Ice Network

British ice dancers explore historic Freedom Trail

Coomes, Buckland learn about Revolutionary War by touring Boston
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British ice dancers Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland explored Boston after competing at the 2016 World Championships. -Sarah S. Brannen

The Freedom Trail is a collection of important sites in Boston, connected by a red brick line tourists can follow as they explore the city's history. Visitors can walk through the North End, between museums, churches and meeting houses, and finish up at the U.S.S. Constitution, "Old Ironsides."

Much of the history along the Freedom Trail has to do with the Revolutionary War, which started in Boston and towns nearby in April 1775.

After finishing competition at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, British ice dancers Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland walked to the portion of the Freedom Trail that passes within a couple of blocks of the TD Garden. From there, past the Old North Church and into the North End, the skaters enjoyed learning about a chapter of their own history. American children are taught all about the Revolutionary War in school; British kids, not so much.

"It's not something that I learned about in school in my history lessons," Buckland said. "We did the American Wild West. The Revolutionary War is a huge part of history, obviously, and especially with coming to Boston, we wanted to read more about what happened. We took a Duck Tour this morning; we learned a few things, and it was very, very interesting."

"I don't know too much about the history, but I get the impression that the English people weren't very nice during that time," Coomes said, laughing. "And I'm sorry about that! A friend told us about the U.S.S. Constitution this morning, because they went on a tour of it yesterday. So I learned about it at breakfast."

The skaters had also just learned about the Boston Tea Party, in which the Sons of Liberty destroyed an entire shipment of tea in protest of British regulations and taxation in 1773, and they loved the story.

"The Tea Party is brilliant!" Coomes said.

"It shows the importance of tea," Buckland said. "And I've read about the Boston Massacre, but I feel like that was a bit of an excuse to start the revolution, because there were only five people killed, I think. But, understandably, it was used to start the war."

The North End and the older sections of Boston are full of old houses, some over 200 years old, which makes them quite venerable by the standards of the United States. Our reverence for buildings that age can amuse Europeans, for whom a 200-year-old structure could be, say, a bus stop. Coomes and Buckland were gracious about the picturesque North End, with its steep streets and lovely congestion of old brick houses.

"Boston seems like a very special town, as far as American history goes," Buckland said. "It's probably got the most precious historical value to the Americans. It does remind me a lot of London, in many ways, the most out of any of the places in America that I've visited."

"There's a similar character or feel to a lot of the buildings in London," Coomes agreed. "It's still beautiful, whether it's as old as some of our buildings or not."

We reached the Old North Church, site of the "One if by land, two if by sea" lantern signal to Paul Revere in 1775. Both skaters had to admit they were not familiar with either the Longfellow poem nor, in fact, the ride of Paul Revere that the poem is about, but they seemed genuinely interested in the story and thought the church was beautiful.

It's a little ironic that, having cast off the yoke of the British and gotten rid of the king, many Americans are in love with British culture, British accents and the British Royal Family. Coomes and Buckland admit that people they meet here do enjoy listening to them speak.

"I have noticed that," Buckland said. "It's really nice, actually. We come over here, and people comment on our accents; everyone is very welcoming. In Britain, we have a lot of American culture -- all the TV shows, Hollywood."

"Cheerleading!" Coomes added. "The kids at school have started picking that up."

And yes, the skaters have noticed the American fascination with British royalty.

"Isabella Tobias really likes Kate Middleton," Coomes said, laughing. "We were talking about the Royal Family at the rink one day, and she knows where Kate's from, she knows more stuff about her than I do! She said, 'Isn't she from Bucklebury?' And I was like, 'That's not a real place! That sounds like something from The Lord of the Rings.' And then I looked it up, and it's actually in the county where I'm from!"

Coomes grew up in Maidenhead, close to Windsor Castle outside of London. Buckland is from Nottingham, as are ice dance legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. The two teamed up in 2005 after Coomes' family moved to Nottingham.

After moving to New Jersey in 2009 to train with Evgeni Platov, Coomes and Buckland relocated to Novi, Michigan, last June to work with Igor Shpilband.

"We loved Evgeni, but we have a new training environment and a different set of people working with us, so it's broadened our horizons and stretched our skating to a different level," Buckland said. "We're enjoying it."

In moving from England to the United States, Coomes said that the biggest adjustment she had to make was learning to live on her own for the first time.

"That transition from being a grownup to having to worry about money and bills and things like that is a challenge, whereas before, you're so heavily reliant on your parents. Mum will fix it!" she said.

"We were doing school, university, and all of a sudden, skating was the full-time thing," Buckland said. "That was quite daunting at first, but we adapted fairly quickly and loved it. We're extremely lucky to be able to do what we really, really enjoy."

Coomes and Buckland got help and advice from another team from Great Britain, Scotland's Sinead Kerr and ohn Kerr.

"John and Sinead were in New Jersey when we moved to them, and they helped us out so much," Coomes said. "We really wouldn't be here if it wasn't for a lot of people."

The team has competed at the world championships five times. Their seventh-place finish in Boston was their best to date.

Having done a Duck Tour and walked the Freedom Trail, the duo plans to do more sightseeing, despite rain in the forecast.

"I think we're going to try and do a Segway tour (Saturday) with some friends," said Coomes. "So that will be fun, if the weather permits."