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A More English View of Things

This past week saw me visit Hadrian’s Wall, a wall that once separated Scotland and England. It is now south of the border, meaning that I was actually in England for the first time. (It was the border that moved, not the wall). I went with my unlucky friend from previous posts, Robbie, and our intent was to backpack and camp along the wall for 16 miles. We barely made the train leaving from Edinburgh, and we arrived in the town of Haltwhistle (very English) late at night, without a place to stay. We ended up talking to the owners of a pub there, who told us of a campsite close to the wall, which happened to be somewhat far from the town. We made it to the campsite and found that it was eerily quiet (and closed for the night). There were some bizarre little creatures wandering around in a wooden pen. In the dark, we couldn’t tell that they were geese until they started going crazy, apparently frightened by us. We ended up traveling onwards and camping on a hill that was in some kind of pasture. In the UK, it is now legal to camp on private property, provided that you follow certain rules. This has been a controversial issue, as trespassing is still forbidden in the city, and farmers therefore feel that this law discriminates against them. As such, we left quite early in the morning, without leaving any traces, but not before taking this picture:

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It is quite English, is it not? The transition from the great treeless mountains of Scotland to the rolling hills of England seemed very abrupt, as if the landscape were conforming to tourists’ stereotypes. The towns near Hadrian’s Wall also seemed stereotypically English. I was informed by a UK resident that this is often done intentionally near the border in an attempt by locals to distinguish themselves from their Scottish neighbors to the north. (When attempting to buy a pizza with Scottish pounds, I was jokingly accused of trying to pay with “Monopoly money”). One of my favorite things about the change of landscape was the comparative ease of hiking. The hills below are not quite as intimidating as the mountains of the Scottish Highlands.

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We also got the privilege of seeing a solar eclipse on our hike. In direct defiance of what everyone told us, we looked at it. Shockingly, our eyes did not burn out of their sockets and we both maintain perfect 20/20 vision.  Now where did I put that keyboard I was just typing on? Ah, here it is! As I was saying, we looked at the eclipse along with some locals, who later offered us a ride to our destination. As tempting as the offer was, we chose to continue walking. They were very kind in giving us directions and even drew us a map of how to get there. They also told us to look out for a location up ahead where part of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed:

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good place to stand and capture the entire tree in the shot. It does look the same as in the movie, though. We also learned from these kind folk that the town from which I had booked our return tickets was actually 5 miles south of our end point along the wall. So, after traveling about 15 miles that day, we gave up and took a bus the additional 5 miles. We camped out in a hotel room that night and watched YouTube parodies of The Lord of the Rings. We were truly roughing it, as this hotel didn’t even provide us with little bottles of shampoo. The next day, we toured an abbey that was mostly constructed in the Middle Ages. It’s absolutely incredible to imagine the amount of effort and resources that went into constructing this building, which had enormous stained glass windows, grand stone arches, and a museum detailing its construction. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this, as my phone ran out of battery life. We made it back safely and without having anything bad happen to us (which is unusual for our trips). My next post will be from Italy, the site of our next trip.

As a postscript to this post, I would like to mention that I was invited to listen to a talk on gay marriage given by a Catholic priest, who gave a number of arguments against it. The goal was to invite a dialogue with the queer community, but only one active member of the queer community attended. She asked some important questions, and the priest gave the response that many Church officials in the UK are considering support of same-sex civil unions. In the UK, these offer the same benefits as a marriage, but with a different title. This is a surprising difference between the marriage debate in the US, where many of the arguments for gay marriage stem from the desire for an equality of legal benefits. According to the priest, the debate in the UK is more about an equality of terminology. This is something I want to look into more, and the plan is for my next post to contain interviews of locals on their opinion of the matter. Gay marriage is still a topic of much debate here, and there were protests scheduled (but cancelled) by the queer community in response to allegedly anti-gay religious services being held on campus. With regard to a different debate, I encountered a man the other day who was distributing pamphlets arguing against Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, at the same university from which Darwin graduated, 156 years after the publication of The Origin of Species. It made me wonder if the debate about gay marriage would last just as long. Perhaps some debates are here to stay.

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