Lest anyone get suspicious, let me assure you: I was not paid or pressured by anyone to write this post. I had a good experience this past weekend and genuinely felt the need to write about it. Now…
During my first (and it must be said, anti-climactic) day on King’s campus two months ago, as I waited around for the various events and procedures attendant to my official registration, I had plenty of time to browse the tables at the information fair, and to sit in on the many presentations given by the various organisations represented thereat. One of the programmes which caught my eye was HOST, which organises short homestays for international students in the UK. I liked the idea (it sounded like a more organised version of CouchSurfing) and tucked the brochure away in my burgeoning sack of literature, for later consideration.
Well, a few weeks ago, I created my profile on HOST’s website and, after some back and forth with a HOST volunteer, had arranged a weekend visit to David and Mary Bainbridge in Lechlade-on-Thames.
Lechlade is a small town –some might call it a village — on the edge of Gloucestershire, in the Cottswolds. To get there, we took a coach from London on Friday night to Swindon — a little over two hours away. There, we were met by David and Mary, who drove us to their home in Lechlade. This was our first time being anywhere in England outside of London, and in many ways, it was like we imagined: stone houses, surrounded by shrubberies or drystone walls; meadows and pastures for sheep, bounded by hedges; and quaint villages still bearing traces of their medieval history.
David and Mary were a very nice retired couple who had settled down in Lechlade about 5 years ago. And imagine this: although they’re both Brits, they met each other in Uganda in the 1970s!
Anyway, on Saturday, they took us first on a walk around Lechlade. A delightful characteristic of the English countryside is that even (or perhaps especially) the most out-of-the-way places have an enchanting story to tell. In Lechlade, we saw the 15th century St. Lawrence Church, walked along the Thames (it’s much narrower and cleaner up there) and meandered through the woods and around the town. In the afternoon, they drove us to several other villages in the Cottswolds — Quenington, Bibury and Burford — each with their own quaint charm and novel attractions; In Quenington it was the Norman (11th century) doors on St. Swithin’s Church. In Bibury, it was the cottages on Arlington Row and the Trout Farm. In Burford, we went to a traditional tea room.
After a full day of sightseeing on Saturday, we had a lovely dinner back at the Bainbridge’s house. Sunday was Remembrance Day (11/11), which turns out to be one of the biggest days at the church. Luckily, Mary had some extra faux-poppies for us to affix to our clothes so as to appear duly commemorative.
There’s much to be said about each aspect of our trip (and perhaps I will say more in future posts), but here are the important things:
- Through this experience, we were able to visit places far from the normal tourist circuit (although for some reason, there were lots of tourists [many of them Chinese] taking pictures of Arlington Row in Bibury).
- We also got to experience British traditions that can’t always be experienced by even the most intrepid and independent of travelers; for example, a proper Sunday roast in someone’s home.
In summary, if you are a student in the UK, check out HOST. Many institutions (including King’s) will subsidise the cost of your first, and if you’re stuck in the UK over the holiday, they also arrange Christmas homestays.
Oh, and also, be careful when booking Megabus tickets; apparently their coaches don’t always leave from the actual coach station 😉