This past weekend, I got a chance to leave the bustling city of London and head up north to meet some of my relatives from my mom’s side of the family. My great grandmother grew up in England and moved to Canada and eventually the US when she was 21. Most of her siblings stayed in England, so as a result I have a good amount of family members here. My Nana has kept in touch with her cousins and their children over the years, so I got in contact with them and arranged to meet.
In a few Jane Austen novels, the young heroine’s family is in a bad financial situation, and decides that the best thing to do is send one of their unwanted daughters to go live with some richer relatives for a while, in order to save some money. (I’m very loosely referring to Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.) Some part of the book usually features the heroine on her way to her new situation, wondering what the future holds. I couldn’t help comparing myself to one of those Austen heroines as I sat on the train this Saturday morning, looking out the window as the scenery grew less urban and more rural. Obviously there were a few differences—I was only going for a two day trip, and I doubt that Catherine Morland or Fanny Price spent their journey listening to their iPod and procrastinating on reading Dombey and Son for their Dickens homework. (Both the iPod and Charles Dickens had yet to be born.) But still, I was excited, and a little anxious, to spend a weekend with people I had never met before.
After two and a half hours on the train, I was there. If you are anything like me, the average American, you only have the vaguest idea of British geography. So here is a handy map, showing where Yorkshire is in relation to London. The more you know!
At the station, I met Gillian, whose father was my Nana’s first cousin. (I forget if this makes her my first cousin twice removed or my first cousin three times removed…anyway, it doesn’t matter.) She was totally awesome for being willing to drive me all over the place so I could meet my Nana’s cousins, Dorothy and Mildred, and their families. Gillian was great and we got along well as we drove all over Yorkshire. I got a crash course in the British motorway system when she handed me the atlas and had me navigating the way. Despite my horrible sense of direction and general inability to read maps, I think I managed okay. (We got where we needed to go, at least.) I also learned that England is full of roundabouts. As we got closer to where Mildred and her family live, things got very rural—everything definitely looked like what you think the English countryside should look like. It was common to see people riding horses across fields in the distance, and we even drove by a group of people setting off on a hunt! Everyone was on horses, and they had a pack of dogs leading the way and everything. It looked like something straight out of Downton Abbey, minus the period costumes. This was also one of those moments where I realized that what I had just dismissed as an unrealistic British stereotype actually still exists today. Later, we had to slow down to avoid hitting a family of pheasants crossing the road. Maybe they were running away from the hunt?
We pulled up to our first destination, which is where Mildred lives with her daughter Shirley and Shirley’s husband George. They have a sprawling property with a big house, a barn, a garage, and three horses! I got to meet the whole family, including Shirley’s daughter Georgina and her husband Mike. Everyone was really nice and friendly. Aunt Mildred is 89, and was very sweet and talkative. Right away she told me that I looked “just like my mum,” and asked me if there were any nice boys in London. We all had a light lunch, which included tea, of course. After lunch, Shirley and George took me out to see the horses, who were absolutely beautiful. I got to pet all of them. (Oh, they had dogs too! I petted them as well, don’t worry.) The biggest horse was apparently 21 years old—the same age as me.
Horses running towards us!
Shirley feeding the horses.
Me, Mildred, and Gillian.
Soon we left Mildred’s and headed to Scarborough to see Dorothy, or Auntie Dot, who lives in a retirement home there. Scarborough is on the coast, so we got to see the ocean as well. It looked very cold and choppy.
On a cliff overlooking the ocean, I noticed this silhouette of a castle in the distance. I asked Gillian what it was, and she went into the topography of the area and that cliff. To which I was like, “No, what’s that building?” She replied dismissively, “Oh, probably some old castle or estate. In terrible condition, by the looks of it.” And walked back toward the car. I guess when you live in England you get used to seeing derelict castles on cliffs overlooking the ocean!
We headed to Aunt Dot’s retirement home, which was really nice—it felt like a hotel more than a nursing home. Aunt Dot was absolutely wonderful. She’s 93 but is still as sharp as a tack. She told me I was “the picture of my mum” and we all had a chat in her little sitting room, and then moved to the dining room for tea and sandwiches. She showed me the proper way to take the tea…apparently I’ve been doing it wrong! You’re supposed to pour the milk in your cup first, and then the tea.
Me and Aunt Dot.
After leaving Aunt Dot’s, it was a three hour ride to Gillian’s house in Congleton. When we got home, we enjoyed a glass of wine after a long day of traveling around Yorkshire, and watched the X Factor. I got to enjoy the comforts of a real bed as opposed to my dorm bed, and woke up very well-rested in the morning.
I woke up to Gillian serving me a cup of tea while I was still in bed. I got up, got dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast and surprise! More tea. After breakfast, Gillian took me to Bosley Cloud, which is a massive hill near where she lives. We climbed all the way up to the cold and windy top, which had an incredible view of green fields as far as the eye could see.
After coming down, we drove to Manchester to meet Gillian’s daughter Fiona, who lives in a cute little flat there. We had a nice time drinking more tea, and Fiona and her friend who was visiting were really friendly and sweet. All too soon, Gillian was driving me to the train station and I was London-bound again. But I definitely had a great weekend and am so glad I got to meet more of my family!