Hanging with the Locals

I did the backpacking around Europe thing in college. You know the routine – hitting all the major cities, seeing the famous sights, sleeping on trains, rushing from country to country. My style of travel has matured with my age. Now my preferred mode is to plop down in one place, most likely in the unknown countryside, settle in for a spell and enjoy the local flavor. Even better, staying with friends provides the perfect opportunity to hunker down and appreciate simple pleasures and lesser known sights. So goes my week in England.

Peter, Jo and Molly enjoying their beer

Right off the bat, en route from the airport Jo and Peter took me to the National Brewery Museum. There we followed a lively tour guide through the extensive displays and grounds where we learned the origins of brewing beer. We also met the few remaining big draft horses that once pulled the beer wagons and saw other beer vehicles through the years – including one shaped like a beer bottle. The payoff for our attentiveness was the tasting room and outdoor patio, where we were able to sample the various brews. I'm normally not a beer drinker, but on a lovely sunny afternoon it quite hit the spot. My family is still in shock.

Museum of Childhood school room

The Museum of Childhood proved to be a fun excursion. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to say that I remember some of the toys we saw there. But the best part was the schoolroom. There I squeezed into a tiny desk and wrote on a chalk slate under the tutelage of a strict and imposing school marm.

There's nothing like a good Sunday picnic and walk in the park. Mary and Shaun took me to Calke Abbey where we joined friends for a perfect afternoon in the countryside. The grounds offered every view possible, from water to pastoral hillsides to colorful autumn leaves. And we even got in a stately mansion.

Views of Calke Abbey

Knowing how much I enjoy cycling, Mary had a bike ready and waiting for me. So off we went on two wheels. We navigated narrow lanes that offered no shoulders and hemmed us in with tall hedge rows. I made a mental note to re-evaluate England as a cycle touring destination. But once we reached Bradgate Park, we could ride side by side on the paths and enjoy the tranquility of this former deer park and its scenic ruins.

Cycling through Bradgate Park

The real payoff came when we reached the Jade Tea Rooms in Newton Linford. They have lovely cakes and coffee (yes, coffee not tea) which was the ideal excuse to linger. And their chalkboard said it all. It was a timely respite, as the treatening rain turned serious, pouring down outside as we talked and talked. By the time we re-emerged the rain had stopped. But luck wasn't entirely on our side, as I suffered a flat tire on the return trip and walked a good share of the way home with my limping bike. Far from tarnishing the experience, it achieved lasting status.

Mary and Molly enjoying coffee and cakes

This is the stuff memories are made of. It's the company I keep and the moments we share that I will remember most fondly. I've no need to be a tourist when instead I can hang with the locals.


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