Where are you off to this summer? If you are thinking of going to England, I have the perfect book for you. Susan Branch has written a charming book about meeting and falling in love with her soul mate in Martha's Vineyard and going with him twenty-five years later on a two-month trip to the English Countryside. They cross the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II. If you are an Anglophile, you will love all Branch's references to English writers as well as her descriptions of the glories of the English landscape.
Here she is on The Peak District:
"The Peak District is gorgeous! We took a long muddy walk, up high on the hill behind the barn, looking over the rooftops of Wirksworth below us, across to the houses clinging to the hillsides in the far view; farmlands & woods, like a patchwork quilt of greens, ribboned by winding roads. I came back, chilled to the bone, jeans wet up to my knees; took my book & had a long hot bubble bath. I don't remember the last time I used a line-dried towel! I dry linens on the line, but not towels; I thought they'd be too scratchy, but not only do they feel wonderful, they smell like the wild flower fields outside."
And the Yorkshire Dales:
"Let's see if I can describe it for you because, as pretty as these pictures are, the don't begin to do it justice -- it's not that easy to capture magic.
The Yorkshire Dales is a collection of deep river valleys formed by glaciers during the Ice Age. It feels primeval -- if you walked out of there in 1756 & came back today, I don't think you'd see any difference in the landscape. Stunning views go for miles out to pinpoint-size stone houses clinging to hillsides, remote barns & crumbling out-buildings, sometimes with full-grown trees coming out of them. It's almost as manicured as a park, carpeted in buttercups & spotted with grazing farm animals. Rock walls divide pastures & disappear over the hills after crisscrossing the slopes, tracing patterns like a chain stitch in a huge patchwork quilt. The narrow road that cuts through The Dales is tightly bordered by shoulder-high wildflowers. Mayflowers & cow parsley hang over both sides of the dry-stone walls. Two-track rutted paths with grass growing down the centers cut between fields; hedgerows line river banks. Small villages & cottages with foxgloves peeking from dooryards come right up to the road's edge. We wait our turn to go over single-lane, arched stone bridges.
We stop often, turning off the car engine to get out and lean on the walls next to meadows of waving wildflowers & bouncing lambs, to listen to the silence, to smell the breeze & to look at the view so big, it almost hurts your heart to see it."
She writes beautifully about quintessential English topics such as the National Trust, hedgerows, pubs, driving in England, and cottage gardens. Each little essay is informative and laced with her watercolor drawings and poetic take on things. They are all extremely helpful and inviting for the traveller planning a trip to England.
I love her description of being an Anglophile:
"I've never considered myself an Anglophile. I looked it up & read that an Anglophile is 'a person who's fond of British culture,' which sounds mild but I always thought there might be a sort of irrational cultishness to it, so I wasn't an Anglophile, I just liked England.
Now I realize an Anglophile is not made, she is born -- in the gardens of rural England, in a tearoom on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, & she can't be held responsible. It's like falling in love, she has to go with it. She sees an English meadow in the middle of a stadium in London during the opening ceremony for the Olympics with real sheep & shepherds & geese & wildflowers & she realizes she's madly in love with the people that would do that. She hangs up her bunting, turns on Downton Abbey & says, sign me up."
I have decided that Susan Branch and I are definitely kindred spirits.
Her quotes are so well chosen. Here is one from her description of the Yorkshire Dales:
"A day in the car in an English country is like a day in some fairy museum where all the exhibits are alive & real." -- Rudyard Kipling
"England, with its history & air of magic, the soil & woods thick with meanings that survive in fragments, is an empire of the imagination." -- T. S. Eliot
She even includes a selection of books she has loved "that will make your trip to England even grander." Some of her favorites are: "Excellent Women" by Barbara Pym, "Howards End" by E.M. Forster, "Cold Comfort Farm" by Stella Gibbons, "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, "All Creatures Great and Small" by James Herriot, and "Bridget Jone's Diary" by Helen Fielding. Hmm...all my favorites!
The book is filled with her whimsical watercolor illustrations and feels more like like a personal diary and homemade album then a travel book. She includes recipes for English dishes such as Coronation Chicken, Hot Milk Cake, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Pimm's Cup.
There are pubs, country walks, churches, antique stores, gardens and teas. She highlights Sissinghurst, Charleston, Beatrix Potter's Hilltop, and so many others you don't want to miss. Ellen Terry's home Smallhythe Place sounds especially delightful to visit. Last year I went to the English Countryside and visited Cornwall, Devon, and the Cotswolds. It was one of my favorite trips ever. Susan Branch's book has given me more places to visit for next time. Pick this book up, whether you are planning a trip or not. If you are an Anglophile, you will be happily transported for a few pleasurable hours to "England's green and pleasant land." If you weren't planning to go, I guarantee you will want to now.
The story of her romance and marriage is delightful. This book contains everything you need for a glorious trip to the English Countryside!
Happy summer adventures!