bucolic – relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life.
–aholic – denoting a person addicted to something.
After reading C.S. Lewis’s description of an English walking tour nearly 20 years ago, I began to daydream of traipsing through the Enligsh countryside on a long distance walk. In 2015, I finally decided to scratch that entry off the bucket list with a walk on the Cotswolds Way. I had such a great time that I embarked on a second walking tour on the Dales Way in 2016. Thoroughly hooked, I used my 40th birthday in 2017 as a dubious justification for two more walks: the Coast to Coast and the Cleveland Way.
Toward the end of 2017, I began to fantasize about a multimonth walk from South to North Britain. I soon discovered the existence of the Land’s End to John o’ Groats challenge: an undefined walk between the most southwesterly to the northeasterly inhabited points of the island. To my utter shock, my long-suffering wife not only acquiesced to the plan but encouraged me to seriously consider it. Summer 2018 will be my rambling summer.
It’s difficult to communicate the thrill I experience walking in the British countryside. Most Europeans don’t appreciate how starved for historical context American’s are. We live in cities where houses built a 100 years ago as considered very old. Because of its unique geography and history, Britain is perhaps one of the best (if not the best) countries in the world to explore history through walking.
The idea of a tour with a purpose was something new and attractive; so too was the possibility of combining an intellectual interest like history or archeology with vigorous open-air exercise… The British Isles offer more scope for this kind of thing than any country in the world.
-Morris Marples, Shank’s Pony
A British day’s walk that includes surveying neolithic long burrows, iron age hill forts, Roman ruins, and hybrid medieval Saxon and Norman churches is immensely thrilling and metaphysically significant. See my post here about all the other reasons why I find walking in Britain so satisfying and enchanting.
An avid home brewer, BJCP beer judge and all around craft beer enthusiast, I find that most of my vacations for the last 15 years have revolved around beer tourism. Whether purchasing three crates of Westvletern 12 from the taciturn monks of St. Sixtus Abbey in Belgium, attending far-flung home brewing conventions or driving all over the states to track down special beer, I find beer is a fantastic way to explore and meet people.
My love for walking and beer both have roots in Britain. It was not deep into the new millennium when my wife and visited the UK and fell in love with cask ale. My thirst for great beer was frustrated by the dearth of real ale in the states. I turned to bottled British beer for comfort. Beers like McEwan’s Scotch Ale and Orkney Skull Splitter sent me scouring the craft beer aisles of Southern California at a time when local craft beer was just beginning to gain traction. I found myself at ground zero for the great American craft beer explosion.
When I first considered a foray into homebrewing, I naively sought to cobble together a cask ale brewing set up. After being set straight by a long-suffering stateside cask beer equipment merchant, I begrudgingly started to brew kegged homebrew. A few years later, and much more brewing savvy, I acquired some cask equipment and quickly became the go-to cask guy locally. I’m often called on to help set up cask set up (owning a few beer engines makes me very popular) for local bars and breweries. Our homebrewing club started a semi-regular cask party that has resulted in some phenomenal beer and helped preach the gospel of real ale to scores of Arizonian homebrewers.
It should be no surprise then, that my walks in Britain are just as much about local beer and pubs as they are about the pursuit of the picturesque and history. CAMRA‘s good beer guide is always consulted before settling on a new path. My love for beer and history have found a unique convergence in the uniquely British institution of the pub. I spend a significant amount of my free time reading esoteric tomes regarding the evolution of the alehouse to the modern pub and British brewing history. Stumbling into a rural pub, rich in local lore, and enthusiastically gulping down a few pints of local real ale after a long walk is one of the most sublime pleasures of my life. English novelist and journalist Alen Brein summed it up perfectly:
There were nights when six of seven pints coursed down as if served in magic thimbles… nothing can equal a good local brew after a long walk… faintly cloudly, just on the cool side of tepid… it wraps around you like a sicky horse blanket and cuddles you to sleep.
So if you have time for some vicarious enchantment chasing, follow this middle-aged Arizonian-American as he traipses through the British countryside in search the meaning of life… and beer.