The biggest problem with English holidays is that you take a serious gamble with the weather. It doesn’t matter that it’s the sticky height of summer – it could still be miserable. I’m not a meteorologist, but I’ve learned enough to know that the British Isles suffer from something called ‘persistent low-pressure disorder’. This illness can affect the UK at any time of the year and make the weather unseasonably cold and horribly wet. The start of this summer, for instance, will go down as one of the worst in living memory. I escaped most of it – I was hiding away in Califorinia – but it was the wettest and possibly the coldest since records began.
Still, the English aren’t the types to be put off by a few gale-force winds and lashing rain. Their resolve and optimism in the face of changeable weather patterns is admirable. I can only assume it’s a hangover from the Second World War. If you’ve lived through that, a few bad summers aren’t going to push you over the edge.
The English Husband and I decided to gamble on a short vacation in Norfolk in the middle of August. Norfolk is a county on the far east coast of England, which leaves it rather exposed to the North Sea. The north-west part of Norfolk is bordered by The Wash, one of the largest estuaries in the UK. Its countryside is incredibly flat and the area is famous for lavender. Pretty purple fields are bordered by straw-colored wheat fields and green fields, often dotted with a row of leafy trees. If you looked at it from the sky, it would look like an enormous jigsaw puzzle.
Norwich is the largest city in what is mostly a rural county. According to Wikipedia, the county is also 98% white. Frankly, I can kind of believe it.
Falling in love with Holkham
The highlight of the trip was a visit to Holkham Beach, famous for being featured in Shakespeare in Love. It’s a beautiful stretch of pristine coastline. There is nothing to mar your view of the tranquil beach – not even a solitary toilet is allowed to be built there. The shallow water is as still as a lake and you can walk out for ages before needing to swim.
The walk to the beach is impressive. You pass a belt of tight pine trees reaching out for the sky, and there are sand dunes and wet meadows. Shells crunched underfoot as we walked 20 minutes to finally reach the shore. There is even a section of dunes for naturists.
I’ve been to many beaches in my life, but this mixture of countryside, trees, meadows and dunes is unusual and gives Holkham a windswept, desolate beauty. I don’t know if I’d like to be standing on this beach in the middle of winter, buffeted by the persistent wind, but it does feel a bit like you’ve reached the end of the world.
An ode to the potato
The English Husband will tell you that I’m not the type to defend England against its many criticisms when I’m on UK soil. We don’t see eye to eye on many things related to our national identities. I am more prone to defend England when it is being attacked by an American. Hence, I spend a great deal of time explaining to my friends and family that, no, the food is not as bad as everyone claims. I’m having some second thoughts, though.
London is not really like the rest of England. The food here is reflective of the fact that there are so many different nationalities and cultures. There is so much competition in the capital, and restaurant owners really need to up their game if they are going to survive. So I’ve generally never had much of a problem getting decent food in London. It’s not all ridiculously expensive either. You can eat well in places that won’t send you running for a loan from the bank.
Norfolk, though, is not London. By and large, most food is served with a derivative of the potato. Everything is also fried, deeply. It doesn’t help that I don’t eat meat, but I can’t believe that in the 21st century you will be served a side salad with no dressing. The only thing I could find on the table was salad cream.
In one pub I overheard a very portly guest exclaim loudly, ‘Well, I am all chipped out.’ And that pretty much is the long and short of it. There are too many things served with fried potatoes, not enough imagination and too much mayonnaise.
Do the English have some of the worst food in the world? You’d have to ask the English Husband who ate what appeared to be a carcass of pork from a pub down the road from our cottage. It was sweating under a heat lamp and looked to have been there for many hours. I’m not entirely sure a vulture would have touched it. You know things are bad when you wonder what’s least likely to give you food poisoning.