Sheffield: my English immersion course, and a new friend. Those who’ve followed the blog know that Penny is the sister of my pen-pal Barbara, who died in 1966. Penny and I met once in 1964 and have recently reconnected, and I am now a guest in her house. I had a serene train journey here from Oxford, in a tiny, perfect little train through the green countryside, and there at the Sheffield train station was Penny – we knew each other from email photographs.
She took me downtown right away, to explore the inner workings of Sheffield, a tough, interesting city famous for its steel and cutlery – we visited a cutlery museum, and I realised how many Sheffield knives I have – and then back to her house in Wincobank where she has kindly given me her bedroom. That evening – the sun was out, my friends, it’s a holiday week in England and the weather is wonderful – she took me around the corner and up Wincobank Hill to show me why she moved here. It’s a prehistoric site – a high hill from which prehistoric peoples could see in all directions, and a wild green wood with magical twisted oak trees right in the city. Somehow, Penny and I knew from our emails that we would get along, even as two complete strangers spending an entire week together. And when I saw her beloved Wincobank Hill, I knew we were right.
Yesterday we went for a long country walk, a very British thing to do on a holiday Sunday. She had picked our route from a book of good British walks; we found the village, Padford, and the starting point, Grindleford Station, began with a cup of tea at the village caf, and set off. We immediately took a wrong turn but it didn’t matter; the day was heaven, the countryside greenly glorious, and we found our way again. We ended up again on top of the prehistoric fort site Carl Wark and then a higher one called Higger Tor – perhaps this is our thing. All kinds of people walking with their walking sticks, their dogs, their backpacks full of picnic, as was ours. We had ham sandwiches with a 360 degree view of Burbage Moor, and then made our way back by another route, which meant hopping through a sodden marsh where we ended up with very wet feet. The real hikers, in their sturdy leather boots, were a bit scornful. But we made it through a wonderful wood, by a meandering stream in which holidaying Britons were splashing, and finally, 5 hours later, back to the caf at Grindleford Station for another cup of tea.
Last night, of course, we watched Britain’s Got Talent to see what Susan Boyle would come up with. She was good, especially in comparison with some of the other dreadful stuff, but we thought she was a bit off musically and the dancers who came on first were fabulous. More tonight.
Today we went to the city of York, to see the recreation of a Viking settlement. Penny, with her red hair, is from a Celtic background, but my mother must be Anglo-Saxon stock, which means from the Angles and the Saxons, the invading peoples, like the Vikings. Fascinating, to see how they lived and worked. We walked around this lovely old English city in which many medieval houses have been preserved, and into the cathedral, called the Minster. A service was on when we went in so we attended; Penny was raised Church of England and I enjoyed watching people celebrate their religion in this massive space with its magnificent stained glass windows. In between our sightseeing excursions, we have been jabbering non-stop about our families and our lives, and of course about Barbara, her life and her death. Penny too, it’s no surprise, is an archivist and saver of family memorabilia and stories, so we have a lot in common, not to mention a love for British history – Penny has been explaining invasions and kings to me – cups of tea and glasses of red wine.
It’s six p.m., raining for the first time. We’re due for a glass of wine right now.