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Drinking wine at Ashford HouseOf course, we have all heard of the beauty of England’s formal gardens. But like many things, one needs to see with one’s own eyes to believe and appreciate. Carol and her friend Pat Tracy planned this trip and it didn’t take much to convince their husbands, Jim and Bob, to go along for the ride provided a copy of England’s Best Pubs was in hand. We stayed in five different Bed and Breakfast establishments for 2 to 3 days each including the Ashford House B&B in Wells where we are enjoying a bottle of black currant wine in the garden (photo).

We began our garden tour at Sissinghurst Castle near Hastings and ended with a look at Windsor Castle west of London before we departed. In between we visited Great Dixter House and Gardens, Boudian Castle, the White Cliffs of Dover, Glastanbury Abbey, Hestercombe Gardens, Wells Cathedral, The Bishop’s Palace & Gardens at Wells, Knightshayes Gardens, the Roman Baths at Bath, Stonehenge (high on Carol’s bucket list), Salisbury Cathedral, the Ironbridge Gorge, Powis Castle among other castles, cathedrals, picturesque villages and, of course, English pubs. Most of the gardens belonged to country estates now managed by England’s National Trust, a conservation and preservation society.

What immediately struck me was how many plant species were in bloom during this narrow springtime window. It was a color palette of “smashing” proportions, as the English might say. Take a look at a sample of the photos below. How all this lush beauty could thrive at 51 degrees north latitude (equivalent to Juneau Alaska or Newfondland Canada) in May might be a mystery until one understands the moderating influence of the Atlantic Gulf Stream on the weather patterns coming off the North Sea.Slide1

A highlight of the trip was a visit and dinner with Peter and Catherine Stephenson, friends of the Tracy’s, at their delightful home in the village of Church Stretton in County Shropshire. The following day the women went shopping and Peter, Bob and I did some exploring in the high country called Longmynd above Church Stretton. We found a country pub along the way to sustain us during our arduous outing (Check out photo of Peter and Bob at the Glass and Bottle).Slide2

I have been to many countries in Europe, but this was my first trip to England. When I visit a new place I take a bit of time to study the natural and cultural history of the place. I now have a better understanding of the influence of the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans; royal intrigues and troubled successions; the Renaissance; the role of Henry VIII; the English Civil War; and the industrial Revolution. Studying the natural history of places I visit is a must, so I enjoyed reading the book Mapmaker by Simon Winchester about the geology of England and William Smith, the man who drew up the first geological map of the country in the early 1800s. It was also helpful that my traveling companions, Pat and Bob were history and geology professors, respectively.