Last updated on April 23rd, 2022
Featured image: Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock / Photo by Manuta on Envato
Rediscovering Joy in England and Scotland
By Joy Fox, Member, JourneyWoman Advisory Council
Joy with her mother and brothers in their donated clothing from Sally Ann
In the year 2000, when I was about to turn 65, I decided to celebrate every birthday by doing something special. For this milestone, I wanted to face the ghosts of my past, and discover why I felt shame and guilt about things that were not my fault.
Prior to emigrating to Canada, I’d lived in England and Scotland, and planned a trip to revisit both. I would stay with 5W (Women Welcome Women Worldwide) members in both countries and visit long-time friends and old school classmates while retracing my life journey. My husband Mike and I had made many trips to England prior to 2000, but none that walked this path.
I flew into Stanstead, Essex, where friends picked me up and hosted me for a few days. They lived close to Colchester and dropped me off at the train station a few days later. I found my way to King’s Cross Station in London where I climbed aboard a high-speed train to Edinburgh. I love train travel, and this was an experience I had looked forward to – white glove service, and perfect attention.
Back where it all began
We arrived at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, my birth city. My 5W hostess took me to Penicuik and Glencorse Barracks, where my father was billeted and where I was born. A soldier kindly showed me around and gave me a hat that my father would have worn. Finding the Church where I was baptized was not difficult, as it was close by.
Joy with a soldier at Glencorse Barracks
Glencorse Parish Church, where Joy was baptized
The first piece of the puzzle was in place.
One of the most magical experiences of this part of the trip was standing at Edinburgh Castle and listening to the lone piper at dusk, tears pouring down my face while I listened to the lament – a very special memory and experience. It felt very emotional to stand there in the country where I had been born.
Revisiting old friends
I broke from retracing my life journey and travelled from Edinburgh to York to see my long-time friend that I had met in Italy in 1956, and then from York to Birmingham to visit Mike’s family. There was a train strike on at the time and I had to beg to be allowed on the train at York. To shut me up, they had me sit on my suitcase in the front with the driver.
After visiting friends and family, I took the train to St. Albans to face the next step of my life journey. After being bombed out of our house during the blitz of WWII, we were evacuated from London to St. Albans in Hertfordshire. At that point, my mother was on her own with four children, as my father had found another woman and moved in with her.
England is one of my heart places. It’s where I grew up, have moved back to twice, and have spent many holidays. I will never get tired of visiting. Here are a few tips for you if you decide to go.
The first house outside of London that Joy and her family were evacuated to, full of unhappy memories.
Putting ghosts to rest
My 5W host in St. Albans drove me to every address I remembered being billeted with as evacuees of the war. Those three addresses had all stayed in my memory bank. It was healing to see these houses, none of which had felt like a home.
A family of five people to one bedroom, where we lived very quietly. Quietly, because the house owners gave us no privileges outside of that room. We had to perform our toiletries there in a bucket, which we were allowed to empty in the bathroom, but not to use the facilities ourselves. We slept all together in that room.
My memory of living in the first house was sitting on the stairs and watching the changing colours in the stained-glass windows of the front door. The door looked the same. I shed tears here too, tears of gratitude that I could put this away for good.
We visited the second house, which had been a great disaster for my mother. We were locked out several times and finally Mum had to climb through the bedroom window and get our few possessions. We camped on the street that night. Mum had a brother living in the area, who refused to take us in, and she had to scramble to find us another place to live. We ended up living above the Christian Science Reading Room in St. Albans. There were several families like us living in one of the rooms in the building. This property was no longer there.
My host took me to the Abbey where Mum used to take us for walks to get out of the room and the pub where she sipped a Guinness while we sipped lemonade.
The second house that the family was evacuated to, and later locked out of
The pub in St. Alban’s where Joy’s mother would take the family on Sundays
I felt so much emotion seeing these places in St. Albans and cried all the bad memories that had collected inside me away. Laying ghosts to rest all along the journey, letting go of all the chains that had kept me from releasing those memories sooner.
In 1942, Mum decided we should go to her sister in Rowhedge, Essex. Mum’s sister and husband had eight children plus Mum’s mother, my granny, living in a three-bedroom Council House. With us, that house ballooned to hold 16 people. In 1943, a tragedy befell our family, killing my cousin and seriously injuring my brother. After that, we moved to Wivenhoe, just across the River Colne, to a row house that was ready to be demolished. This would be our home until we emigrated in 1958. It had cockroaches, huge spiders, mice, and bed bugs. But it was ours.
On my trip in 2000, I visited Rowhedge, and spent some time in Wivenhoe visiting old haunts, and discovering that the house we lived in had been demolished. Nice modern townhomes now stood in its place. While in Wivenhoe, I visited the schools I had attended, the places I played, the river I was once fished out of – saving me from drowning – and the churchyard, which was our playground. I also attended a reunion of school friends from when I was around 14.
We had a grand old time chatting away in a local pub. On my birthday, I was invited as the special guest to a party given for my first boyfriend (I was seven when we fell in love). His birthday was the day before mine, as was my husband’s! After visiting friends in Wivenhoe, I took the train to Colchester and visited Mum’s grave and the College I attended, then wound my way to Stansted by train and flew home to Canada.
What the journey taught me
This journey was something I should have done sooner. For years, I had carried the memories of being poor, living in a hovel, being shunned because there we had no father at home, watching Mum struggling to upgrade our life in an age where a woman alone was not considered the wage earner. We decided to find a better life elsewhere, and in left for Canada in 1958. I learned a lot about myself while I was making this trip.
Joy with her mother and brother Alan outside of the row cottage they called home in Wivenhoe
My biggest takeaways
- I’m so much braver than I thought: I felt as if I had slayed a dragon by revisiting my early years. I felt great relief that I had finally done it and put it all to bed. I came home stronger and braver than when I had left, when I was dreading how I would feel to visit places that had caused us such unhappiness. I felt relief that I had not let any of these experiences define me. They took their place in the past, where they belong.
- I see things differently as an adult: I was able to look at everything with fresh eyes and not through the eyes of a frightened child. I forgave everyone who treated us unkindly – and I forgave myself for the shame I felt as a child, when I knew my Mum was doing the best she could in extremely difficult circumstances. I learned to speak up and ask for what I want – a seat on a train!
- I realized that everything in my life has made me who I am today: I had tried so hard to accomplish things. I felt as if I had to, in order to overcome the poverty we knew. I finally realized that – and that it was okay to move on. I’m happy with what I had achieved, but after this trip, a weight was lifted – great therapy. I was no longer trying to make up for the past. I felt peace in my heart.
- I learned to be grateful for every small thing that makes a day enjoyable: This trip dug a deep well of gratitude in me for my Mum, who was oh-so-strong and courageous. She had to find courage to move through all the difficulties that came her way. Her love for us was, I believe, what sustained her. It was a good lesson for me to overcome my own struggles, when they came along. I found my own strength through her and love her – and myself – for it.
It is amazing to me that I hold England so dear in my heart, in spite of those early unhappy memories. I was able to look beyond them and see that it’s not places that hold our memories – it’s us. To let go is a choice that is always available to us. My choice allowed me to decide what England and Scotland mean to me.
Since that trip in 2000, when I turned 65, I have visited various places in England and had some wonderful times. There are still many spots that I hope to visit in both England and Scotland. When I go again, it will be with a happy heart – one looking to create more memories in two countries that I love.
Discover More from the UK & Scotland
Beyond the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, there’s an outdoor festival in 2022 to satisfy every interest in Britain: literary, arts, gardening and more.
Guest writer Claudia Eastman shares her tips for solo travel in London, a city that never disappoints.
The Stanfords bookshop in Covent Garden is a rare bird that specializes solely in travel literature.