Finding Our ‘Pride’ in Liverpool

The ‘Gay Pride’ movement is not one that myself or Michael have ever been actively involved in. None of our children were involved in the Pride movement, and they never made any gay friends whilst they were at school, however this was the 1980s and a very different time indeed. Spending this time recently in the UK has allowed us to develop an appreciation for the finer details of British culture, which we had not had the opportunity to notice before.

‘Pride‘, the annual global event celebrating a full spectrum of sexualities and genders is something that we’d never had the chance to experience, so in the name of adventure we set out on the road to Liverpool, to find our ‘Pride’.

Although Pride celebrations occur all over the country, we chose Liverpool as our destination to hit ‘two birds with one stone’, so to speak. We’d yet to visit this hub of creativity and working class culture, and felt that this was the perfect opportunity to explore the city and immerse ourselves in an aspect of British culture that, until recently, had been completely unknown to us.

A City Break Like No Other

Michael and I have always been more partial to a rural break, as opposed to a city break, however our stay in Liverpool proved that the former can be equally affordable and relaxing, despite our initial misgivings. We chose to stay in an apartment on the edge of Sefton Park, a wide expanse of mixed-use park land that was worth the trip alone. Positioned just two miles outside of the city centre, it was easy for us to get and to from the motorway and left us tantalisingly close to the heart of the city.

Pride Finds Us!

We arrived on the day of Pride, so there was little time to settle in. After quickly unpacking, we jumped on a bus into town and moved towards the centre of the festivities. The closer that we drifted towards the thumping music the more we noticed people dressed in brightly coloured clothes. Many wore rainbow flags over their shoulders and some had even dyed their hair. Dressed in our usual blue and black waterproofs, Michael and I felt a little out of place, but were soon swept along with the joy of the event.

Both of us had initially conceived of simply spectating the action from a distance and therefore lending our support in a passive fashion, however we soon discovered that this was an event that actively demanded our participation – there was no avoiding it! We arrived early for the parade, unsure of where to stand until we realised that we were not going to be spectating the event – we were going to be a part of it.

Full steam ahead…

Hand in hand, we moved forward with an entire army of colourfully dressed characters who cheered and whooped with as much enthusiasm as you’d see at a soccer game. The parade took us through Liverpool’s historic centre, taking us past many of the sights that we’d planned on visiting the following day. The sight of so many jubilant people marching past these austere buildings is one that neither of us are likely to forget for some time.

A Decluttering Trip To Surrey

Michael and I have always tried to stay light on our feet.

We learnt pretty soon after having our four kids that you have to be careful what you choose to keep and what you throw away, as it doesn’t take long for the clothes, toys and books to pile up against the walls.

Of course, sometimes the best laid plans get the better of you and soon you find yourself cramming clutter away into wardrobes and banishing boxes to the loft where they can be forgotten about until a later date. We had to face our last great moving challenge after leaving our family home in Manchester, USA for our new home across the pond. We thought that we’d been smart, we thought that we were ready to leave, but we were woefully unprepared.

It turned out that the amount of stuff that we had to move was much larger than that we’d initially guessed and choosing what to leave behind was a much harder process that we’d initially expected. After having such a difficult time moving from the US, we both vowed to remain constantly vigilant about any new purchases, so that we would never find ourselves in the same situation again. Remember what I said about ‘best laid plans’?

Sure enough, two years into our new lives here in the UK we’re already looking around for cardboard boxes to tidy the clutter away and the wardrobes are getting worryingly full – we can’t even blame the kids this time around! Thankfully we’ve got much more spare time on our hands than we used to and (always looking to improve ourselves) we thought we could teach ourselves how to live a less cluttered life whilst on our next B&B trip.

We found a professional organiser in Surrey that offered personal appointments and then set about planning a weekend trip in the local area. Besides wanting to change our hoarding habits for the better, we also fancied visiting a traditional pub and visiting a garden park.

We chose to stay at Swallow Barn B&B in Chobham, a lovely little place on the outskirts of the village surrounded by some lovely landscapes. Our hosts were very welcoming and gave us a brief tour of their lovely rural property which included an acre of garden, grazing horses and even an outdoor swimming pool (which we weren’t about to hop in any time soon!). After quickly unpacking we headed out to our appointment with our declutterer. The afternoon was spent learning about the mentality of tidiness and we came away with some really practical advice about how to move forward without burying ourselves in useless stuff.

We rewarded out efforts with a pub lunch at The Four Horsehoes, a pub that had elevated itself above the norm to become a dining room that was truly a cut above the rest. Established in 2013, this very modern take on a pub was just the place for us to refill and prepare for a long afternoon spent walking around Windsor Great Park. Just a short drive away from our B&B, Windsor Great Park offered some spectacular views and was the perfect end to our lovely stay in Surrey.

Planning a Trip to North Wales

Returning home after our weekend away in Scotland both Michael and I were exhausted, but invigorated.

After spending so long laying down our roots in Castleton, it had been really exciting to break new ground, not just outside of our town, but outside of the country altogether. So many of our good friends warned us about moving to the UK. They told us that the UK was simply too small for two adventurous types like us to enjoy. They showed us the size of the UK compared to the size of the USA and told us that we’d be bored within a year. Whilst we certainly can’t refute the fact that the United States is much larger than the UK, what our friends didn’t take into account was the sheer amount of detail and density that could be found here.

In our first proper road trip to Scotland we were blown away by how many different places we passed on our journey up north. American road trips are characterised by long stretches of open expanses, punctuated by the occasional gas station. It doesn’t matter where in the States you’re driving, if you’re planning on travelling for more than a few hours then you can guarantee that you’ll find yourself driving through an interminable stretch of rural landscape for a good long while. There are far fewer of these sparse, wild places in the UK, which makes them all the more beautiful when you stumble across one.

It was the mountains from the Highlands that got Angie so eager to see North Wales, long after we returned from that trip she would pore over the photos and videos that she’d taken whilst we were driving through them on the way to Oban. It didn’t take long before she’d started researching the other high points in the UK and how long it would take for us to get there. I was certainly pleased to find out that North Wales was only a couple of hundred miles away. More importantly, Snowdonia National Park, nestled in the centre of North Wales, promised wildlife, mountains and plenty more attractions.

When we first looked at places to visit in North Wales we soon realised that we were rather spoilt for choice. Seaside towns like Llandudno and Conwy were appealing for their Victorian charm, extreme sports activities looked thrilling and it also appeared that some of the best restaurants and hotels in the country resided there. We settled on a tidy looking cottage in Betws-y-Coed, just a short drive away from both Llandudno and Snowdon (the tallest peak in Wales), giving us more than a few options for day trips, including some rainy day backups. Our driving route promised to take us up and around the Welsh coast, stopping off at Menai Bridge and swooping through the Snowdonia National Park for one last scenic road trip.

We had our plan in place, all we needed now was to hit the road!

A Detour to Birmingham

Don’t worry, you’ve not read the title wrong!

Angie’s still putting together a blog post about our wonderful trip to North Wales, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about our trip home from North Wales.

Angie and I usually prefer the countryside to the city, we’ve spent most of our lives living and working in built-up areas and feel like we’ve earned our time in the verdant countryside that Castleton offers us, because of this we rarely make any trips to towns, let alone cities, if we can really help it. Although we’d initially planned to drive straight home after our break in the mountains, an email from an old friend had piqued my interest and led us in a different road altogether.

When I asked Angie what she thought about us taking a detour to Birmingham on the way back home she gave him one of her classic puzzled expressions. I could see the cogs whirring in her brain, trying to fathom why I’d want to go there and what this all meant. I was half-tempted to leave her attempting to puzzle this out, but felt that explaining my case would probably make it easier for her to accept my proposal. You see, whilst we were driving to North Wales, I received an email from a college friend, a man that I had not spoken to for years, but who I thought about often.

Charlie was an excitable little chap when I met him in 1975, I’d never met someone who was so galvanised by the promise of making money. We were both freshman at Dartmouth College, sharing a dormitory in our first year, in fact we lived together for our entire time at college and, despite remaining fast friends for the entire time, ended up losing touch with each other in the years following. Without the internet, keeping in contact with old friends was a rather difficult task. We had phones, of course, but they were expensive and catching someone whilst they were in the house was a lot trickier than expected. In the years that came after our graduation, I’d often find myself thinking about Charlie. Whereas I’d set up shop back where I grew up, he hungered for a more extraordinary life.

The email was an enticing one, although it was prefaced by the usual niceties it didn’t take long for Charlie to get to the meat of his proposition. Charlie was still hard at work and showed no sign of slowing down and, much like Angie and I, he had set his sights on the UK, although for rather different reasons. It turned out that Charlie had spent the last few decades building up an enviable property empire that had grown so large that he was looking overseas for more opportunities and, hearing about some office space in Birmingham that was up for sale, and knowing that I was in the country, decided to reach out for my help. Angie had thought the world of him when we were living together and I was just happy to be able to help. We reset our GPS and headed out on the road to Birmingham, happy to have a new motivation…

Travelling to Snowdonia & Wales

We can never stay still for long.

Just a matter of weeks after returning from Scotland we were setting off on another adventure, this time the drive time was a much less daunting 2.5 hours, a distance easily covered in one trip, not that I doing any of the driving of course!

After our trip from Scotland, I’d found myself pining for the mountains once more. Back in the States we simply didn’t live near anything that would come even close to that kind of majestic beauty. I saw those jagged, snow-tipped peaks in my dreams and the memory of that quaint port town, Oban, brought a smile to my face for a week later. Michael and I still hadn’t quite got around to understanding how big the country we were in was, and we were certainly no closer to recognising the myriad of adorable villages and ‘hamlets’ that were scattered in our immediate vicinity, let alone the settlements further ahead.

I spent two evenings curled up on the sofa watching documentaries about Wales, whilst Michael lightly snoozed in his chair, an empty glass of whisky precariously balanced on his belly (which seemed to be growing larger every day!). By the third evening, I’d moved out of the fantasising stage and into the ‘purchase’ stage, an infinitely enjoyable part of the process for me, but a much more perilous one for our bank balance, despite drinking his usual snifter, Michael was a lot more cogent that evening, perhaps because he sensed that a rash purchase was about to be made…

One of the convenient things about travelling around the UK in the Winter is that prices at most hotels, B&Bs and holiday cottages are much lower than they are at other points during the year, so we were able to book rooms at some fancy prices at a reduced cost, which I’m sure Michael was happy with.

You know, what they say about old folks is true: we get up very, very early. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly this happened, I remember enjoying lie ins as a teenager, and later in life the allure of my bed was even stronger, when just one more hour in bed before the kids got up meant everything. How things change, is all I can say! These days Michael and I are up before 6am every day. It doesn’t matter how much or little sleep we’ve had, whether we’ve been travelling or hiking all day, we’ll both be up for the crack of dawn and chomping at the bit for our toast!

As far as I can see there are very few disadvantages to doing this. During the Winter you can enjoy every last drop of sunshine, you can make the most of ‘early bird’ breakfast menus and, best of all, miss all of the traffic on the roads – which is exactly what we did on or drive across the country to Wales.

By seven in the morning we were on the road and on our way, but half 9 we were driving through North Wales and looking forward to a cup of coffee in a very special holiday cottage that we’d rented for the week…

Exploring Oban & The Distillery

I can tell you right now that it took a heck of a lot of effort for Angie and I to leave the comfort of our hideaway at Highland Heather Lodges.

The combination of the lovely hot tub, underfloor heating and comfortable chairs was already too much for us, so it wasn’t until nearly twelve-noon that we managed to escape the comfort of our newly adopted home and get ourselves back on the road. If there’s one thing to say about Scotland it’s that the roads are stunning and I don’t just mean the views: the roads themselves are a thing of real beauty.

I could never say that I was a typical ‘gas guzzler’ back in the States, but I was certainly susceptible to the allure of the open road and would quite happily take my kids on long drive across the State to water parks or concerts, just so that I could get out on the open road. I’ve never been one for religion or ‘spiritualism’, but I often find myself pining for that open road and the strange sense of peace that it would bring me late on a Sunday night, the sound of my kids gently snoring in the back seat and the low murmur of country music radio buzzing in and out of signal. Thanks to our rather ambitious itinerary, I found myself back in a similar state of mind driving Angie through Scotland.

Since developing a taste for Scotch whisky some years ago, I now find myself inexorably drawn to any kind of distiller or tour that I can take, it’s a good thing that Angie take an interest in it too! I’d heard that there was a wonderfully informative tour at a distillery in Oban, so I planned our route out and set the GPS for the port town. We left in the early afternoon from Highland Heather Lodges and spent the next two hours driving through the Trossacks until we reached the west coast. Although we’d initially planned to stay in the Highlands, I was instantly glad we’d gone back on our word. As Angie and I stepped out of the car we were greeted by the hustle and bustle of a thriving town, full of life and that all important Scottish charm.

Our Distillery Tour was the first stop and I was very glad that we booked it, I’d not tried Oban Whisky before, but the tour did a fantastic job of selling the stuff to me. I was enchanted by the whisky’s unique history, its promise of a taste of the sea and the small batches in which it was made. By the end of the tour I’d bought two bottles and was eagerly waiting for the chance to try some for myself. Unfortunately, there was still a two hour drive back to Crieff to contend wit though and I feared that just a sip of this whisky would probably put me to sleep. We had one last coffee in a small cafe overlooking the water and then got back on the road, where Angie promptly fell asleep.

Driving To Scotland: Highland Heather Lodges

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Michael and I were excited for our first trip to Scotland…

After spending the first few months of our lives in the UK trying to get our bearings and making a home for ourselves in Castleton, we both decided that it was high time we took a drive up to Scotland and experience the famous Highlands. Michael has always had a particular affinity with Scottish culture; he loves drinking Scotch whiskey, golf is his favourite sport and he’s fascinated by this unique country’s history. After he’s had a few Scotches he’s also quite partial to listening to traditional Scottish folk music, so I think he had a few more expectations than I did.

Our plan was simple: we would take our time and spend a whole day travelling the 280 miles to the Highlands, stopping off along the way whenever we fancy and making sure to take plenty of coffee pitstops. You might be able to take the Americans out of the States, but it can be very tricky to take the States out of the Americans; Michael and I love nothing more than taking a leisurely drive into the countryside, punctuated with plenty of stops for tea, cakes and coffee. We’re always told by our new English friends that our American food is so unhealthy, but I swear we’ve been putting on a lot of weight since we settled here in the UK!

The drive was simple enough and took us up through the North West of England, an area that neither of us have explore. After a day of relaxed driving, highlighted by some breathtaking scenery through the Lake District, we found ourselves crossing the border. As soon as we passed the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign, Michael and I did a little whoop and started ‘peeling our eyes’ for kilts and Highland cattle. Of course, we had to wait a while before we could even tell that we were in a different country! The landscape changed imperceptibly, at the same rate that sun was setting, in fact, so by the time we arrived at Highland Heater Lodges we knew that we were deep into the Highlands, but could not see them at all!

There can’t be too many private holiday lodges in Perthshire with hot tubs, this was the main reason why we chose Highland Heather Lodges. They only have four holiday properties on the site, each of which offers a slightly different style of holiday lodge. There are two bedroom lodges for families looking to relax together, or cosy one bedroom lodges, idea for couples like us who are just looking for somewhere to stretch out after a day of hiking and exploring. Our lodge was called Ruchill and made for the perfect base for us to travel out from. We didn’t hop in the hot tub that night, preferring instead to get a good night’s sleep.

When we woke up, we were truly surprised to see such beautiful scenery all around us. Although it was only 9am, we couldn’t resist hopping the hot tub – what a perfect way to start a holiday!

An Introduction: Leaving the States…

They say that you can only make so many big moves in your life.

When Angie and I first decided to move to England we were fully prepared for what would be one of the biggest culture shocks of our lives. When we first mentioned it to our kids they laughed at us. We were two sexagenarian Americans who, despite our love for British culture, had spent our entire lives in the States. The thought that we would uproot ourselves from everything that we knew to live out the rest of our lives in a foreign land was, understandably, laughable to our children. It wasn’t until we all met up in person at Thanksgiving that they realised how serious we were.

Although we were a close family, we had spent the last few years in separate states, only meeting for major holiday events. We love our children dearly, but when they had children of their own they naturally had less time to catch up with us. We tried our best to visit them in their respective towns, but these visits were uneven. We wanted to spend time with our grandchildren, but we were also drawn to our dream of leaving the country and, in the end, it was the latter desire that won.

In March of this year we sold up our home and made the move to the UK. Leaving our family home of over 40 years had been a hard task, ideally we would have had one of the kids take the place over, but by the time we wanted to leave they’d settled themselves down so far away from New Hampshire that asking one of the to return home would have simply been cruel. The money we reaped from the sale (as well as some savings) bought us our home in Castleton, a little village in the Hope Valley. Leaving Manchester, NH was always going to be difficult, especially when it involved leaving so many of our treasured pastimes back in the States.

Arriving in our new home in Castleton was like starting a completely new life. We had new neighbours, a new community to be a part of and the massive gorgeous expanse of the Peak District to explore. In short, although we were both in our mid-sixties and had less life in front of us than behind us, we were both completely invigorated by the experience. Invigorated…and tired! We spent the first few days slowly unpacking and getting out home in shape. Our little 3-bed cottage had everything that we needed for us to get by and although we felt like we were in the middle nowhere, the supermarket was only a 15 minute drive away.

From March to June we settled in, pottered around the garden and took day trips out to different corners of the Peak District, but it wasn’t long before we were discussing our next big adventure. Although we knew that the big cities of London, Manchester and Liverpool were high on our list, there was one place that had dreamt about travelling to for an even longer time: Scotland.