Home Truths: Glen Mutel
Holidays within the UK can be spellbinding — as long as you're are careful to stay away from the familiar
I don’t have much time for buzz words. From the ‘credit crunch’ and ‘WAGs’ to ‘Britpop’ and ‘bling’, there’s something about these terms that makes morons of all who utter them.
The buzz word that’s bugging me at the moment is ‘staycation’. You’ll no doubt all be familiar with this word by now. It became popular in 2009 during the economic collapse, when cash strapped holidaymakers headed to neglected corners of the British Isles for windswept weeks of affordable fun.
Since then, the British have rediscovered their passports, yet the term ‘staycation’ seems to still be with us. This, I think, is a shame, as to me it completely takes the gloss off getting away. Call me a crabby old pedant, but isn’t travel supposed to be all about going somewhere? Even if you remain in the UK, shouldn’t it still be an adventure? To call it a ‘stay’-anything is an admission of defeat. It’s like asking your travel agent to find you a holiday, but with all the pleasant surprises removed.
I don’t mean to be over sensitive, but I have an ongoing love-hate relationship with domestic holidays. I find them tricky to pull off, and thinking of them as ‘staycations’ seems to destine them to failure.
For me, whenever I go away, I really don’t want to be reminded of home. Once I’ve packed my suitcase and slammed my front door, I want to quickly fall under the spell of travel, and I don’t want that spell to be broken until I return days, weeks, or months later.
But when you travel around your own country, it’s naturally harder to remain spellbound, because wherever you go, there’s always the chance you’ll be brought back down to earth by something familiar. On top of that, Britain’s cities and towns are becoming steadily more homogenous, which makes avoiding the familiar even harder. I don’t know about you, but nothing breaks that holiday spell quicker than sheltering from the rain in the doorway of a Halfords.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the UK isn’t special. It’s historic, a bit eccentric, often scenic and can be great fun. I just firmly believe that if you’re going to get the most out of holidaying at home, you’ve got to first be honest about its strengths and weaknesses. And our weakness is our urban landscape, which can make a poor first impression — from grim motorway service stations and brutally functional street furniture to city centres blighted by ugly office blocks and even uglier shopping centres.
What makes this worse is that we’re taunted by the wealth of urban beauty on the continent. Parachute into Portugal, Spain, Italy, France or even Belgium and walk a few miles in any direction, and it won’t be too long before you’ve stumbled across an idyllic ancient town, complete with a perfect sweep of period architecture, pretty squares, a host of charming cafes, and not a single Greggs in sight. Perform the same experiment in the UK and you might end up somewhere nice, like York or Durham. But you might equally find yourself in Coventry, Luton, Swindon or Canvey Island.
The good news is these hard-to-love places only tell part of the story. For all its carbuncles, the UK is full of places capable of weaving magic. And it’s not all countryside — look past the service stations and retail estates and you’ll find plenty of urban highlights too.
There’s Edinburgh, with its mysterious steep alleyways; the docks of Liverpool, with their sleek new museum; the rainbow waterfront of Tobermory; the endless bookshops of Hay-on-Wye; the historic pubs of Hull’s old town; the Tudor ramparts of Berwick-upon-Tweed; nights out in Glasgow; punting in Cambridge; Dumfries House; Glastonbury town; and that’s before you start on the obvious guidebook fodder, such as Cornwall and Canterbury.
All of these places have a spell to cast. And if you haven’t done so already, give them a try. But don’t settle for anything as drab as a ‘staycation’. Keep the spirit of adventure alive. Steer clear of motorway services. Avoid the pubs showing Sky Sports. Stay the hell out of shopping centres.
And if it rains, seek shelter under a tree — not in the doorway of Halfords.
South East Asia
South East Asia SupplementOur free 52 page guide. Available with the May/June 2013 issue. Out now.
National Geographic Traveller - App out nowFree to download for the iPad and iPhone. Android version coming soon.
Luxury travel supplementOur free 68-page guide to the world of luxury travel offers an insight into the high life.
Indian Ocean SupplementOur free 58 page guide to the Indian Ocean. Introduced by Simon Reeve.
Tweets by @NatGeoTraveller