If Only We Could Stop Here: England Moments I Wanted to Freeze in Time

By Thursday, November 15, 2018 , , , , , ,

If you’ve followed me on Instagram over the last month, you know I recently went to England for the second time in my life. If you know me personally, you also probably know that I was terribly torn about returning. True life: I cried on and off during the trek back. It started as I was saying goodbyes and continued throughout the long flight over the Atlantic (Official apologies to the girl who was my seat partner. You’re a trooper). I was a mess, but it was because this trip was one of the sweetest and most refreshing weeks I’ve experienced in recent memory. I shared on Facebook about how I wished that I could freeze time on a particular day of the trip, and that got me thinking about the whole week. I had many moments like that – just wanting to stop, take everything in, fix it in my memory, and stay there for a while. More than once, I felt close in mind to one of my favorite fictional heroes, Ross Poldark, when he reflected thusly: 

“And Ross again knew himself to be happy – in a new and less ephemeral way than before. He was filled with a queer sense of enlightenment. It seemed to him that all his life had moved to this pinpoint of time down the scattered threads of twenty years…… Someone – a Latin poet – had defined eternity as no more than this: to hold and possess the whole fullness of life in one moment, here and now, past and present and to come. He thought: if we could only stop here.” (Winston Graham; Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787

Me too, Ross. I feel you (And yeah, sorry not sorry for bringing up Poldark like I often do here). So, on that note, I thought I’d share my very top “if only we could stop here” moments from this recent jaunt through England. Pardon me if I get slightly emotional and mushy. 

On a rooftop in Cambridge 
Cambridge was my first stop this time, and after two plane rides, a long ride on the London tube, and a train ride, I was exhausted and relieved to arrive there. Kind friends met me at the station and then guided me through a weekend of sightseeing. After an initial walking tour, my friend Simeon took me to a nice overlook on top of a restaurant where we could sit and wait for our next activity. It was only a few minutes, but the view of the city was stunning. This was definitely the first moment of the whole week when I started thinking: How did I get here? This is unreal! This is what I was seeing, so hopefully you can imagine why.

Formal dinner in Cambridge 
Talk about a full experience. This dinner was a unique glimpse into Cambridge and British education in general like few other things could be. I felt like I’d stepped into the Great Hall at Hogwarts in Harry Potter – long tables, candlelight, formal black robes, a high table for the teachers, a multi-course meal…it had everything. And the student next to me soon began talking about how he was studying behavioral science in cows within the veterinary medicine program. That’s a thing? I thought. And the next day, my lovely host told me she had written her grad school thesis on hymnody, specifically examining the hymns of John Newton and Keith and Kristyn Getty. By then, I felt very surrounded by geniuses and waaaay out of my league, but so pleased that these unique interests could be studied. You go, Cambridge.

First sighting of the colorful Notting Hill houses 
Does it get much more delightful than a day in London with two of your favorite friends who you grew up with, but had to go all the way to England to see again? This day was full of activity and walking, but my heart was even fuller by the end of it. I now strongly recommend high tea at the famous Fortnum & Mason (we spent 3 hours there to fill our stomachs with tea and to empty our wallets for more tea to go), as well as an autumnal stroll through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. I happily pictured how Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would ride their horses every day through Hyde Park before all the pavement was added. But I definitely grinned a bit silly to myself when I first caught sight of the famous colorful rows of houses in the Notting Hill and Portobello Road Market areas. It was just so British. Does it get any more so than those bright houses and a Union Jack umbrella sticking out of one of the shops? Not much.

Outing to Box Hill 
I think back on this day with such affection. I was well and truly in awe from the moment we came around the bend and saw the view from our chosen vantage point on Box Hill. If you’re a Jane Austen fanatic like me, you might recall that Box Hill provides the setting for an important scene in her novel Emma, and the view definitely lived up to Austen’s description: 

“It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and to the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.” (Jane Austen, Emma) 

Sweet indeed. My dear friend Gracie and her four children and I took a picnic there and just sat, admired the view, basked in the sunshine, took pictures, rolled down the slope (well, the kids did), laughed, spotted various birds, enjoyed the gentle breeze, and admired the view some more. I couldn’t stop staring. It was the most quintessentially English scene imaginable – rolling green countryside, an occasional train winding through the hills, little towns spread out below us, wood smoke rising from between the trees here and there, and such a glorious expanse of blue sky and huge clouds. I felt like I could have stayed there in that afternoon forever. And I was keenly reminded of the love of my heavenly Father, who, amazingly, is also the Master and Creator behind all of that day’s beauty. He formed those hills, painted that sky, laid out every tree, and gave flight to every bird I saw that day, and it all made me very aware of His grandeur. Yet, I was also awed by the reminder that He calls me His own. He designs and orchestrates the beauty of this earth, but He also has set His affection on me and made me His child. Thanks be to God. Psalm 8 and Psalm 23 definitely came to life in new ways on that slope at Box Hill.

Tea and cake at Wisley 
Another outing with Gracie and the kids took us to the exquisite Wisley Gardens, a widespread ground of flora and fauna belonging to the Royal Horticultural Society. My camera was going crazy with so many flowers and landscapes at every turn, but perhaps my favorite part of this day was the “Taste of Autumn” event that we discovered was already underway when we arrived. The kids got to help squeeze fresh apple juice, tea and coffee were everywhere, and vendors lined their designated sidewalks to sell everything from homemade fudge, to specialty jams, to cakes, to cider. Gracie and I bought cake to go with our tea, and I’ve rarely felt so content as I did that afternoon as I sipped my Earl Grey and ate a very British bit of cake in the beautiful autumn weather. Can I go back already?

Breakfast on my final morning 
Sometimes it’s the little things that get you, right? This was definitely one of those. I don’t have pictures to prove it because it actually felt a little too sacred for that. First, let me give context by saying that I truly believe the British obsession with tea has made them a more patient culture than America. Tea breaks are a real thing all over the country, and making tea involves a decent amount of waiting – waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for the tea to brew properly, and waiting for it to be cool enough to drink. Overall, I think this is a very good thing. And the precious family I was staying with exemplified this general patience well on my last morning with them. 

It was a Sunday morning, and they knew they had to get ready for church and leave the house soon. Yet, they still took time to sit down together at the breakfast table, eat without too much hurry, and just enjoy being together. They also used this time to make cards and small gifts to send back with me for their American friends. I sat at the table with them and wanted to memorize everything about the scene – the warm cup of tea in my hands, the sunlight streaming through their bright kitchen windows, the children’s heads bent in concentration as they worked over their cards, the sounds of the kettle and the stove, the taste of their very English jam, and the sweet sense of togetherness and peace around the table. Then, Jamie, faithful husband and dad that he is, read a short devotional aloud and prayed. In his prayer, he included requests for me and my travels, and that was my predictable cue to start crying. I should have known that I would, but I was still taken by surprise for some reason. You’d think I would learn. Thanks for the hugs afterwards, Gracie!

I'm so grateful for this trip. Grateful for the friends and opportunities and resources that made it possible, for how the Lord has grown my affection for this part of the world so greatly over the years, and for how He has allowed me to explore that love with travels there. Here's to planning the next.

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