BRITISH CONNECTION: Traveling to Northern England by Chris Wirszyla, LOL contributor

In 1986 I did an exchange program to Eastbourne, England, and attended the Chelsea School of Human Movement for a semester. While there I took a bunch of physical education courses, including field hockey (totally biased against left-handers), basketball (where I ended up basically teaching the class as the Brits had a thing or two to learn about the game), and biomechanics, where I shaved half my arm for my research project featuring muscles involved in the forehand frisbee throw. Try explaining that to people! I met many fantastic and lifelong friends and my eventual wife while there; although, we took a circuitous route to get to the marriage point. Between courting my wife and visiting her family over the years, I have managed to get to England close to two dozen times and I love it! We get to experience great culture, sites, history, and food of Northeast England.
A recent trip took us to Alnwick Gardens and the castle of Harry Potter fame for a day. We also visited the city of York, with the fantastic York Minster Cathedral and home of the British Rail Museum. Then we took several days to hike, climb and tour castles. There are two adventures I would recommend to anyone as family fun and educational trips. We traveled with our 7-year-old twins, so I can vouch for the kids’ enjoyment.
A quick ride up the coast of Northeast England from a friend’s house in Northumberland County brought us to Lindisfarne (Holy Island). The island is only accessible at low-tide, as the road gets covered when the tide arrives. The island is considered to be the origin of Christianity in Britain and boasts the castle overlooking the North Sea, the ruins of the priory, and the most delicious strawberries sold on the side of the road. We enjoyed a wonderful picnic at the castle, complete with sausage rolls, British crisps and fudge from a local bakery. Then it was back in the car for a quick journey down the coast to Bamburgh Castle, which is almost 1,000 years old and restored by an incredible man named William Armstrong. Armstrong is famous for, among other things, building Cragside—the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. The castle contains an art and aviation museum and is featured in many films, including “Ivanhoe” and “Macbeth.”
Afterward, we traveled down to one of our favorite places, Dunstanburgh Castle, in the seaside town of Crastor. The 14th-century castle is a mile-long hike along the sea, through sheep and cows, along with the associated sheep and cow poop. The walk and castle are strikingly beautiful and highlight, once again, the incredible history of England compared to the relatively short history of the United States.
After making our way down to Stokesley, in North Yorkshire, to my wife’s parent’s house, we embarked on a couple of hiking adventures that included perfect picnics, wonderful scenery and world history. (By the way, for vegetarians, Stokesley is home to Quorn, the fungus-based meat substitute.) I personally took a six-mile round-trip run through farms, on a public footpath to the town of Great Ayton—the boyhood home of Captain Cook. While there I did my pushups next to a 12th century church.
After a scenic workout, we drove to Rosebury Topping and hiked up the 1,000-foot peak in about a half-hour. It overlooks the countryside and sea—quite a spectacular view. Equally spectacular was the bacon and red Leicester cheese—“butty”—I made; it went well with my favorite British crisps, the Real McCoy Grilled Steak potato chips, followed by some Cadbury chocolate buttons. The view and walk are amazing, and we did our part to keep it that way by collecting two bags of trash on the way down.
The next day we took an early walk to Captain Cook’s Monument with the view of Rosebury Topping and the surrounding countryside greeting us. Another picnic of sausage rolls—which cost the equivalent of about 30 cents—at a local bakery and a steak pasty put US fast-food burgers to shame. We made our way down to the town of Great Ayton to a famous ice-cream parlor called “Suggitt’s.” We ordered all the “99’s”—cones, complete with Cadbury flakes. Around the corner was the school that Captain Cook went to as a boy, which had been renovated into a shop and museum. Here, we learned of all of his travels and eventual demise in Hawaii. Considering we complain about the slightest inconvenience these days, his 3-year travels on the high seas put things into perspective.
This was only a small part of our travels featuring only a small part of England. Readers really have to go and see and do to appreciate what the country has to offer. LOL
This story is dedicated to Bryan Bainbridge, John’s father in law who passed away shortly after he and his family returned from this trip.