[caption id="Travel_img1" align="aligncenter" width="96"][/caption] WE WON’T PRETEND that the economic climate is good. Obviously, many people have been affected by the sudden economic downtown that has been felt across the globe. Grim as the news has been, however, the cloud does indeed have a silver lining. The pound has declined by more than 25 percent against the dollar over just a few months, and travel in Britain is more reasonable that it has been for many years. If you have wanted to travel to England, Scotland and Wales, this may well be the year to do it. Unhappily for Britain, the drags on its economy are significant. For the travel trade and retail shopper, however, the news is good. This Christmas, some 10 million foreign visitors traveled to London just to shop. Shopkeepers reported the highest level of Americans in stores since before 9/11. London, long considered among the most expensive cities on earth, is at its most affordable in 20 years or more. Whether your dreams include joining The Gathering in Edinburgh this July, finally seeing the Chelsea Flower Show, finding your ancestral village in the coal valleys of Sout Wales or making a first panoramic tour of Britain, consider fulfilling them this year. When I was planning my second trip to Great Britain in 1980, my old Yankee grandfather just could not understand it. After all, I had already been there. Grandpa’s attitude toward travel was simple: “Why should I travel? I’m already here.” Despite the fact that he read National Geographic religiously for decades, Grandpa just didn’t get it. Travel to visit relatives, attend to business or to lie in the sun is purely functional, of course. Travel to travel, though, is to get out and explore the world—to have life experiences of any and every description that one would not have at home, to visit the myriad sites where history was made, to see unknown beauty in the natural world and in the gardens of civilization. No destination on earth has such a concentration of historic locales, varied and verdant landscapes and cultural riches as Great Britain. And no transcontinental travel destination for North Americans is as accessible in its life, popular culture, social values and genuine fondness for Americans as Britain.
ON A DELIGHTFUL October evening last fall, pedestrians along Chicago’s glittering Magnificent Mile might have been forgiven had they wondered whether they had stumbled across an early-season costume party. Before them strolled a group of 200 or more, dressed as if they had stepped out of a Regency romance. Gaily following the lead of a Highland piper, group members smiled at passers-by, waved to cabbies honking their horns, and laughed and waved some more as others applauded their promenade. The occasion was the 30th annual meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a 4,000-member, 60-chapter organization dedicated to all things Austen. Founded in 1979 by Joan Austen-Leigh, Henry Burke and J. David Grey, the nonprofit organization’s mission is to foster an appreciation of Austen’s works and life. Its inaugural dinner, held at Manhattan’s Gramercy Park Hotel, drew 100 people and the notice of The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” The 2008 Chicago gathering, known officially as the organization’s annual general meeting, drew far more—650 to be exact—for a Saturday evening banquet and Regency ball. The events capped three days of lectures, workshops, panel discussions and academic presentations, all centered on Jane Austen. If all this sounds ponderous, be advised that presentations may range from serious literary assessments to workshops on manners, fashion, country dancing, bonnet-making, military matters or gardening—in fact, almost anything connected with Georgian and Regency life. Whether you want to assess Austen’s effect on the modern novel or 19th-century women writers, or itch to understand the rules of Regency courtship, JASNA’s annual get-together likely has something for you.
[caption id="OntheRoadtoMagicalIona_Feature" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] St. Oran’s Chapel and Reilig Odhrain, the burial place of Scottish kings and the Lords of the Isles, line the path that leads from the ferry to Iona Abbey.[/caption]
[caption id="EastLoandonaCornucopiaofUndiscoveredWonders_Feature" align="aligncenter" width="510"] The Geffrye Almhouses, a short stroll from Liverpool Street Station, depict the interior of the same room as it would have looked from the 1600s to the 1980s. Here, shown as in 1780, and below in 1880.[/caption]
[caption id="ButserAncientFarm_Feature" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Completed in 2008, the “Little Woodbury” is the fourth Great House built at Butser. No flimsy construction with a roof weighing more than 25 tons, a Celtic Great House was designed to last 200 years.[/caption]
[caption id="ADaytoVisit_Feature" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The rare five-arch medieval bridge across the River Wye provides one of Bake well’s most famous photo opportunities.[/caption]
PAGE 14 ‘APRIL ISTHE CRUELEST MONTH, BREEDING LILACS OUT OF DEAD LAND, MIXING MEMORY AND DESIRE, STIRRING DULL ROOTSWITH SPRING RAIN.’ —T. S. Eliot [caption id="ACommonplaceBook_img1" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Founded about AD 1200, some 500 years after St. Columba’s arrival, the Nunnery on Iona was the only medieval convent in Western Scotland.[/caption]