Posted by: John Adams | December 12, 2008

England, Scotland and Wales

If you ever have the decision between spending an extra night at a hostel for $25 and spending the night in an airport for free, book the hostel, you cheapskate. Seriously.

Or you could be like me and spend a sleepless night trying to negotiate your way around those stupid little dividers they put between the seats, make your way groggily to your flight at around 6:00 in the morning, sleep hard for the entire flight to England, get shaken awake by the last passenger exiting the flight, grab your bag with sleep in your eyes and…lose your passport somewhere along the way to Immigration.

Which is exactly what happened to me on my way into England. After a couple of hours of searching every nook and cranny of my luggage, trying to retrace my steps, and not getting anywhere, I finally had to admit defeat. As I walked up to the Immigration desk, I felt like a criminal turning myself in. I was immediately subjected to a barrage of questions.

“Who are you staying with? What is their phone number? How much money do you have access to? Would someone else send you money if you were in trouble? Do you have a return flight out of the UK? Do you have any idea how expensive things are in this country?”

After about two hours of sitting, waiting, and wondering whether Switzerland would take me should I get denied entry to the UK, the immigration officer came back with a small white piece of paper in his hand that he said was a temporary visa. I had access to the United Kingdom and all her territories.

I caught a bus west to Bristol, where I met with Vijay & Tracy, a couple I met at PBC. They let me stay with them for about a week while I got an appointment set up with the Embassy and collected all the documents I would need to get my passport replaced.

I did get to do some interesting things in Bristol, despite all of the legal fuss. I visited the first church that John Wesley pastored, a quiet little white building in a busy shopping district. Somehow, it survived the air-raids of the 1940’s, when shells of other old church buildings remain just down the street. Inside, I met a Jamaican man who was somewhat strange. He was a Pentecostal and very much into the meaning of people’s names.

“John – that means ‘God’s gracious gift.’ Pleasure to meet you, sir. I feel as soon as you walked in that you were a Christian. (How many non-Christians walk into John Wesley’s chapel, I wondered to myself.)”

Joel (“The Lord Is Jehovah”) noticed that I stretch my back out a lot because it’s sore, and he asked if he could pray for it. I said yes, he prayed, and nothing happened, but I was grateful all the same. Joel’s favorite thing to do is to write strangers notes with things he has felt the Spirit impress upon his heart. He handed me a couple of notes with things he felt God was saying to me. I thanked him and went on to explore the rest of the museum.

On other days, I took daytrips to Bath and Oxford. Bath is one of England’s most beautiful towns, former playground of the rich and famous and the setting for one of Jane Austen’s novels (“Persuasion”). There was a free tour going on which I took, learning the history of several of the buildings in the process. The tour culminates at Queen’s Crescent (featured in the new movie “The Duchess”), a huge building that was once a mansion but now serves as a hotel for celebrities. Nicholas Cage owns a flat nearby. It was a lovely place to visit, if a bit surreal because of how expensive everything was.

I discovered in Bath that one of the hidden perks of England is the proliferation of small, inexpensive, and excellent bookshops. I must have visited three in Bath alone. I bought a very good biography of C.S. Lewis (“The Narnian”) to read on the train. It cost me £6 ($9) – much less than the $15-20 I would have paid in America.

On another day, I went to see The Kilns, C.S. Lewis’ house in Oxford. It’s a residence for Christian scholars nowadays, but one of the requirements of the residence is that the residents give tours of the home. So I went, and a girl from Spokane took me around the home and told me stories from when Jack lived there. Afterwards, I went back out into the English weather and took a walk in the woods behind the home. The Kilns is no longer a country manor – it sits at the end of a cul-de-sac in a suburban developement – but part of the estate has been preserved as a park, so the pond where Lewis and his family would go punting in the summers is still there, and the hill behind the house is still quiet, beautiful, and typically English.

Another daytrip took me to Cardiff, Wales, for a day, where I toured the local castle, ate a pub lunch, and tried in vain to read the Gaelic part of all the public signs. (Gaelic is a Celtic language spoken in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and part of France. In its written form, it appears to be composed entirely of consonants. To see a notice like, “Gwrdffynn y Cymru” is not uncommon.)

After Cardiff, my travels took me to London, since I had an appointment with the Embassy to get a new passport. London is a huge, crowded city barely held together by the Tube (subway). Riding the Tube is quite the experience – it is always crowded, no matter what the time of day, and you just pray that whoever your face is pressed up against has showered within the last 48 hours.

I didn’t know I had left Europe until I’d been in England. One of the first things Tracy had told me upon finding out that I was doing a tour of Europe was, “Oh, I really don’t think of England as being part of Europe!” The British are undoubtedly a little different — the English Channel has created a mental as well as a physical barrier between England and the Continent. The Brits tend to do everything a little bit differently anyway. They drive on the left where the rest of the continent uses the right. They joined the EU while refusing to adopt the Euro, opting instead to hang onto the more-valuable pound. Even the public signs in the UK use only English, whereas signs in other countries are usually printed in two or three. The glories of empire may have faded, but perhaps some of the pride of it remains.

From London, I took a coach north to Newcastle, where I was to stay with Matthew, a guy I met at L’Abri. I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (another book I bought in a British bookshop, where I discovered £2 classics) on the long ride up, which piqued my interest since it is set in Geneva and since its dark subject matter matched the moodiness of the weather.

When I arrived, I stayed with Matthew in his vicarage house (he has just begun an internship at an Anglican church, and he gets to live right next to the church). It was really cold by the time I got up there, and I caught a bad cold which laid me out for a couple of days. When I got better, I was able to attend a couple of liturgical prayer services at the church. It was kind of beautiful to go back and forth with the vicar, reading lines from the Book of Common Prayer. There is some comfort in praying old words, words that have been prayed thousands of times before.

The last thing I did in the UK was to take the train north to Edinburgh, Scotland, birthplace of Harry Potter. We took a free tour in the pouring rain, learning the secrets of the city (where John Knox is buried, where J.K. Rowling began the Harry Potter series, where a number of gruesome murders happened, etc.) and freezing half to death all the while. I had a pork sandwich at Oink!, which tasted just like a North Carolina pulled-pork sandwich, but with apple-sage something-or-other instead of coleslaw. Edinburgh is a cool city, very compact and walkable but loaded with things to see. Edinburgh Castle towers over the city, seated atop an extinct volcano that, according to our tour guide Mike, “killed glaciers” (cut them in half) during the Ice Age.

On my last full day in Europe, I took a bus to St. Andrews, a university town about an hour and a half up the coast from Edinburgh. The opening scene from my favorite movie of all time (“Chariots of Fire”) was filmed on the beach at St. Andrews, and I wanted to fulfill a dream and run down the sand there. I found it at about 3:00 in the afternoon (it was already getting dark). After praying for a little while, I tightened my scarf, turned around, and fulfilled my dream.

It’s a great thing to be able to fulfill things you’ve always dreamt of doing. I feel really privileged to have spent three months in Europe, visiting new places and making new friends. It has been worth all the while. I felt as though it was preparation, however. I knew that when I got back to the States, I would be getting back to the real world, the world where I will have to engage difficult questions and try to get along with my grandparents, the world where I will be called to follow Jesus no matter where it leads. Running down the beach at St. Andrews, I thought of where this journey might be leading me, and asked the Lord to give these lungs the strength to keep going, these legs the endurance I will need to finish the race.

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Responses

  1. Ah, so inspiring John. Running the beach at St. Andrews must have been an experience.

  2. cool travels, bro….i’m jealous–in a good way 🙂

  3. John,

    I think you’ll find it’s Welsh that’s spoken in Wales! Gaelic is spoken in Ireland, Gallic in Scotland and Breton in Brittany. Also, Cornish is spoken in Cornwall. They’re all Celtic languages, but they branched out and developed separately hundreds of years ago.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your visit – Croeso i Gymru (welcome to Wales)!
    Mari

  4. Haha, thanks for the correction, Mari! I guess that exposes my difficulties with your beautiful language all the more. I’d love to go back to Wales someday (preferably in the summer) and visit Snowdonia, although I’m sure I’ll still be hunting for the English part of every notice.

  5. God has rebuked my envy.

    Glory to you, brother.

  6. Man, this trip sounded amazing. I’m glad you got to see all that man.


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