As we firm up our plans for this year's trip to England, it made me reflect on the special places we visited on our three previous trips, and I thought I'd share my thoughts with you.
One of those special places was Rye, where author E. F. Benson lived and set four of his Mapp & Lucia novels. A ten episode "Mapp & Lucia" miniseries was filmed there in 1985. It starred Geraldine McEwan as Lucia (who also played Agatha Christie's spinster-sleuth Miss Marple), Prunella Scales as Mapp (who also played Mrs. Fawlty in "Fawlty Towers") and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie (who also played Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes Minister" & "Yes, Prime Minister"). I bought the first five episodes in a five VHS set many years ago, which were adapted from the fourth novel titled Mapp & Lucia (from which, of course, the book and TV series took its name). A handful of years later, I realized that I really enjoyed them, as I periodically pulled them out and watched them again. More years later, I came across a second series of five episodes on DVD, which were based on the fifth and six novels. Then I discovered the novels, Mapp & Lucia first, then the first novel Queen Lucia, and gradually accumulated the entire saga. After that, as I enjoyed reading those novels so much, I began looking around for other Benson novels to read.
Anyway: Rye. It's a beautiful seaside town, and the tourists certainty fill it up on the weekends. We enjoyed walking the narrow, winding streets, and seeing all the locations that inspired Benson to write his stories, as well as those the film crews used for the miniseries. One unexpected discovery was that E. F. Benson isn't the biggest literary figure who lived in Rye. That honor belongs to American novelist Henry James (but I haven't read him yet, so he doesn't count. Yet). Benson moved into the house after James died, and according to all reports, acknowledged him as a literary icon. Recently, I've learned that the British film "Yellowbeard," which featured some of the Monty Python gang in addition to Cheech and Chong, shot some scenes on the idyllic, cobbled streets of this medieval town. That was a wacky, funny movie. I'll have to watch it again.
Another great place I visited was Holmfirth, where "Last of the Summer Wine," the world's longest-running sitcom, was filmed. It was so neat to walk the streets and the surrounding countryside, take the bus tour, and visit Sid's Cafe, wherein Compo Simmonite, Norman Clegg, and Foggy Dewhurst often ventured for a cup of tea, and usually received far more than they bargained for from Ivy, the proprietor (and Sid's wife). The ability to sit down there, and drink a cup of tea...it was just indescribable. Amazing.
Even better, we never got an earful from the proprietor.
To follow up our love of James Herriot's books, and the TV series "All Creatures Great and Small," we spent several days in Thirsk, where he lived and worked. Later, we stopped in beautiful Askrigg, where much of the fictional Darrowby was set. It was such a pretty little town, set in the Yorkshire Dales, that we had to return there for another visit.
You no doubt recall our visit to Brighton, where we attended the World Fantasy Convention, and saw one of my favorite Fantasy authors Terry Pratchett. That week will always be special to me, as I got to see him before he passed away earlier this year. Meeting and talking with Peter F Hamilton, K. W. Jeter, and Mary Robinette Kowal was also lots of fun.
Another attraction of Brighton was that it served as the setting for E. F. Benson's novel The Blotting Book. We enjoyed walking the streets he mentions in the novel, and taking buses and trains to see places farther from the hotel where crucial acts in his story took place. A really, really special visit.
What amazes me most is how much we've been able to tailor these trips to our interests using the information so readily available over the internet. Planning trips like these would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, ten or fifteen years ago. One of the reasons we weren't visiting England back then was because we had little incentive to go. But now, my wife and I can look up places of interest, read about the authors who lived there, map out potential routes and travel times, and book hotels, all while sitting on the couch with our laptops, comparing notes and ideas. We can also find books online, often for free, from authors that are mentioned as living or writing in places we will visit. Reading those books may give us an enhanced appreciation for the places we will visit, and suggest additions to our itinerary. Back then, I was angry that the airlines were downsizing their telephone operators, and forcing us to book tickets online. I missed the personal service and interaction, and saw it as an unwelcome dehumanizing aspect of technological innovation. Now, although we may be spending far longer planning our vacations, we're following up ideas as we think of them, and those discoveries lead us to other points of interest, and so on, and so forth, without needing to visit the library, pay a travel agent, or book spaces on a tour. As a result, we can fine-tune our trips to our interests far more effectively than we ever could have back then.
There were good old days in the past, but today and tomorrow hold the truly Great New Days.