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Showing the English a touch of the South
From left, Dave and Jess Bagnall of Edale, England, pose with Gainesville residents Jenny and Eric Hanson on the granite rock at Raven Cliff Falls. - photo by Eric Hanson

Our three-week stay in the storybook village of Edale, England, made a lasting impression upon my wife Jenny and I.

When we waved goodbye from the train as it chugged toward Manchester, we knew somehow our connection with this too-perfect-village would endure.

It was more than the lush, rolling green hills and mountains and the gurgling brooks that sing their way through the valleys. While the charming beauty of the English Peak District is captivating, it’s the people that make this place truly special.

Edale has 300 residents, each one willing to share a beverage with you. And some don’t stop there.

Dave and Jess Bagnall operate a small cafe in Edale. We met Dave and struck up a conversation as he worked the espresso machine. Before we knew it (or Dave’s wife Jess for that matter), we moved in to the spare room of their centuries old farmhouse.

In the span of two days we found ourselves in the inner workings of this fantastic village. Jenny and I worked in the cafe with Dave, serving coffee with the "full English" breakfast of eggs, bacon, beans, tomato and blood pudding. We frequented The Olde Nag’s Head, a pub that is older than our country.

We watched the World Cup of soccer (football), celebrating our respective nation’s victories and commiserating in each of our defeats.

Dave and Jess are an intrepid couple. A few years back, they traveled to Kenya on vacation. While there, they discovered the dire need the country has for education.

Jess being a teacher in England, they decided to open up a school in an area that did not have one. The village of Edale has rallied around this idea, and the whole town works to raise money for a building, equipment, and to train and pay a quality headmaster.

Each ensuing year they travel to Kenya to work with the school. One year they paid to have the Kenyan headmaster come to England to observe the education system. Needless to say, Jenny and I felt as if we had bumped into truly rare people.

It was a difficult decision to leave Edale in order to continue our trek across Europe. But we knew somewhere down the road, we would meet again.

So Jenny and I were ecstatic to receive a message that Dave and Jess were coming to visit Gainesville.

I worried a bit that the charms of the Poultry Capital wouldn’t quite compare to a rural English village, but knew the time with old friends would be refreshing regardless.

We had one week to show them what the South is all about. What would be a more appropriate way to spend a Sunday than by watching American football?

We couldn’t think of any, so we spent six hours drinking beer and watching the two teams I care about lose in pathetic fashion. It was great.

Gastronomy is central to life in the South, so on Monday we showed off Gainesville’s square. The coffee at Inman Perk impressed, which is no small task to a cafe owner.

And lunch at Re-cess was nothing short of an adventure. Dave and Jess found the fried green tomatoes to be curious, the pitas delicious and the deep-fried cheesecake hilarious. Who deep fries an already delicious dessert? We do, of course!

In England, having good beer is probably more important than having good food. So in the evening we drove to Buford to take a tour of the world’s best beers. With 100 beers on tap, we suffered no shortage of ales, lagers and stouts at the Taco Mac.

On Tuesday, the adventure really began as we headed north to explore the wilderness and go camping. Having recently discovered Raven Cliff Falls, I thought it a great place to show off.

We loaded my Ford Explorer and drove into the foothills ablaze with color. We set up camp and quickly got a roaring fire started, even in the middle of the day.

In England, all land is owned by somebody. So the idea that we could just pull off the forest service road, pitch a tent and collect firewood nearly blew their mind. You simply are not allowed to do that in England, at least not for free.

We explored the creek that meandered around our campsite, barbecued chicken over the fire and showed off one of America’s greatest camping traditions, the s’more.

Wednesday, after a chilly fall night, we hiked back to Raven Cliff Falls. We hiked back to the massive slabs of granite that form the unique falls. A modest flowing creek has patiently carved a crack through a 200-foot granite tower.

Instead of turning back at the base of the falls, we scrambled our way to the top using a network of tree roots that cascade down a steep embankment of the ravine. At the top we enjoyed a warm sun, trail mix (another novelty), and a grand view of the varying color in the hardwood forest below.

In order to stay a second night, we had to resupply in nearby Helen. Even as we drove through town, Dave and Jess couldn’t believe there is a Bavarian-themed town in North Georgia. To be fair, I still can’t believe it either.

We stopped in Betty’s Country Store to ogle the strange fair and have a good laugh at the oddities.

Equipped with enough snacks to outfit a small army and enough beer for two Englishmen, we headed back to camp for another beautiful night under the stars.

Friday we started up the food tour again. For dinner Dave and Jess came to see me hard at work in Gainesville’s new Olive Garden.

Once again they were amazed by the size of the food portions we serve here in the U.S. Soup, salad, an appetizer and a meal. It’s quite interesting to see the things that spark such amazement that to me are so normal.

After Jenny and I both got off work, we went to The Monkey Barrel to show off Gainesville’s version of a pub. Dave commented it felt the most like an English pub than he had been to in all his travels in the States.

Later, we headed to the pride of the South, the only non-Starbucks establishment in the nation that can seen be on every third street corner, Waffle House.

During the course of the week, each time we passed a Waffle House, Jess would erupt in glee, shouting something like "It’s just like in the films!" (in a delightful accent of course).

Therefore, we knew their trip would not be complete without a Waffle House dining experience. We also adhered to the strict stipulations that state that any successful experience must take place after 2 a.m.

In the last few hours before Dave and Jess flew back to England, we loaded up on grease, pancakes and coffee while planning out the next glorious time we would meet.

Eric Hanson is a Gainesville resident and photographer with World Image Mission, an organization that works to help women in Thailand’s sex trafficking industry. His column appears occasionally in Sunday Life and on