanted me to pay four times what I initially paid for the ticket. So I took matters into my own hands and made an adventure out of it. I enlisted a friend, booked a train ticket from London to Manchester, a hotel room, and an early morning EasyJet flight out of Manchester...all for $300 less than what re-booking my ticket would have cost! Manchester is actually the Christmas capital of the UK (basically Whoville) but more on that later!
If you like Christmas lights as much as I do, add the UK to your Christmas destination list! I actually lived in London in December 2014, but I think the Christmas cheer has only increased since. Virtually everywhere in London, the streets are covered in lights. Immediately upon my arrival, I met up with a friend to go to Winter Wonderland, London's largest and most famous Christmas market.
Christmas in England has some differences to America. For the last three years, I've brought Christmas crackers and mince pies to my American family. My British friends are always surprised that Christmas crackers are not ubiquitous! For my non-British readers, Christmas crackers are like firecrackers and contain a little toy, a joke, and a paper hat. During the English Christmastime, you'll see work parties and groups of friends wearing these paper hats at restaurants everywhere! They're also used on Christmas Day.
If you really want to experience the English Christmastime, nothing can quite replace making English friends and tagging along for flat Christmas dinners! I'm lucky enough that after a year living in London, it feels like home and I have several friends still in the city.
After my time in London, we headed to Manchester (but not before missing our original train - luckily we were able to take one twenty minutes later with no charge!) Our first stop was Takk, an Icelandic inspired coffee shop!
Manchester is home to several adorable bookstores, including Chapter One, an independent store. Their Waterstones is massive and (despite telling myself I wasn't going to buy a book), I found a book with a fencer on the cover so of course I needed that. (The Dutch Maiden by Marente de Moor. It was a great read!)
Manchester prides itself as the Christmas capital of the UK. The entire city is like one giant Christmas market! We somehow found time to ice skate (yay for rental skates).
We had left our bags at the storage place at the train station. Upon collection, the worker noticed that my hands looked cold and gave me a pair of really nice red leather gloves from lost and found. If you lost your gloves in Manchester recently, I've been taking good care of them (though I almost lost them in a parking lot in Colorado, I found them again).
And then, because I like to keep busy, I flew back to Reykjavik for my skaters' Christmas show and then flew back to the States (and drove across the country while I was at it!).
I Bought a One-Way 6AM Ticket to London the Next Morning and Found the Land of my Ancestors
On Sunday night, I unexpectedly discovered that I had an entire week off of work so I did what any reasonable person would do and promptly booked a one-way flight to London with vague ideas of travelling elsewhere in the UK until I needed to come back to Reykjavik. One of my ideas was to track down an inn that I had discovered from a postcard, stating that one of my far-off ancestors was the innkeeper in the 1800s. So I decided to track down that inn, having no idea what sort of adventure I was in for!
But before venturing north, I had a couple of days to explore more of London. Monday afternoon, I walked around the familiar streets of London, sleep-deprived from pulling an all-nighter, still not entirely sure if I was really back in London or if I was just dreaming. Thirty-six hours earlier, I had no idea that I’d be in London that day! However, those sorts of things happen when you have been suffering from British withdrawals and have no idea what to do with yourself now that the Olympics are over. Actually, London seemed to know I was coming before I did and got its priorities in line for my visit.
For example, my least favourite juice store in all of London closed and instead an ice cream shop serving matcha soft serve opened up in its place! The Brits seemed to care about the Olympics just as much as I did, resulting in me reading the free evening papers three days in a row for the first time ever. The first night, one of the workers staffed outside tube stations to distribute the papers offered me one, I declined as I always do, then I saw that the double Olympic champion in gymnastics, Max Whitlock was on the cover, and changed my mind about not wanting to read the paper!
I was hoping to visit London before the 2 October end of the “Fashioning a Reign” exhibition at Buckingham Palace, which featured the Queen’s clothing from the ninety years of her life, including her wedding and coronation dresses! I had visited Buckingham Palace before, but it was lovely to see the other rooms again as well. One of my favourite parts of the exhibit were the medals displayed for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, one in each colour!
After seeing some friends and re-visiting a few of my favourite London places, I set off for a crazy adventure to Dent, chasing down the land of my ancestors. I tracked down the Sun Inn Dent from the postcard and called them, making a booking for two nights and booking a Virgin East Coast train ticket from London to Dent, changing at Leeds. That was about the extent of my preparation.
The train travel woes continued, as the train out of London was delayed due to signal failure, so we knew we were going to miss our train connection in Leeds, which was the last train to Dent of the evening. The on-train worker told us not to worry, that it was her obligation to get us to our destination. (Trenitalia, take note!!!! You are not supposed to leave your passengers stranded!!!!) Then, our train was terminated three stations early, so we had to get off and get back on a different train to get to Leeds. At this point, they also told us how to go online to get a FULL refund for the one hour delay. (This is what a train company ought to do. I’m still talking to you, Trenitalia.) We got on a different train and I tried to plug in my phone, only to discover my charger was broken. (This time it was thankfully not catching fire, shutting off all the electricity in the flat, and ruining my phone broken, but broken enough that my phone would not charge.) Then, the attractive British redhead sitting across from me kindly offered his charger, at which point I stopped caring at all about train delays and began plotting how soon was too soon to propose marriage. (Trenitalia, take note: providing passengers with an attractive British redhead with a phone charger will calm your customers’ rage in the event of a train delay). Unfortunately, a half hour was not enough time to get engaged, but I am confident that if we’d had another few hours on the train, the end result might have been different. (Actually, I am confident he only offered his charger so he could stop hearing my annoying American accent complain about my charger not working! haha)
Missing the last train to Dent actually worked out really, really in our favour! It turns out that the train station in Dent is five miles from the inn and there are virtually zero cabs in Dent. We would have been in a bad way had we ended up at the train station! Luckily, Virgin Trains provided us with a taxi to take us the whole way from Leeds to Dent, a journey of over two hours! It was one of the most beautiful drives in my life! Leeds itself looks like a lovely city that I need to explore sometime.
We drove through little medieval towns like Skipton around sunset and it was absolutely gorgeous! We drove past farms and the rolling green hills of the countryside. When we got closer to Dent, the road became a tiny narrow path, with stonewalls on the side and a cliff to the right (no guardrails!) It was somewhat reminiscent of Hoosier or Independence Pass in Colorado! We actually had to stop the taxi for sheep to cross the road! There were a few gates where the taxi driver had to stop and open them to drive though and then get back out and close them so sheep couldn’t escape. The little lights from the town started to light up the valley in the distance, but other than that it was an isolated, windy, and steep drive. When the elderly gentleman who lived at the inn heard that we arrived from Dent on that road, he exclaimed, “You went that bloody way!? Many people have died going that way. It is quite dangerous in the winter.” But, as a Coloradan, I didn’t think it was supremely terrible and instead enjoyed the magical scenery.
For those of you who have driven through Kansas, this is like the English equivalent of one of those teeny tiny farm towns (comparative in size, but much more charming and British). As soon as we rounded the corner for the inn, I recognized it immediately!
I was surprised that we were the only two people on our train from London trying to get to Dent until I saw how tiny the town was! The town claims 785 residents, but you can walk from one end to the other in less than five minutes! I can’t thank Virgin Trains enough for providing us with a two-hour taxi so we wouldn’t be stranded. That’s really superior customer service (unlike you, Trenitalia!)
The inn was charming and just wonderful. It has been there for over three centuries and has always functioned as a pub and inn. There are many historical photos and artifacts on the wall and the pub/restaurant part of the inn is frequented by locals. We arrived after they had stopped serving food for the night, but they turned the grills back on to make us veggie burgers when they heard we hadn’t had time for dinner.
The next day, we visited St. Andrew’s 12th century Norman-style church, the Dent Heritage Center, and Sofia’s knit store. And that was exactly everything there was to do in Dent and we were finished by 1 PM! Most people who visit Dent do so on a hillwalking holiday, stopping at little towns for the night and carrying on the next day. One of these days, I really need to embark on a hillwalking holiday of my own! That would be a dream trip!
There was a bit of struggle trying to find a way to the train station, as the lone taxi company serving Dent was somehow fully booked for the weekend! Luckily, the elderly man who lived at the inn was able to drive my friend to the train station in the evening and repeat the journey for me the following morning! At 1150 feet above sea level, Dent is the highest train station in all of England. The Coloradan in me was not impressed with the elevation, since the lowest point in Colorado is 3,000 feet, Colorado Springs is 6,000 feet, and we have dozens of peaks above 14,000 feet, but I was definitely impressed with the historic charm on the station and the gorgeous view.
So who wants to go on a hillwalking holiday with me?
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: email@example.comHappy Travels, Crystal
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