Last weekend, we took a long weekend to visit friends in Sheffield, England. Our hosts normally live in St. Louis, but they are near the end of a year-long temporary assignment in Sheffield through Boeing. When they became expats, they extended an invitation to friends to visit. Since we had been expats ourselves in Germany and knew how much we enjoyed visitors, we decided to go visit and see a part of England we hadn’t seen before.
Sheffield is a city in transition. Even though it’s the fourth largest city in England, it’s practically unknown in America. It’s probably best known here as the home of the down-on-their-luck workers in The Full Monty. The poor economic situation of the movie was realistic, because the city had lost much of its industrial economic base in the 80s and 90s. However, there’s been a lot of government and business investment since, and the city’s economy is picking up and diversifying.
Despite the economic upturn, Sheffield is still not particularly compelling as a tourist location, at least on its own. However, it sits right next to (and partially overlaps with) the Peak District National Park. The Peak District is the second-most-visited National Park in the world (after only Mt. Fuji), and this is likely because it’s a refuge of clean air, hiking trails, and beautiful scenery tucked into a semi-mountainous area not far from Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, and Derby. We spent parts of two days in the Peak District, first hiking one day up to Stanage (gritstone cliffs that host the best rock climbing in England – which we didn’t even try to do with 16-month-old Douglas), and then on another day descending into Blue John Cavern and seeing dam holding back Derwent Reservoir. Derwent Dam was particularly interesting, as it’s a 100-year-old stone dam, and the water level was high enough that the reservoir was flowing over the top. The combination of Edwardian stonework and the cascading water made the scene look more like something from a Peter Jackson film than anything I’d see before with my own eyes.
Blue John Cavern
Derwent Dam with overflow
Within Sheffield itself, the highlight for me was seeing an English Championship League football (soccer) match between Sheffield United and QPR. I had seen a professional football match in Germany (between Hamburg and Wolfsburg in 2005), but the atmosphere at this match was a lot different. Hamburg’s modern stadium seats nearly 60,000, so it feels a lot like an NFL stadium. In contrast, Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane is over 150 years old, and it has been expanded over the years to about 30,000 seats. This meant that, even from the upper deck, I felt like I was very close to the action throughout as the home team won 2-1. It was also interesting to see the effects of the hooliganism legacy: the away fans are seated in their own area separated from the home fans, and beer can’t be taken to the stands. This is a big contrast with Hamburg, where they sold beer in the stands directly from kegs. Despite the lack of beer, we had a good time, complete with rounds of the Greasy Chip Butty Song.
The big question we had with the trip was how Douglas would do travelling at 16 months old. We had already taken him to Singapore and Malaysia, but that was at 6 months old. How would travel work now that he can walk and run? Fortunately, it turns out that it works very well. Douglas recovered from jet lag in both directions about as quickly as we did, so that wasn’t a problem. The eight-hour flight in each direction got old for him, but he likes sitting and sleeping in his car seat, so it wasn’t too much of a problem (only a couple brief tantrums when he was fighting falling asleep). In England, I usually had him in a backpack carrier on my back, which worked great everywhere but in some of the tighter parts of the Blue John Cavern. Our hosts have a seven-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl (who has completely absorbed the North England accent), so Douglas even had playmates. Really, the only big hassle we encountered because of taking a toddler was the extra stuff we had to take (car seat, diapers, Pack ‘n Play, etc.).
The other tip we learned is to use the Kids on the Fly indoor playground at O’Hare. We had a three-hour layover on the way to England, and Douglas spent over an hour of it playing on the pretend plane and airport that the Chicago Children’s Museum sponsors there. It’s excellent.
All in all, it was a great little trip. We saw friends, saw countryside we’d never seen before, learned a great game, spent time with our son, and got to know our hosts’ children better (and saw them in their English school uniforms – cute in an extreme Harry Potter way).
All of the pictures from the trip are available at http://finneytravel.shutterfly.com/.