I spent a month in England. Looking back, it has been the most restful time of 2020. I am so appreciate of my privilege and ability to travel and that I returned to Canada before things hit a level of chaos in regards to the pandemic.
I started out my travels in London, staying at a Wombats hostel. I gotta say, staying in a hostel in your thirties verses staying in a hostel at the age of twenty is a way different story. To say the least, I really didn't like it. I knew I wanted to get to the coast and be by the ocean, so I ended up leaving London two days early. I took in as much as possible in the meantime, enjoying long walks, markets, the Tate Modern Gallery, vintage shopping, and a horribly sexist play by none other than Shakespeare. Yep, you heard that right. The Taming of the Shrew is a despicable play in my books, but I loved the theatre experience nonetheless. London does not stop, it feels and looks like it goes on forever. I actually found this really overwhelming, especially while travelling alone.
Hastings, one of the ocean front cities of the English Channel, stole my heart. Victorian houses were tucked into the hillside, Tudor style buildings were hidden in downtown Old Hastings, just steps from the oceanfront. Further up, away from the ocean, a lower income area with garbage out front and oddly coloured brick townhouses loomed over it all. It was a mix of everything old with the breath of the ocean. I spent most of my time walking along the water and ducking into random little stores, book shops and little markets. I found cute coffee shops where I plucked away at a novel. I learned early on, in London, that my second time to England was not meant for me to be mega-Rachel and write a entire novel like I pre-determined. The ocean and Hastings taught me I needed to rest. To sleep in. To read manga. To talk with my flatmates, to walk and take in the Oceanside. To stop the over thinking and the anxiety and just rest. I listened to my body. It was the best thing I have done for myself this year.
I stayed in Hastings for two weeks, and it was not enough time. Here is where I am gleaning most of my inspiration for my newest series. The colours, the emotions, the breath of the ocean, the memory of being there with the feel of rocks and pebbles under my white sneakers, the quiet of a calm mind, the lovely people, the newness of a place being experienced for the first time, the storms. The cold of England in the middle of February, which requires a plethora of sweaters. I only packed two.
From Hasting, I travelled about 6 hours up to North York, to the coast again, this time the North Sea. I rode by train through York and Middlesbrough and Saltburn-By-The-Sea. By coach, I rode about an hour out of Saltburn to a little tiny, crack of a village called Staithes, where I stayed in an Airbnb called Laura's Loft. Laura Knight was an artist who lived in Staithes during an artist movement in the 1800's where she and a handful of other artists lived and worked and drew inspiration from the village. Staithes is a an old fishers village with a handful of shops––a tea room, a gallery, a butchers which also sold breads and jam and dairy, and two pubs, all on the same winding cobble street that stretched from the highway, dipped into the village and wound around the ocean front.
Pure magic. There is no honey better for the soul than a fishers village on the tip of England, settled between two cliffs that bring in the tide hour by hour. Seagulls woke me up at 6 in the morning. The sun touched the loft for a few hours during the day. Dark came at 5pm when the pubs got busy. Staying in Straithes was the only time I drank. The beer was good, light and prickly, and it got me buzzed fast. It was a quick, brisk walk from the warm pub to the cold embrace of the loft, where I had to light a fire in order to stay warm all night. Worth it. The paths along the Cliffside's carried me to several other villages, all in a days walk from Staithes, with the same low-key energy and friendly accents and people wondering what I was doing on the edge of England alone, to which I answered, "I'm writing. But mostly, I'm resting."
I headed back to Canada on March 3rd, right before international flights to and from Canada closed due to the pandemic. My heart has been stuck in England ever since. I'm planning on going back to Staithes in the summer, hopefully in the next few years or so, no rush on that. It got a big part of my heart, and I would love to return with a friend or lover. It is the most magical place.
Travel, people. It opens up so much.