Preparing for a two-week stay by an American teenager on her first trip to England, our list of “must-sees” soon fill a page. When we try to slot them in to the available fortnight’s calendar, we find there are simply not enough days.
Most of the destinations on our roster are less than an hour’s drive from home (and I don’t drive very fast). The Roman Baths, the Cotswold Way, Berkeley Castle, Slimbridge, Castle Combe, Bristol Zoo… we are spoiled for choice. Foreign vacations: who needs them, when we have such a wealth of tourist attractions on our doorstep?
Here is further confirmation (not that I need it) that I’ve chosen to live in an idyllic part of England. But when I think about it, I could say much the same about the other places I’ve lived.
Even in the duller bits of suburban London, (Sutton and Cheam, anyone?) unexciting in themselves, have been a stone’s throw from astonishing places of historic and cultural richness – and I don’t just mean the obvious suspects in central London. Tucked away in Cheam, for example, was the site of the former Nonsuch Palace, Henry VIII’s grandest project – enough to set any historical novelist’s imagination on fire and a far cry from the suburb’s more famous resident, Tony Hancock of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. Similarly my home town of Sidcup, in south east London, has a wealth of historical associations including the nearby Eltham Palace, now owned (and treasured by) English Heritage. This was the childhood home of Henry VIII (he got about a bit, you know).
My three years at university in York were like living in a museum, though the campus itself, a couple of miles beyond the medieval walled city, has dubious architectural value, other than in the Elizabethan manor house, Heslington Hall, reserved for admin staff rather than lowly students. (Think of the film set of ”A Clockwork Orange” and you’ll be along the right lines.)
Post-university, I discovered that Tring, though not renowned as a tourist attraction, had a great deal to offer the discerning visitor. Not least was the wonderful Rothschilds’ Natural History Museum, which I discovered a couple of hundred yards from my front door at 10 Frogmore Street. Its bizarre legions of stuffed zebras on shelves, once seen, justify a special trip to this small Hertfordshire town. For years, my husband or I had only to say “zebras on shelves” to each other and we’d be transported back, smiling, to many a pleasant afternoon. When, after a few years, we announced to my young nephews, frequent visitors to our home in Tring, that we were moving to Gloucestershire, their response was an anguished cry of “But when will we get to go to Tring?”
I admit that I’ve lived largely in middle-class, middle-England rather than in any gritty industrial regions, but even so, I think tourism is a state of mind rather than a consequence of postcode. There can’t be many people living in Britain who couldn’t reach somewhere spectacular and interesting within a 30 minute drive/bus ride/walk.
But actually, even without that much effort, I think I could have a pretty good summer holiday just in my back garden, especially if we had the luxury of a bit of sunshine. A week ago, my daughter and I spent a lovely afternoon out there, giving our tiny pond a belated spring clean, playing badminton (very badly), and having our own mini-Olympics. We picked some raspberries. We built a bug hotel (a great way to clear the garden of sticks and stones and broken bamboo canes: another fine example of Janet’s theory of how to get something done by doing something else). As we went indoors for tea, I found myself looking forward to our summer holidays, not to planned trips to the Zoo or Slimbridge or National Trust stately homes, but simply to spending more time in our back garden. There’s a whole world of adventure to be found out there. All you need is the right route map.
Still prefer foreign destinations? Then you might like to read a bit about my trip to France last year! (Hypocrite? Moi?!)