Forget airport chaos. Stay at home on holiday.


Blackleaf
#1
Britain is the most beautiful country in the world and each English town and village has more beautiful, historical sights than the whole of North America. Why go abroad on holiday?


Why fly abroad on holiday when Britain offers so much?


by Max Hastings

19th August 2006

Quote:

My father did not dislike the Americans, French or Italians. He just felt sorry for them because their history was such a mess compared with ours.

He could stand on a cliff in Kent and deliver a spontaneous oration about Napoleonís failure to invade in 1805, or recite a Betjeman poem in the middle of one of the Cornish villages the poet loved.




We are on holiday and are thanking our lucky stars. This is not written in the departure lounge at Heathrow, the airport security line at Gatwick, the check-in at Manchester or the car park at Luton.

No, we are in the glens of Scotland, heedless of rain and caravans doing the slow waltz up the A9. We are perfectly happy. We are so grateful not to be flying.


The Highlands

It is a classic irony of modern life that when aircraft have become marvels of sophistication, a combination of Islamic mass-murderers, security nuts and overloaded airports makes the experience of going anywhere by plane compare unfavourably with taking the Middle Passage in an early 19th century slave ship.

If holidays are supposed to be about resting jangled nerves as well as getting a change of scene, our own land seems to have much more to offer than anything a hell-flight across the Channel or the Atlantic can justify.

Here, there may be traffic jams and grubby motorway service areas, delayed trains and unreliable weather, but none are half as grim as nursing a pack of howling children through an airport terminal for hours, terrified of being caught carrying a tube of toothpaste.

Toad of Toad Hall was right about the joys of the open road and the wonderful things one can find at the end of it, from which only Retsina, paella and chips are happily excluded.

I was lucky enough to learn a lot about Britain from my father when I was young. He made most of his living as a writer and broadcaster about the countryside, making television films about people and places. He often took me with him on location, and I was entranced.

In a primitive helicopter, we descended on Devon sheep farms cut off by snow. We lurked in East Anglian drainage ditches to watch an old poacher call in geese. We met Edinburgh museum-keepers; Yorkshiremen who bred Shire horses; Guernseymen fanatical about ormers, their local shellfish.

Father was driven by a passionate, romantic excitement about the landscape and its history, with which he infected me. Whether on a night-sleeper journey to Inverness, a walk beside the Wye or a drive up the M1, he enthused extravagantly about past glories and present beauties.

Here was the battlefield of Naseby, where defeat cost Charles I his throne. There was a fast-flowing stretch of current on a Highland river where he was absolutely certain he would catch a salmon.


Battle of Naseby re-enactment

Father did not dislike the Americans, French or Italians. He felt sorry for them because their history was such a mess compared with ours.

He could stand on a cliff in Kent and deliver a spontaneous oration about Napoleonís failure to invade in 1805, or recite a Betjeman poem in the middle of one of the Cornish villages the poet loved.

My point is not a nostalgic one. I am not offering a lament for a vanished Britain. What is remarkable is not how much has changed and gone since my fatherís time, but how much remains today to be explored and revelled in.

In the remoteness of Sutherland a few weeks ago, my wife and I gazed upon a vast landscape almost undefiled by any tourists save ourselves.

Even on a baking summerís day, the great white beaches of the north coast were almost empty. If solitude is your choice, it is still readily attainable even in these overcrowded islands.

There are tracts of Englandís wildernesses, as well as Scotlandís, in which one can walk all day while scarcely seeing another human, where the B&Bs are amazingly cheap and some country house hotels and local restaurants offer food as good as any in the world.

Every region of Britain boasts more historic houses and churches than one could visit in a month.


Rochester Cathedral

Some of you may say: ĎWhat about the children?í But what the young most enjoy on holidays, I think, are little adventures. They are more likely to find them here than at some Mediterranean hell-hole featuring oppressive heat and drunks.

Renting a canal barge offers a terrific family holiday. My father made a series of TV programmes in the early 1960s entitled A Voyage Through England. It contributed significantly to awakening public interest in the waterways, after a century of decay.

Thanks to an army of enthusiasts labouring for the past two generations, our canals are in better shape than they have ever been.

The Hastingsí canal tactics called for adults to sleep in the barge and pitch tents on the bank for the young.

The joy of riding a boat along the great aqueducts which soar over the Llangollen canal on the Welsh border is matched by the fun of working the locks, making errant children walk the plank, building an evening fire or stopping at a waterside pub.

Children come home with happiest memories of holidays which have had a drama or two, and I donít mean the kind the British Airports Authority arranges.

My son has never forgotten a morning when the Inverness train caught fire, and we hiked along the tracks with our luggage to hitch a ride into town.

A Hastings child once caught worms from drinking in a Welsh reservoir below the mountains where I had taken him camping. I got hell from his mother when we returned home, but the worm-eater didnít seem to mind.

We should all be delighted by the recent success of The Dangerous Book For Boys, which promotes the charms of living dangerously. It is foolish to be cut off by the tide with the family on a Cornish beach, but it is jolly good fun to be almost cut off. At a time when some British attractions are suffering a decline in visitor numbers, it is striking that Xscape Castleford in Yorkshire, a large leisure park which offers rock-climbing and an indoor ski slope, is booming.

So are activity holidays of all kinds, which is good news in a week when we are told more people in the world are obese than are starving.

None of us gets thinner by lying prostrate all week surrounded by empty wine bottles and pizza cartons. So hire a canoe, buy some mountain bikes, borrow a coil of a rope and crampons ó anything but sitting idle with the kids like a row of sun-lounger potatoes.

My parents often sent us to the West Country in our bucket-and-spade years, and I took my children there.

The best of Devon and Cornwall is still wonderful, even if Landís End makes one think favourably of Devilís Island. Yet there are other marvellous counties, much less crowded, which have just as much to offer for family holidays, especially if you rent a house.


Land's End, Cornwall

Norfolk and Suffolk boast sailing courses, pretty villages, great golf courses and beaches. Parts of Cumbria ó such a pity that we have abandoned the old names of Cumberland and

Westmoreland, which rolled deliciously off the tongue ó are neglected, as everybody crowds into the Lake District.


The English Lake District

We stop for lunch in Cumberland every year on our way to Scotland, and are seldom disappointed. Everybody knows about the Yorkshire Dales, but the Borders get far fewer tourists than they deserve.

A host of people march along Hadrianís Wall, but too few go a step further north to the Tweed, perhaps the most beautiful river in these islands, especially in autumn.

The little towns on the English and Scottish banks are full of delights, and it is never too late in life to learn to fish.


Hadrian's Wall

Fishing, especially at sea, used to play a big part in our family holidays. Children donít want to dangle a rod for hours, they want to catch something.

It is hard to fail if you drop a handline over the side of a small boat almost anywhere around these islands.

The only way barbecued mackerel is bearable to eat is if you have actually caught it.

I am an ardent shrimper. Rent a house near the seaside, equip yourself with half-a-dozen nets, a saucepan, cooker and a bottle of sherry for the grown-ups.

A couple of hoursí labour, paddling in the shallows, provides a feast. Nowhere abroad has rock pools to match ours, nor for that matter decent sand.


English pubs have imaginative and beautiful signs and names


The best thing about the right sort of British holiday is that it imposes on children a compulsory divorce from television and computer games, until at least 5pm every day.

They can learn not to notice rain when walking the hills, and to look at wildlife rather than watch footie. It is just possible they will read a book.

Holidays donít need to involve coastlines.

Herefordshire, Shropshire, inland Somerset and much of Wales are full of good things: the great castles built by Edward I, which have fascinated me since childhood, ancient hill forts and rolling landscape and gardens to die for ó though I am not naive enough to suggest these hold any magic for children.


Caernarfon Castle

The best of holiday Britain is to be found in its natural beauties and heritage; the worst, in its so-called modern attractions, games arcades and theme parks.

We cannot match the American genius for creating Disney World or Sea World. For all the sunny surprises of this summer, we lack the climate as well as the exuberant imagination.

We do best when we stick to what we know: miniatures, little joys and surprises, understated pleasures of the kind British travel writer H. V. Morton celebrated 80 years ago in his book In Search of England, and that Bill Bryson does today.

Most years when we get our quota of rain, Britain is still richly green, while the Mediterranean countries have become arid and tired, yellow and dusty.

Those of us who are potty about our dogs donít want to give the poor brutes passports and take them to pant in Provence. We want them beside us on the hillsides, and in the woodlands they love as much as we do.

Statistics show that even without terrorism, Britain is currently faring badly as a tourist destination. We spend £20 billion a year more on taking foreign holidays than the British tourist industry makes out of foreign visitors and home-grown travellers.

I suspect that after a steep dip in airline passenger numbers following last weekís goings-on, millions of us will get back on planes to Vietnam and Dubai, Barbados and Florida.

Even old jingoists like me know that going abroad is great ó I have often sung the praises of the Kenyan bush in mid-winter.

It is hard to promote holidaying in Britain between November and May, yet in summer, this country overflows with good things. Flying will remain a nightmare, especially for families with children.

If, this weekend, you are under torture at Stansted or Luton, think of us basking in the Highlands, and eat your heart out. Next year, you could get crafty and do the same.


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athabaska
#2
60 million people crammed into a sardine can. Nice place to visit but...
 

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