I have been posting articles and photo essays on my website for almost 10 years and observers may have noticed an absence of articles and images in regards to my home country, the UK.
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly I have never enjoyed the UK’s maritime and damp climate with so many grey and overcast days and prefer to spend most of my time in Thailand or South East Asia (winter), the mountains of Switzerland (summer) or in Canada. Our family is fortunate to have homes in Switzerland and Canada as well as the UK and I purchased a town house in Thailand 8 years ago. And, in normal times I still enjoy travelling so that does not leave me with much time for the UK. And I can manage our family company very easily wherever I am as most of the day to day work is undertaken by my assistant Linda.
And secondly I do not enjoy being in a nation that has chosen to turn its back on its neighbours by voting for Brexit and that is led by a leader whose relationship with the truth and honesty has always been and still is distant at best. Sadly in regard to politics, coronavirus, race and most matters of importance, the UK is increasingly divisive and I am quite happy to be away and no part of it.
However with two of our three children and our first grandchild now living in the UK, I can certainly see myself spending more time in the UK in coming years than I have in recent years and indeed that has already begun.
Other than two months in the UK over Christmas and the New Year I spent all of the period March 2020 to July 2021 in Thailand, before returning to the UK in late July. I had to quarantine at home for 10 days before being ‘free’ to travel after two negative Covid tests and I then spent a month enjoying Cambridge, the West Country and the Cotswolds before relocating to Switzerland. In October I again returned to the UK for 10 days as our daughter Sarah was visiting from Canada and we made very enjoyable visits to Wales and London.
I have always said that when the sun is shining the British countryside has a unique charm and I thoroughly enjoyed both revisiting some destinations that I had not seen for many years and also discovering some new destinations in Wales.
I hope the following images will convey both the pleasure I experienced on my return and perhaps also encourage you to visit some of the featured destinations.
Depending on your viewpoint The Newt is either a labour of love or an indulgence with no financial restrictions by one of the world’s most wealthy couples. Situated between Bruton and Wincanton in Somerset about 12 miles from our family home, what was perhaps best described as a secondary stately home and estate was purchased by the South Africans Koos Bekker and Karen Roos in 2013. Estimates of up to £100m/$130m have been spent on landscaping and extending the grounds, restoring buildings and building new structures. The Palladian House has been converted to one of Britain’s outstanding boutique hotels and the grounds now incorporate walled gardens, a Baroque style Maze, a Cyder Press and Bottling plant, a Mushroom house as well as a thatched Ice Cream Parlour and an outstanding restaurant using locally grown produce. Right down to the handles of the iron gates in the gardens, everything screams quality and no attention to detail has been spared. Visitors can either purchase an annual membership or an expensive day ticket for their visit, whilst visitors from London have the option of a chartered train, complementary wine, lunch and a guided tour of the grounds for upwards of £200/$270. I could not believe how expensive the entrance was when our son David purchased our tickets but after exploring and admiring just a fraction of the beautiful grounds and a sumptuous lunch, I left planning my next visit!
Stourhead House and Gardens
By contrast to The Newt, the National Trust owned Stourhead House, also located about 12 miles from our family home, has long been one of Britain’s most popular and visited historic houses. In the 1980s I took many groups of American students to visit the house with its impressive collection of paintings and furnishings and to explore the magnificent 18th century gardens adorned with temples and a collection of trees and plants from around the world. Even in the rain one cannot fail to be impressed by the vision of Henry Hoare, the original designer of the artificial lake and surrounding grounds.
The university city of Cambridge is little more than an hour from London by road or rail and the colleges of one of the world’s most famous universities display a wealth of stunning architecture. The colleges are all easily accessible and centrally located and whilst the Chapel of Kings College is perhaps the most famous attraction in Cambridge, there was no shortage of attractive and historic buildings to admire on every street along which we wandered. Together with our son David I made a delightful day visit from London and I found it difficult to believe it was really 50 years since my previous visit? Surely I must have made at least one visit in the interim?
I was surprised at how much pleasure I got from revisiting destinations in my home area that I had not seen in the last decade or so. The city of Bath is about an hour’s drive to the north of our family home and between 1980 and 1995 I must have made at least 100 visits there with American school groups, to show them the famous Roman Baths and to guide them around Britain’s best examples of Georgian architecture. I always used to say that if I had to reside in an urban environment in Britain then Bath would be my preferred location!
The Dorset Coastline
Our family home is located on the Somerset Dorset border and an hour’s drive to the south the splendid Dorset coastline is readily accessible and offers a wealth of spectacular coastal walks. Together with two longstanding friends (one of whom also lives in Thailand and the other has twice visited) we walked along the cliff tops to Dancing Ledge, an area where smugglers would often unload their contraband in bygone days.
The Cotswolds is the name for a region of England about 100 miles to the west of London close to the border with Wales. It can either be considered as a southern portion of the Midlands or the northern section of the West Country and is found to the north of Bath, the west of Oxford and to the south of Stratford upon Avon. It has officially been designated and given protection as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is characterised by picturesque historic villages and quaint cottages constructed in honey coloured stone and set amidst rolling hills and meadows. In truth it is not an area that I have been drawn to on more than a few occasions in the past, as I have found it a little bit too ‘twee’ (pretty) and ‘gentrified’ (manicured). In August our family wanted to rent a cottage or house in Scotland or the Lake District but, because of the pandemic, most ‘Brits’ were staying at home because of travel restrictions and accommodation options were few and far between and we ended up renting a house in the Cotswolds. The house was lovely and I was really impressed with everything we saw and everywhere we visited. So now I am a Cotswolds ‘convert’ and have already bought a new guidebook to plan our next visit.
After our stay in the Cotswolds, I made a half day visit to the nearby cathedral city of Gloucester, the most inland port to be found in Britain. There are 15 tall and imposing Victorian warehouses in the restored port area, which is a great place to soak up the atmosphere as one wanders amidst the historic buildings, whilst the magnificent cathedral dates from the 11th century and is famed for its stained glass windows and 15th century tower.
I returned to Britain in October, when our daughter Sarah and her partner James returned from Canada for three weeks to attend a friend’s wedding. We rented an eclectic converted chapel for 5 nights on the coast in North Wales and were joined by our other daughter Lisa and grandson Finley. David was working and Sharron was in Canada visiting her 98 year old mother for two months. I had visited North Wales in 1963 for a family holiday with my parents and I think the last time I visited the area was perhaps 1979! We all agreed that whilst many overseas visitors flock to Scotland when they visit Britain, North Wales offers very similar scenery with castles, mountains and a magnificent coastline and is far more accessible. I won’t be leaving it 50 years until my next visit!
I have never been a fan of London which straight away puts me at odds with Samuel Johnson, who many centuries ago wrote, ‘When a man is tired of London he is tired of life’. I think this perhaps dates from my university days, when at the end of a term I was glad to get away, but at the end of the vacation I always looked forward to returning. After 4 years at the University of London and then 6 months working as a teacher in London, I was happy to set off travelling and eventually relocated to Sydney, Australia. And ever since then I have preferred my city living to be in a warm environment with a blue sky ceiling!
When working as a Tour Operator back in the UK from 1980 to 2011, I arranged visits to London for literally hundreds of North American school groups and whilst I visited London on business, rarely did so for pleasure, much preferring to take our family to Paris which I have always considered cleaner and more attractive. Indeed in the 1990s and early 2000s I found myself visiting London Airport to fly out of the UK far more frequently than I ever went into central London!
However about 15 years ago, we decided it may make sense for our company to buy an apartment in London as several of our staff and tour guides frequently needed accommodation in the city. We also assumed at some point our children would live and work in London and with more free time, we would visit London more frequently for concerts and sporting events.
We bought a building in central London, finally secured planning permission to convert it to three apartments and a shop but a famous designer and neighbour made us a very generous offer we could not refuse so it was not until after we sold our company that our family finally bought an apartment in central London. We then found a larger more suitable apartment to use. We moved our belongings and prepared the original apartment for sale only to discover our modest apartment had almost doubled in value in just two years and by the time we sold it we had in fact upgraded to our much bigger three bedroom apartment for just a modest additional cost.
I am a great believer we all return to our roots eventually and soboth our London apartments were in Bloomsbury, no more than 5 minutes from where I studied for 4 years at University College London and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. So now when I am in London, I am in an area where I lived and studied over 50 years ago – indeed my friend and classmate Miss Chan from Kuala Lumpur lived in the apartment building next door on Woburn Place! (You can read about Miss Chan here)
I am still not a big fan of London and much prefer to spend my time in the Swiss Alps or on Thai beaches, but it is great to have a base our whole family can use when any of us are in London. I think I have not spent more than 35 nights in our apartment since we bought it 6 years ago and, when we continued to London after our stay in North Wales, it was my first visit to London and our apartment since February 2020, as the pandemic had largely restricted me to Thailand for the intervening period.
I have to say the 2012 Olympics were a great boost to London (just as the Olympics were to Barcelona and Sydney – but not Athens!) and made it a more dynamic and cleaner city. I also think there is probably no better city for English speaking visitors, which is why so many Canadians, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Indians and Americans come to London. They have no language barriers and as a result can immediately immerse themselves in a ‘foreign’ city.
London will almost certainly suffer commercially as a result of Brexit (Londoners of course voted to remain in the EU by a large majority) but I am sure will continue to attract visitors from around the world, as there is so much to see and do in what is indisputably one of the world’s great cities, whether I like it or not. And as for me, I am compiling a list of Museums, Galleries, Attractions, Walks and Day Trips that I will do on what I am sure will be an increasing number of visits in the future.
With the exception of Sharron in Canada, our family was all in London and we were happy to explore like other tourists and visitors.
© Michael Bromfield