England with Susan Allen Toth


When one is planning a trip to Great Britain Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Blue Guide and Rick Steves all have maps, stars, rating systems, and specifics about sites to see, food to eat and places to stay.  Travel guides are incredibly helpful, but sometimes one prefers to sit at table with a steaming pot of tea and a friend who has just returned from England and listen to stories. 

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:                

~  The Thumbprint Theory of Travel:  spend a week in a spot no larger than a thumbprint on a large scale map of England.  In theory I love this; but if, alas, your trip is once-in-a-lifetime this isn’t feasible.
~  Eating in England: eat big breakfasts, pubs are the place, drink lots of tea, delight in their dairy, when in doubt, order an omelet.  Buy fresh produce and fix your own meals in a self-catering flat.  Don’t forget ethnic food.

~  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.


8 thoughts on “England with Susan Allen Toth

  1. I predict you are going to feel so very *comfortable* on your trip, not so much a tourist, but more a long long cousin returning for a visit.  Everything is fresh and new, but familiar.
    Have you decided whether to take a laptop?  I’m curious. 

  2. We’re bringing a laptop, bought with Christmas money.  I hope to blog occasionally, primarily for the benefit of our family.  Regardless of what I blog, I really want to journal daily with the keyboard.  How quickly we get spoiled!  A pen and paper would do, wouldn’t it? 

  3. Well, a pen and paper would do.  You’re right.  I’m thinking about the weight of the laptop and toating it around all day.  But perhaps that’s no big deal, since Curt is a big, strong guy 🙂
    I love the wheels on my suitcases!
    BTW congrats on the *True* label.  How recently have you received this honor?

  4. Okay–today is a day where everything i write i have to do twice or three times–somehow i keep dumping myself out of the message i’m posting–
    So, second and hopefully last time–
    i’m so excited for your trip!! i hadn’t heard of Toth, but she sounds good and helpful. My youngest daughter and her husband love to travel and will scrimp and save to take trips. They like Rick Steves quite a lot, tho i think they’ve said that most guidebooks seem to concentrate on what they like and not neccessarily the whole range of choices. One thing they’ve found is that if they’ve planned too much in a place and have no time to just sit and drink it in, they feel like they’ve missed something. i’m with them on that–you will love it if you just have some time to sit in a coffeeshop and watch the world go by, have time to converse with the locals in the shops and cafes, that sort of thing. That’s a great way to pick up the flavor of an area.
    Brits being a pretty sturdy bunch, there are often benches and parks near the main shops, and it’s so lovely to pick up a sandwich or meat pasty for a quick lunch and go sit out under the trees to eat. i do love the little sandwich shops and bakeries, they’re where you’ll see loads of locals on their lunch breaks picking up a quick lunch. And Toth is right, the pubs are great–again, somewhere the locals eat–they give you an opportunity to eat the common meals of Great Britain. Even the hospitals there serve beans on jacket potatoes for lunch! And AMEN to the dairy!! There is nothing like their clotted creams and double creams and desserts with custard or cream spooned over (good for special non-calorie-aware times.)
    i’m so happy for you!!

  5. Oh–and the markets are great for seeing what the locals commonly eat. (i haven’t been brave enough to try a shrimp and mayo sandwich there, tho–) But that’s one of the things i love, picking up local honeys and jams and chocolates and biscuits to bring home. Flavor of the area! i like to see the regular foods and treats more than fancy chocolate shops, not sure why. My son-in-law makes fun of me when i’m there because i can have a load of fun in a pharmacy.

  6. These books look just wonderful. I am so excited for you as well. In a way it may feel like you are coming home for the first time. I also recommend just sitting and soaking from time to time, a cold bench with a hot “cuppa” is wonderful. Love you, M

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