The food and drink on my adventures in the UK has been a pleasant surprise. I was expecting to be disappointed – just the opposite. The food was varied, tasteful, and of high quality. The first time I had fried eggs in the UK, I couldn’t believe it – thick egg whites and rich yellow coloured yolks which tasted delicious, not the thin, watery eggs we get in the States. Because I was walking long distance trails my body needed a lot of protein and I craved milk. The semi-skimmed milk in England is comparable to whole milk in America.
Most of the food served was locally grown, raised, and caught. I walked past fields, farms and fishing boats and saw where the food I ate came from. My route would often take me past fish markets, butcher shops and bakeries. Eating instant oatmeal for breakfast didn’t last long. It was just too tempting to see all the different pastries (light, flaky crust with the choice of different fillings or toppings) in the shop windows of villages I walked through.
Deciding on what to buy then anticipating eating it with a cup of tea the next morning was one of the highlights of my day. The tradition English breakfast is hearty, but too much for me to eat before hiking all day. It consists of a fried egg, bacon (thick with little fat), a sausage, fresh mushrooms fried in butter, fried tomatoes, baked beans, a hash brown or fired bread following by toast and jam.
And the pastry and all that can be done with it. Oh boy, the mouth waters! For example, the Cornish pasty – a hand held meat and vegetable pie developed as a calorie filled transportable meal for workers in the tin mines. The pasty has a characteristic semi-circular shape and an insulating crust that does double duty as a wrapper. Inside are tender beef chunks, potatoes, swede and onions. Variations on fillings (chicken and leeks, beef and vegetables, pork and chorizo, cheese and onions) are also good.
As much as the food and the spectacular scenery seen on this adventure, I have enjoyed the people – all kinds, all interesting. Everyone I met was friendly, helpful, welcoming and accepting. It was so easy to strike up a conversation. When I did, I learnt a lot – about the country, history, culture, language, food, sights, where I had been and where I was going. I talked to a homeless man riding his bicycle around England, individuals from the working class to the elite and sophisticated, world travellers, those on holiday and some who have never left the hamlet or village they were raised in. I had engaging discussions with a deacon, a sailor, a chef from Holland, a trail maintainer, a skilled tradesmen, shop and home owners, walkers, and backpackers.
One day I took the wrong public footpath when I was walking the South West Coast Path and ended up at the end of a lane in front of a farm. There was nothing else around. Just by chance, a worker in a garbage truck was picking up the farmer’s trash. He gave me directions on how to get back to the coast path but also proudly told me he was born in his “grand mums” bed. It was the same bed his mum and grand mum were born in. Walking the Thames Path National Trail, I found the Thames River and the countryside beautiful and the people who work, play and live on the water diverse. The history of the land, people and the historic structures I saw had a powerful affect on me. Another time, I entered a small seaside settlement after travelling a remote section of the South Downs Way. I saw a sign on the front porch of an old house that read “Grandma’s Kitchen”. Grandma fixed me a hearty and delicious breakfast then invited me inside the house that she was the fifth generation to live in and showed me old photographs of family members and the village. Another example of local hospitality occurred when I stopped at a farm that had been converted to a caravan and camp site. I went to the door to check in and heard “Happy Birthday” being sung. When the song ended, I chimed in “and many more”. The proprietor came to the door, asked me to come inside, introduced me to her friends, and gave me a cup of tea and birthday cake.
Many of hostels and bunkhouses in the Independent Hostels network provide evening meals and breakfasts. Look here for a full list of hostels and bunkhouses with evening meals available and bunkhouses and hostels with breakfasts available.