When I was a kid, I was convinced that I had been born in the wrong country. All the great things, it seemed, happened in America. England was grey and overcast and full of small square houses and proper people. America was shiny and blue-skied, full of sun-kissed golden-haired ‘cool kids’ and houses that were surrounded by lawns and laid out Beverley Hills style.
I remember walking home over the motorway bridge with my then boyfriend, trying to describe how out of place I felt in England, complaining about the injustice of it all. I remember the surprise I felt when he did not agree. He said it was the best place in the world.
I have just come back from a weekend in Lincoln. After spending the first three decades of my life firmly below the Watford Gap, I am now exploring what’s on the other side. It is funny just how much one little island can contain.
On the way to Lincoln, the landscape changed from city to green farmland to rolling yellow fields. It was softer than the Northern England landscape that I started to familiarise myself with last year. Less dramatic and more picture book. On the one-carriage train from Newark to Lincoln, we went past tiny rural stations that wouldn’t have been out of place in The Railway Children or another century.
The old town of Lincoln is on top of the very appropriately named ‘Steep Hill’. I liked leaving the Saturday crowds and all too familiar High Street shops behind, even if the effort was painful. As you got nearer the top, the cobbled streets bent and narrowed, and the buildings became wonky and squashed into each other. The lampposts were old fashioned and diamond-shaped which was enough to shake time. When you were walking along the castle walls at the top and looking out over Lincolnshire, it disappeared all together.
There is something magical about standing in the same spot that you know people hundreds of years ago stood in. It is impossible not to try and see through their eyes as well as your own.
I fell in love with Lincoln Cathedral. I normally find Cathedrals intimidating and cold, but Lincoln’s was surprisingly warm and welcoming, despite its enormous size. I don’t know whether it was the choir practicing at the back or the red flowers brightening the organ base or the brilliant blue stain glass windows or just the friendly old woman who sold me tickets that made it so…but I didn’t feel the familiar spine shiver and I enjoyed, rather than appreciated, how beautiful it was.
At night, the yellow stone glowed in a sky that was so much darker than London’s is.
The following morning, the towers were submerged in a thick fog that kept new Lincoln hidden until we reached the bottom of a winding Roman trail. Every now and then, you could see where the old stone walls were incorporated into the modern red ones. Layers of old and layers of new.
I have been thinking about the importance of variety lately. About how we discover more about what we like and what we don’t through broadening our experiences, through trying more and different things. As we came back to London along the tiny rural train line, and via the oddly mixed Newark, and past industrial chimneys and golden fields and flooded parks, and then the high rises leading into Kings Cross, I realised that this variety is one of the many things that I have under-appreciated about England. That there are a hundred Englands out there to explore. That there will always be something surprising, and always something to discover in the contrasts.