As fair and balanced as this blog is, it’s time to quit pining for the past and talk about the present. Britain offers an incredible number of cool, fun, and interesting things to do in a very small space. Many of them are free, or available at a small incremental cost. Want to visit Stonehenge? That’ll set you back £19 per adult. Want to see Stonehenge? Take a walk on the bridle path that runs nearby, or drive by it on the A303 and watch the tourists circling round and round.

Based on our experiences from the past three weeks, here’s our shortlist:

  1. Visit Wales – Any part of it. It’s all cool. We spent a week in the northwest corner visiting castles, hiking (rambling really), and trying to pronounce Welsh. It’s not an easy language. A taxi ride to the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch requires an extra five minutes just to say the word. Yet, Welsh is as poetic as it is efficient. The literal translation of the world’s second longest place name is: ‘The church of Saint Mary of the pool of white hazels near the whirlpool and the church of Saint Tysilio of the red cave.’ One word instead of 24 – the New York Times should take note.
  2. Go to a pub and pet a dog – England is very dog friendly. I always thought it was a cat country, but dogs rule the roost these days. Pubs and restaurants proudly declare that dogs (and occasionally children) are welcome. Every dog we met was well-behaved, friendly, and lovingly cared for.
  3. Ramble – No, don’t talk endlessly, go for a walk in the country. Ancient land use laws allow perfect strangers like us to walk across private fields, golf courses, and even some backyards for free. A ramble is defined as a walk in the countryside. In Britain a hike is something different. Here, hikes are longer, more complex, often multi-day efforts that require camping equipment. If you’re going to ramble, then you’ll want an Ordnance Survey map and a compass. Footpath signs indicate the start of the trail, but that’s about all the markers you’ll find. With your 1:25,000 super-detailed OS map you can take a bearing, walk in that direction and ask a friendly sheep for help if you get lost. Take good quality rain gear and sturdy boots.
  4. Have a cream tea – Carol learned scones (pronounced skŏnz in England) are different animals than their American counterparts. They are round, not triangular, for one thing. Traditionally, scones are enjoyed with tea in the afternoon, not coffee in the morning. Scones reach peak yumminess as part of a ‘cream tea’. That is a pot of tea for as many people as you like, a scone, a dollop of clotted cream, and raspberry jam. Clotted cream is rich, sweet cream that’s not quite butter and definitely not whipped. Smear a tablespoonful on a bit of scone, spread a little jam on top and wash it down with warm, strong, tea. Mmm! Mmm! Mmm! Note: tea prevents the uptake of butterfat. That means you can eat as much clotted cream as you like. Really. It’s true. Google it if you don’t believe me.
  5. Stay at a bed and breakfast – A distant forerunner of Airbnb and couch surfing, B&Bs range from a spare room in a home, to a suite in an AA 5-star hotel. In Wales we found sufficient competition to keep prices low (£50-60) in the summer, while in Scotland scarcity pushes prices higher (£80-120). Key to a happy B&B stay is breakfast. A good full Welsh/English/Scottish breakfast consists of at least one and preferably two servings of the following: eggs done your way, sausages, rashers of bacon, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding (optional), and toast. At our ages there are enough calories in breakfast to keep us going all day.
  6. Take a bath in Kirkby Lonsdale – A small Cumbrian market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Kirkby Lonsdale has kept its 18th century charm. Narrow streets clamber up steep hills and solid grey stone buildings harken back to an era when drovers and millers did a bustling trade. Thanks to some internet inspired serendipity, we stayed at the wonderful Royal Hotel smack dab in the center of town. When asked if we wanted a bath or shower on check-in, we both said a bath after two years on a sailboat would be wonderful. In that case, the manager said, I’ll have to upgrade you. We immediately extended our stay for a second night. Our large, well-appointed room looked out over the market square. The bath was deep and the hot water endless. I soaked for a good four chapters of my book. The bed was comfy and we slept well. Breakfast was sumptuous – the best we had. During the day we rambled for ten miles through fields of bulls and sheep along the foothills of the Dales. The rains came in fits and we narrowly avoided getting whacked by a golf ball on the back nine of the local course. As soon as we get the chance, we’re going back.
  7. Lose yourself on country lanes – Having derided British driving and drivers in my last post, here is another perspective. If you’re a rugged traditionalist, buy a paper roadmap and explore the country with your rambler’s compass at the ready. If you’re an inverse Luddite, then Google is the UK’s only navigation app worth its price. Say, ‘Hey Google, take me to <your destination>’. Google then directs you in as straight a line as it can, down backroads and single-track lanes, doing its best to avoid main arterials clogged with bad drivers. Lined on both sides by tall, dense hedgerows, if you’re any good behind the wheel, or a complete maniac, you can take advantage of the 60mph speed limit on these little roads. At that speed, with a clear sight line, it feels like you’re Luke Skywalker in an X-Wing about to nuke the Death Star. It’s a rush. Just watch out for tractors on blind corners.
  8. Visit Scotland – Any part of it. It’s all cool and likely to be the next independent country in Europe. South of Edinburgh lie the Borders. Long a hideout for raiding parties going back and forth across the English border, the Borders today keep a strong sense of identity. Conveniently my cousin Sarah and her partner Simon live there, so we stopped for a long overdue visit. With the Edinburgh Festival running at full throttle, we spent a day in the city watching great street performers, truly terrible standup comedy, and amusingly grumpy magicians, each for the price of a donation. If you like men in kilts with bagpipes, there’s something for every taste during the festival.
  9. Roam in the Gloamin’ – Head north along the A84/85 towards Crianlarich and Glencoe. The Scottish Highlands are a stunning and unique landscape. Sunny days are rare in August, for more reliably dry weather go in May. If gothic landscapes are your thing, however, you’ll want a solid downpour to half obscure the bluff peaks and broken sunlight to dapple the deep valleys. Rain swells the wee burns, and waterfalls become raging cataracts. So picturesque. Better still, pull on your foulies and hike across the sodden heather. It will give you an appreciation of how hardy the Scots are as a people and why each morning starts with a bowl of porridge.
  10. Open and close a lock gate – Since the 1970s Britain has been busy restoring and maintaining its huge network of canals. Before steam engines, canals were the critical link in the national supply chain, connecting Britain’s major manufacturing centers with its shipping ports and laying the foundation for the British Empire. Once steam trains were invented they soon took over and for more than a century the canals lay abandoned. Recovery began with interest groups and eventually government support. Today the canal network is dredged and healthy. Head to Caen Hill near Devizes in Wiltshire on any summer’s day and help holidaymakers negotiate dozens of locks. Then you can pause for a much deserved cream tea at Caen Hill Cafe.
  11. Drink local beer and gin – Microbrews and artisanal gin are now a thing in Britain. There are literally hundreds of micro and nano breweries across the UK. The best beers, and there were hundreds we didn’t get to, are sold locally in bottles. Certainly, the quality and creativity of the beer is on par with the best American microbrews. Likewise, standards for microdistilled gin are high in the UK. It’s good stuff in all its varieties. Honestly, I haven’t tasted an American gin that I liked. American microdistillers struggle under the weight of Prohibition era controls. Besides, gin is finicky. With centuries of experience to draw on, Brits continue to lead the market.

That’s it for now. We’ll keep extending this list and keep you updated. Better yet, come and see for yourself.




  1. Delighted to learn that so much good old stuff is extant! My log is in nearly full compliance except for 3, 6, and 7, though I don’t recall doggie welcomes in the pubs–but you and I once made up for that in quantity of pubs! As to (1), I’ve covered Conway, Caernarvon, Llanfair & Anglesey, Harlech, Radnor, and Cardiff.


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