Published: 2018-05-06 . Back to ≈

On my recent trip to the UK, I took the train with my family from Oxford to Edinburgh. I had insisted on traveling by train at least once while on the trip, as traveling by train in Europe represented a sort of romantic ideal that I couldn’t bear to forfeit for the convenience of air travel.

What I hoped to see on this several hour-long journey was very clear to me. Though I had never been to the UK, the English country in my mind had long been populated by countless stories of fantasy and fiction of English origin. Whether or not England was the actual setting, the nation was guilty by association. Surely authors like J. R. R. Tolkien drew inspiration partly from their homeland as they imagined lush wooded shires and warm welcoming inns. Add the likes of C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J. K. Rowling, and it is easy to see how the UK had become, as for many an American child, the default location for anything fairy-tale or fantasy-like. So, it need hardly be said that I had quite high expectations for the green, idyllic, and evocative scenery that I was to witness on this journey by rail much of the way up the island of Great Britain.

High expectations have always been a common fault of mine. Having my high expectations met is rather less common. But, right from the gate, as the train sped by the fields of the country immediately past Oxford, England delighted me with something that I didn’t even think to expect: Hedgerows.

In many ways, the country outside reminded me very much of my own beloved northern California hometown. Though it was winter, the grass was pronouncedly green. Green grass, barren deciduous trees, and a general presence of moisture. But, as we looked out from the windows of the train at the trios–chiefly, man, woman, and canine–steering their booted feet through the dewy fields, our view was not obscured by wooden fences or marred by the sight of barbed wire. Instead, low-running hedgerows politely informed of property lines while leaving the land itself as an open, flowing continuum. Something to be used, shared, and explored, not carved up and safeguarded.

Not that I had never imagined or conceived such a setting as I witnessed on the train ride. In fact, I soon discovered that this particular ideal simply occupied a different category in my mind, one which I had never thought to specifically associate with England. Specifically, this landscape which I now delightfully beheld belonged in Christmas songs, Hallmark cards, and snowy flannel bed sheets (as it happens).

But unlike the world that I assumed to have inspired fantastical British literature, I never assumed that the snowy hedgerowed field was more than imagined–the sort of pretty caricature of real life which well-intentioned adults feed to children who must eventually go and learn about life’s harsh realities, like fences and barbed wire. How lovely to learn that I had been wrong! Even fictions such as these do exist, if only in England, the land that turns false expectations on their heads.

The ride to Oxford was actually only the precursor to the true highlight of the trip. It was the city of Edinburgh that truly and completely stole everone’s hearts… But even were I contentedly living in dearest Edinburgh, I would happily make the daylong journey down to Oxfordshire to walk among the hedgerows.