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  • Sue Hawley

I found out there's so much more to England than Tea

I went to England for the first time when my oldest grandchild was born. My daughter and her husband were stationed in a lovely area about 2 hours north of London in Suffolk, England. Not only was I excited about our first grandchild but also the opportunity to travel abroad. It was quite an experience.

Arriving at Heathrow Airport in London, I was introduced to foreign travel with a long line waiting to get through customs. Custom agents must have special training to develop a suspicion to anyone not British. I was questioned extensively on the reasons for my visit, where I was staying, with whom and why. The customs agent questioning me was eyeing me as though I had come to invade the country and that I must be an enemy to their well being as a nation. Eventually, her supervisor came to my rescue and welcomed me to England. I was grateful once my passport was stamped and I headed for my luggage. My son-in-law's smiling face was a relief to see.

The drive from London to Mildenhall village was filled with beautiful scenery and my eyes soaked in every tidbit in spite of the fact I had little sleep during the overnight flight. I was in England! I wasn’t about to miss one detail. My head swiveled from side to side as I was in awe as I spotted thatched roofs, small villages dotting the landscape and cars driving on the wrong side of the road. All the British TV shows I had watched had come to life and I was determined not to miss one tiny bit of the adventure.

The best moment of the trip? My first glimpse of our brand new addition to the family. So much curly hair! She was beautiful, and still is to this day. I’ll treasure that moment in my heart forever.

Five years after my first trip to England I found myself planning another trip as my daughter and son-in-law were transferred back to the same air base. Now, in addition to a 5 year old, there was a newborn in the mix. Neither of us was looking forward to an 8 hour plane ride with two kids. I was in charge of my 5 year old granddaughter while my daughter had the baby. Son-in-law had gone ahead of us a few months earlier to prepare for our arrival. The plane was packed, noisy and the seats continued to shrink as we made our way across the Atlantic. We arrived at the ungodly hour of 6am but since we were the first flight into that morning Heathrow there were no lines to trudge through.

After a sleepless night we dozed throughout the two hour drive north to Mildenhall. My daughter’s husband had rented a lovely home on a manor estate. Built in sections through the centuries it was a delight. I was surprised by the 12 foot ceilings but even more surprised at how cool it was for July and August. I wore sweaters everywhere we went until the last two days I was there as the temperature had climbed to 83 degrees.

Once we had settled in and rested we began to explore our area. The house was next to a small village called Hilgay located in Norfolk, England. Small but quaint, I fell in love with its charm. We ventured further and discovered a farm shop a few miles from the house. Dent’s turned out to be a gem of a place. Fresh veggies and fruit along with a small shop where you could find necessary gardening items. While I love fruit, raspberries had never been on my favorites list until I tasted those bought at Dent’s. Not only fresh, but firm, sweet and oh, so delicious. I became addicted to them and still love them today even though the raspberries I buy here at home are nowhere near as lovely.

I think the most surprising piece of my visits there were when I discovered my great-grandfather had been born and raised a mere 6 miles away from Hilgay. Our family never knew any details of his life in England and I was stunned to find family only minutes away. We still keep in touch and share family information as it comes across our paths.

I miss Hilgay and the friends we all made in the village as we visited our daughter through the years she lived there. My son continues to go back and catch up with old buddies he met and we do occasionally have video calls. I would go back in a heartbeat if it just wasn’t for that darn 8 hour flight and customs!

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