As a kid, I imagined that I was a displaced Briton, meant to be stumbling across ghostly Roman ruins in the woods instead of getting tangled in Florida’s palmetto brush.
During my recent two-week tour of England, Wales, and Scotland, I didn’t see as many tweed waistcoats or crumbled abbeys as I’d hoped, nor did I have a sublime supernatural experience on a wind-swept beach after blowing an ancient whistle.
I did catch COVID, which was its own kind of sublime experience.
What I saw swaying on my feet soaked in my own fever sweat were beautiful towns, gorgeous rolling hills and mountains and waterways, amazing museums, and astonishing historical places where the human story extended thousands of years beneath my feet.
I’ll have other pretentious things to say about my trip in the future, but for now, I’d like to offer some advice for travelers based on my own idiosyncratic experience…and needs.
Important Questions to Ask Before Embarking on a Tour of Britain:
1. Has anyone on this bus heard of M.R. James, Robert Aickman, Algernon Blackwood, Ramsey Campbell, Daphne Du Maurier, or John Wyndham?
2. Does anyone on this bus have a selfie checklist or plan to flash a sideways peace sign where people were burned alive?
3. Does anyone on this bus have a desperate need for the love and attention of strangers by answering rhetorical questions or repeating the punchlines of jokes?
4. Is anyone on this bus interested in buying a shot glass or Speedo with the flag of England or Scotland on it? Or in visiting Gretna Green for non-ironic purposes?
5. Are we stopping in Liverpool for anything other than a dire emergency?
6. I’m sorry to pry, Tour Guide, but are you gay? Because this is going to suck if you don’t have the catty meta-awareness and perception of most LGBTQ folks. (I’m pretty sure ours was, and he was awesome. When a drunk American from another tour stumbled onto our bus, he said, “Have another whisky, honey.”)
7. Are we staying at any hotels where you have to insert your key card into a slot to make the electricity work in the room?
8. Will we be walking down any narrow cobblestone alleys called “the Rambles” or “the Scrambles” or “the Shambles” or “the Scrabbles” where coughing, mucous-slicked tourists are squeezed together in a tube of undulating flesh?
9. Are we going anywhere quiet enough where a cat or dog could plausibly approach us for petting?
10. Will we be visiting any cities or towns where the GPS resolution is better than, say, half a kilometer?
The answers you want to these questions may be different than mine, and that’s okay. But I suggest that you ask.