In two years time the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing in New England will be celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ahead of this anniversary, I jetsetted to the Old World — in considerably less time and much, much more comfort than the Pilgrims could have ever imagined — to discover the places they left in pursuit of a new life in present-day America.
My first stop was Harwich (population 17,684) in Essex, a county to the east and north of London on the North Sea coast.
The town was the home of Christopher Jones, who captained the Mayflower on its voyage across the Atlantic. It's also widely believed to be where the ship was built, though definitive proof is elusive.
While much has changed in the ensuing centuries Harwich pleasantly surprised me.
Not only is the footprint of the historic old town basically the same as it was during the time of the Pilgrims in the early 17th century — many of the old wooden buildings remain, albeit behind a brick Georgian-era façade — but Harwich remains a bustling center of maritime activity with cruise ships, ferries to the Netherlands and container ships. Jones and the Pilgrims with ties to Essex and neighboring Suffolk would certainly recognize the town today.
Despite being an easy drive from London it isn't a stop on the tourist trail for many Americans, at least outside of history buffs.
Still, I'm glad I visited.
Not only does Harwich have a rich maritime history, but it's pretty typical of the seaside towns up and down the English coast. And there's obviously a sense of pride judging from the considerable number of streets, businesses and buildings named Mayflower.
Between now and 2020, Harwich will be opening a visitor center to better tell the Mayflower story through curated displays and special programming. There are also plans to open the house where Jones lived, which I'm told has been carefully restored to how it would have looked in the early 1600s by its present-day owner.
Until then, the best way to learn about Harwich's ties to the Mayflower is through a guided tour from the town's preservation society.
The most exciting project, however, involves construction of a full-size Mayflower replica ship. Unfortunately, this has run into budget shortfalls and may never happen.
If you go
Harwich is about two hours by car from Heathrow airport. Another option is flying either Wow or Primera Air, two low-cost transatlantic carriers, into Stansted Airport. This saves at least an hour of driving.
I stayed at The Pier Hotel, a lovely 14-room boutique hotel. Housed in a circa 1860 building, it overlooks Harwich's charming harbor and Victorian-era pier. The Pier also has excellent food, including, as you would expect, fresh seafood.
Spires and Crosses, a travel column exclusive to The Christian Post, is published every week. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.