Fairest Isle

In 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff said that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for.

It’s true. It’s there.

The England we look for is the England of books and poetry and landscapes of an almost mythical loveliness. Bowered lanes and hedgerows that were familiar before we ever laid eyes on them and hilltops brooding with legends that are true. We’re seeking the almost implausible beauty of a green and pleasant land, and the music of angels in echo-haunted cathedrals.

Something draws us and something breaks our hearts when we leave. Something holds us there, even in our delight at being here. Something about England stirs within us a holy discontent, a homesickness, an untamed vein of Tookishness that never lets us forget that Life is spilling into Eternity.

In the truest sense, we are looking for Home. And while it is inexpressibly, undeniably here, it’s also there.

“It is England we love, we Americans,” she had said to her father. “What could be more natural? We belong to it—it belongs to us. I could never be convinced that the old tie of blood does not count. All nationalities have come to us since we became a nation, but most of us in the beginning came from England. We are touching about it, too. We trifle with France and labour with Germany, we sentimentalise over Italy and ecstacise over Spain—but England we love. How it moves us when we go to it, how we gush if we are simple and effusive, how we are stirred imaginatively if we are of the perceptive class. I have heard the commonest little half-educated woman say the prettiest, clumsy, emotional things about what she has seen there. A New England schoolma’am, who has made a Cook’s tour, will almost have tears in her voice as she wanders on with her commonplaces about hawthorn hedges and thatched cottages and white or red farms. Why are we not unconsciously pathetic about German cottages and Italian villas? Because we have not, in centuries past, had the habit of being born in them. It is only an English cottage and an English lane, whether white with hawthorn blossoms or bare with winter, that wakes in us that little yearning, grovelling tenderness that is so sweet. It is only nature calling us home.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Shuttle

Beloved Oxford-town, as golden as ever.

Port Meadow, Oxford

The Roman Road, Dorset.

The view from the hilltop of the farm we stayed on in Dorset. I pretty much lived up here.

The exquisite Temple of Apollo folly at Stourhead Gardens, Somerset

The church at Stourhead. It was all decked out for a wedding and was fragrant with lilies and roses inside.

An idyllic September afternoon and the magic of English light.

Watching the sunset at Stourhead.

The Cobb at Lyme Regis, made famous by Lydia Musgrove's ill-judged leap in Jane Austen's Persuasion.

"Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn..."

Eggardon Hill, an Iron Age hill fort in Dorset.

"A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread..."

Kingston Lacy, a beautiful Restoration manor in Dorset.

Kingston Lacy is famous for its outstanding collection of art, including paintings by Titian and Rubens.

Montacute, a medieval manor house in Somerset.

The library at Montacute.

"Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road..."

It's there, Thanks be to God. And our souls are the better for it.

17 Responses to “Fairest Isle”

  1. Josh says:

    Thank you so much for posting these picture today, Lanier. My soul has been in fairly desperate need of beauty, lately. 🙂

  2. Shaista says:

    Goodness, what an exquisite, magical collection of thoughts and images. Yes, it is so, even for those of us colonised in other parts of the world, who fought for freedom, and yet inspite of it all, submit lovingly to that particular call of the landscape, the light, yes that light…

  3. Jessica says:

    *happy sigh*

    Thank you.

    Someday I’ll go back…

  4. Sarah says:

    Lovely photos. England is beautiful. We used to spent a fair amount of time in the area around Kingston Lacey. Sussex and the Weald of Kent are worth exploring too.

  5. Teresa says:

    Oh such lovely photos!
    The light is captured so beautifully and makes my heart hurt.

    Although all pictures of the sea are instantly those I prefer, I have to say the photo of the Roman Road in Dorset is my favorite today. I just want to go on and on down that road….

  6. Cheryl says:

    Beautiful, Lanier. Thank you for allowing us a peek at the journey. I just finished Persuasion about two weeks ago, so I especially appreciate that photo.

  7. Rayanne says:

    Lovely photos, It’s a dream land for me! One day I hope The Mister and I will be able to visit
    sweet “England”.

  8. Aprille says:

    Thank you so much for such a delicious post! My brother and I were just today longing for York! Remembering an almost perfect November day there last year <3. Isn't it so true about Americans? I believe there is an especially "familiar" connection between England and the Deep South (Georgia). 🙂

  9. Kiersti says:

    That was beautiful, Lanier…thank you. You helped me understand, a little more, the bittersweet tug England will always have for me, especially since spending a semester there once–how I loved seeing your picture of Oxford, and of Port Meadow, which was just a short walk behind the row house where I lived! Your writing is always such a treat to read…I leave your blog feeling soul-refreshed. May the Lord bless you for it.

  10. Beautiful!

    My son recently invited me to go with him to Colorado (a trip right now only in the earliest of planning) and I told him I was not up to traveling, anymore.

    Your pictures may have changed that. I’d love to go to England.

    However, your words almost take me there in person.

  11. My heart has been tugged by the British Isles for years. I truly feel at home there. As I’ve been researching my ancestors, I find that there are still ancestral homes there such as Burleigh House and Hedingham Castle. I may just have to be a ‘poor relation’ and visit! Think they would take me in?

  12. Bea says:

    Beautiful pictures. beautiful words. Thank you!

    My sentiments exactly about loving England.

    My husband just recently traced his ancestors to the Isle of Wight back to the 1500s. Needless to say, we are going there one day!

  13. harriet cuming says:


    beautiful beautiful ….it is exactly how it is meant to be….everything we read about England that is beautiful is so true.

    As an Australian my roots are also in England…i moved back there this year…and it is though a 150 years of my family has not existed and I am English again…from Wiltshire…a most extraordinary feeling ….

    A New Zealand preacher who also lives in England said “Mother is calling us home” I believe and i know he does too that “England needs our prayers as never before”

    so pray for her to remain ” God’ s Jewel of Christian fame.”

  14. Rachel says:

    Thank you for putting into words what I’ve always felt!

    Rachel xxx

  15. Olivia says:

    Oh Lanier, thank you so much for this post! I have always had that odd feeling of belonging to England… as if that were my home, and I could live there forever. Thank you for expressing it so beautifully. It is good to find other people who share this. I’ve never actually been there, but I hope to go as soon as I can. It makes me wonder if heaven is a little like it, that being my true heart and home. There is certainly something about England ‘that never lets us forget that Life is spilling into Eternity’ and that in itself endears it to my heart.

  16. Magical tour . I looked to see if you had The Shuttle. I only found a paperback online.
    I can read it online but your quote certainly gave my heart a flutter!

  17. Sarah Durham says:

    Oh, Lanier! Such a lovely post. I’ve realized that I always like to “take tea” while reading your posts, just as much as I do with the latest edition of Victoria. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Please leave these two fields as-is: