Chris Leadbeater (Twitter: @LeadbeaterChris) is a full-time travel journalist who was voted British Travel Writer of the Year in 2012. He has visited over 80 countries, taking in North and South America, as well as Asia – but also regularly writes about the UK.
Just under two months ago, a loud popping noise reverberated across Britain. This was not a strange weather phenomenon, nor an over-enthusiastic American expat celebrating Independence Day early – but the sound of Helen Grant putting her foot into her mouth. At the height of the passport crisis, with some 30,000 applications caught in a backlog, the Tourism Minister decided to say the following: ‘We have some fantastic places to visit not that far from here,’ she commented. ‘I think there’s a lot to be said for the staycation.’
Cue a good deal of tutting, and suggestions that this bureaucrat was terribly out of touch.
No-one saw fit to say that, insensitivity and poor timing aside, Ms Grant was right. There are many holiday-worthy places in Britain. And summer is the best time to see them.
At this point, it is also worth remembering the advice of your mother. Those sharp words, back in some distant August, where she chastised you for being indoors on a sunny afternoon, and told you that you were wasting your time watching the television. Well, unlike Ms Grant, your mum was – well, she was wrong. Because when it comes to travel on home soil, your TV set can be a veritable source of both information and inspiration.
Have a quick glance at the upcoming schedules. They are packed with programmes and series that either depict Britain in a marvellous light, or frame themselves within lovely locations and splendid scenery that demand closer inspection once the credits have rolled.
Take The Village as an example. This BBC drama about life in rural Derbyshire during the First World War makes excellent use of the Peak District for its tales of ‘making the best of it’ in the 1910s. Real villages – Hayfield, Edale, Glossop and Charlesworth – crop up on screen as examples of a region that makes an ideal place for hiking and biking in the hotter months of the year (and indeed, during the colder ones).
Then there are the programmes that have put the UK firmly on the map. Downton Abbey – due to return for a fifth series this autumn – has been an incredible success, with its stories of the interplay between upstairs and downstairs at a great English country home. Happily, the home in question is open to visitors. Highclere Castle in Hampshire is the real Downton. And if its ornate facades and glorious grounds are not enough to satisfy your craving, then Bampton – the pretty nugget of Oxfordshire which plays Downton village on screen – is a perfect companion piece to the main event.
Similarly, Doctor Who has become indelibly linked with Cardiff. Many of the timelord’s recent escapades have been filmed in the Welsh capital, with Cardiff Castle and the Senedd (the National Assembly for Wales) appearing as backdrops to the Doctor’s tussles with intergalactic adversaries. Fans who want to re-live the show’s best moments before Peter Capaldi becomes the latest owner of the Tardis can do so via the interactive fun of the Doctor Who Experience at Cardiff Bay.
Then there are the programmes which focus specifically on Britain as a place of wonder and beauty. Coast has done a superb job of this, wringing fine cinematography from Britain’s wave-lashed shoreline. There should be no surprise that the show has endured since 2005. The UK is blessed with some 19,500 miles of seafront, and Coast has covered it in admirable detail, whether this be the genteel edges of the Isle of Wight, the rugged contours of Land’s End in Cornwall – or the soft curves of the Gower Peninsula in Wales.
I can vouch for the fact that Coast has worked its magic. As a travel writer, I have seen many amazing places across the planet. But one of the most spectacular is here in Britain.
Shetland is the northernmost part of the UK – the archipelago lying between the Atlantic and the North Sea. This makes for powerful viewing at Eshaness, an outpost in the north-west of the biggest island (Mainland), where the ocean pounds steep cliffs and a lighthouse keeps watch. It is a hidden gem where, if you are wrapped up warmly, you could stare for hours. It probably isn’t what Helen Grant was referring to in June, but it does prove that, passport or no passport, Britain can be a travel treasure trove.
All the programmes mentioned in this blog are available to watch on Freeview – The Village (BBC1, Sundays, 9pm), Coast (BBC2, Tuesdays, 8.30pm), The Walking Dead (5*, Saturdays, 10pm). The latest series of Doctor Who will begin on 23 August, on BBC1. The next series of Downton Abbey is scheduled to be broadcast on ITV1 in the autumn.