After attending several New England colleges in 1981, in which my courses ranged from "Japanese Culture" to "Law and the Mass Media," I chose a three-week Elderhostel Great Britain package for 1982. Besides campus lectures in Canterbury, North Wales and Birmingham, there were many forays into the countryside, both part of the package and optional. Some highlights of the experience:
Canterbury--The university is located on high ground about a mile away from the ecclesiastical center of England (since 597 A.D.). The scene changes almost hourly as morning mist yields to sunshine, with the most memorable picture at dusk when the city lights come on and the famous cathedral tower is bathed in a soft radiance.
The course for our group of about 35 men and women, ranging in age from their sixties to late seventies, was "The Story of the Concerto." Instructor was Harry Newstone, former conductor of the Sacramento (Calif.) Symphony. One memorable afternoon included a visit to Finchcocks, a country manor house transformed by its present owner into a musical-instruments museum. After a lively demonstration of exquisitely crafted, early keyboard instruments, we were served tea and homemade cakes.
University of North Wales, Bangor--Two excellent professors taught our class on "Anglo-Welsh Literature," in which we were reminded that Europe's "oldest living language is Welsh" and that a revival of Welsh is under way. In the Gwynedd area, where Bangor is located, it is now the language of instruction in the schools.
University of Birmingham--Our course in "Modern Britain" was a potpourri contributed by lecturers in political and social studies, modern history and industrial relations, plus field trips to a magistrate's court, day-care hospital and center for research in geriatrics.
Entertainment was available almost every evening for the entire three weeks: brass bands, readings of poetry and Shakespearean excerpts, Welsh male chorus, musicals, movies. Among tour stops: Winston Churchill's home at Chartwell, the seaside resort of Llandudno in Wales and Caernarvon Castle, where the prince of Wales is invested.
We had single rooms except for doubles on arrival and departure days in London. Total cost of the package in 1982: $1,675, including transportation.
Saga Travel, a British company specializing in low-cost trips for pensioners, works with Elderhostel on arrangements and organizes intriguing day excursions. Flippantly called "Send a Granny Away," Saga also has tour suggestions for additional time abroad. At the end of the Elderhosteling course, I chose to spend a few days independently in Bath and London.
If you stretch the benefits of your costly transatlantic flight to travel on your own, do choose an English bed-and-breakfast lodging over an expensive hotel.
In Bath I stayed at Cheriton House, an uphill walk from town but worth the effort. (About $15 a night for a single room, enormous breakfast and delightful banter with portly Yorkshire-born host David Exley: "Where else would the proprietor pull your leg as he's serving you breakfast?")
Many bed-and-breakfast accommodations also are available in the London area.
The British Automobile Association puts out an "AA Guide to Guest Houses, Farmhouses and Inns," which covers England, Scotland and Wales. Available for $6.95, plus $1.50 handling charge, from the British Travel Bookshop, 680 Fifth Ave., New York 10019.
If convenience is the main London consideration, a good possibility is the YWCA Central Club, 16-22 Great Russell St., London WC1B 3LR, near the British Museum. Single rooms with shared bath, about $20 a night, tax included. Twin-bed rooms, about $18 per person. Continental breakfast included.
For other ideas on low-cost travel for pensioners, write: Saga International Holidays, Ltd., Park Square Building, Suite 1162, 31 St. James Ave., Boston 02116.