Beautiful Britain?

“Huh, Beautiful Britain” we scoff as we think of the grey rain falling from the grey skies, running down the grey buildings, landing on the grey roads and splashing off the grey cars onto the grey faces of the passers-by. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but when it rains, that is how Britain feels. Grey. Unable to escape from that cloud of depression and darkness, but we forget that when the sun does break through, sparkling onto the leaves, it illuminates everything leaving it looking fresh and somehow brand new.

I sometimes wonder if we fail to appreciate the beauty of our own country. We dash off full of excitement and exuberance to the airport to get to any old faraway country, but is it just me that is a tad disappointed when we land at the other end? Flying into Heathrow is so exciting; it doesn’t matter how much I fly, I will never grow tired of the view coming in to land there. I turn into small child, nose pressed against the window, trying to spot recognizable landmarks and, of course, my house. (There has to be some advantage to living within spitting distance of Heathrow airport.)

Sometimes it can be a little hard to remember, but we live in such a cool place. I live somewhere that is urban enough that I have full mobile phone signal and I can walk or crawl to both a supermarket and a pub. I am a five/ten minute drive from the M40, the M4, the M25 and the M1.Yet, 200 yards from my house is 8 acres of woodland and fields, which I am lucky enough to be allowed to keep my horses in.

Once you go down to the stables, you are in a different world. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and my butchered attempts at poeticism would never do it justice. I live at one of the highest points of the Chilterns and our field is on the edge of the valley, so looking across, you can see the river sitting at the bottom, where on a sunny day, it is filled to bursting with people sailing and boating up and down the Thames. Then looking off to the left hand side, on a clear day you can see Windsor. When the Castle burnt down, we could see the flames from our field. Then straight across, you can see Winter Hill, which quite aptly boasts some of the best sledging around. Over to the right, you can see Henley and the Hambleden estate.

It is such a quiet, restful place that it seems impossible not to feel at one with yourself there. Then, you can hope on a train and be in central London in just 30 minutes. It seems so utterly bizarre that you can be somewhere as quiet and nice and yet be so close to the buzzing capital. I might be biased about where I live, after all, I know no different. But wherever we are in the UK, we are close to some amazing things. In August, I am taking a train from home to Perth, in the centre of Scotland. This 5 hour train journey is setting me back a measly £45 (and that’s to get home as well!) I cannot believe that I can pay so little and go somewhere so magical. Killiecrankie is one of the prettiest places that I have had the pleasure of staying; the steep hills and dramatic valleys are only accentuated by the craggy rocks jutting from the rushing water. I would pay a fortune to fly half way across the world to see something half as good.

Another of my favourite places is North Devon and Somerset. It is another very hilly place and I think that hills, mountains and other dramatic features are musts for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a hill dweller by nature, I am always most disappointed by the flatness of other countries. I go to Holland and it is flat and bland as far as the eye can see. Craggy hills with water cutting its path, dashing through the valleys make me happy. I could sit by the running water all day long, just marveling at the magnitude of the surrounding hills.

For fear of sounding like an insular home lover, I don’t understand what is wrong with exploring the beauty of our own country. After all, for the last few weekends, we have had weather in the 30s, which is enough to rival the rest of Europe. We are home to some of the most stunning and exciting areas in the world, whether you like cities, market towns or rural idylls, we have it all here and within a stones throw of one another.

I realise that I’m beginning to sound like I’m being paid off by the Tourist Board (and I’m not, they couldn’t afford me.) It’s just that once I get on my soapbox, it takes more than a kindly hand to get me off. (Oh please, don’t be filthy.) Don’t get me wrong, I love going abroad. I have travelled around the Middle East (before it turned into a glitzy Butlins) and I loved the month I spent in India. Again, the trekking from Ladakh through the Himalayas was hilly, and there were streams. I was as happy as a pig in muck. Albeit a slightly asthmatic pig in a high altitude muck. I really enjoyed it and the scenery was outstanding, but for a lot less money, you can get some equally amazing stuff close to home.

If I take my rose-tinted glasses off for a minute, I can see that there are some aspects of our country that aren’t so great; the celebrity obsessed culture, the kids hanging round the shops drinking cider, the idiot boys who pushed their way right to the front of the queue in the petrol station yesterday, new flats and houses springing up where beautiful properties used to be and graffiti over the road signs, just to name a few. But whatever country you are in, you will come across bored kids looking for an outlet, materialistic tabloids and magazines feeding the greed and capitalist heartless builders exploiting the public want. Essentially in the western world, the majority of countries have the same issues. 

We might have our problems; you might disagree with the government du jour, but in Britain, you have the right and are allowed to stand up for yourself and make your point heard. Nine years ago I went into London on the Countryside March (yes, the one to stop the ban on fox-hunting) and it was amazing. Despite going on the march, I am not an avid hunter and contrary to many of my friends beliefs, I think that taking the ban away would be disastrous. I went on the march because I believed that people should have the right to do as they please, as long as they are not causing damage or upset to others. To that end, fox-hunting manages the fox population in a sensible manner. However, now that is has been banned, the antis and hunt sabs who can be really wicked (pulling innocent children from their ponies and attacking hunt followers) are generally kept at bay, whilst the rural community carries on hunting as before.

Anyway, I really didn’t want to pull at that thread, all I was trying to say was that I loved the way everyone stood up for what  they believed in. Even better, it was allowed (and in parts, supported) by the constitution. I met William Hague that day and he was a lovely bloke. He was not afraid to march with us and be photographed making a stand. Tony Blair said that he loved seeing people protesting outside the House of Commons because it gave him a sense of moral marker; he was trying to work for the nation. Of course, by the end his want for greed and world domination overpowered this, but no one is perfect.

Really, that is the point I am trying to make, no one and nowhere is perfect. Britain might be a bit scruffy, but it’s mine. It’s what I’m used to. I love it for its little flaws and anyone that tells you that you would be better off emigrating to Spain, New Zealand, Dubai Australia or anywhere else, is talking rubbish. You see, Britain is our own little spot of paradise and don’t let anyone tell you any different. If you see ex-pat communities, they are invariably filled with all the people you didn’t like bumping into at Tesco, only now, they are orange, wrinkly and paying over the odds for their HP sauce.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Grace
    Jul 20, 2010 @ 05:59:39

    You appreciate the UK more when you look through the eyes of a visitor. I’ve not been back to England since I left two years ago (I’m not madly keen to visit it must be said) but recently one of my Hong Kong friends went on a 6 month university exchange to Manchester. Before she left she asked for our advice and we explained the monetary system to her “this is a fiver” “this is a tenner” “this is a quid” and tried to recommend some places for her to visit while she was there “uhm, London, go see a west end show and uhm, Stratford upon Avon, and maybe the lake district is kind of nice.” Basically we had a hard time to think of places because our own travelling experience of the UK is horribly horribly limited.
    Luckily she turned out to be the right kind of person because in six months she didn’t just completely tour the UK but most of Western Europe too >< and then some.
    I kept seeing her newest facebook pictures and was constantly aghast! They were fantastic! Even albums as gobstoppingly random as "weekend in Leeds" – a place I have never had even the slightest inclination to visit (why the hell would you want to go to Leeds?) showed some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. Looking through her pictures of the Scottish Highlands, Yorkshire, even plain old London caused me to think "gosh – did I really live there? Why didn't I go see any of that?"

    I think if you're on a time limit, think you're about to be leaving or are just generally able to force yourself to look through a tourist's eyes you will see beauty you never noticed before 🙂


  2. sillybry
    Jul 20, 2010 @ 10:41:06

    I’d definitely miss old Blighty if I were away for 2 years! It’s different I guess because I’ve spent a lot of my weekends travelling to random places either for my sister to compete or for me. As such, since I was 5 or 6, I’ve spent my weekends going to the most random places, but normally the nice rural areas around them! Did you know Solihull has a big competition centre?! There is one in Watford, where you have to cross over the motorway on horseback… happy days! But on the whole, I do tend to see the nicer parts of the country.
    I was completely blown away when I went up to Scotland as I had no idea it would be so lovely. I spend a week in August working at Blair Castle and it’s amazing. I was so shocked. Yes, my friends go to places like Sheffield and Derby, which sound so horrid and have such lovely pictures. I guess we’re luckier than we realise.
    But I’m different to you, I’m sure I’d hate to live in Hong Kong; going out to visit my dad in Sharjah and other random places in the Middle East during the nineties was enough to put me off! The UAE is weird; back then, it had sand and empty areas, now they’ve filled it all with high rise buildings, but it just seems like such a fake thing. It’s all for show and to show how much wealth they have. It’s not me. (Although, it’s good for the suntan!)


    • Grace
      Jul 25, 2010 @ 15:46:48

      Hong Kong is a beautiful city. 70% of Hong Kong is protected country park. You’d be very hard pushed to find another place in the world that can match that kind of ratio 😛
      It is unique because it combines sea views with mountain views (we have an awful lot of both).
      Of course in the centre of the city it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world (man, it is BUSY) and it can be dirty, noisy and some areas are slums while others are millionaire-only luxury.
      But it is quite possible to live away from the main areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and live a village-style life in absolutely stunning landscape. The place takes my breath away (at the risk of sounding cheesy).

      Here’s a nice picture; it shows the typical high-rise Hong Kong residential buildings you’re probably thinking of set in what is drop-dead stunning scenery that you probably didn’t know about.

      Anyway so yeah. I’m finished with my defence of Hong Kong hahaha.


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