MESSAGE: English Countryside

I know the English are renowned for their gardens, and yet I was surprised to see wildflowers covering the English countryside. Daisies and lupines and foxgloves – oh my!

In fact, the whole of the English countryside is absolutely charming — from the lush Lake District to the coast of Cornwall and the fields of Devon, from Cotswold villages to mystic Glastonbury, historical Salisbury and Bath, and the enclaves of Oxford and Exeter. England’s rural southwest has it all!

Here’re my 7 tips for enjoying England’s beautiful and bountiful countryside:

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Oxford Degree Day. I was lucky to be visiting Oxford during a Degree Day, with all the newly minted graduates decked out in their graduation robes. Here’s why the nearly 10,000 Oxford undergraduates are so proud:

  • Oxford is very competitive: over 17,000 people apply for around 3,000 places
  • 98.7% of those taking A-levels who enter the University achieve grades of AAA or better.
  • Applications to Oxford have increased by 55% in 10 years
  • 93% of Oxford leavers are employed six months after graduating.
  • Oxford has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the UK: only 1.6% of Oxford students dropped out, compared with the national average of 8.6%.

Students come to Oxford from over 140 countries and territories. The largest groups of international students come from the USA (1,513), China and Hong Kong (801), Germany (767), Canada (418), India (354), Australia (276), Italy (244), Ireland (228), France (221), and Singapore (206).

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Devonshire Cream Tea. As rich as they come! A real cream team is made from milk from Cornwall and has a minimum fat content is 55% — whoa! (Actually, in the U.S. the cream is so thick it would be classified as butter).

Maybe that’s why they call it “Heaven Devon” – ‘cause that’s where you’re headed if you eat it on a regular basis. Luckily, I had it just once (well, maybe twice…).

My favorite spot to indulge in a cream tea? The garden at the lovely Hazelwood House run by my friend Anabel. Check it out if you’re passing through delightful Devon:

SEE (Must-see Sights) – Glastonbury’s Tor. The word “tor” means “hill” in Celtic, and this ancient ruin of a tower sits on top a small crest in Somerset. Carbon dating of materials found at the Tor dates the site to 300-200 B.C. In addition, remains of a 5th century fort were found there, as well as several sub-Roman structures. It’s old!

A number of myths surround the Tor – pick your favorite one:

  • The hill, originally surrounded by water, was believed to have been the Isle of Avalon, the entrance to the fairy world referred to in King Arthur fables.
  • The Tor is also cited as a possible location for the Holy Grail, mainly because of its proximity to the monastery that housed the Naneos Cup.
  • The Tor was thought to have been re-shaped into a spiral maze for use in religious ritual, incorporating the myth that the Tor was the location of the underworld king’s spiral castle.

SHOP (Gotta Have) – Keswick, the “Fairtrade Capital.” Situated in the famous Lake District, Keswick in Cumbria is considered a model fair trade town, with:

  • 150 hotels, guest house and hostels serving fair-trade coffees and teas
  • 50 restaurants, cafes, pubs serving fair trade drinks
  • 20 shops and wholesalers suppling fair trade goods

Fair trade, of course, means that buys pay smaller farmers in developing countries fair and stable prices so that their businesses are sustainable. It also pays farming communities a “social premium” so that they can invest in schools, community health clinics, and other forms of infrastructure.

Keswich has a friendship link with Choche in Ethiopia, helping farmers in that country receive a fair price for their coffee. Visit this site more information on Keswick’s fair-trade commitment:

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Walking the Lakes. I was told by all my London-based friends that I simply had to go to the Lake District – and I’m glad I did! Although it rained incessantly during my three-day visit, I was lucky to have one semi-dry afternoon.

I took advantage of the break in the weather for a 3-4 hours hike to Castlerigg – a stone circle just outside of Keswick. It was an easy stroll alongside streams, through sheep-grazing pastures, and up to the top of the hill. My reward: an ice cream truck selling tasty cones with sprinkles!

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Tukea. My good friend Althea is intricately involved with a great nonprofit organization called Tukae, meaning ”Let us be together” in Kisambaa, the local language.

While the org is based in Cornwall, they work to help alleviate poverty in central Tanzania. The organization works on 4 fronts: Health, Education, Job Creation and the Environment. Local Tukae staff works with the local community to integrate their skills, knowledge and ideals, enhancing the community’s opportunities to move out of poverty.

Want to support Tukae’s good work? Here’s how:

  • Give a donation! If you live in the UK, you can get Gift Tax benefits with your charitable donation:
  • Volunteer in Africa! Combine your next holiday with a volunteer stint in Eastern Usambara mountains. Tukae has welcome volunteers from more than 19 countries!
  • Buy a Tanzania-made product – I did! I wore my katanga-inspired skirt in my Euro packing video:

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Cruising the Cotswolds. Lovely lovely lovely! That’s all I have to say about the picturesque Cotswold towns that dot the English countryside. The Cotswold area spans the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire region and is filled iconic thatched roofed houses and cobble-stoned town squares.

It takes a full day’s drive just to soak it all in, especially since you’ll be going slow so as not to miss taking a photo of yet another charming cottage!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 and is filed under Europe, Messages by Country.

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