Musings from the UK: The Lake District, Edinburgh, and Durham

After some full, exhausting days at Oxford (we walked 13 miles each day), we went to the Lake District, Edinburgh, and Durham. Miles of train travel past thick forests, green fields, and small villages showed me that some of my favorite books – Watership Down, Jane Eyre, A Room with a View, and others – captured and mythologized a place of real beauty and intrigue. The feeling of being in a story turned out to be a theme of the trip.

I also gained a new appreciation of J.K. Rowling’s genius. Train travel is fast, convenient, and lets you relax and watch the countryside, but is also stressful, dirty, and chaotic. Rowling turned a monotonous necessity into a delight with the Hogwarts Express. I kept thinking of Harry Potter every time the food cart rattled by.

I also gained even more insights about imagination and story-telling.

Stories are mythologized truth

Every scene was a story; I’ve read about the loveliness and mystery of this place from dozens of authors. They saw truth, and they told it slant. The shaped it in imagery and metaphor and breathed life into characters who embodied the human experience.

Kendal was all gray stone, with tight corners and winding streets – somewhere Father Brown or Sherlock Holmes would have walked. The taxi ride was on winding rows and hills through green fields, pastures, low stone walls, hedgerows, woods, and little farms – a country of borders. You’ll have to take my word for most of it; our speed and the rain made picture-taking difficult.

Bowness-on-Windermere, a village next to Lake Windermere, was all shops and restaurants painted white, walled gardens with white and yellow roses, and a shining lake reflecting the green mountains around it. It was Laketown from The Hobbit.

The hikes were glorious. We stepped into a shadowy tunnel of green trees covered in thick moss, up through hill pastures ringing with the forlorn bleating of sheep, to a hilltop shrouded in silvery mist. The dim outlines of trees were all we could see, but I didn’t mind – it felt secret, ominous, and foreboding as Weathertop or the moors of Wuthering Heights.

The magic of stories is the magic of real, natural beauty on God’s earth, expressed in minute detail by people He gifted with wordcraft. I’m burning now to spin a story out of the beauty of New England.

Travel for people

The allure of the Lake District, Edinburgh, and Durham was worth traveling to see. But the best parts of this trip really were the people. Though we trekked 15 miles up and down the streets of Edinburgh to collect Scottish tartans and chocolates as souvenirs, it’s the conversations that I value the most.

We talked with our taxi drivers about English weather (one said that snow shuts down the Lake District; the other said that now winters were too warm and wet for snow); “health and safety” regulations set by the government; and regional accents (two of them warned us about Liverpool and Newcastle accents). The owner of the hotel in the Lake District told us what he knew of the history of the place, his previous career, and his aunt’s paintings which hung in the dining room. I spent hours talking about food, travel, dating, and culture with two Americans, a British woman, and an Australian woman on our last train.

In college, and just after, every glamorous Facebook picture of my friend’s travels filled me with envy and yearning: European castles, Italian vineyards, and tropical reefs. Now, after being able to take a few pictures of my own, I feel stronger knowing that I want to travel for people, not just scenery – fellow travelers, conference attendees, and hopefully new friends.

Seek out the family of God

Sunday morning in Durham, just before we had to get back to Heathrow, I was feeling sick, and we were both tired. We persevered enough, however, to get to Christchurch for their service.

The meeting room had a high ceiling, large windows, and white paint that caught the light. It was full of families: men and women talking in small groups, college students, and children who ran among the metal folding chairs, filling the room with laughter.

“If you get Jesus wrong,” one pastor began, “you get everything wrong, and you can’t relate to Him.” We recited the Nicene Creed, and sang through Christ-centered songs based on the Psalms. The main pastor talked through Psalm 8, pausing at verse 2:

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

“Oh, good,” he said, when one of the children there let out a happy cry. “I was hoping that would happen. In fact, I prayed that it would happen.” He continued to explain the majesty of God in making human beings, as helpless and small as babies, into priceless treasures. He went to Hebrews 2 to explain how Adam’s race had failed to rule this world as God created us to, but Jesus Christ became the ruler Adam failed to be.

I felt like crying with joy; to travel across the Atlantic and much of England and Scotland, and then find my family – radiant with worship, full of love for each other, steadfast in the truth – was exactly the encouragement I needed.

And then we returned. Now, I sift through my memories and new resolutions: to mythologize the beauty around me in stories; to use travel to build relationships, not just view pretty scenery; and to seek out the family of God everywhere.

While we were gone, summer arrived: tree canopies are lush and green, white spirea and pink rhododendrons are blooming, and the ocean is impossibly blue. For the first time, I can taste the sweetness of the word homecoming.

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