Saturday, October 10, 2015


My visit to England in the summer of 2015

By Tony Alcock

I visited family and friends in my home country for close to a month.  I was with my brother and his extended family for the first few days in Leicester, some 100 miles north of London and later stayed with my good friend Ann Green in Honiton, Devon in the Southwest of England.

The whole of the UK is continuously at the whim of hot and cold “fronts” from every direction.  Therefore forecasting the weather is virtually impossible.  Even in the so-called summer, on any given day, the sun may shine, the winds may blow, the rain may fall, or it might just cloud over to be the traditional “grey sky English day”.  Understandably, the English are obsessed with the weather and it is always the main topic of conversation; “I’m sure it will brighten up later”, “The sun will come out tomorrow”, “Isn’t it just a lovely day”.

It is impossible to convey the beauty of the English countryside at this time of year.  The overabundance of every shade of green and the profusion of flowers of every shape and color simple are simply magnificent.  A veritable maze of very narrow, winding country lanes, bordered by ten foot high hedgerows, take you through picturesque 17th century villages with thatched roof cottages, many adorned with hanging baskets of flowers.  These tiny villages with odd names have but a few homes however; almost all have the requisite church,  one or more cozy old world pubs and local butcher shops, bakeries, and fresh fruit and vegetable stores.  

In the County of Devon, the terrain consists of rolling hills affording the visitor a panorama of stunning beauty with a never-ending patchwork of farmers’ fields of various crops and some with cows, horses, pigs and a variety of other animals. It is as though one has stepped back in time and is in stark contrast to Southern California.

Being behind the wheel of a vehicle in England brings its own special challenges. Driving on the left demands a little concentration; however one also needs to adapt to the many traffic circles called “Roundabouts”.  In truth, they are very efficient in keeping traffic moving as long as one remembers to “give way to the right”.  To compound this challenge there are a growing number of “Magic Roundabouts”.  The concept originated in the town of Hemel Hempstead some years ago.  They are now becoming more common where more than five roads merge.  They consist of “mini roundabouts” at the inception point of each road encircled by one large roundabout.  It sounds complicated, and, to a newcomer, it is, however they are very efficient and truly allow traffic to smoothly enter from one road and exit any other.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of being behind the wheel in the UK is driving along the myriad of narrow, winding country lanes.  Most of these are barely one car wide with the occasional spot every several hundred yards or so that enable vehicles, going in the opposite direction, to just squeeze by each other.  Usually one of the vehicles has to back up until a wide enough spot is found.  Being very adept at driving with great accuracy in reverse really helps.  The sides of these one-car wide lanes are bordered by 10-15 foot hedgerows that are trimmed by the local farmers.  Often they gently brush the sides of your vehicle which explains the scratch marks of most vehicles in the countryside.  The real scary part is that the locals seem quite comfortable with hurtling down these twisting lanes at absurd speeds with a visibility to oncoming vehicles of no more than 50 feet!  It is truly amazing that there are few accidents.
It is expensive to either live or visit this magic kingdom.  Compared to the United States of America, prices are high.  In particular, hotels are pricey and gasoline (petrol) is double the price.

Away from the cities, the English are almost overly polite and friendly.  They also are quick to apologize, which I think has something to do with the generally awful weather.
All in all, England, my birthplace, is a wonderful country and very hospitable to its many visitors.