UK 2016: ‘What’s Next?’

By Tony A. ’20
Photos by Evie A.’20

After our parents’ bon voyaging concluded, 22 eighth graders boarded vans in early June and headed for the flight that would land 14 hours later on the rain soaked runway of Edinburgh Airport. As we broke through the thick layer of gray clouds, we were greeted by a lush, green landscape whose patchwork of fields of crops was dotted with farm animals (mostly sheep). As picturesque as it was, many of us remarked that the scenery was very similar to that of Lancaster County.

On our short drive to our first destination, we immediately noticed a number of changes from our initial impressions. Driving on the “wrong” side of the road, we were surprised by the rows of coal-stained sandstone buildings and small cottages. Upon entering the city of Edinburgh, our initial impressions went something like, “Wow, this is pretty dreary” or “Why did I travel all the way to see THIS?”

Little did we know that many of us would be reluctant to leave our newfound favorite city. Over the next few days, we spent our time touring, learning, and walking. Those of us with fitness trackers saw that we logged close to, if not more than, 10 miles per day. “Laugh, don’t whine,” Mr. Miller told us before we began, but most of the time we were having too much fun to notice our aching feet anyway.

Edinburgh Castle was among the most intriguing and remarkable sights we saw, however the astonishing view atop Calton Hill gave the castle a run for its money. For many of us, the traditional Scottish dance class was not the most memorable feature of our trip, but it did offer an authentic, proper Scottish experience.

Edinburgh fixed our initial impressions of the U.K. and allowed us to appreciate the lifestyle and society of the Scots. For that reason alone, the capital of Scotland played an integral role in developing our perspective on the rest of our journey.

Destination No. 2 was an 84-mile-long Roman ruin that still wends its way across northern England, almost 2,000 years after it was built. Hadrian’s Wall offered not just a stunning, 360-degree view of the landscape, but an invitation to consider the symbolism and history behind the wall itself. Who would have thought that Roman influence would reach this empty, uninhabited landscape, so far from Rome? Hadrian’s Wall deepened our perspective and encouraged us to analyze our surroundings.

Our first church discovery was the Durham Cathedral. This ancient sandstone building impressed us with its beautiful architecture — not to mention the classic MG car show out front. The magnificently high ceilings and extraordinary amount of detail conveyed a deep sense of craftsmanship, and gave us an appreciation for the 40 years that went into constructing this 1,000-year-old masterpiece.

After Durham, we made another cathedral stop in York. There was no denying the awe we felt before this structure. Even the tallest and most modern skyscrapers fail to make onlookers’ mouths drop, but somehow York Minster was able to do just that.

As we approached the city atop the Romanesque York City walls, the cathedral could be seen looming over the entire city. In fact, this cathedral was so large that it could be seen from almost any part of downtown York. York was among our favorite stops, as this was the city where we had the most free time to explore and shop among the unique storefronts.

Up next was the college town of Cambridge. As we explored the Cambridge campus and metropolitan area, we noticed a change in the daily lifestyle of its residents. As in most college towns, Cambridge offered an atmosphere that was at once historic yet modern. Although we already found Cambridge beautiful, the fact that it was one of the first times the sun came out surely helped form that impression.

Our trip concluded in the city we were initially most excited to see, London. Its world-famous landmarks, including Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace did not disappoint.

But our most notable experience there, other than waiting for a train in the Underground for 45 minutes, had little to do with London itself.

At this point in our trip, most of us were physically exhausted from the constant travel. These few days in London promoted team building and unity among our group because we needed each other to continue. There were times when we struggled to crawl out of bed every morning at 7 o’clock, but your roommate was always there to cheer you on (unless they were still asleep). Although sightseeing and touring was a wonderful experience, London left us with a lesson that would resonate with us far more deeply.

As we prepared to depart from Heathrow, our group’s connection had changed from how it was at the beginning of our journey. Our collective experiences had broadened our perspectives, as well as imparting valuable lessons and experiences we would otherwise not have attained. It would be wrong to assume that I was the only one disappointed to leave, but I couldn’t help but think, “What’s next?”