Before I ever went to England, I assumed that all the costume dramas I watched just used the same patch of green for every outdoor scene; like, there were a tiny handful of parks scattered about the country designated to remain beautiful and to be used by anyone who wanted to immediately convey “England Pre-1900,” but if you crested a hill or drove a mere mile away, you’d find yourself in modern suburbia and the illusion of English rural charm would disappear. After all, for a country smaller than Oregon, there was no way Britain could be that beautiful and still comfortably contain 60 million people.
It was on the train ride to Oxford from London for the first time that I realized this was entirely incorrect — that Britain was in fact as pretty as the costume dramas made her appear — that there weren’t only a few patches of iconic countryside, but the whole fucking place was gorgeous. I’d always bring books with me on my train or bus trips, intending to get some work done, but without fail I would end up spending the entire ride with my face up against the windows trying not to drool.
British people, you do not know how lucky you are. If America has a number of sublime places that take one’s breath away (our national parks are pretty amazing), for the most part the scenery is boring and what charming parts we do have are ruined by our tendency to spread out more than is necessary. Britain is on the whole entirely beautiful, because — as it appeared to me — cities and towns were more compact, leaving more room for uninterrupted green and precious villages. Where modernity is squooshed together in Britain, it oozes out and stains the landscape here.
Granted, I harbor an unusual bias towards Britain in general, and I am not saying that there is no such thing as suburban Britain or that they don’t have ugly megastores on that side of the Atlantic; but the overall impression of the beauty of that island never faded and I am continually haunted by it. America has some unparalleled scenery, but let’s just say that until I went to Britain I did not truly understand what all those Romantic poets were waxing lyrical about. I certainly get it now!