Top 10 UK moments (part 1)

posted in: Life in UK | 1

I love The Steve Miller Band. My favorite song is Serenade,  but I’m going to steal a line from one of his other songs: Time keeps on ticking into the future and in just a few short weeks our family will begin the future back in Nashville, Tenn. But before charging toward the days ahead I wanted to take two blog posts and reflect on the days behind.

My second journey to the sea and the end of another 48-mile ride along an old rail bed. Mountain biking is the best way to see England.

We arrived in the United Kingdom nearly two years ago and although it hasn’t been without its challenges, it has also had its highlights. Bunches of them. Here are five now and five to come. These are in no particular order, just 10 moments I enjoyed during our short time living under the monarchy.

1. Mountain biking. Let’s face it, I never intended to be the hardcore mountain biker I’ve turned into. In fact, I got the bike to cruise around on the trails behind my house, but when two weeks after buying the bike I didn’t pass the UK driving test – and still haven’t 10 months later – the bike became my primary mode of transportation and my daily driver to work. I ride to the train station, take the train eight miles and ride to the office. I reverse it in the afternoon, only in the afternoons I often take off through the countryside. I’ve loved launching out across the hills – and there are a lot of hills to the point that England seems like an uphill country regardless of direction taken. I’ve now made two 48-mile rides to the southern coast of England along National Bike Route 222, an old rail bed that meanders from Guildford to Shoreham by the Sea. England is a beautiful country and the best way to see it is by bike. Just make sure you recognize there is a culture clash among various people groups!

My kiddo on our first family hike up Ranmore Hill along the North Downs Way.

2. Family rambles. Rambles are walks and rambling on is incessant talking, which I’m prone to do but when we first arrived I was an incessant walker. Occasionally our family strikes out on the trails together and the first time was a gorgeous October day when we made our first trek up Ranmore Hill, the hill about a mile behind our house that is part of the North Downs Way.

I love Ranmore and the Downs not just for its beauty but also for its history. Once, while up on the Downs, I met an extremely old “chap” who told me the Downs was the last line of defense against a German army that everyone was sure would advance across the English Channel after devastating the British army at the Battle of Dunkirk (France). The Downs is a ridge that runs for 132 miles from the Southeastern coast near Dover to Farnham in the west. The Germans would have had to cross over that ridge if they were to take London. Gun emplacements (pill boxes) rest strategically along the ridge trail as testimony to a battle that fortunately was never fought.

A small village but a globally great story.

3. Pooh Corner. I’m a lifelong fan. My kiddo is too…which makes me really happy. Going to Hartfield, home of author A.A. Milne, was our first journey and it is about 90 minutes from our house. Hartfield is a quaint little village located near Ashdown Forest which Milne used as the basis for the 100-acre woods and the site for Poohsticks Bridge. Honestly, there isn’t really that much to see. The big thrill is having read Pooh stories since I was my daughter’s age, and then reading those same stories to her, and actually being in the place where Milne created a great world for his son was certainly a favorite moment.

4. Formula 1. Driving is not utilitarian for Europeans. Americans get in cars to get places. Cars are transportation. Europeans get in cars to be in cars. If driving cars is the experiential path to automotive Nirvana, then Formula 1 racing is Paradise. And I’m a junkie. I buy the magazine. I watch the qualifying. I have live timing open on my computer to track telemetry. I watch the races. I cheer for McLaren. I love Jenson Button. F1 is a collision between science, technology, precision and elite athletes. I stumbled into F1 because I was looking for a really cool car game for my Wii, and F1 was highly rated. I bought it and it took me two weeks before I could get a car around the track. If the game was that difficult I wondered how hard the real thing is. I started watching and realized that going from 200 mph to 60 mph into a corner and pulling 5 Gs under breaking is more strain than fighter pilots experience in combat conditions. Some of the racing teams have information sharing agreements with the aerospace industry where they are feeding data to companies like Boeing to be used in airplane construction. First race, I was hooked and it was a moment that opened up a new world of sport to me. It was either racing or soccer (or cricket), and I’ve already communicated not once but twice why neither of those were going to do it for me.

The Imperial War Museum, London, England.

5. The Imperial War Museum. I don’t know how many times we’ve watched the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’d have to guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 697,458 times. Okay, that is an exaggeration but my daughter loves the movie. And she’s been mesmerized by the scene where the children are evacuated from London. That’s become very real for her since we’ve come to England. Our next door neighbor’s mother was sent from London to Wales. My daughter’s class studied the war and spent a couple of days on the evacuations. Teachers told the kids there was an exhibit titled, A Children’s War, at the museum. She immediately asked to go. It was an amazing exhibit in an amazing museum (most museums in London are extremely well done and most are free). I would have loved to have known what was going through her mind as she vicariously lived the experience of a child in London during the Blitz. A few months before we’d walked the streets near St. Paul’s Cathedral which were littered with the rubble of destroyed buildings. Looking at the pictures she realized she’d been there. What made it a top moment for me is that I really believe she connected with history and in some way was transported back to WWII and empathized with those children.

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