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Alumni News — Winter 2004

On the Road — Travels with the President

Last spring, I asked in this column whether a small group of alumni might want to go walking in England. At the time, I had no idea as to what interest might exist. As it turned out, the interest was and is considerable, and it extends well beyond the single trip that I suggested then. Several wrote to express interest in a content-rich, physically active trip and an ongoing program of trips.

In June, in sparkling spring weather, 15 of us began eight days of walking, largely in Dorset, across fields and into woods, along abandoned Roman roads, on paths and roads beside the Dorset coast, down city streets and country lanes. We visited small churches and great cathedrals, historic houses, museums, and even the royal swannery, where hundreds of nesting, honking swans, their eggs, and chicks shared space with silent, serious humans who watched their every move. In the process, we visited houses where Hardy lived as a child and later as an adult, met Lord Digby, Pamela Harriman's brother, and walked with him through the house and grounds where they grew up. Toward the end of the trip, we took a windy boat ride along the Channel's Jurassic coast and saw in stark cross section the geologic tangle of chalk, moorland, rock, and shingle over which we had been walking.

We stayed in country hotels, including the cottage hotel just below Hardy's birthplace and school—two nights in each hotel. We ate our meals together, beginning with English breakfast each day, and continuing through pub breaks with homemade bread and country salads at lunch, afternoon teas, and long dinners each night. We enjoyed good lodgings, good company and conversation, good food and drink, good cheer, and each evening the pleasant fatigue that comes of having done just enough and not too much during the day.

Our group was about as diverse as the University itself. Participants' ages ranged from 23 to 75. We were black and white, working and retired, single and married, veteran and novice hikers. With help from experts, we studied Hardy and the industrial revolution; the fields and buildings and even Roman waterworks we passed; Norman, Saxon, and Roman influences on British history and on our own; the Magna Carta, organized religion, and constitutional government. I led some discussions. Other persons led the rest--Jeremy Black from Exeter, who works with us in our Oxford and U.S. alumni programs; George Klosko of the Politics Department, who with his wife Meg walked the whole way; a recent alumna serving as a U.K. Fellow in our program that lets liberal arts graduates coach and teach in British public schools for a year or so (and her headmaster and his wife); and the College's Nicole Hurd, traveling on her own to visit schools and universities where our graduates go in the UK. We had a first-rate guide, a driver who carried luggage from place to place in a van, and carried us as well when that was necessary, and gave ample advice on how to avoid blisters and enjoy the trip. We covered the region from Salisbury to Lyme Regis, then back as far as Winchester.

Conversation, simple talk within our group, turned out to be central to this vacation's pleasures. We taught one another—about growing up in inner-city Washington, about settling into an historic house alongside the old James River Canal, about living in Scotland during the Cold War and serving in the submarine fleet, about jobs and raising children and sometimes getting it right. We came to know each other well, and we formed friendships that I, for one, want to last.

One topic was the trip itself. We decided that walking trips for alumni and their families really ought to be a U.Va. tradition. The exercise fits most people's condition and interests. Some of us walked at a leisurely pace each day. Others got up before dawn to jog before starting the walk, and some did extra walking after dinner. No rules. And you can't beat the company. With help from those who went on this trip, we are now planning future trips—to the Scottish West Highlands, to the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, to the hill country around Avignon, to Tuscany, and eventually to other places.

Next June 19th through the 25th Betsy and I plan to go along on the Scottish Highlands trip. In the fall, we are planning a trip through the hills around Florence and Siena and including ample time for the pleasures of the region's vineyards and villages. In June 2006, we plan a trip along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain with Fernando Opere of the Spanish Department and his wife Carrie Douglas. Each trip will be limited to 25 participants and will include University faculty participants, expert guides with local experience, good logistical support, opportunities to meet and come to know local people, and access to interesting places off the beaten path. We are working with the company that provided support for our Dorset group on arrangements, and we will place ads in Alumni News as each trip begins to form.

If you are interested in tramping through the Highlands, please let Kelli Palmer know at kellipalmer@virginia.edu. And whatever your plans, may your new year include enjoyable travels with pleasant companions.

Sincerely,

John T. Casteen III
President