Our journey to the United Kingdom began at 5:00 AM at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport as 45 bleary-eyed but chipper students dragged their luggage across the airport, eager to begin their English Literature adventure. After about 26 hours of travel—including two flights, two transits, a brief confrontation between Frankfurt’s airport security and an unexpected pair of child scissors found in a student’s bag, and a 30-minute bus ride, we arrived in London.
Back in December of 2022, less than a year before we landed in London, HBA’s English Department announced the return of its biennial fall break England-Scotland trip, which had been on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trip, open to juniors and seniors, aimed to give students a greater perspective on the world and themselves while enabling them to spend time at the origins of some of the most influential literature in the world. The announcement of such an opportunity prompted a scramble among eligible students to register, and just under a year later, we found ourselves across the world from Oahu, bundled up against the UK chill with English literature workbooks in hand.
Beginning in the South: London & Stonehenge
For the next night and day, we trekked across London with our Joshua Expeditions tour guide, Seth, admiring sites from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. As we explored the city, we got a taste of the local lifestyle (including a stop at the bustling Borough Market for lunch), riding the tube through the city at rush hour and learning to move swiftly and decisively through the crowds of people clamoring to reach their destinations. We also got our first glimpses of the bright red phone booths that are iconic to the UK.
Our next stop was Oxford, home of the prestigious Oxford University. Adjacent to many of the university’s buildings, such as the Exeter College, Broad Street provides a front row seat to the students’ activities. During exam seasons, students are often seen strolling through the streets in their immaculate academic attire, and to celebrate the end of exams, they participate in “trashing,” spraying each other with food, foam, and confetti. Broad Street is also the location of the original Blackwell’s, a world-famous bookstore that was founded in 1879.
On the third day, we spent our day immersing ourselves in all things Shakespeare. From reciting poetry at Shakespeare’s Birthplace to exploring his wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage to admiring the grand Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried, we experienced his story from birth to death and admired his enduring influence on literature. We ended our night by watching a rendition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Academy, where the eerie screams of the witches and the stirring cries of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth roused our dozing students from their exhausted jet-lag induced haze.
On our fourth day, we traveled to the Shambles, a preserved medieval location in York characterized by its cobblestone streets, quaint timber buildings, and bustling atmosphere. The area provided a lively shopping experience, offering a variety of items from wool caps to animal-shaped bao to little ghost figurines that caused a two-hour-long queue down the road. Nearby, the York Minster, the second-largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, towered magnificently over the city. Our shopping complete, we wandered around the intricate interior of the cathedral, researching its most famous features and sharing our newfound knowledge with our travel groups whom we spent most of the trip with. That evening, we returned to the York Minster for Evensong, an evening service of hymns and Bible reading. Listening to the angelic voices of the choir surrounded by the cathedral’s sweeping architecture made the perfect environment to peacefully reflect and worship, and, for some of our party, to take a much-needed nap at the end of a long day.
On our way to the Lake District, we stopped at the Brontë Parsonage, home of the Brontë sisters. The house is located in the moorlands, a bleak and windy landscape that set the stage for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. All three of the sisters wrote as a pastime and as a result became quite well-known authors whose books are an important part of HBA’s English curriculum.
From York we traveled towards the Lake District and checked into Whoop Hall, an inn built in the 17th century located in what the guide described as “the middle of nowhere.” Unlike our previous accommodations, we were the only residents at Whoop Hall, which allowed us valuable time to bond. Between visiting the nearby sheep enclosure and staggering shower times so as not to overwhelm the old plumbing system, we relaxed in the lobby, playing board games and chatting in our free time. With no city to explore or shopping to be done in this area, our evenings were spent together in the dining hall, where we reflected on our time together and shared our written works from our English writing assignments, such as original short stories or creative character descriptions of our travel companions.
The next day, we further explored the Lake District, starting at Rydal Mount, the home of William Wordsworth. Rydal Mount is known for its verdant gardens and we took time to wander among the abundant plant life, composing poetry pieces while drawing inspiration from nature. After a tour of Wordsworth house, we then hiked down the Coffin Trail—a path used to transport corpses to the church for burial—to the town of Grasmere for lunch, shopping, and world-famous gingerbread.
Last stop in the North: Edinburgh, Scotland
We left Whoop Hall for our final stop, Edinburgh, which was a few hours away by coach. On our way to the Scotland-England border, we stopped at Hadrian’s Wall and tramped—or for some of the unfortunate students, slipped—over the dewy hills, photographing the sweeping landscape and the shaggy cows and sheep that occupied it.
Finally, we entered Scotland, fortuitously greeted by a bagpiper who serenaded us in welcome at the border. In Edinburgh, we took a guided tour of the city, seeing many influential historical sites such as Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, the inspiration for Jekyll and Hyde; and the Greyfriars Kirkyard, a graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk (“kirk” is Scots for “church”). Wandering through tombstones dating as far back as the 1500s, we wrote personal epitaphs while learning about the unexpectedly exciting history of the graveyard. We admired the mortsafes, or grave cages, that guarded buried bodies against resurrectionists who stole bodies for scientific study, and discovered the origin of certain Halloween grave decorations inspired by the poorly buried corpses that stuck out of the mud when it rained.
We ended our last day of the trip by attending a celiedh (pronounced “kay-lee”), a Scottish dinner with traditional music and dance performances. We were treated to classic Scottish dishes like haggis, a pudding made from sheep organs, and cranachan, a dessert of cream, raspberries, and oats. Singing along to bagpipe renditions of modern musical favorites and learning the words to classic Scottish songs, we finished our night with culture and camaraderie before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our 3 A.M. airport departure.
Back to Honolulu
Finally, after another 26 hours on an airplane, a nearly-missed flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco, and a four-hour layover, we arrived back at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Our students, much like at the start of our journey, hauled their baggage through the airport, only this time weighed down with souvenirs and eager to fall asleep in their own beds. For most people, including myself who had a pounding headache, the goodbyes were a blur as we waved drowsily at each other and trailed after our parents, impatient to return to our homes but nevertheless content in our adventures.