England and Wales: Some Lessons for Seniors

Danger! A warning sign in Wales. These are also common in England.

Danger! A warning sign in Wales. These are also common in England.

Common Sense for Seniors staff have returned from their trip to England. We spent a week each in and around two ancient towns, Hereford and Worcester, and a few days in two modern cities, Liverpool and Manchester. We also took a day-trip into Wales.

We found that England and Wales have much to offer their retirees. For one thing, the public transportation system is terrific. Frequent train service links towns of any size and even many smaller places. Locals complain that the trains cost more than they used to, but off-peak tickets seemed reasonable to us, and discount cards are available to seniors.

At the Ledbury bus stop. Not a bad idea!

At the Ledbury bus stop. Not a bad idea! Dial 999 to get the code.

The inter-city National Express bus costs less than the trains, but we were particularly impressed by the local buses, which take you to the smaller towns and villages. There were hourly buses to every little place we wanted to go, and the drivers were all very friendly. They cheerfully explained the fares and made sure we got off at the right stops.

Seniors would be hard pressed to find comparable services in the United States, although public transport survives in the northeast corridor and some metropolitan areas. It’s certainly something to look for when choosing a place to live.

Hereford shopping

 

We were also impressed by the walkability of English towns. Hereford and Worcester have pedistrianized their core areas, making it safe and enjoyable to stroll, sightsee, and shop, or to find a place for a bite to eat. Liverpool and Manchester also have vast, pedestrian-friendly downtown shopping areas.

In town and city, these areas are thronged at lunchtime, late afternoon, and on weekends. On Saturday and other “market days,” vendors set up tents and sell everything from pork pies, bratwurst, and olives to garden ornaments. Pedestrian zones and fun shopping can be found in some American towns as well – again, something to keep an eye out for.

In Hereford and Worcester, we stayed in Airbnb homes that were smaller than typical American houses, but comfortable and within walking distance of downtown. Not all housing is so close to town, but we saw many pleasant outer neighborhoods, with local shops and pubs and, of course, good bus service.

Malvern Priory, countryside in background

Malvern Priory, countryside in background

The English seem to have done a good job of avoiding sprawl. Town and country are more clearly separated than here, and this means that most people tend to be close to hospitals and other essential services. Right now, we’re loving our life out in the country – it was a joy to return to fall colors in the Finger Lakes. But someday, we’ll need to start thinking of moving into a town ourselves.

England isn’t entirely retirement-friendly, however. Houses tend to have steps in odd and unexpected places. Even in hotels, for unknown reasons, tubs and showers can be elevated, so that getting in or out requires a balancing act. And who can figure out English shower controls? They should at least have hot and cold water indicators. In restaurants, you might find that the rest rooms are located up or down a flight of stairs or two.

Worcester Cathedral

Worcester Cathedral

But on the whole, we thought that an English town might be a very pleasant place to be a senior. The cities, though fascinating, were too crowded and fast-paced for easy retirement living, But an English town, with pedestrian shopping on the High Street, and perhaps an ancient cathedral, a river dotted with swans, and some fine old buildings could be just right for aging in place.

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