I have always been a fan of cities. Fan is probably too weak a word. I am obsessed with cities. I love everything about them. @benton8tor however is another story. He likes cities but having grown up in rural England, he has a special place in his heart for villages. He was bound and determined that I should step outside a city when travelling and see what else the country had to offer. Needless to say, I thought this was a terrible idea and the first few times we visited villages I was unimpressed. Upon reflection, this may have been due to my own poor attitude than the villages themselves. Well partly my own poor attitude.
However all of that was about to change (both my attitude and seeing what villages had to offer). In 2012, my aunt had researched our family history and traced generations upon generations of our family to the villages of Askham and Bampton in the Lake District of England. Traveling in Europe in 2012 with Ben and my parents meant that I would have to go to these villages. Cool, I thought, we can spend 20 minutes at the local store, buy some souvenirs and move on, back to London. Okay, i was game. They of course had other ideas.
We first hit up the tiny village of Kirkbride close to Carlisle in Cumbria, I had been here back in 2006 with Ben and spent approximately 20 minutes at the local post office/ grocery store/liquor store/ snack counter. I sent my grandma postcard and posed by the village sign. Ben bought them out of Penguin chocolate bars and ate a Cornish pasty that he described as the best he ever had. Then back to Carlisle. This time was different. We didn’t spend long there this time either but I finally slowed down enough to see the village. Yes we went back to the post office but this time I actually bought local products. We also went to the local pub and visited St Bride’s church, constructed in the 1300s with stone no doubt pillaged from the nearby Hadrains wall. It was a beautiful village church.
From Kirkbride it was on to Askham. We had lunch at a local pub also standing since the middle ages and a fireplace that read 1610. The bar was polished copper and wood beams gave it a cozy feel. I hated to admit it but pubs in the cities were often so crowded you couldn’t even see the bar let alone chat with the publican behind the bar and get the history of the pub. This was actually pretty awesome but I didn’t hold out much hope for the food.I thought it would be pedestrian at best and lousy at worst. I mean it read boring, A toasted cheese sandwich (a toastie), fish and chips? Not a gastro pub but charming.
Apparently I was the village idiot because my toasted cheese sandwich stands as one of the best pub meals I have ever had. Using a mixture of 3 local cheese on fresh made bread, my toasties was tasty! The fries were perfect, crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Ben swears the fish and chips were great too. Even the mushy peas (shudder). OK, I was starting to see the appeal. Leaving the pub we had a great view of the village and it was storybook stunning. I had asked people at the pub where to buy some local products. We were told to go to Stuart’s a local potter. http://www.stuartbroadhurstceramics.co.uk Stuarts turned out to be about 500 metres from the pub. It wasn’t technically a conventional store but he did operate a pottery business out of his garage.
At this point Ben and I switched personalities. There was no way he was going in. He thought it looked sketchy at best and warned me not to go in either. It was Ben’s turn to be the village idiot. Stuart’s turned out to be my favourite pottery store ever (and I have visited a lot and I do mean a lot). Again unlike in bigger centres, where the pottery may be beautiful, it is unlikely you get to talk to the potter themselves and the meaning of the piece you are about to buy. Stuart Broadhurst is an amazing potter who uses local minerals to colour his pottery. I bought a blue teapot from him, made from my ancestral land minerals and to this day Ben swears it is the best constructed teapot he has ever used. There was ton of beautiful pottery there, I am just sorry I didn’t buy more. After leaving Stuart’s, where Ben admitted he was wrong and should have gone in. We toured the rest of the village including the church and local Hall which was in the process of being turned into a hotel and restaurant.http://www.askhamhall.co.uk/
Upon returning home, I googled Stuart and found out Stuart Broadhurst is quite a big deal. It was a good to be reminded not to jump to conclusions, to take a chance and most importantly to slow down and really enjoy what villages can offer. Believe me it is substantial. I still love cities but I have to say visiting villages has allowed me to experience the culture in a completely different way. It is usually off the tourist path, and allows you the time to truly discover local customs, food, people and goods. Since Askham I have made a point of visiting villages as well as cities. The villages we have visited in Provence (Gordes, lourmarin, Lancon de Provence, L’Isle Sur Sourge) are among my very favourite places on earth. Likewise I have enjoyed the small Scottish, Irish, English and other French villages too. I am looking forward to visiting more villages in other countries as we travel. Villages, you should go.