Saturday, 31 December 2016

looking ahead

As my thoughts drifted ahead to 2017, and by way of amusing myself because it was too cold and damp to think about going outside (or rather I was still too busy getting over the flu for the degree of cold and damp that there was), I spent the afternoon thinking about where we might go on next year's holiday.  Now choosing a place is a difficult matter, it isn't just one of your holiday games. Going anywhere is a major undertaking, with the cats to be fed, the hens to be shut in and let out, the thousand and one things in pots to be watered, and the bees poised to swarm between April and August.  And since packing in the City careers early, a week in Dorset is a more realistic prospect than three weeks in Latin America.  In fact, a week somewhere in the UK each year is as much as we run to nowadays.

So choosing where and when to spend the week is a big decision, and doing the research is part of the fun.  We want somewhere with enough gardens, industrial museums, ruins, art galleries, steam engines and architecture to keep us busy for a week without too much driving about.  And a holiday let sleeping two with dedicated parking.  And preferably some scenery.  That leaves most of the UK as a potential destination, since our island is positively bulging with heritage and scenery, though as we discovered last year holiday lets can be thin on the ground in parts of southern England where house prices have gone particularly bonkers.

My method, honed by years of practice, is to pick on an area where I feel there should be plenty to do, and list everything I can find on a spreadsheet, grouped around a nominal centre.  It left me thoroughly confused the year we went to Dorset when I had categorised the attractions according to their location relative to Dorchester and we didn't stay in Dorchester but outside Blandford Forum, so all my carefully noted approximate distances and directions were wrong.  Only when I am sure I have found enough gardens and museums and notable views to provide at least a week's worth of entertainment do I pitch the idea to the Systems Administrator, so that the SA cannot declare that there would not be enough to do and take against the area.  It took me a couple of years to reintroduce the concept of Dorset, after mentioning it without sufficient preparation causing the Systems Administrator to recoil from the prospect of driving for hours at a stretch  along tiny roads as we progressed from one distant garden to the next.

Once we have an agreement in principle then if we manage to find a cottage (which we never did in Sussex) I refine the spreadsheet, adding details of which days of the week things are open and their opening times, and then it becomes a juggling act to visit all the nearby attractions on the same day and in the right order so that you don't pitch up first at the one that doesn't open until eleven.  We have got pretty good at it.

At this stage I'm still working from the road atlas, the 2016 National Trust guide, the 2017 Art Fund Guide, and Google.  Google Maps are good for finding where places are when you absolutely can't spot Little Sniddly but useless for journey planning because the main roads are too indistinct by the time you've zoomed any distance out.  Understanding main roads is imperative, since a separation of thirty miles can be a quick half hour along a dual carriageway, or a grinding hour and a quarter down a minor A road studded with villages all campaigning unsuccessfully for a bypass.

Our road atlas is quite old, which doesn't matter greatly from the point of view of where places are, given the modest pace of road building in Britain, but does bring home the pace of change when it comes to tourist attractions.  I don't know what a hopeful sounding railway was doing to get itself a symbol on the 2004 Great Britain A to Z road atlas, but it certainly isn't open to the public now.  Actually, I hadn't realised the atlas was quite that old.  Maybe I should get a new one.

I'm not impressed by the number of tourist websites which tell so little about the place they are supposed to represent that it is easier and quicker to look on Wikipedia.  The National Trust, I'm afraid, is a repeat offender.  The pages for each individual property manage to include remarkably little information, and for hard facts about when it was built, in what style, if it is still there or burned down some time in the 1920s, whether there is a park and so on you get loads more on Wikipedia.  I don't count the Trust's exhortations to visit the Courtyard Cafe or ideas for activities to amuse the kids.  One thing the English countryside is not short of nowadays is cafes, and we aren't proposing to take any kids on holiday.  The visitBath website is unhelpful along the same lines.  Top ten Must Dos (ranging from visit the Roman baths to eat in an independent restaurant), top ten Must Sees (including visiting Stonehenge).  Bath is a UNESCO world heritage site (though its future is under review following some block-headed redevelopment) and a straightforward list of the main buildings, streets and museums would be a good starting point.

Little preserved railway websites that tell you all about the Santa Special but don't seem to include a map anywhere so that you can see how much actual track there is are another thing.  Generally the answer is that the track is rather short, otherwise they would make more of a feature of it, but there's also an element of enthusiasts so bound up in their interest that they haven't managed to take a step back and think what they need to tell other people about it, who currently know absolutely nothing.  Fortunately for an overview there's Wikipedia again.

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