Bueñas Días from Barcelona!
I’ve had a fantastic week travelling Spain with Megan Barta, a fellow Hope study-abroader wrapping up her semester in Barcelona. We shared many memorable experiences as we explored the stunning Andalusia region of southern Spain during Semana Santa. From exploring the Sacromonte district in Granada, to visiting La Mezquita in Córdaba, to realising we accidentally hiked a segment of El Camino, to marvelling at the tiled rooms of Real Alcázar in Sevilla, to using carrots to make PB&Js on a park bench when lacking a kitchen and the proper utensils, we had a lovely trip. Trains? Planes? Buses? Check.
The topography of Spain was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Megan said it reminded her of California, but for me, everywhere I looked was bejeweled with new sights and smells. I’ll remember Spain as a palate of warm tones: creamy stucco houses, orange groves, sage green palm trees, beige cathedrals, sweet sangria, marble columns, rust-coloured tiles, and boughs laden with blossoms. And always, the fragrance of orange blossoms, wisteria, and the faint, earthy swirl of incense.
Escaping the Cities
Hiking in Spain was nothing like the hikes I’d experienced in the UK. Megan and I ate yet another PB&J seated on a rock beside a dusty trail in Ermita de la Virgen. As we sat overlooking a green valley with distant mountain tops faintly visible against the bright blue sky, I found myself reflecting on my memories of England.
Familiarising myself with a new city was both challenging and exciting, but discovering and exploring the English countryside was one of my favourite parts about being in Liverpool. Before I went to England, I knew that living in a city, I would miss the open spaces, the beauty, and the solitude of the country. There’s something sacred and quieting and freeing about exploring God’s creation. Given the choice between a day in the city or a day in the country, I choose the country every time. I’ve read the works of the Brontë sisters, Austen, Wordsworth, James Herriot, Eliot…the list goes on. I knew the English countryside had inspired many writers and poets with its naturalistic beauty and I intended to discover it for myself. In a last minute packing reshuffle, I discarded a few sweaters and squeezed my hiking boots into my suitcase, which proved to be an excellent tradeoff. Not every Saturday, but more often than not, I would pick a new town or village or hike that I wanted to discover. Thanks to public transit, I found it was usually accessible and fairly inexpensive to take a day trip from Liverpool by train to the countryside. Reflecting back on the semester, I want to share some of my favourite places I visited.
1. Peak District (£20 train, roundtrip)
I blogged about this trip earlier, but it was my first excursion into the countryside, and I fell in love. I spent a blissful day hiking in the hills above the charming village of Edale. As I stopped on a rocky outcropping overlooking the panoramic hillsides, I felt like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. The alternative rain, snow, and sunshine reminded me to always pack an extra layer on future hikes. As I continued hiking, the rugged heath reminded me of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.
2. Formby (£5.50 train, roundtrip)
Formby is a beautiful stretch of coastline just 45-60 minutes north of Liverpool. The beach is accessible through a stretch of pine-scented woodlands crisscrossed by countless trails. Romane and I went on a rainy January afternoon, but even then the trails were busy with families out to enjoy the beach and woods. I loved watched the tide come in when the waves were swept along by the brisk wind and the air was laced with salt and moisture.
3. Conwy, Wales (£20 train, roundtrip)
After the school sponsored trip to Wales, I knew I wanted to return and explore more of the national parks. In late February, I booked train tickets to Conwy with my friend Romane. Conwy has the flair of an ancient seaside town with a cute harbor and Medieval castle, but it’s nestled between the rugged Welsh mountains and the Irish Sea. Romane and I spent the day hiking the cliffs overlooking the sea before following footpaths further inland. We had no real agenda or destination, just to get back to Conwy in time to catch the last train back to Liverpool that night. The sun was brilliant, the sky crystal clear. We spotted handfuls of Welsh ponies from the wild Carneddau herd grazing on the cliffs overlooking the sea. They gazed back at us, unafraid of the human intruders. We ran into a local couple from one of the villages at the base of the mountains as they were lunching with their dog atop one of the wind-swept hills. They pointed out the path to an old stone quarry and we eagerly followed their directions to explore the remains of the cave. This adventure in Wales ended with a dead phone, getting a little bit lost, and climbing over a fence, but we made in back to Conwy with plenty of time for a tea cake and hot chocolate at a local cafe, a brisk walk along the harbor, and one final farewell to the rugged coastline of Wales.
4. Wirral Peninsula (£5.50, roundtrip)
The Wirral Peninsula, surrounded by the River Mersey, the River Dee, and the Irish Sea, is just a short train ride under the Mersey from Liverpool. I got off the train in West Kirby and walked across the beach to the Hilbre Island, which is accessible when the tide rolls out. Although a small, unassuming island, it has beautiful rocks, tide pools, and the unique ruins of an old lifeboat station. It also boasts fascinating history because of its use as a decoy site during World War II. After exploring the island, I hiked further along the coast to Wirral Country Park and then followed the Wirral Way to Dungeon woods and back through the town of Thurstaston. In typical English fashion, the weather changed from bright and sunny to gusty and rainy. The setting sun barely broke through the thick mist and that shrouded the Welsh mountains across the estuary. When I got back on the train, I was drenched and coated in mud, but opened my book, The Overstory, oblivious to the bemused looks I received.
5. North York Moors National Park (£15 train from York, roundtrip)
The last hike I took in the British countryside was combined with an overnight trip to the fascinating city of York. Following my day in York, I spent the night in the town of Thirsk, home of the country vet, James Herriot, a favorite childhood author who recently became re-popular in my family because of the PBS adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small. I wanted to hike in North York Moors National Park and planned to spend a peaceful day exploring the countryside where the real-life James Herriot practiced as a vet. Due to some erroneous planning, I ended up walking along a highway for a few hours (it’s a long story, if you see me, ask me, and I’ll happily tell it all to you). However, when I finally arrived at the National Park, it was well worth the difficulty. As I gazed out over the rolling countryside from the slopes of Sutton Bank, I was inclined to agree with Herriot that it was indeed one of the “finest” views in all of England.
The wind whipped across the hills over the Vale of York but it was gloriously sunny and I couldn’t stop smiling as I hiked along the ridge. I saw the Yorkshire Gliders and then the Kilburn White Horse which is the largest chalk figure in England. The helpful employees at the National Park informed me of a “more sensible” route back to Thirsk than the way I had come. Following their guidance, I descended from the White Horse and strolled through Kilburn Woods and into the village of Kilburn where I stopped at the local pub for a traditional English scone with cream and jam. The rest of the walk back to Thirsk wound along quiet country roads and dirt footpaths. The fresh air smelled faintly of livestock but mostly the earthy smell of spring. The occasional flowering tree answered the call of the breeze by scattering creamy petals like snow. I imagined how stunning the Dales would be in late spring when the hedges were in full blossom and the fields ripe with the green of summer. I’d barely touched the surface of the dales or the National Park, and looking back at where Sutton’s Bank swelled out of the hills behind me, I felt a deep desire to return there someday.
While Liverpool pulses with the excitement of urban life, my cup was filled by the panoramic slopes of the Midlands, my soul sang in the rugged Welsh mountains, and my spirit was thrilled by the windswept ridges of Yorkshire.
New Scouse/UK Word/Phrase: When I was hiking in Scotland a few weeks ago, the bus driver dropped the coins and exclaimed, “Oh Sugar!” I’m running out of new words haha.
Kodak Moment: Wow. There have been so so many! If I could capture the smell of orange blossoms and wisteria in a photograph that would be it.
Someone new I met this week: In Granada, waiting on a hillside for a Semana Santa procession that we thought would be at 11pm but found out would actually not reach us until 2am, a very friendly group of locals befriend Megan and I. “Somos amigos ahora!” Antonio exclaimed as they settled down around where we were huddled against a stone wall. They gave us candy, shared their dinner, offered us drinks, and insisted we use their scarf and sweater to stay warm while we waited for the procession to reach us. I’ve always been told not to take food from strangers, but these group of people showed us what it means to live out Matthew 25.
Word of the week: God is (faithful).