Happy Mother’s Day to my wonderful mother! And my wonderful sister! And all the other moms out there 🙂 In Canada, anyway… The Brits are (of course) different than mostly everywhere else, where we celebrate Mother’s Day the second Sunday in May each year.
In the UK, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and was actually originally called Mothering Sunday. This is because it was a religious holiday, where people returned to their mother church – the main church in their area – and it was mainly focused on celebrating Jesus’ mother, Mary.
In the US, Mother’s Day came about by a woman who held the first one as a ceremony in memory of her mother. She campaigned to have it recognized as an annual event, and in 1914 it became a national holiday.
Then, during the second World War, when American and British troops fought and lived alongside one another, the two holidays kind of blended together, and the UK took on the name of Mother’s Day and emphasis on celebrating moms, but kept the date still as the fourth Sunday in Lent.
So, there you have it. The story behind Mother’s Day in the UK and North America. In honour of Mother’s Day today (in Canada), I thought I would tell you a little story about the first visitors I had in England…
It was a warm, sunny morning in the little town of Daybrook, Nottingham… When I was asked if I would be around that afternoon so my friend could pop in. I had been in the UK for just over three months, and had just gotten back from a quick trip to Scotland with friends. I had video chatted with my parents two days before, telling them all about how much I loved Scotland, and was enjoying this day off, just relaxing.
It was sometime between 4 & 5pm when suddenly my buzzer went off – I live in a gated building, with video intercoms, so when someone buzzes for me to let them in the gate, I can not only hear, but see who it is.
I was a bit surprised, since the friend that was coming over lived in the same building, so obviously, wouldn’t need to ring the buzzer to get in. So I moseyed over to the intercom, just to see that there was nobody there. I hit the unlock button anyway, assuming it was the post man coming to deliver a parcel… usually they were the only ones to ever ring the buzzer.
So I walked back into my living room, just to have the buzzer go off again. Thinking I must’ve hit the wrong button and the gate hadn’t unlocked, I went back (still nobody on the screen), and hit the unlock button. I had just made it into my living room again when it went off for a third time.
At this point, I was thinking what the hell is wrong with this guy?? and went to grab the phone to talk to them and explain how to get in. When I looked at the monitor, I could just see what appeared to be the side of my mother’s head on the top corner of the screen. I first thought that I must be delusional, it couldn’t be… but when I picked up the phone, I could distinctly hear her voice on the other end of the intercom saying, “The gate is now open… the gate is not f***ing open!”
And my heart immediately started racing and I took off running to the pedestrian gate. I don’t think I’ve ever ran down stairs so quickly – I nearly jumped down the four flights of stairs, and came dangerously close to tripping over my own feet on the way.
Side note – just to explain a bit… the pedestrian gate at my building is very strange… It looks like you should be able to push or pull open the left side of it. But no, it’s the right side you push open. So a lot of people that come to this building can’t figure it out. That combined with the exhausting trip from Nova Scotia to Nottingham would make anyone curse at it.
So there she was, on the other side of the gate, and I was so surprised and confused as to why she would come alone… when Dad stepped out from behind the brick wall saying Surprise!! to me, standing there instantly in tears at the sight of my parents.
For anyone that knows me, they know I’m not an overly emotional person, and it usually takes a lot to make me cry. But not that day.
It was the best surprise I could’ve ever gotten. My parents, at my new home away from home, after three months away from them. Best surprise ever.
I still to this day have no idea how they managed to pull it off; my going away party was supposed to be a surprise and I found out about it months before it was even supposed to happen. I guess it’s a bit easier for my friends to keep things secret from me when I’m not on the same continent.
But my friends in England are amazing too, honestly. And those friends that lived in the same building, who were supposed to be coming over that afternoon, are the ones who helped my parents with the train tickets and directions to my place in Nottingham, and arranged to make sure I would be home when they arrived. Sneaky buggers.
So I showed them around the apartment and we just chilled out for a bit before walking to Arnold, the town centre nearby. We decided to eat at one of the pubs there, one I hadn’t tried myself yet. Mind you, Arnold is a fairly small town… and most of the pub-goers there are regulars. So when my parents and I walked in, naturally everyone sitting outside in the garden turned to stare at the foreigners. Bit awkward, but what can you do? Human nature is what it is.
I explained to them that eating out in England isn’t quite the same as home… So we walked into the pub in search of a table. Once we found one, and had a look at the menu, we decided what we wanted and headed up the the bar to order. Just to find out that you don’t order food there, you have to go around to the back of the pub and order food out there.
So off we went in search of this other area to order food… and had to walk out through the locals all openly gawking at us in the garden again. Lovely.
We eventually found at the back of the pub, a playground. With a little canteen, takeout style place to order grub. We were all pretty hungry and didn’t really care what we had for supper anyway, so my parents ordered burgers and fries and I got a pizza for myself.
It was a bit of an odd experience… The tables were set up right at the edge of the playground, so basically, while the kids ran around and screamed and played, the parents all sat at the tables drinking their pints of beer and cider, most of them smoking.
I must say, it’s a pretty genius move for the pub. But for us Canadians, where I can’t imagine that would ever fly, it was strange. Smoking near any buildings is pretty much forbidden in Nova Scotia, especially that close to food and children, but I don’t think nearly as many people smoke in Canada anyway.
Our little buzzer started vibrating, telling us our food was ready, so we went and grabbed it and sat back down. I have no complaints about my pizza, but the burgers… Well, that’s another story.
For those of you who don’t know… there are over 700 named British cheeses produced in the UK. I believe most of them are named after the counties or towns they were made in; take Wensleydale, Chesire, or Red Leicester, for instance.
One of these extremely British cheeses is called Stilton… a Nottinghamshire favourite. It’s essentially just a British blue cheese, which I’m sure any blue cheese lover would appreciate. But let me tell you, it’s disgusting.
Just the thought of eating mouldy cheese grosses me out. But seeing it melted on top of a burger… how dare these Brits ruin a perfectly tasty burger by putting old, mouldy, smelly cheese on it? Such a heinous crime.
So, anyway… let’s just say that Mom did not enjoy her burger. And I can’t blame her… it looked like there was old, wet cat litter poured over it. And kind of smelled like it too.
What a great first impression of England for my parents….
I had to work the next day, so I suggested they go to the city centre and check out the castle and caves and have a wander around. When I got home from work, my wonderful mother had whipped up some of her delicious strawberry shortcake and had it waiting for me. Ahhh it was nice to have them here.
I wanted to show them around England, and get outside of Nottingham a bit. One of my co-workers had suggested to go see the Peak District, or check out the beautiful old Gothic city of York, and I had wanted to go to the coast and see Whitby, so I decided to rent a car for the first time over here.
It was pretty nerve-wracking, but at the same time, I loved it and was glad my parents were here to experience it with me for the first time. Of course, for my first time driving here I didn’t just stick to main roads… I headed straight for the Peak District, known for its narrow, winding roads.
I have the Lonely Planet book of England, which is a great guide suggesting places to go and things to do all over England, and it suggested a driving tour through the Peak District. So we set off in that direction.
Our first stop was in Buxton, a former spa town in the Victorian times (sound familiar to Matlock Bath? Those Victorians did love their spas). It’s also known as the ‘capital’ of the Peak District. Here, we stopped at Poole’s Cavern – a natural limestone cavern with some impressive stalactites and stalagmites…. The cave has very unique ‘Poached Egg’ stalagmites, which grow really quickly (up to 1cm per year, which usually takes several hundred years to grow).
The tour was quite interesting, with a guide that was clearly interested in geology and history, so he did a great job explaining how the cave was formed and all about the stalactites and stalagmites, and the history over the years. There’s daily tours year-round, which cost £9.75 and last around 45 minutes or so.
We didn’t stay for long in Buxton, but the Pavilion Gardens are said to be beautiful.
Our next stop was at Speedwell Cavern, which we arrived at by way of the steep and narrow Winnats Pass. This area is gorgeous, with green rolling hills spotted with caves throughout, and sheep hanging out on either side. Stressful drive for me as a first-time driver in the UK, but well worth it. Luckily, I didn’t hit any of the sheep crossing the road or any of the cars I met.
The wait for the Speedwell Cavern tours was long, so we didn’t bother with it, but I did go back when I had friends visiting in October, and it was a pretty cool experience.
The tour is actually a boat ride underground in flooded tunnels which used to be a lead mining cave, which is super cool… unless you’re claustrophobic. The tunnel is just wide enough for the boat, which constantly bumps against the walls on either side, and you have to duck your head in many places to prevent it hitting the ceiling.
We purchased a joint ticket with Peak Cavern for £19… another set of caves. So yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time in caves since moving to England. But they all have been quite different and each interesting in their own ways, so luckily I haven’t gotten tired of ’em yet.
Peak Cavern is just down the road from Speedwell Cavern, and it’s a lovely little stroll along a pretty stream to get to the cave opening from the parking lot. This cave opening is the largest natural cave opening in England, known as the Devil’s Arse. Cute, eh?
The tour starts with a demonstration on rope making, which the huge opening was used for back in the day. It was basically an early version of a factory, where they made rope for all the miners and cavers back then. The guide actually got me to help demonstrate their unique way of making rope, so he gave me the length of rope we made as a little souvenir.
Our next destination on the driving tour was the Derwent Reservoirs, passing the Ladybower Reservoir. This area is popular for hiking, which we thought we might do until we saw how crazy busy it was… There wasn’t a single parking space left in the lot, so we just did a quick loop and continued on. Note: for anyone going to the Peak District, a Saturday in August = people everywhere. Better to go in the spring or fall, I’d say.
There’s a free museum here, called the Derwent Dam Museum, which explains all about the dams, which is said to be a good little museum. But my basic explanation is that the reservoirs in this area were man-made – the Derwent Valley was flooded between 1916-1935 to create three huge reservoirs to supply the surrounding areas with water. This area was also used for practice runs for the Dambusters squadron in WWII.
The next stop on the driving tour was Eyam, another former lead mining village, which was infected by the Black Plague in the 1600s. The town quarantined themselves and managed to keep the surrounding villages relatively unscathed. There’s a little museum about it here, which was just closing when we arrived, so we missed it too.
On to the next stop… Chatsworth House. This place is known as the “Palace of the Peak”, and has been the home of the earl’s and dukes of Devonshire for centuries. The place is gigantic. There are multiple different tour options you can take; the house, the farmyard & playground, and/or the gardens, with all three tours together costing £23 or the cheapest tour of just the farmyard & playground being £6.50. We got here just before closing time, so didn’t bother buying tickets. But it’s a pretty popular spot, so I’m guessing the tours must be worth it.
We made a quick stop in Bakewell for drinks and sweets at a cafe there, then headed back to Nottingham. It was a very quick tour through the Peaks, but a good overview of it all the same.
The next day, we decided to head the opposite direction, East toward Whitby. We stopped at Rufford Abbey and in York along the way.
York is a beautiful old medieval town, very similar to Lincoln but without the super steep hill.
York Minster is very similar to Lincoln Cathedral, but actually larger. It is the largest medieval cathedral in all of northern Europe, and known as one of the world’s most beautiful Gothic buildings. We were here on a Sunday, so of course there was a service happening, and we didn’t wait for a next tour. So we didn’t actually get to see the inside of it, but it’s beautiful from the outside too.
There are lots of museums in York to visit, of which we visited none. We’re not big museum people, really. But the walk around York was lovely, especially the York City Walls walk. These follow the line of the original Roman walls, and give you a nice view of the city.
We chose to do the short stretch of wall from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar, where you enter and exit the walls through the site of a Roman gate and a preserved medieval gate with working portcullis.
The only other place we stopped in to was The Cross Keys for lunch – delicious Sunday roast – and the Church of the Holy Trinity, a church which has been unchanged for the last 200 years. It has no running water or electricity, and the pews are 17th century box pews.
After enjoying our mid-day stop in York, we headed for the lovely town of Whitby. To get to Whitby from York, you cut through a bit of the North York Moors National Park. It is absolutely gorgeous, although I’m sad to say I don’t have any pictures of it… Next time, I need to stop and take a picture.
It has heather moorland, of which there is less in the world than tropical rainforest, and the UK is home to about 70% of it. Later in the summer, the heather flowers and turns the moors purple, stretching for miles and miles. This is a picture of it taken from the North York Moors National Park site:
But, back to Whitby. The ruined abbey that sits atop the East Cliff was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula – aka Whitby Abbey. Although it’s ruined, it’s picturesque and you can certainly see how it would’ve inspired Bram Stoker to write a Gothic horror story.
It began as a Christian monastery in the 7th century, followed by a Benedictine monastery, then destroyed in the 16th century during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, then shelled in 1914 by German ships aiming for the coastguard. So it’s had quite a rough life, and somehow still stands today… well, some of it still stands…
St.Mary’s Church sits atop the cliff as well, with the Church Stairs (199 steps) leading you steeply down into the town of Whitby.
By the time we were finished checking out Whitby Abbey, it was a bit late in the afternoon to do much else in the town, so we just did a quick loop around in the car and carried on. I would love to go back and spend a day on the beach there, and walking around the town, though.
We headed down the coast to Scarborough for another quick town visit, where we saw the walls of the castle and had a short stroll on the beach.
The two bays in Scarborough are split by Scarborough Castle, which you can (just barely) see atop the hill in the picture above. Another gorgeous area in England, which I would’ve never pictured England to be like before coming here myself.
It was a whirlwind trip, but I was very happy to be able to see so many sides of England with my parents; from the countryside and caves and hills of the Peak District to the medieval town of York and the scenic coasts of Whitby and Scarborough… Although it was a bit unfortunate to expose them to such downsides of England like Stilton cheese, I’m so glad they were able to see why I love England so much.
And in less than two weeks, they’ll be here to do more exploring with me again! Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!