Susan Allen Toth is a successful writer and professor of English. She's also been carrying on a shameless affaire d'amour with England for some time. (Husband James, obviously an Enlightened Male, is tolerant.) In any case, her affection for that green and pleasant land makes her a soul mate of mine. I've devoured all three of her travel essay books on England, of which ENGLAND AS YOU LIKE IT is one. (The other two in the series are MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH ENGLAND and ENGLAND FOR ALL SEASONS.)
In an unpretentious, humorous, and thoroughly charming style, Susan shares a multitude of suggestions and experiences. How to independently create one's own English travel itinerary. The almost-sublime usefulness of the Ordnance Survey series of maps. ("These are distinctly royal maps. Each, in fact, carries a discrete notation: "Made and published by Ordnance Survey, Southampton. Crown copyright"." The art of flying Coach. The case to be made for overpacking. ("Don't waste time and money looking for it abroad if you can possibly take it with you.") The strategy for buying souvenirs for friends back home. The practical aspects of keeping a travel journal. The joys of shopping locally for food, and eating "in".
Of course, she also shares some of her favorite places, beginning with the shire of Cornwall in general, and the town of Padstow and castle of St. Michael's Mount in particular. Then, it's on to Ashdown Forest (Winnie the Pooh Country) in East Sussex. Later, we stay with her and James at the Victorian country house of Standen. ("It is not easy to recline with aplomb in one's bath while receiving strangers, but James carried it off very well.") And, the small harbor town of Lynmouth in Devonshire, ominously referred to in a local guidebook. ("Beware the twin honey pots of Lynton and Lynmouth.") For those visitors with more esoteric tastes, there's London's National Postal Museum, at which one can pick up an application to join the Letter Box Study Group, whose avowed aim is "to accumulate and disseminate information on all aspects of Letter Boxes". While in London, she seeks out several of that city's secret public gardens. Then, for those of her fellow Yanks wretched enough to consider England and Great Britain synonymous, she includes two chapters on the Scottish Highlands, and another on two Scottish battle memorials: Culloden (1745), and the site of a B-24 crash in June 1945 on Fairy Loch.
Finally, I must to refer to Susan's thoughts at the very beginning of Chapter One because I myself have luxuriated in the experience before each of my several trips to England (and Scotland):
"Months before we leave for England, I begin to travel. Night after night, I happily settle down with stacks of books, maps, and tattered clippings ... On a large pad of paper I list all the days we will be gone ... Now the work - and the fun - really begin. Curled up on the sofa, I sip my decaf, ponder my list of dates, open a map, and begin to dream."
Susan, bless you for reminding me of those dreams.