Out on the Wily, Windy Moors

Do you know “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush? If you don’t, no worries, I’ll wait. (Red dress or white dress version? I’ve always been a little partial to the white version.)

Ok, now that you’ve seen it, you understand why it’s been a life-long dream (that got a lot more acute while writing my dissertation chapter on Wuthering Heights, during which I listened to this song continuously for about 5 months, it’s a miracle my husband didn’t divorce me) to go reenact this on the moors of England.

Despite visiting several times and living there for a year, I never made it to actual moors. 

Until last week.

I love traveling the way I love English Breakfast tea, cats, and dangerously teetering stacks of novels, but the whole global pandemic thing really put a damper on it for several years. But after getting our most recent COVID booster, my husband, Jared, and I decided to carpe diem and took our first international trip since 2019.

Hilariously, that was also to England, for Jared’s dissertation research. This one was just for fun.

Like pretty much all travel, there were some very high highs and some pretty epic lows, and this trip definitely played out on hard mode. Right before we left, Jared broke his foot, which meant his foot was in a boot, and he had to use a knee scooter instead of walking on it.

(I’ve never hated cobblestones so much in my life.)

To complicate matters further, there was a series of strikes on the English train system and underground. This had all kinds of consequences, but by far the most epic was a very unexpected four hour Uber ride through the rain and darkness after every single train was canceled! 

Travel: not for the faint of heart.

But, as always, it was worth it, and we had the BEST time. Here are a few of the highlights:

1. I got to meet the brilliant and magical Terri Windling

If you don’t already know Terri, she’s an editor, writer, artist, and all-around fabulous human whose superpower is connecting people and helping their work shine. (You can see her speak at our Folklore and Resistance roundtable from earlier this year, and we hope to have her back soon!) It was so lovely to finally meet her in person, and she promptly introduced me to a bunch of other wonderful people, including her assistant (and brilliant writer) Lunar Hind, puppeteer and environmental activist William Todd-Jones, and his partner (education assessment expert) Carol. They all made our time in Chagford so magical, and I honestly wish I could have stayed for a month!

2. Chagford

I just loved this town. We got monsoon-level rained on perpetually, and it was ridiculously hard to get to, and I just don’t even care at all. I loved it. It feels old and steeped in history but very much alive and vibrant, in a way that reminds me a little of Oxford, but on a much smaller scale.

It’s full of wonderful people, the sweetest dogs (I swear, there is something in the water there that makes all the dogs cartoonishly good and well-behaved), vegan food, moors, and art. Also, there’s a castle.

And a stone circle. And gorgeous walks. I desperately want there to be a Carterhaugh outpost there someday, where we can read and teach and wander and learn from the brilliant people there! Should you ever make your way to Chagford, you must eat at The Three Crowns in front of one of their fireplaces, have (vegan) scones at the Green Man Cafe, pursue the Three Hares art gallery, and spy the green men carved into the ceiling of St Michael the Archangel. Also, go stay with Sonia at Pineapple Cottage!

3. I got to see my Dad!

He lives in Tennessee, so I don’t get to see him in person very much, but we were able to meet up in Chagford for a few days and share some meals, walks, and adventures!

4. The Rookery

I did a ton of research before picking our London hotel and ultimately chose The Rookery, which was built all the way back in 1764 and looks like it, in the best possible way. It is so charming and enchanting, full of 18th-century antiques, twisty little staircases, and piles of old books, that I felt personally attacked.

When we realized that The Rookery had a gin bar, a working fireplace, and three beautiful sitting rooms, Jared jokingly said that the only thing that could possibly make it any more perfect was if they had a cat. 

Y’all. THEY HAVE A CAT. His name is Bagheera, and we spent many an evening petting him by the fireplace. Also, the staff couldn’t have been kinder. We seriously never wanted to leave!

5. The Charles Dickens Museum

This adorable museum is located in Charles Dickens’ old house, and it was full of his own furniture and possessions, including his writing desks, clothes, and correspondence. We also happened to visit when they had a spectacular (and very relevant to Carterhaugh interests) exhibition on Dickens’ Christmas ghost stories and his fascination with mesmerism and the occult! Bonus: it was decorated for Christmas, so we got to see his dining room decked out with greenery and the sitting room decorated with a Christmas tree!

6. THEATER!

Ever since we started dating (ok, honestly way before we started dating – the second time we ever met was at a staging of The Servant of Two Masters), Jared and I have loved going to see theater stuff together. On this trip, we carved out some time to see two very different shows. First up was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s absolutely jaw-droppingly glorious stage adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro. Y’all. I cannot convey to you how profoundly good it is. The nature spirits were largely depicted through PUPPETRY, and it was just so beautifully and creatively done. It captured everything that I love about the movie while really highlighting the eeriness and unknowability of the forest spirits. Then we raced across the city (despite the underground strike!), stuffed our faces at Mildreds (a London vegan institution), and made it to the 28,896th showing of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has been running consistently in London since 1952!

It was a delight, with sharp, witty writing, great performances by the ensemble cast, and all the tension and twists you expect from Christie. 

7. The Food

Yes, the food, don’t @ me. It’s such a cliche to say that England has terrible food, but not only is there incredible international cuisine, but London is the most vegan-friendly city in the world. Yes, literally, in the world. We had an absolutely killer meal at Gauthier, a French, entirely plant-based menu whose chef was awarded a Michelin star. We also had fantastic food at Pastan (Italian), Sagar (South Indian), and Mildreds.

Also, The Rookery had weirdly excellent bagels (and I am not easily impressed by bagels, I’m an NYC snob about the whole thing).

I wish I could have stayed much longer than a week. England is one of my favorite places in the world, and the year I spent living there was one of the best of my life. Here’s to more adventures there soon!

Comments

  1. Lindsey Carmichael

    OK, I read this whole post in my email, thinking to myself “There had better be a picture of the cat,” and then lol’ing hysterically when I got to the last line. Obviously, I clicked through for Bagheera!

  2. Judith

    Thanks so much for this email/post Sara! It really made my day. If I ever get to go to Britain, I’ll be sure to spend some time in Chagford. What a dream!

  3. Jere

    So seriously fantastic!!! An utter joy reading about your adventures and seeing such happy pics!!
    I can’t believe that I was recently on the moors in Brittany and didn’t think to reenact the dance!?! Whyyyy? Must return.
    Cheers to you and many more moors!

  4. Lisa Gill

    This is all so splendid! Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with places to stay and eat!

  5. Lauren E Reynolds

    Wow! what a cool adventure Sara! It looks like you guys had an absolute blast! I’m jealous! Also the Rookery had a cat! that’s like too perfect!

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