Britain: It’s got the countryside, it’s got the secret spots

Written by Laila Bassom, CNN London, France There is, it is true, a corner of the world that feels like part of it. It’s entirely possible to imagine that if you want to find…

Britain: It's got the countryside, it's got the secret spots

Written by Laila Bassom, CNN London, France

There is, it is true, a corner of the world that feels like part of it.

It’s entirely possible to imagine that if you want to find them, you must just travel where the season is not in their favor. “Winter” in the United States is still hot — and many winters are warm enough to cause civilization to shut up shop for the better part of the decade. Much of Europe is slightly less free from the official boundaries of maundering oppressiveness than it is in years past.

And so we could easily imagine somewhere I’ve never been — a land of sun-soaked beaches, inedible mountains and the freedom of being able to shoot and hoard the scenery like some sort of mad infant.

This land is Britain. It’s the epitome of “deep green,” as it were. Or, more correctly, a country in which green is only a part of the countryside. It’s the land of estuaries and shadowy forests and fields of gleaming row crops — and, never mind the speed with which America has forgotten its farming heritage, the country I had been meant to see was still full of that proud tradition.

During my time in London I missed the British countryside more than I would have suspected. I’d been all over, regularly, for the past few years. I’d visited London with the intent of looking at it from all sorts of angles and developing a sort of visceral sense of Britain. I had to watch, and read, and listen, all the way.

And then one day, I went to England without intending to stay.

I stopped first in Newcastle — which boasts the now-iconic Wendigo bat — then moved to the nearby fishing port of Margate, less than an hour south of London, where I met a crusty man who had traveled from Halifax (in Nova Scotia) every year for over 50 years. We laughed our heads off about how many of the cities on our itinerary were exactly the same, which gave way to war stories that were magical for what they were.

I met the founder of an organization that uses dance to help at-risk youth, met a police officer (my man) who was searching a bleak, once-thriving village and gave me one last bear hug. I learned about the sort of area I should be traveling to.

I got a glimpse of the imagination that many British people have for a place far away from modernity, far away from modern technologies and away from global business.

“What? Mauritius or South Africa or Australia?” my American friends would ask, for granted, but still always in awe of the amazing places that they might be able to have some part of. I’d get that, too — “Australia,” was a look of infinite riches that I understood in the few things I ever saw in Australia — and parts of South Africa. But Mauritius, before I’d ever met the people, before I’d tasted the food, before I’d reached further into the delicious universe of Mauritius itself, was something else.

Then, one day, almost nothing else took place for a while. Here was no traditional reason to try to find a place called Mauritius. Nothing had broken the spell for me — yet.

And there it was, on the rickety ledge of a boat dock, in the night sky over a town so bound with New Orleans-esque ambience, with a community-based agricultural program that would seem agrarian to anyone from North America, and with a community-based array of different interpretations of house party and neighborhood nightlife.

And then there was the tiny village of Jacmel, the base for the weeklong Pinelands community-based ecotourism program. I’d made a small impromptu trip to the brightly colored market to taste and try something called harissa seaweed and drank a shot of the delicious aromatics in a glass with the proprietor of the Bar Angels restaurant.

Jamaica was still unknown to me, had I not just noticed those glowing plant walls in the street of my home town of New York, but there too was a place called Trelawny, located just an hour south of Kingston. And then we swam in the warm seas of the Caribbean off that tiny island of Mounthoo.

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