Lauren R. Stevens: Visitors from abroad enjoy what this Berkshire offers

WILLIAMSTOWN — Holiday Fellowship pretty much doesn't use its full name anymore, in order to distance itself from its religious origins, but it remains a United Kingdom-based, international hiking group that visits Berkshire County every autumn. Of course they pronounce it "Bark-shire."

H.F. Holidays, as it is now known, was founded by Thomas Arthur Leonard in 1913 to provide an inexpensive way for people to enjoy the countryside. He was motivated by the deepening sense of dread as Europe approached war. Methodist in origin, H.F. Holidays was and remains a cooperative, with members having the right to vote.

Leonard also helped in founding the youth hostels, which provide truly low-cost accommodations, but as the years have gone by H.F. has acquired stylish manor houses in the U.K., where hikers receive first class meals, recent travelers to these parts say, often with swimming pools, pilates, massages, hot tubs and extensive wine cellars. Those hikers in this country stay in hotels or small town inns.

The tour "Autumn Colours of New England" brings participants to the Freedom Trail in Boston; Zealand Falls near Jackson, New Hampshire; a ridge line walk on Mt. Mansfield from Stowe, Vermont; Williamstown; and ends on a Circle Line Cruise around the Statue of Liberty. Three nights at The Williams Inn allow a hike on Mt. Greylock and visits to The Clark, Pleasant Valley and Hancock Shaker Village.

While most participants are from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Australians, Europeans and Scandinavians sometimes join in. Many couples. Unlike the original conception, though, children are rare. Three groups were down to two this October, due to the unfavorable exchange rate.

While traipsing from Jones Nose to the summit or up the Haley Farm Trail, stories are exchanged. Whereas in 2016, most of the talk was about Trump and Brexit, this year it stayed away from national and international issues. They were fascinated by the concept of a liberal arts college and concerned that the English system of education limited students' range of opportunities. One climber's son had been recruited from an English Premier League Academy to play soccer for Tennessee State.

Curiously they hardly discussed leaf "colour." One leader, a naturalist, compared our flora and fauna with that of England. All found the typical "green tunnels" of U.S. trails different from the openness of U.K. "felds." The lure of walking was universal, however, especially if the hike was completed in time to spend part of the afternoon with Renoir, Remington and Homer.

In order to make that happen, a big yellow school bus — a novelty to the visitors — met us at the summit. Coaches they travel in aren't able to drive Greylock roads; next year, the Department of Conservation and Recreation says, school buses may not be allowed either, because they take up too much room on the hairpin curves.

I suspect they will overcome that problem and some H.F. Holidayers will spend their 2018 holidays in "Berk-shire." At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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