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Which to believe? Bill Bryson, or Escape to the Country?

Let's start by saying this is a high level observation, and most likely a naive one at that.
I listened to my first Bill Bryson book recently, The Road to Little Dribbling (2015). I have spent a good part of winter watching Escape to The Country (ETTC). I have limited time in England, between Heathrow and Southampton, with Stonehenge and Salisbury....not even London.
So, ETTC shows hectic traffic in the cities the people want to leave, then small villages and houses abutting farmland with views....often no sound but birds and cows. Even in the Peak District, they do discuss the difference of Nat Parks in UK compared to what we know in North America, but it still seems to hsve space and solitude. Bill, on the other jand discussing Peaks NP, focuses on traffic, the time it takes to drive 3 km, the hundreds of thousands of tourists crammed into a very small (relatively) space.
As humorous as the tale was, it was also rather depressing and burst the ETTC image to shatters. I thought about the smoke and mirrors that could be utilized by film, but then I also know some of the details he quotes as "fact", that England has the 10th position for world population, but it is actually 21st, and for population density, 31st.
Of course, one has more appeal than the other. Maybe I am taking works of words too literally, but I didn't consider Bryson's work was pure fiction.
Which is closer to the 'real' England?

Posted by
123 posts

The fantasy unreal estate series Escape to the Country is often several years old and rarely does anyone buy a house. It is a great escape during Covid, and well worth watching as a look inside homes and gardens. The maps rarely show roads, as if the green and pleasant land is still untroubled by the infernal combustion engine. Yet many seekers talk about commuting, and the fact is that out of pandemic season, more and more people commute by 'motorways' to jobs further and further away. A 'good village' is one with a close motorway access road, in many minds. And that puts the prices up. And up. Bucolic meets BMW, on route to London.
Rick Steves' series on the UK strike a balance, and show where to stay, where to drive, and how to get away to parts of, say, the Lake District, that are not crowded out. I just re-watched that episode, in familiar country for me, and it was accurate and informative as always. You don't know what you've got till it's gone, as Joni Mitchell sang. Rick's videos are timeless and really well done.
Bill Bryson was at his best when he lived there, IMHO. "Notes from a small island" is a classic. His book on Shakespeare is a slim myth busting paperback, but based on research. Like many people he found mass tourism hard to take, and since he returned to the States he seems to be saying so. Not unreasonably.
Helene Hanff's "84 Charing Cross Road" book of letters from NYC to a real London bookstore came out once with the story of her eventual trip to England attached. She sold a series of Ellery Queen scripts and got rich. "The Duchess of Duke Street" is a charming and poignant inside look at what was still true and authentic. Her guide was an older gentleman of impeccable manners and taste, and she describes him and the highlights very well. Find it. BOAC no longer exists, but many of the places she visits still do.

Posted by
617 posts

I do not want to burst any bubbles but Helene Hanff never “got rich”. Yes, she wrote scripts, of various sorts, including some for Ellery Queen. She barely survived (in part based upon her decision to stay in NYC and never move to LA). In the late 60s she went for several years without buying books from her beloved 84 Charing Cross Road bookstore (Marks and Co) as she simply did not have the money. I have met the woman and own 1st editions of all her later books: 84 Charing Cross Road, Q, Underfoot in Show Business, AND the one you are thinking of (and I highly recommend)—her time in and about London: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (1973).

Posted by
4210 posts

"....Which is closer to the 'real' England?..."

Both. I live on the edge of Portsmouth, one of the most densely populated cities in the UK, on top of a hill. From one side of my house I overlook the city and from the other side I overlook rolling hills, countryside and farmland interspersed with small towns and villages. I can go on long walks with my dog and barely encounter another person or I can drive into the centre of Portsmouth and get caught up in horrendous traffic.

Of course England isn't a large country and the national parks are much smaller in comparison to those in the US however, have you ever been to Yellowstone NP in August? I can drive through the New Forest on a Saturday morning in March and encounter very little traffic but on a summer weekend it's a different story altogether.

There are plenty of places in England to get away from it all and listen to nothing but birds and cows, it isn't all motorways and bustling traffic.

Posted by
4343 posts

The fact is there are too many people and too many cars here. When I was a child, you could play sports on the street outside my house as there were no cars parked and little passing traffic. These days, both sides of the lane are permanently full of parked cars - no more houses have been built, it’s just that each household has more cars.

English countryside doesn’t just equate to purely the National Parks - most of it isn’t in the NPs. The NPs have protection which means that they can’t double the width of the roads or create large car parks.

Would I want to live in the Lake District? No, as there’s too much traffic on narrow lanes designed for a horse and cart, particularly at weekends, school holidays and in the summer months. I don’t tend to visit Windermere, Grasmere or Keswick in the Lake District as they are too busy - I head to Eskdale, Buttermere etc where even in August, you rarely see other people. Somebody visiting Keswick or Eskdale on the same day in peak season will report different experiences.

ETTC is just a tv show. It surprises me that many people on there haven’t previously visited the area that they want to move to, so hence, if they are sensible, they aren’t likely to make an offer immediately on a property. Most people on that show have too low a budget for what they want to buy, but it makes for “better” tv if they have to make compromises. If I was looking to buy in an area, I would be all over the property websites and I would know what prices were, making the guessing the price a pointless exercise. The fact that most people are way off in their guesses shows that they aren’t seriously buying, but just getting on the telly.

Many of Bryson’s books were written years ago and there is certainly more traffic on the roads since publication.

I live on a small lane in rural Kent. I am surrounded by apple trees and grape vines. It is noisier than we thought it would be when we moved there - the crops don’t look after themselves and need to be sprayed etc, which can be noisy and smelly. Farmers start early in the morning.

My mum lives in a larger village, but it’s plagued by traffic that didn’t exist 30 years ago.

Therefore, neither ETTC or Bryson necessarily give an accurate reflection of the countryside depending on when and where you are considering.

Posted by
649 posts

I suspect it is both, but also neither. Also I always wonder on the infrequent occasions I catch ETTC why the owners want to sell these idyllic and seemingly perfect homes. What can they have found, and where, that is better? And as has been rightly observed previously, rarely are any of the featured houses bought. Thus it seems more of an exercise for those who can never aspire to owning the type of homes featured to have a slightly voyeuristic look at how the other half live.

Of course these homes do exist in real places and it is possible to escape to parts of the country that are quiet and remote. The problem though is that the U.K. is a comparatively tiny landmass, with a relatively dense population, so while you may feel miles from anywhere, in reality you aren’t. I was unnerved on a trip to Alaska by the sheer size of the place and the remoteness. Get lost in the U.K. countryside and chances are you will be able to walk in a roughly straight line and in relatively short order, find some sort of habitation. Conversely you could walk for day after day in Alaska (assuming you could make progress through the vegetation) and end up being eaten by a bear. Nearest you can get to that here is probably in Scotland in the Fisherfields Forest in the Highlands, but there are no bears. And despite the name, no trees.

The issue with the National Parks is that they are proclaimed ‘beauty spots’ and attract large numbers of visitors on holidays, weekends, and in periods of prolonged good weather. But like Bryson’s assertion that the average American never strays more than 200 yards from their car (unsure whether that is the case any longer), something similar would apply to a U.K. resident’s casual visit to a National Park. Our family used to laugh at those who drove from the Leeds/Bradford area to the nearby Bolton Priory, an estate of great natural beauty with a huge variety of opportunities to explore, and even on wonderful days would never exit their car but park overlooking the river and read the paper! You can lead a horse to water........

When Bill Bryson first settled in the U.K. (he’s back again now, yes?) he lived and worked in Keighley. Close to the wild and isolated moors that were the haunt of the Brontes, I’m willing to bet a fiver it won’t appear on ETTC any time soon!

Posted by
1624 posts

I've enjoyed reading everyone's posts. Thank you.

I'd recommend Bryson's "Walk in the Woods" about his excursion on the Appalachian Trail. It's quite entertaining.

As far as traffic and crowds it's almost like an alternate universe compared to my initial forays into Europe during the 1980s. I mean, just wow.

As Americans get fatter and fatter, there is certainly a large faction of them that do things like drive 1/4 mile to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for insulin instead of walking. I wonder if we're eating ourselves to death. I get Bryson's point and there is a lot of truth to what he is saying.

Posted by
24626 posts

I'd agree with the neither and both.

The older generation still can discuss for hours the best route between two places, considering the relative merits of turning at this village or that, thinking of the various hills and pinch points - me, I rely on the device on my dash which chats to those new fangled lumps up in space, having quickly checked the traffic on Google maps just prior, and then leaving the Highways England app running in the car.

As far as the TV show, the host manages (ok the the fixer for the tv host) to get their clients into artisans studios in the area they are "looking" in and those little segments are well worth watching, but most people won't be visiting such places on a two week holiday to the UK. I think of it as eye candy. Certain the villages or towns couldn't be filmed if they were not real, but they don't represent workaday England or Wales (ever notice that it is almost always Wales or England?).

Posted by
1200 posts

ETTC (and its sunnier cousin ETTContinent), is what has been called "property porn". This is a remarkably popular genre on the telly, but only intended as entertainment. You are not meant to take it seriously as a documentary of rural life any more than Coronation Street authentically depicts everyday life in a Northern town.

It is certainly possible to find areas which aren't crowded and probably don't see a foreign tourist from one year to the next. Whether someone with just a fortnight's holiday available should visit these in preference to more famous sights is debatable.

Bryson's problem is that he spent so long perfecting the curmudgeonly part of his "genial grump" persona, that it has stuck and these days he is just a mardy bugger who needs to lighten up.

Posted by
596 posts

The American version of ETTC - House Hunters and my favorite HH International - are riddled with fake drama, fake house prices, etc. Still fun to watch but sometimes in an ironic manner. Like really, you moved to X country without bothering to research house prices, sizes, features? You want city center but no noise? You want "charm" but only if it doesn't conflict with your ideas of comfort? What! The toilet isn't in the same room as the shower!! The horrors!

Posted by
3564 posts

Well, this has been entertaining, and enlightening.
The book I cited is in full 'The Road to Little Dribbling, More Notes From a Small Island', and, I believe, researched. Taking a path from the 2 mostfurthest points in the UK (not the popular Land's End to John O'Groats approach). I know little of his style, but curmudgeon seems correct.
I do enjoy the non-house parts of ETTC, particularly some demo of crafts that have lasted for generations; and is as much a part of the reason I watch it as the house bits.
I loved the movie based on 84 Charing Cross Road. Thanks for reminding me to look up her other books.
My bus ride from Heathrow to Southampton showed rolling hills, farms, habitation, densely packed villages, and for a time, the constant hum and distraction of highway and traffic. So, from what has been said here, perhaps that mix is a more 'real' England. Some places a little more rural, other places a little (or a lot) more congested. Thus, the 'both' and 'neither' replies. I can see how, if one doesn't actually explore, their view may be more of a densely over populated perception. So like any place, it's a mix.
In case anyone is interested, I checked the pop. Density. UK is 237/sq. Km, USA, 34/sq. Km and Canada is 4/sq.km. Of course, most Canadians live in a narrower belt making habited population density considerably more. Toronto's pop dens is ~4200/sq. Km, London is 5700, and my home city is 334, granted that is a 50km radius from Parliament Hill and covers a lot of greenbelt and farmland...thank goodness.

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11972 posts

....he is just a mardy bugger

Had to look that one up, Nick.
Yorkshire Slang Twitter site, "Gonna be a mardy bugger tomora wi'art any kip!"
The Husband wants to know why I'm snort-laughing and blowing coffee all over my keyboard.

Posted by
9070 posts

Escape To the Country, Bill Bryson, House Hunters/House Hunters International's main purpose is to entertain you. Do they have to be 100% truthful? Nah. Their goal is to keep you watching, come back to watch more, buy more books, etc. If they take license with the truth, so be it. They're not in court. If the shows are fake, so what, it's not to be taken as a historical record.

Did you know that the people on House Hunters already have their homes when they start shooting? Did you know that some of the local "real estate experts' aren't. (They may actually be actors) But who cares. It's entertaining.

If you want to know what the "real" England is like, visit it.

Posted by
3489 posts

Bill Bryson's books are more guides to people than places. After visiting Australia a half-dozen times I read his Sunburned Country wanderings and rolled with laughter and recognition at the characters he encountered. Anyhow, a "real" country is what you encounter, not what histories and maps and restaurant advice have raised in your mind's eye.

Posted by
4449 posts

Amen to Frank's last sentence. Maria, I recommend a long visit to the UK whenever you get a chance after the plague. You'll find bustling cities with beautiful historic buildings (not all of them), lovely countryside of every type (except the really big mountains and deserts we have here), and warm friendly people you can (more or less) communicate with even though sometimes they use terms like "mardy." Congested motorways and isolated country lanes, also a rail system that takes you almost anywhere without having to drive (on the left!).

I don't watch those real estate shows much. I like Bill Bryson in well-spaced doses, including his books about Britain and A Walk in the Woods. I just finished At Home, interesting in places but a bit tedious. He's a talented writer and careful researcher who lets his curmudgeonly personality take over maybe more than is good for him or the reader.

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2517 posts

"House Hunters/House Hunters International's main purpose is to entertain you. Do they have to be 100% truthful? Nah. "
"Did you know that some of the local "real estate experts' aren't. (They may actually be actors) "
Take a look at the credits at the end of the show. One of the people listed is a casting director.
The only reason to have a casting director is that the people appearing in the show are actors.
I agree with Frank II. Who cares. It's entertaining.

"If you want to know what the "real" England is like, visit it. "
Agree with what Frank II wrote and the follow-up by Dick.
The more you get away from the regular well-worn tourist paths, the better.
What a person would not want is to be in a huge crowd of American tourists everywhere you go.
Then you are not seeing the "real England", you are seeing crowds of tourists.
I say this not to you, Maria, but to others, who are new to travel, who may be reading this thread.

I had a friend who asked where they should go on vacation next time. When I replied, "England", she said "Oh, we've already been to London and we took a day trip to Stonehenge, so we've seen England."
At this point, I gave up.
Maria, I know you are far more knowledgeable about England and this will not be your trip. I was only mentioning this comment of my friend's because I believe it is a humorous look at the way many tourists view a trip to England.
Much the way Bill Bryson pokes fun at certain things, is why I mentioned it.

I've enjoyed all of Bill Bryson's books. I don't mind grumpy curmudgeons.

Posted by
123 posts

Many thanks for the correct name of Helene Hanff's small classic, "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street" it was a long time since I read it. And I only meant she 'got rich enough' to buy one plane ticket in the days when that was BOAC- expensive. I think she says something similar in her own self-deprecating way in the book. Which is a kind of crash course in British literature and history.
She wrote and read even better than the fine movie with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft. Her books and the movie are worth time. As is "Between Silk and Cyanide - a codemaker's war 1941-1945" (Harper Collins 2000) the true story of what Leo Marks, later the quiet bookseller of 84 Charing Cross Road, did in the secret war. He used a poem of his own making as a 'one time code', unbreakable. It goes like this. "The life that I have/Is all that I have. /And the life that I have/ Is yours. The love that I have/Of the life that I have/.Is yours and yours and yours. A sleep I shall have/A rest I shall have/ Yet death will be but a pause. For the peace of my years/In the long green grass/Will be yours and yours and yours."
The love story and the courage of so many women agents in WW2 is true. The real country is just under the surface, and bears looking for. In books and movies until we can do so in person. Hopkins is about to win another Oscar for The Father, I suspect.

Posted by
3564 posts

No worries that I will only see London and Stonehenge. I seek out area to birdwatch which often gets one off the tourist route....but sometimes onto the touring birdwatchers routes. I find them a wonderful reprieve from my self imposed hours in museums and historical finds.
Some day I will visit. I have a few harder to get to longer trips in mind....to do while young enough and well enough to do them; then back to Europe which feels a little easier on aging souls and solos.

Posted by
2517 posts

Hi Maria. LOL! I thought my friends' comment was funny. Did not have you in mind when I mentioned it. Just was surprised my friend was not as interested as you and I are at getting to know the real England, and seeing what all the different areas of England might be like.
I know you are more of an explorer when on a trip, like I am. I think birdwatching will definitely take you into some interesting places and small villages off the beaten track, which is very cool, and will make for a great trip.
To answer your original question, I think Escape To The Country gives you a bit of scenery and at least you get a look at a cute cottage or house, so at least you are seeing a little of England. Hey, we're all desperate here! We've been locked into our homes for more than a year, not traveling! I'm desperate for a glimpse of England! I enjoyed The Road to Little Dribbling and Notes from A Small Island; found Bryson's books to be sort of like quirky travel journals. So, yes, there's a taste of England there, along with a dose of his brand of humor.

Posted by
3564 posts

Rebecca, yes it was funny. It can be a surprise when folks don't have the same sense of adventure. Some comments have left me speechless at times....or, more appropriate to thos thread....'gob smscked'. I will admit that as much as I like to bird on travels, and will include one or two major cities, a lot of my UK interest will be castles, gardens and stately homes. Luckily, a lot of those are more in the 'wilds', but unluckily will also be on some tourist routes. Not being confident with opposite driving, I may need to leave it to Rabbie's Tours to get me out there, but it will still be wonderful.

Posted by
1599 posts

Loved the question, loved the answers. My experience with England's countryside so far is limited to 1 week in 2018 in the Cotswolds. My observation is how quickly I was in and out of populated areas and back to quiet and incredibly green countryside with narrow roads and tree canopies. On a Saturday morning as we were meandering our way to Gatwick we drove a short road between Upper and Lower Slaughter and it was the magic you see in Escape to the Country. The beauty of being a tourist is being able to see it and remember it the way you want. Reality sucked when we hit the traffic outside of London.

Posted by
2517 posts

Maria, your plan sounds great! "will include one or two major cities, a lot of my UK interest will be castles, gardens and stately homes." Plus possibly a Rabbie's tour, plus birding. That all sounds wonderful. Now fingers crossed that it won't be too long before we all get to travel again. Best wishes to you and happy travels.

Posted by
649 posts

Maria F -

You might look up ‘RSPB Reserves’ which have hides from which to observe the bird life about their daily business without disturbing them (bring your own binoculars). There’s a big one at Slimbridge just outside The Cotswolds at Berkeley (with an ‘a’ sound) but there are others dotted around. What’s on view will, of course, be dictated by the time of year.

Posted by
3060 posts

Sometimes opposing viewpoints can both be true. So much depends on the person’s background.

I was in a college study abroad 6 week session and my host family graciously invited me to the family’s country farm on a Saturday. I went and I hated it. It was dirty, so many flies, so much filth! I told my classmates about it. Sure enough, the next weekend the family graciously invited me again and said I could bring a friend. I did and expected her to have the same reaction I had. Boy, was I wrong. She loved it and thought it was delightful.

The difference? I grew up in the city with no rural experience and she grew up on a farm. A person’s previous experience colors how they interpret new situations. A city dwellers perception of traffic is different than a rural dweller. People from the Midwest have different ideas about what a mountain is than someone from Idaho.

Opposite descriptions often reflect an individual’s background rather than the actual location.

Posted by
1512 posts

Very well-put comment, Carol.

We might say that density, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I notice that many people who say they love the 'scale' and the 'pace' of European villages and small towns are often from backgrounds where their comings and goings are determined by car culture and the many many accommodations that car culture demands of human society. They commute (in non-pandemic circumstances) from an insipid planned development of 2-car garages with attached bedrooms and yards to a concrete and glass multistory parking lot with an attached office complex, with a stop inbetween to get a disposable to-go high calorie coffee drink that fits into one of the many cupholders in their auto.
When your built environment is made for cars, of course it is refreshing to spend time in places built for people.

Posted by
24626 posts

I happened upon a 2009 episode of ETTC this afternoon, and at the end the couple successfully bought a house. In their price range. I was intrigued by the discussion up thread about actors so slowed the end credits to 1/4 speed and looked at all the titles of folks - not a casting agent or any unusual title to be found. I guess the American ones are different.

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2517 posts

Yes, the American program is House Hunters International and it is indeed the one with casting director in the credits.

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2643 posts

My cousin and her husband were on House Hunters. They are not actors. They bought the building, which they said they were buying on the show.

This discussion of loving and hating Bill Bryson is funny. I relate to this:

I've enjoyed all of Bill Bryson's books. I don't mind grumpy curmudgeons.

I listen to books to fall asleep. I had to stop listening to Bill Bryson because he made me laugh too often. Laughing wakes me up. I am a curmudgeon apparently.

As far as ETTC, I think there are many lovely country places in England, but as someone mentioned above, it might all depend on perspective. As far as I'm concerned, the 45 minutes between Leeds airport...once outside Leeds and Grassington, does not have one single ugly site. I grew up in the country and happily live in the city...about to move back to a compromise...which surprises the heck out of me. Anyway, there is nothing pretty, useful or environmentally friendly about a house on every 2 acres...for miles, which is what exists around here. So the fact that in the UK one can live on the edge of vast swaths of fields/forests, but be close to a city is fascinating to me. At least until I think about the reason there are those large swaths of land and who owns much of it, and then one has to bounce back and forth as to what is wrong with both systems. LOL

Posted by
3564 posts

Nigel, a Google search of hosts of ETTC identifies them as TV hosts often of other shows or worked in PR, or such. I like Jules with his down to earth manner and archeology and history background. I don't look at the credits but I do wait long enough to hear if they update us on whether the couple got the/a house or not.
I also watch it on YouTube as I don't have TV, and can watch episodes from current or last season. A bit of a change in presentation style during covid filming.

Posted by
37 posts

I'm enjoying this thread. I "discovered" Bryson after I walked into a favorite bookstore one day as he was talking about his new book, "Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way." (An interesting read, BTW, not at all plodding.) This was 1990; in the big scheme of things, he was an obscure college instructor who relatively few people had ever heard of, including me. I missed his intro, so as he spoke I kept getting distracted by his accent: American-no-British-no-American-no-British-no-American. I love the variety of regional accents (sadly disappearing in the U.S.) and usages by English speakers (adding "mardy bugger" to my collection). I bought the book, and have read others of his. In the years since he's achieved author fame, some of his writings have become too smug for my liking. Certainly, plenty of people disagree with me.

One of the first VHS tapes (remember those?) I ever bought was "84 Charing Cross Road." A beautiful, small film, faithful to the book of letters and tenderly made by people who knew a thing or two about book lovers. I smell delicious used bookstore smells every time I watch it. What a letdown to discover, on my first visit to Charing Cross Road, that here is no "84" Charing Cross. I knew the bookstore was gone, but I wanted to see the place where it had been (youthful exuberance). No number 84. Poof! there went one fantasy.

ETTC is, as another poster wrote, real estate porn. I watch it because it takes me away from the ugly parts of living in a big city--crime, poverty, traffic, noise--and sad pandemic news. I understand that it's just entertainment, but I enjoy looking at "chocolate box" thatched roof houses with bucolic vistas on nearly traffic-free narrow roads, without thinking about the practicality of their expensive maintenance. "Character" notwithstanding, I do wonder why more house hunters aren't turned off by the prospect of buying a property with three or four bedrooms on one floor that is serviced by only one small bathroom, sometimes located downstairs. BTW, most of the ETTC shows that are broadcast here are from 2014-2017. I noticed that at some point, presenters stopped saying whether or not house hunters actually bought one of the properties they saw. I have assumed the reason is that that too many either chose not to buy or couldn't gin up the financing. No matter, I'm just along for the ride.

Posted by
2517 posts

"My cousin and her husband were on House Hunters. They are not actors. They bought the building, which they said they were buying on the show."

My husband and I had come to the conclusion that some (half?) of the House Hunter shows are about people who really are looking for a house and WILL buy, and some of the shows are done with actors playing the parts of the buyers looking at houses or beach cottages.
How to tell which is which? The ones that seem a little phony all have the "casting director" in the credits.

Bill Bryson made me laugh too!

Posted by
564 posts

I don't watch Escape to the country, but there is another programme called Escape to the sun which is about Brits looking either to move overseas or buy a holiday home. My niece was on that and bought a small place on Crete which is now used by her and other members of the family. That episode was certainly genuine.

Another U.K. property programme is Grand Designs, where a couple (usually) build an imaginitively designed property. It often seems to follow the same theme, in that at some stage they run out of money, or experience some disaster, but usually come through and end up with a stunning and idiosyncratic property. I do remember a large house in Northern Ireland with 5 bedrooms but only 1 bathroom, and the owner's attempt at an explanation.

Regarding finding attractive parts of Britain without crowds, this is all going to depend on when and where you choose to go. Some people want to see the places listed in the guide books, and which their friends may have visited. If you follow your nose, and take a few chances, you will find places that are just as attractive and people who are happy to talk to you. People on here who visit the Cotswolds never go to Minchinhampton, or even Malmesbury. Avoid Blenheim and Hampton Court and visit some of the places open just a few days a year under Historic Houses. You will see some extraordinary places, and hear some amazing stories from the owners, many of whom are struggling to afford to maintain them. Your memories will be much more vivid.

Posted by
3564 posts

When I travel, I consider birds, gardens (and to a lesser degree - quilts, or historical clothing). So I search out a country's birding society/ies (thanks ianandjulie for the RSPB recommendation), and any garden societies (or lists for quilt shows or museums with extensive clothing collections). Thanks for the Historic Homes recommendation, Bob. Despite Bryson's hate rant about the National Trust, I would be joining and widely researching their offerings. Even in London these would be my first 'go to' research sites for deciding an itinerary for a trip, or a day. I find these get me to some other areas or a few blocks off the tourist path.

I don't hire a lot of guides, but I do invest in a good guided bird day at least once on a trip. This gives an entirely different perspective on a location, with a relaxed day with a local with a common interest. Sort of like ETTCs activity organized for the home hunters. It also helps with getting out of a city when self-driving is not an option.
I often recommend that people think about their 'at home' hobbies and consider investing at least part of a day looking for something similar when away. It is difficult when you only have a short vacation period, but it does lead to a different perspective.

Posted by
9070 posts

The "buyers/renters" on House Hunters are real. In most cases, they have alread selected the home they want before filming begins. Not all the real estate "experts" are real.

Reality shows like House Hunters have "casting directors." Casting directors don't just book actors. Their job may be to find people to be on the show. Or they may be there to hire actors for certain jobs.

If a casting director helped to hire the host of the program, whether on air or off, they will get a credit in every episode.

Posted by
693 posts

Been to a couple of busy US national parks where usuage is 4/5 million a year I think the Peak District gets about 15 million .

You won't get solitude but outside of the hotspots ,usually town/ villages it's not overrun.
16 million live within an hours drive of it's border.

There's a very strict Green Belt policy in the UK to stop urban spread.

Us lucky Steel City types have 1/3 of our city within the Peak District.

Mr Bryson I believe made the entirely sensible decision to come live in the Broad Acres, so I find he's tuned into the way of life here and some typical northern ways.

My folks live in an outdoorsy peak district village for last 30 years and it's still beautiful

Posted by
4507 posts

My aunt and uncle's place in Devon was featured in an ETTC some years ago; they were actually already part-way through the sales process to someone else (pre contract exchange) when it was made but I don't think that was the case when they were initially approached. They certainly didn't initiate the contact.

For me Bryson hasn't aged well, taking a trip from being a wry commentator to a sour moaner, but others might see him differently.

Posted by
2517 posts

Frank II, thanks for your explanation. That all makes perfect sense.

Posted by
49 posts

I love this thread. I'm probably in the 'neither' camp of which portrays the real England.

I've discovered Escape to the Country a few months ago on a free low rent over the air channel that runs cooking, home improvement and lifestyle shows. Escape to the Country for me depends on how much I connect with the folks house hunting and the area they are interested in. The episodes are 2015 vintage.

Aside from Tom Selleck commercials selling reverse mortgages at every commercial break, the most entertaining for me are the village montages of where the homes they are visiting and the crafts, sports or other activities are probably the most entertaining for me.

We've been to England a half dozen times or so, and almost always end up in a self catering cottage in a village. I haven't found a place in the US that has the feel of theses small villages. My experience has been mostly Oxfordshire in the Banbury area and once in Shropshire. The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society is one of my favorite albums. Coincidence?

I have read a number of Bill Bryson books where I laughed till I cried (once per book usually), I didn't really catch his pessimism about the rural life.