My road trip began when I got picked up at the Lichfield Trent Valley train station by a friend of mine. All I knew at that point was that I was staying with my friend and her wife. It turned out that due to an issue with their shower in their new home, we were to take a road trip from town to town enjoying the countryside along the way. I was completely onboard, wondering what sights I might see, what I might learn and what vegan food I might discover in each town.
I was first shown the small town of Lichfield. It was here that I discovered that this quaint town contained the Erasmus Darwin House, the former home of the English poet and physician Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of naturalist Charles Darwin. Lichfield was also home to Samuel Johnson, a literary giant who was best known for his Dictionary of the English Language. By far, however, the most impressive aspect to Lichfield, and with good reason, is the cathedral.
I was in awe of the outside of this church, which was built from 1195 to 1340 AD and is the only medieval English cathedral with three spires. Curious about the inside, I decided to have a peak and it turned out that I entered just in time for a 40 minute tour. How lucky! Not only did I spend a lot of time looking up – at the stained glass, at the ceiling and at the gothic architecture, but I also learned quite a lot about English history.
The tour guide eloquently connected the Cathedral of Lichfield with important historical events that occurred in the surrounding area. This structure apparently played an important role in both the Norman Invasion (1066) and the English Civil War (1642–1651) between the Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”) and Royalists (“Cavaliers”). The people of Lichfield had an advantage due to the height of the cathedral, as it made it rather easy to spot a group of soldiers coming from far off. The Lichfield Cathedral is also home to the Saint Chad Gospels, a hand-written Gospel Book that dates back to about 730 A.D. The gospels were most likely written to honor St. Chad, who died March 2nd in 672, and is buried in the cathedral.
The journey continued to the medieval town of Shrewsbury, founded in 800 AD. It is the birthplace of Charles Darwin and is almost completely surrounded by the River Severn. I visited Shrewsbury Castle, built in 1066, but it has been renovated quite a number of times.
Shrewsbury is a neat town to walk around in as it follows the same street pattern as in the medieval times. As a result, this small-ish town has narrow compelling passageways to explore. I liked the architecture with the white walls and dark wooden beams.
I had a delicious meal at Okra, a vegan restaurant with a laid-back and friendly vibe. I ordered their Tempeh Tikki Masala Flatbread consisting of tikka-spiced tempeh, mango chutney, vegan yoghurt, pickles, slaw and mixed leaves. The open concept of their restaurant made it possible for me to watch the cook prepare food and I was so impressed with how much care and personal attention went into each dish. The result was fantastic! What a great blend of flavors. We spent the night in Shrewsbury.
Realizing that we were so close to Wales, I asked if we could drive through on our way to Chester. Just like England, I had never been to Wales. One of the aspects of my eagerness was hearing the Welsh language, which locals had worked hard to bring back from the brink of extinction. As a linguist-enthusiast, I believe losing a language takes the culture with it and I wanted to see for myself how prevalent Welsh might be today.
We stopped in a hamlet called Wrexham to have a walk around. Still in the car park, I asked a passerby how to say good afternoon in Welsh. I enjoyed practicing my new greeting (prynhawn da), accompanied by a friendly smile, with folks as I passed them on the street.
One such person was a street cleaner who saw me take a picture. He asked me where I was from and when I told him that I was from the United States, he proudly shared some facts about his town that he thought might interest me. This included that Yale, the namesake of Yale University, is buried in the St. Giles Parish Church.
I arrived in Chester at night and set out to find a suitable dinner. We finally settled on an Italian restaurant called Urbana 32 which had a few vegan options. I ordered a pizza called “truffled”, consisting of vegan mozzarella, tomato base, watercress, pine nuts, mushroom and truffle oil. The flavors in this pizza made it very easy to eat the entire pie in one sitting.
It was very interesting to see the downtown core in the dark. I was most impressed with the cathedral that had been all lit up. It was a great combination of eerie and beautiful. I fell asleep very much looking forward to exploring this town in the light of day.
The next day began with trying my first vegan English breakfast at The Jaunty Goat, a vegetarian restaurant on Bridge Street with vegan options. They also have a very welcoming and friendly wait staff. Their full breakfast included baked beans, sausage made out of tomatoes, bacon made from green peas, mushrooms, grilled tomato, potatoes and two slices of sourdough bread that had been made just across the street. I enjoyed the variety of this very heavy meal. It was the perfect way to inspire lots of walking around the town.
One of the most exciting aspects to Chester was walking on ancient Roman walls. The Romans had also left an amphitheater and other Roman ruins. It was neat to see locals enjoying the amphitheater by reading a book or enjoying a picnic.
I also climbed the flight of stairs up to the Eastgate Clock, built in 1897. Because this clock was located literally over a street, I enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the people down below. And interestingly, at least to me, is that the Eastgate Clock stands on the site of the original entrance to the Roman fortress of Deva Victrix. It is, not surprisingly, said to be the most photographed clock in England after Big Ben.
After exploring Chester, we made our way to Hebden Bridge, well-known for its liberal vibe and lots of lesbians! Even driving into town I was amazing at how similar it was to Ellicott City, a small historical town in Maryland just outside Baltimore, where I grew up. The buildings were alike, as were the types of shops (artisans and antique shops) and the surrounding trees.
I ordered veggie momos at Tibet Kitchen and walked around a bit. And yes, I saw lots of lesbians out and about. We continued on and spent the night in Bradford to make the driving to York easier the next day. If I were to do this again, I would have spent the night in Leeds, which was only about 20 minutes further. It looked like Leeds had more vegan options, but I was full from the momos at any rate.
York – First Day
The final stop on my English adventure was York, where I had planned to stay for two days. My excitement about this ancient Roman city (founded in 71 AD) grew as soon as I saw the first Roman gate while simply trying to find a place to park. My face was glued to the window as my eyes followed the Roman walls that surround the city.
I was very interested in the Viking history of York as well. I learned that the Vikings, under the leadership of Ivar Gudrodson (known as Ivar the Boneless), invaded on November 1st 866 AD and subsequently changed the name from Eoforwic to Jorvik. I had already planned to visit the Viking Museum in York to learn more about this era in the lengthy history of York.
The Normans (Northmen from current day Denmark, Norway and Iceland), lead by William the Conqueror, invaded York in 1068 AD. The new King quickly made a rather bold statement of his new power over the region by constructing Clifford’s Tower.
We actually found a parking spot at the base of Clifford’s Tower, which was profound for me in a personal way. I had recently discovered that I am a direct descendent of William the Conqueror through my mother’s side of the family. More precisely, he is my 26th great grandfather. (Upon my return to the States, I also discovered that Ivar the Boneless was my 34th great grandfather – Yikes!). The day I visited York, Clifford’s Tower was decorated by yellow daffodils that, due to unseasonably warm weather, had bloomed early.
I was excited to try all five vegan restaurants in York. The first was Dog’s Nose located inside Spark food court and was only one minute walk from Clifford’s Tower. After inquiring about the unusual name of this eatery, I was told that it was a direct translation from a Mayan salsa called Xni Pec (Xni is Mayan for dog and pec for nose or snout). I ordered a habanero tofu box which comes with lime rice, braised black beans and your choice of several toppings.
Wanting to walk off our delicious meal, we headed to the Shambles, a shopping street in York steeped with medieval history. While it used to be where butchers displayed their meat, the Shambles is now known for its small boutique and souvenir shops. The narrow cobblestone streets were no match for the amount of people there that day. It was a weekend, it was mother’s day and people were ready to leave their houses, cities and countries after a long period of quarantining. Still, it was neat to see the various shops and to imagine what it must have been like to explore these streets hundreds of years prior.
Shortly after leaving the Shambles, I turned a corner and saw the most impressive cathedral I have ever seen. It was almost overwhelming as it loomed over passers by. I came to learn that this was none other than York Minster, the largest medieval cathedral in all of Europe. I made my way around to the front of the church when the bells rang. I’m sure they could be heard throughout all of York. Wanting to take it all in, I sat in Dean’s Park adjacent York Minster. I allowed my eyes to expand and narrow many times as they moved back and forth from noticing small details in the architecture to taking in the massive size of the structure.
After saying goodbye to my friends and checking into my hotel, I decided to explore the Roman walls. York is home to four medieval main gates, otherwise known as “bars”: Bootham, Micklegate, Monk and Walmgate. I walked to the closest Roman wall (only 5 minutes from my hotel) and climbed the stairs . It was amazing how the well-preserved walls were right next to people’s homes. Imagine living right next to an ancient Roman wall!!! The trees were also in bloom adding to my experience. It was frankly hard not to keep taking pictures, thinking that each view was even better than the one before. I came to Walmgate, and tried not to get run over by the stream of bicycles as I crossed the narrow street.
I ate dinner at Orchid Vegan Restaurant (an Asian fusion restaurant) on the other side of the city. It was worth the walk to this sit-down restaurant with a classy ambience. Over the course of the evening I ordered four dishes: tom kha soup (my favorite soup from Thailand and is coconut based), steamed gyoza (stuffed dumplings served with dark vinegar), stir fry with mixed vegetables with garlic, and salt and pepper tofu.
York – Second Day
My second and final day in York began with a vegan full English breakfast at Source. This included “sausage”, grilled tempeh, “black pudding”, grilled tofu, hash browns, mushroom, beans, tomato and sourdough toast. The vegan black pudding was black bean-based and was very delicious, as was everything, save the “bacon”. I was happy to hear that Source will soon be open for dinner as well.
Just around the corner from Source was the Jorvik Viking Centre. I had booked my ticket the day before and was eager to learn what I could about Viking life in York. I entered the museum trying to remember as much Viking knowledge as I could from my trips to Norway and Iceland.
Jorvik Viking Centre was very interactive and included staff dressed in period clothing. Staff was also on hand to answer questions about the exhibits. I enjoyed looking at the various artifacts found just under the museum. These included tweezers and ice-skates made out of bones, musical instruments, coins, clothing and so much more.
In the afternoon I purchased a ticket to enter York Minster and I was so glad I did. The inside was even more impressive than the outside! And it just kept going and going. There always seemed to be yet another small chapel as well as several museums down below. The most amazing part of this experience for me, however, was the massive organ.
For dinner, I got takeaway from Döner Summer, an eatery specializing in Berlin street food. Having lived in Berlin for three years, I was eager to experience their take on it. Mostly because of the name, I ordered the Bad Girl Kebab: döner and garlic chilli chick’n, leaves, pink cabbage, peppers, cucumber, tomato, pickles, Greek pepper, spring onion, scotch bonnet and garlic chilli sauce, pink aioli and sesame. The woman at the restaurant also recommended the vegan Parmesan fries ,so I walked out with an order of those as well. I was ready for a quiet (and warm) evening in after the cold and rainy walk home.
Back in my hotel room, I found a German TV channel, so I ate my meal while watching a German detective show on Arte 1. For a moment, I felt like I was in Berlin again. The next morning, I checked out of the hotel and caught a train south to London King’s Cross. During the two hour train ride through the English countryside, I reflected on the amazing road trip I had just experienced.