Fifteen years ago today, Joe and I were in England. It was a marvelous time to be there—magical, really. After we arrived at Heathrow on Tuesday morning, we spent some time in Oxford. We chose to have our lunch at The Eagle and Child pub. Joe was keen on sitting where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien once sat (he included the WC—ha!). We then drove south to Salisbury and checked in at the Old Mill Hotel. My brother Chris was in London and had planned to meet us in Salisbury on Wednesday, Christmas Eve day. That night, we three (not kings) attended The First Eucharist of Christmas (Midnight Mass) at the Salisbury Cathedral along with 2,000 other worshipers. Because we were in the right place at the right time, we were allowed to sit in the quire right next to the choir. Magical.
Of course, everything was closed on Christmas Day, so we found places to visit in southern England that didn’t require us to be inside. We stopped at Stonehenge just to say hello, then headed west to Upottery in East Devon. (On the way, we let Chris drive for a while, his first time driving on the left. He did just fine.) During World War II, a Royal Air Force station was located at an airfield near Upottery. It was also used by the United States Army Air Forces and the United States Navy. (Does Upottery sound familiar? The first episode of the 2001 HBO series Band of Brothers was set there, in part.) When we finally found the abandoned airfield, we encountered a “DO NOT ENTER” sign. We entered anyway, and we walked and walked along the runways that once helped hundreds (thousands?) of aircraft (C-47s mostly) take off and land before, during, and after the invasion of France on D-Day. There were several outbuildings on the property, but we didn’t enter any of those. Just being there was magical.
For some reason, we three wanted to take a peek at the English Channel, so we found Lyme Regis on a map and headed in that direction. We tried to imagine what it might be like in the summer when it wasn’t freezing cold as it was that day. It’s a lovely village with a stony beach, and being there was magical, too.
On Friday, we left Chris to enjoy Boxing Day in Salisbury while we drove north to York. (I will add here that I drove and Joe navigated that week. That seemed to work best.) The next day, we drove a bit farther north to Thirsk, better known as “Darrowby” in all the James Herriot books. (Back in the day, I read most of his books, and we own the original TV series on DVD.) Our goal was to visit the World of James Herriot Museum. It’s located in “Skeldale House” where James, Siegfried, and Tristan had their veterinary practice. We were the only ones there. In the mostly quiet solitude, I felt the spirit of one of my favorite authors. Magical.
We ended our English holiday in London. At the recommendation of both my brothers, we witnessed the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. This ancient ritual is held every evening when the Tower’s main gates are locked for the night. The origins of the ceremony are unknown, but they’re pretty sure it dates back to the 14th century. The ceremony has never been cancelled—not even during the COVID pandemic. Unbelievably, it has been delayed only once and that was due to the bombing of London by the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Participating in the Ceremony of the Keys was indeed magical.
On Monday, we had time to swing by the British Library and the National Gallery before ending our day at the Apollo Victoria Theatre where we had tickets for Wicked. (I just checked; Wicked is still playing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. How 'bout that!) It was a perfect ending to our magical English holiday.
Even now, fifteen years later, all these memories still warm my heart.
Holiday blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in southwest Virginia with her husband Joe and their rescue dog Bart. She is the author of My Mother’s Friend and My Mother’s Son. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.