The English woman with the tight blond perm yanked her terrier's leash and looked at us like we were dead crazy when she found out we were walking the length of Hadrian's Wall. She took a deep drag on her cigarette, exhaled and grumbled, "Well, it's the coldest, wettest summer here in 260 years, yeah."
It was raining there in Newcastle-upon-Tyne when she said this. But our little party Doni Perkins, Caitlin Bahr, Cynthia Knoebel and I pressed on.
After all, we'd traveled to northern England to walk from coast to coast, and walk we did on pavement, through fields and pastures, over craggy peaks and across windy moors and marshes. Along the way I learned a few things.
1. People from England and the U.S. do NOT speak the same language.
2. This is doubly true of people from Scotland and the U.S.
3. The Scottish have a reputation for being "dour." I never saw evidence of this. The Scots we met were friendly and full of fun.
4. Especially that middle-age member of a punk rock band who wore a kilt and sported a massive mohawk. He and his wife checked up on their kids back home by stalking them on Facebook.
5. The claims of terrible British food are greatly exaggerated. Brits, in fact, excel at comfort food steak and ale pie, fish and chips, fabulous curries. Also, their cheeses and tea treats scones, shortbread, cakes are to die for.
6. Speaking of which, the Cadbury chocolate in England tastes better than the Cadbury chocolate here.
7. You either love bagpipe music or you don't. I triple love it.
8. Bending your left knee when you pose for a photo doesn't make you look slimmer. It just makes you look like you're bending your left knee.
9. If you ask for a "napkin" in a British restaurant in 2012, the server will bring you a napkin. This didn't used to be the case.
10. It is easier to slog through a wet sheep pasture than a wet cow pasture. WHO KNEW?!
11. It's always a little troubling when you smell something bad and realize that after spending six days walking through pastures, it's probably you.
12. Which reminds me it's not the miles alone that make a long walk challenging. It's the condition of those miles.
13. So here's the deal: Sometimes the reality of an experience doesn't coincide with your expectations.
14. Do yourself a favor and adapt quickly to your new reality, especially one involving rain.
15. Stinging nettle is aptly named. Hello! It stings! But the people at Hadrian's Hotel were right rubbing the affected area (i.e., my right calf) with a dark green tree leaf relieves the pain. I know! Voodoo!
16. The ritual known as "afternoon tea" restores both body and soul.
17. There are tourists who walk Hadrian's Wall in togas. Everywhere I looked on this trip, I saw guys in skirts.
18. If you travel to the U.K. these days, more than one citizen will tell you that "England has changed … and not for the better."
19. There are undoubtedly people in northern England and Scotland who are excited about the upcoming Olympic games. But we sure didn't meet any.
20. Seriously, there is nothing prettier than a country cottage garden in full bloom.
21. What with cows mooing "here" and sheep baa-ing "there," the countryside isn't all that quiet.
22. Speaking of which DON'T LAUGH but sheep can feel surprisingly menacing when you're standing in the thick of them on a windy moor and there are literally no other human beings around for miles and miles.
23. You need an advanced degree in engineering to figure out how to turn on a British shower.
24. Also, we only saw one washcloth on our trip. Can somebody from the U.K. please tell where all the damn washcloths went?
25. Pleasant walking companions those you see every day, as well as the ones you meet along the way are a joy to be with.
26. If you want to do the Wall Walk for yourself, I'd advise you to travel from east to west. The Romans built the wall that way, and as our guidebook says, the scenery improves when you head in that direction.
27. Have faith in the journey you've chosen.
28. However, you might not want to take that journey during the rainiest summer in 260 years.
29. Still, I would not have missed the experience for the world. The endless vistas of field, stone and sky will be with me always.
30. Which reminds me: It's easy to look at your feet the entire time you walk across England. Remember to look up.
You'll be glad you did.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/anncannontrib.