BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I hear the alarm underneath my pillow go off and try my best to rouse myself and get out of bed. I am on the top bunk of three bunks crammed into a room with the two other male students on the trip. We are situated on the top floor of the hostel (or the tower, as I affectionately have named it) and I realize that my peers and I must tidy up our room in order to leave. I look below me and see that my friends Patrick and Sam have already gotten a head start on me and are tidying up their sheets and suitcases in preparation for leaving the hostel. This is our first hostel transfer and as I peer over the edge of my bed, I see that I must get moving in order to make it out in time by 10:00am. I check the time: 8:30am. I have time.
“Nah man it’s all you.”
“Sweet thanks,” I holler and clamber into the simple shower. I turn on the electric heater and don’t quite find that sweet spot of hot and cold so I slowly cook as I bathe. I change and step out of the shower and start to condense my pile into my suitcase. After I finish I stroll down from the tower to the kitchen and realize that I missed the group of people who left last night to buy food from the local grocery shop “Tesco’s.” I am disheartened but I will certainly survive. Thankfully, Abigail has leftover muffins and she offers one which I readily accept.
I run back up to the tower and grab my suitcase – the bus is here! We all load up our suitcases and file into the charter bus for our trip to Wilderhope. On the way, we stop at a church commemorating the Battle of 1403, which correlates to our reading of Henry IV Part One. Walking through the graveyard of the church and over the site where the actual battle took place concretized the experience of the play. The Battle of 1403 happened so long ago it feels like make-believe, but standing where the characters once stood turned the characters into people for me. The ground felt hallowed and for the first time I think we all stepped back and it sort of just clicked for us that history plays are indeed nonfiction. We are aware that certainly it may have been made more dramatic in order to make it marketable, but these were real breathing human beings, not just pieces of fiction. The whole experience was mystifying.
From the church and exhibit of the Battle of 1403 we head out to the country in our bus toward or next hostel: Wilderhope Manor (after grabbing some lunch of course). In order to get there, we have to drive down some roads that are “two lanes” that most certainly cannot accommodate two cars, even if it wants to. Despite blind turns and winding roads, we manage to make it without incident. Sam, Pat, and I room together, as I am sure we will throughout the whole trip because we are the only boys, and head back downstairs for a hike. We embark from the manor down a worn path, with massive sheep pens on our right and a huge field of rapeseed on our left. Rapeseed is this plant that is primarily used in combination to make oils for cooking, but it is this brilliant yellow color that almost seems photoshopped sitting among the muted greens and browns of the English countryside. About a quarter of a mile into our hike, our professors Rick Hyde and Paul Gaffney declare our hike a “silent walk,” wherein, as the name suggests, we are silent so as to fully absorb the scenery. I am stunned how diligently we all obey, but the countryside seems to quiet the mind and body in a way that almost nothing else I have experienced can.
We trek through the countryside alongside flora and fauna foreign to us and silently bask in the splendor of it all, and eventually come to a clearing at the top of a hill. The view that greets me is impossible to put into words. Suffice to say it was serene and astounding. We linger awhile before continuing down the path and after a certain point, our professors end the silent walk.
“Okay,” they say. “You are free to talk.”
“Not yet,” comes the immediate reply. “I almost don’t want it to end.”
That same sentiment is alive in each of us as I look around from face to face. The walk was so pure and out in the countryside of another country the freedom I feel is unmatched. This is the beauty of nature, that is oft obsessed over by the poets we are forced to read. To clear the mind and simply breathe was transformational and I doubt I will ever forget the sensation of looking around and feeling sincere wonder about the world around me. I feel rejuvenated and reborn.
We head back to the house and enjoy some dinner before my group puts on an abridged version of our assigned play As You Like It. Everyone has a blast as we act out the play in a setting that matches the very same carefree environment described in the piece. Even Professor Rick gets in on the action and we act to our hearts content long after the sun goes down. After the final line is spoken, we dim our flashlights and clean up to the laughter and cheers of our classmates.
The sun may have set but the good times do not as we start a fire in the fireplace of the lounge within the manor. We relax and joke and share stories around the fire and around coffee tables as time slips past us and suddenly it’s midnight. I look around the room at the jovial faces flickering in the firelight and resolve myself to never forget this day. But something tells me that won’t be an issue.