The Midlands: The Abridged Tour

My short weekend in the Midlands was drastically different (and way more quiet) than my previous days in London. And green. I mean, there are green, lush areas in Ontario, and I’m sure in other parts of Canada. But I don’t know if they really hold a candle to the lush, rolling hills of the English countryside. It’s a bit surreal, really.

I also must say, Sabrina and her parents were so good to me – too good, actually. They more than made me feel at home and spoiled me more than I should have been. I owe them big time and hope I can find some way to repay them for the kindness and hospitality they showed me over the two days.

But here we go:

Saturday: After a good night’s sleep, Sabrina and I set out for Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s certainly pretty and picturesque, but lemme tell ya, the Bard’s Country ain’t exactly cheap, either. We went to the tourist information centre to try and find a map, only to find out there were only two types: the ones for 80p, and the ones for 1.25 GBP. Who knew trying not to get lost was so expensive?

We skipped the maps and decided instead to do one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours. Not bad. We had one of those plug-in guides, so we were trying to follow along as the bus made its way along those narrow streets. First stop: Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. How pretty. The garden was enormous and filled with all sorts of plants. They also had staff who gave a brief talk about the history of the cottage in Anne’s day and throughout the ages when her relatives took care of it.

We then hopped back on the bus, where we had an actual live tour guide explain things about life in Tudor times as we whizzed past some countryside scenery (and leaned to the right to avoid being whacked in the heads by wayward branches).

Back in town, I went over to Shakespeare’s birthplace, which actually had an adjoining museum about his life. That was informative, but it was kind of disappointing, only because the room where Shakespeare was apparently born was one of the last rooms I saw before I left the building. I have to say though, Anne Hathaway’s cottage was relatively more interesting.

Sunday: Sabrina took me to her old elementary school, which looked a bit like something out of Harry Potter. She then took me into “downtown” Leek, where we walked around and she showed me her mother’s shop (which is named after her older sister, Sophie). It’s the cutest town, but I’m sure a lot of towns in this part of the country all look picture-pretty.

We then drove to Buxton, an ancient spa town founded in Roman times. On the way we passed Flash, which Sabrina told me was the highest point in the U.K. (I’ve read it’s the highest village. If someone can verify that for me, please do). In any case, the scenery on the drive up was breathtaking.

A half-hour later we were in Buxton. Apart from the lovely Victorian architecture and beautiful gardens, another big draw is St. Ann’s Well, which has natural spring water flowing from its small fountain. I took a couple swigs, and it’s (a) unbelievably refreshing, but (b) also quite warm. Turns out the water is – and has always been – a balmy 27.5 degrees Celsius. Buxton also profits from this, as it also has its own mineral water company which distributes worldwide.

We could only spend a couple of hours here, as I left later on in the afternoon for Edinburgh. But we managed to have some tea and scones at a small tea room in town, which capped off a nice weekend.

But it was off to Edinburgh, and trying to cram in as much as possible during the last four days of vacation …