Susan Allen Toth is just that friend, and she has written three books full of delightful narrative. My Love Affair with England (1992) is a comfortable quilt pieced together from her multiple trips as a student, teacher, bride and tourist. In England As You Like It (1995) (my favorite of the three) Toth fleshes out her travel philosophy, shares more journeys and includes tons of practical wisdom such as the best souvenirs for friends at home. With England for All Seasons (1997) Toth persuades you that England rewards those who travel outside the high season. In a serendipitous chapter, she describes flying into Glasgow and driving to the Isle of Mull which is our exact itinerary (although we’re continuing on to Iona).
Susan writes about Susan’s (and James’ her husband) loves: above all walking and gardens. In the same way that Wodehouse is wonderful, but too much Wodehouse in one sitting can be wearisome, all the walking was a bit much. This is easily fixed by reading these books spaced between others on your pile.
Besides being an Anglophile, Susan is a bibliophile. Literary referrences abound, especially in the vignettes about specific regions; I could abide in those abounding bookish notes. Toth inspired me to design our trip more according to our interests and less from the dictates of the guidebooks. Favorite bits from these lovely books:
~ Souvenirs for friends: skip the trinkets, stop at the supermarket. Buy exclusively English jams, marmalades, candies, crackers, relishes, biscuits, etc.
~ Travel journals: skip the facts and historical dates (buy the brochure for those), keep it short, include details which bring a moment back to you. Discipline yourself to write daily.
~ In Praise of Overpacking: don’t waste time looking for it abroad if you can bring it. This works best with the Thumbprint Theory.
~ The joy of English place names. If words delight you, read these books for all the glorious names.