After falling for his sexy accent, I followed my boyfriend Lee home from New Zealand, and ended up living for 14 months in the small Lancashire town of Accrington, England. During our many evenings socializing at the local pub, I would end up chatting with people who noticed my unusual Canadian accent. These locals would more often than not ask me one question: “What the bloody ‘ell are you doing in this s#!thole?”
You see, many Brits seem to be very disparaging about their country of origin. Unlike most Canadians or Kiwis I have met who are proud to tell you all about how beautiful their homeland is, British people seem to love to complain about where they are from. According to many of the people who I met in England, the country is falling to pieces, the weather is horrible, there are no jobs, everything is too expensive, people are awful, and there is absolutely nothing worth seeing there. Many people told me that the UK was a terrible place. “Why in the world,” they wondered, “would you want to come here when you could be in Canada? Or anywhere else for that matter.”
When faced with this question, I would calmly take a sip of my cider and explain to them all of the many reasons why I absolutely loved their “miserable” country.
Here are my reasons why I fell in love with the UK, or Northern England at least:
One of the things I loved most about living in Northern England was discovering the “pub culture”. English pubs have their own musty, old fashioned charm with soft dark-patterned carpets, heavy wooden tables, lots of mirrors and ornate antique decorations, and possibly a few of the local football team scarves pinned on the wall. They feel ultimately comfortable to me, a place where you can just sit back and enjoy yourself.
The pub is the ultimate hub of all social interaction in the town, where meetings commence, parties are held, important discussions are had, and everyone knows each other. The pubs in England didn’t have the same feeling as Canadian ones, where it would be awkward to chat with strangers sitting at another table. These pubs felt like a communal living room! (and some people I know spend more time in their local pub than in their own living room.) I loved the fact that I could walk into The Oaklea or The Crown on any given night and I was guaranteed to find someone I knew there to drink and chat with.
The Sense of Humor
I love the sarcastic, witty and completely irreverent sense of humor in the UK. Nothing is taken too seriously, and there is nothing that can’t be joked about, unlike the very “politically correct” tone in North America. Do a search for Jimmy Carr on Youtube, and if you are offended then you wouldn’t have enjoyed many of the HILARIOUS conversations I found myself involved in.
Every Saturday I would go to the Accrington Stanley football game, and as soon as I got there I would head straight for the pie stand and get myself a warm and comforting Meat and Potato pie. Sometimes with gravy, sometimes with ketchup. Yum yum… Why doesn’t anyone in North America realize that savory pies with things like steak and kidney or chicken and mushroom in them are so much more delicious than these silly sweet dessert pies?
I find it fascinating that I could travel 20 minutes in any direction from Accrington and I could find so many different accents! People from Liverpool sound very different from people from Manchester, and they are practically next to each other. Even the town of Burnley had a different accent, and it was only 8 miles away. It was so much fun to listen to the different way that everyone spoke.
I know it seems strange that I would like the English countryside when I grew up only a few hours from the absolutely spectacular Rocky Mountains in Alberta which are considered one of the most beautiful natural areas in the world. However, maybe it was just because the rolling hills and quaint farmhouses were so different than I am used to.
Rather than the rugged and barely tamed wilderness that I had grown up with, each green pasture had been tended by generations of farmers. The stone walls surrounding the fields were built hundreds of years ago, and some of the country inns looks like they hadn’t changed since medieval times. For some reason, I found it fascinating that the ground I was walking on had been inhabited by so many different people for so long, and that I could see their traces like the remains of pencil marks on a page which has been erased.
The Train System
The train system in the UK (and in Europe for that matter) was one of my favorite things about living there. It meant that I could easily and cheaply hop to another city just for a weekend or even for a day, and see something different. Within a few hours on the train I could be almost anywhere in UK, and for a very affordable price. I went to Blackpool, Manchester, Preston, York, Chester, London and much more during my trip just to have a look around, and they were all so easy to get to!
Compared to transport across Canada, this accessibility is quite an advantage. To get to the next interesting major city in Canada it can be a very expensive and time consuming journey. Do you know how long it takes to get from Winnipeg to Toronto on the train? 35 HOURS. That means that you can get on a train in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, and wake up in Toronto on Thursday afternoon. Oh yeah, and expect to pay a few hundred bucks for the journey. It’s great if you are trekking across Canada (like we did this autumn) but it is not practical for a weekend getaway. In Canada I find that I just can’t do cheap and easy day trips to other locations as easily as I did in England. And don’t even get me started on how wonderfully cheap it is to fly to Europe for a few days whenever the urge strikes. 🙂
It was only after returning to Canada that I realized how ridiculously expensive things are here. I can’t bring myself to buy frozen pizzas at Walmart for $7.00 when I used to get them for ONE POUND ($1.60) in Asda or Tesco. A night out in Accrington used to barely make a dint in my wallet, especially when it was 90p drinks at The Bees Knees. With a pint of beer in a Canadian pub costing anywhere from $5.00 to $7.50 a night out quickly bleeds your budget dry. Oh well, I guess it’s good for my liver…
One of the things that I also loved about the UK is the history. I used to be a historical walking tour guide in Victoria, BC, where the oldest building in the city was built in 1843. I’m sure the housing block that I lived in when I was in the UK was older than that, and no one batted an eye. I went to many pubs which were founded in the 1600s, before Canada was even a country! Old buildings are everywhere in Britain, and for an architecture geek that is a dream come true. I didn’t have to go far to find a Medieval castle, a Gothic church, Timber-framed buildings or even Roman Ruins.
I’m sure people thought I was weird when I walked into any hotel, town hall, office, church, pub or even house and went running around going, “Look at this ceiling! Look at these stained glass windows! Are these the original support beams? OMG!”
While I was there, I was deemed an “honorary Accringtonian” and I was welcomed with open arms into the community. The people I met were some of the kindest, most generous and welcoming that I have ever encountered.
So there you go, these are some of the reasons why I spent a year in Accrington and loved it. These are not all of the things that I love about the UK, as the list could go on for much longer than this!
What about you? Have you ever traveled to the United Kingdom? What did you love while you were there?