For my entire life I have wanted to travel to England. From using a British accent on regular occasions to incorporating English vernacular into my own, I have been reading, viewing, and learning, about England my entire life. From Pride and Prejudice to Agatha Christie novels to Harry Potter to name a few, I have been surrounded by fictional characters my entire life who called England their home. At the lowest points of my albeit relatively easy life, there were always books to ease the suffering of adolescence or the tumultuous tides of high school, words of comfort and strength in the bleakest of times. Movies have given a visual representation of those words throughout the years, and one in particular has played an influential role in my life. The Pride and Prejudice movie with Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFayden as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy has been my favorite movie since I discovered it several years after its release when I was in 8th grade. Freshmen year of high school, I watched the movie on an almost biweekly schedule. I learned all of the soundtrack to the movie on the piano, and reread the novel several times.
Above, Chatsworth House, the location of the fictional Pemberley, home of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
My sophomore year of high school, on the first day of class my English teacher Mrs. Mason asked if we could live in any time period what would it be. Obviously, I chose 19th century England. Mrs. Mason proceeded to grill me on my choice, asking me whether I would really have liked to wear the attire of the day, which included corsets made of whale bone. I thought on that day that Mrs. Mason and I were not going to get along, but instead, she ended up being one of the most influential teachers I have ever had. What I didn't realize then, was that Mrs. Mason was challenging me to think critically about the historical context which I had chosen. Her approach to teaching was reminiscent of this first exercise, exposing us to a wide variety of different authors and encouraging us to discuss and question the various texts we were reading. (I will never forget the day that a student in my class called Lucy from A Tale of Two Cities insipid, and to my dismay, Mrs. Mason agreed).
In the words of Mrs. Mason, if I could have, I would have majored in reading. I state this and the previous anecdote as context for the role that books, and in particular Pride and Prejudice and its corresponding movie, have played in my life. When I decided I was going abroad, I had three places I wanted to visit. Paris, Barcelona, and England, all of which were partially for literary reasons. I say England, and not London, because it was not just one city that was important to me. It was the places that I had read about in Pride and Prejudice and seen in the movie for the past seven years. In the fall of last year, I decided I was going to translate this desire into a tangible trip, which I took to calling the Great Pilgrimage, because that is what it felt like. Time and money didn't allow me to pursue this pilgrimage in quite as much splendor as I would've liked, but I did get to take a remarkable trip to the center of England and the Peak District National Park, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
I spent an amazing day in London, walking the city streets and seeing many of the major sights, even meeting up with a friend from school at the famous department store Harrods. After less than 24 hours in London, I was off, ready to embark for Sheffield, a city right in the middle of the country that abuts Peak District National Park. A one hour walk to Victoria Coach Station and a two and a half hour bus ride and I arrived in Sheffield, ready to head on a bike ride up to Stanage Edge, a location in the movie and a beautiful natural rock formation in the Peak District National Park. After a mishap with the air bnb woman I was renting a room from, I set off to the bike rental where I was able to rent a bike for 10 pounds.
After departing from the bike rental, I made my way up a very steep hill until I finally turned right onto the road that would take me all the way to Stanage. Despite this being one road, it was actually six miles of hills that never seemed to end. There were several times when walking my bike, yes walking my bike, up what felt like a vertical incline that I considered turning back down the seemingly endless sea of hills and winding road that lay in front of me. The weather was too hot for my dress and tights combo, not a great decision considering I was going to be biking 12 miles, and I ran out of water about 4 miles up the hill. I probably should have realized considering it is the peak district, that there was the potential that I could actually be ascending one of those peaks. Six miles later of biking and walking my bike several stretches, I finally came to a portion of the road that felt like it was descending slightly.
I biked down the hill and there it was. Stanage Edge. The most beautiful place I have ever seen. Biking down the hill I felt like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (no one is going to get this reference but I'm going with it). "My name is Margaret Erin Anderle. I watched Pride and Prejudice every weekend for months freshmen year of high school. I am from Shaker Heights, Ohio. I am in England. I am looking at Stanage Edge." The euphoria I felt looking at what had taken me almost two hours of uphill biking to reach was unmatchable. I honestly couldn't believe that I was actually there, that I had actually made it. I reached the top of the mountain, I had done what I had said I was going to do months ago in Rochester, New York, and now I was in Devonshire, England, a central location in books I have read since elementary school. There are no words to truly describe that feeling, and I do not know if I will ever feel it again. From there, the day was only going to get better. I turned the last bend and ascended the last hill, locked my bike up, and proceeded down the path up to the incredible ledge that is the stretch of Stanage across the landscape of the Peak District. Once I made it up to the edge I spent time walking around, climbing the large rocks, and looked out onto the stunning landscape below me. I realized that it would eventually be nearing sunset, so I made the decision to stay and watch until the sun slipped behind the mountains. This is one of the best decisions I have ever made, possibly the best, because it allowed me to see the most beautiful sunset of my life. Rays of light glimmered on the rocks of Stanage, the sky a dazzling pink and blue, casting a hazy glow over the mountaintops behind the valley below.
There are some sunsets in life that you want to share with people, and then there are others that are best savored alone. Kept as your own private memory, they are a quiet introspection enhanced by the splendid beauty of the scenery around you. Stanage Edge was my own private sunset. It was glorified by the resounding satisfaction of knowing that what I was seeing was entirely of my own doing. I had boarded a plane, road two buses, navigated two cities, and biked up a mountain for that exact moment. That moment was mine, and it will stay one of my fondest memories. I think standing on that edge looking out at the English countryside aglow with the haze of the fading sun's rays, I realized the importance of independence.
There is a quote, "Travel far enough, you meet yourself". Standing alone on that edge, I met myself. It isn't about how many places you travel or how long you go, it is about how far you are willing to let go of your inhibitions and truly experience the world around you. I can't tell you what I'm going to do after I graduate, I can't tell you what I'm going to do with my life, I can't even tell you what classes I'm taking in the fall, but I can tell you that I now know myself better than I ever have before. I know my insecurities and weaknesses, I know how to let myself reach beyond those things in order to grow and change, and I know that I am an independent and strong person that is capable of anything I set my mind to. Traveling isn't just about seeing the world, it's about navigating the world, and through that process, learning how to believe, with a tremendous fervor, in yourself.