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?
Three years this week, I visited London for the first time. Considering how important this city is to me now and how I actually lived there for an entire academic year, today it is really amazing to me that I never set foot on British soil until I was 20!
My first trip to London was with EF College Break and also included stops in Paris and Barcelona. At this point, I was already a massive anglophile, something that I'm pretty sure emerged during high school when I simultaneously took an AP British literature class, discovered alternative British music, and began consuming tea on a daily basis. My life before this seems so long-ago and foreign! I vividly recall going to high tea at The Dorchester. High tea there is a very fancy affair and I was with a large group of American college students and I am sure we fit the stereotype of loud American tourists quite well. When the waiter brought over the scones with jam and clotted cream, one of my fellow Americans asked, "What do you do with the toppings? Do you put them in your tea?" I may not have been that tea-time illiterate, but I definitely had loads to learn about British culture and society!
I blogged about my first trip to London for EF College Break, which was my first adventure into travel blogging. You can still read the posts here. My new-ness to the travel blog scene is apparent, yet it is full of some good stories I could add to the Dumb Things I've Done in Foreign Countries category! I accidentally broke a grate in Paris because my suitcase got stuck in it (sorry Parisians, I didn't mean to break your grate) and once gave a lecture to strangers about the origin of the phrase "Keep Calm and Carry On" thinking they were on the same tour group. They weren't. I kept calm and walked away.
When I lived in London, I went to Oxford on five separate occasions so it too is a very familiar city. Since this January, I have visited my adopted home of London three times and Oxford twice. During the bank holiday this past weekend, I returned to London and Oxford yet again.
So what is the most recent story to add to the list of "Dumb Things I've Done in Foreign Countries?" Well, I arrived in London from Reykjavik, not realizing that it was actually really, really warm out. I pretty much only brought fleece tights, jumper dresses, and a pair of boots so I borrowed clothes from a friend. One day, I put on the same trainers I had borrowed the day before. Or so I thought. On the tube later that day, I noticed that one shoe was black and the other gray. I found that odd because I thought they were both gray the day before, however, they were perfect inverses of each other so I was half-convinced they were a new style. Around this time, my friend messaged me saying, "By the way, you're wearing two different shoes." I was prepared to rock it and start a new fashion trend, but I was going to Primark anyway to get some summer clothes and found a new pair of summer boots.
Before my year abroad in London, I had a massive Pinterest board and list full of what I wanted to see. You might think that after a year abroad, I would have seen everything that London has to offer. While it is true that my trips to England now mostly focus on seeing friends and revisiting my favourite places and spaces, I am still completing my tourist list.
This past weekend was the first time I climbed to the top of St. Paul's or rode the London Eye. The stairwell in St. Paul's is a metal spiral staircase that goes in dizzying circles between galleries. St. Paul's has three galleries: the Whispering Gallery, which is 257 steps up, the Stone Gallery, which is 376 steps from the bottom, and finally the Golden Gallery after 528 steps, which offers the best views of London. In a way, it was good that I waited until I was very familiar with the skyline as I was easily able to point out iconic buildings and found myself explaining to tourists the pros and cons of each market and recommending my favourites (Broadway Market, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Borough, and Camden Town). Just me, your resident former-Londonder, cathedral dome dwelling market recommender!
The London Eye, of course, is the epitome of tourism in London. I tried all last year to find someone to go on the London Eye with me, but no one was interested. When climbing St. Paul's, I made friends with a Canadian engineer who was conveniently planning on taking the London Eye the following day. The queue was massive so we paid the extra six pounds for fast track, which was well-worth it. Remember, time is also valuable, especially when in a city as incredible as London! It was gorgeous view and fun experience.
Four of my five trips to Oxford last year were to do a self-guided CS Lewis walking tour. During my first trip to Oxford, I walked in the dark evening rain, clutching an umbrella and reading along with the guide on my phone. I had a terrible habit of not planning out my trip well and arriving just as everything was closing. There was one crowded Friday night, however, when I finally made it to The Eagle and Child, the meeting place of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and the rest of the Inklings. I was happy to sip my tea and discreetly take photos of the quotes, but I was not going to play the Narnia board game solo. I was visiting a good friend this trip to Oxford, who I quickly enlisted to attempt the board game with me. Unfortunately, it was missing pieces so we decided to just be content with finally finding the door to Narnia!
Are there any cities you keep coming back to over and over? Let me know in a comment below!
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: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
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