submit to reddit
Tags: Travel Books England Europe

GoNOMAD Book Excerpt:

Bollocks To Alton Towers:
Uncommonly British Days Out

By Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Alex Morris and Joel Morris

Interested in getting a true taste of British culture? Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Alex Morris and Joel Morris, authors of the guidebook, Bollocks To Alton Towers-Uncommonly British Days Out, offer a list of places to visit that genuinely portray Britain .  

I set out to find a short excerpt from the book, but I found myself so engaged as the authors described must-see British destinations in such a witty and humorous manner that they make readers want to jump on a plane and check them out. This book is not only a perfect travel guide, but a very enjoyable read.

British Lawnmower Museum

The British Lawnmower Museum in Southport is one of the purest, most British attractions in this book. As the curator will inform you, the lawnmower is a Great British Object.

Whenever the world becomes too much to take, whenever things seem difficult, annoying or confusing, millions of Britons take solace in sheds and garages, knowing that there is something mechanical in there, lying in bits, and it’s not going to ask them any tricky questions.

Whether it’s rebuilding old steam engines or tinkering with motorbike gearboxes, there’s nothing Homo Britannicus likes more than hiding behind a big pile of machine parts. We are a proud nation of enthusiast engineers, who regularly escape visits by unwanted in-laws to sulk at a workbench quietly inventing the computer, or designing a Mars probe or, here at the literal cutting edge of man-in-shed achievement, restoring one of the planet’s biggest collections of vintage lawnmowers.

The British Lawnmower Museum lawnmowerworld.co.uk in Southport is one of the purest, most British attractions in this book. As the curator will inform you, the lawnmower is a Great British Object. Other nations, with less luxuriant grass and less exacting standards of mowing, may claim to use lawnmowers, but look closely in their fiendish foreign sheds and chances are you’ll find a ‘grass cutter’ (a name to be spat, not savored). With their rotating horizontal blades and crude slashing action, these upstart machines flail away at the lawn like a dervish, leaving split ends that would cause a cricket grounds-man to mumble disagreeably and pull his cap down….

At first, you may be a little bemused. We are raised to understand the thrill of an aircraft hangar full of old Spitfires, or a restores locomotive, but you may not know how to react to a building full of old lawnmowers. The correct answer is with awe…

The British Lawnmower Museum is one of the nation’s great treasures. We British are rightly proud of our lawns, which give our green and pleasant land a lot of its green-and-pleasant-ness. The lawnmower, so redolent of Sunday morning pottering in the garden and glorious sixes scored over baize-smooth cricket pitches, is one of the things that make us who we are.

The preservation of our heritage depends on enthusiasts choosing to care for the corners of history that might otherwise be ignored. There’s more obvious glamour in old cars or motorbikes or steam trains, but that means there are plenty of people prepared to save them from the scrapheap. The team here have shunned the comparative limelight in order to shower their love on an engineering underdog, and there’s nothing more British than that.

 Bekonscot-“Other model villages around the country struggle to attract tourists…. Bekonscot is not only the first but the finest such folly. It deserves to be celebrated as a stubbornly nostalgic monument to Britain’s rose-tinted relationship with its own past.”

The Call of Beckonscot

Just over three-quarters of a century ago, a Bunckinghamshire accountant was standing in his garden, staring at the huge ugly mound of earth he’s made while digging a pond, and wondering what to do with all that soil before his wife saw it. Indoors, his wife was just about to pop out and have a word about how his model-making obsession was cluttering up their smart Beaconsfield home.

With admirable spouse-placating skills, Roland Callingham killed two model birds with one model stone by landscaping the earth around his pond and sticking his collection of little buildings on top. A friend, James Shilcock, impressed by what he saw, donated a model railway to weave through the model houses. Callingham, from Beaconsfield, and Shilcock from Ascot, christened their new project Bekonscot…

The village was a huge hit, and even won royal approval from Queen Mary, who became a regular visitor. You can see why she liked it. A stroll round this glorious little corner of Little England is like munching on a cream-smothered slice of pre-war home counties flavored cake. This is the same version of England that, although it never really existed, haunts the dreams of Conservative politicians and local newspaper letters page correspondents—a vision of a nation before some unspecified fall from grace, before the traffic wardens, the media studies lecturers, the new age travelers and the lesbians took over…

Wandering around you’ll see a tiny blacksmith shoeing a tiny horse belonging to a tiny traveling tinker. You can’t move without tripping over a shin-high thatched cottage or a pint-sized gymkhana. Time stands absolutely still in every sense, to the extent that the church choir stubbornly continue bellowing out Christmas carols even though it’s the middle of July. If this all sounds a touch Enid Blytonesque then it’s no coincidence. The undisputed mistress of picnic descriptions lived just down the road for some thirty years and even wrote The Enchanted Village, a short story about Bekonscot, because she loved it so terribly much.

For understandable reasons of space, the railway is at 1:32 scale-three times smaller than the rest of Bekonscot—meaning all sorts of humane transporting regulations would be infringed should any of the six-inch-high commuters attempt to squash themselves into the tiny carriages. Instead, they wait patiently on the many platforms, hoping one day that the rail companies will send some bigger rolling stock.

Other model villages around the country struggle to attract tourists and unhappily they appear to be a dying breed. Southport, part of the Dobbins Brothers model village empire (along with those at Great Yarmouth and Babbacombe) was sold in 1979 and eventually demolished—ironically by rather small bulldozers—to make way for a typically monstrous supermarket. Bekonscot is not only the first but the finest such folly. It deserves to be celebrated as a stubbornly nostalgic monument to Britain’s rose tinted relationship with its own past.

Hamilton Toy Collection

The Hamilton family should, of course, be offered immunity from any charges of wallowing in Britain’s cultural history. Not dour collectors or traders in false memories, but real enthusiasts, they have built a very big toy cupboard for all of us.

It’s like finding out that Father Christmas doesn’t really exist. Waking up on the morning of your tenth birthday expecting a Batman costume only to discover that your parents have chosen to give you a book token and a sensible pair of bicycle clips instead. Toys, they insist are for kids, and it’s time for you to start growing up. This is humbug, pure and simple. Just ask the Hamiltons, the living embodiment of the old maxim that the family that plays together stays together.

Toy museums often have a slightly frosty presentation style: blank-faced display cases offering a handful of aged playthings alongside yellowing information cards. There’s a sense of repressed fun about them, of a jack-in-the-box screwed tightly shut. School parties wander around, unimpressed by dour-looking exhibits that once thrilled children when glimpsed in the frivolity pages of the 1845 equivalent of the Argos catalogue. If this was all that Victorian kids had to play with, no wonder they didn’t mind being sent up chimneys. It was probably the most fun they’d ever had.

Eschewing this tried and time-to-be-rested approach, the Hamilton Toy Collection sprawls energetically all over its current home, a converted Perthshire guesthouse, as if a toy box had just been upended in preparation for playtime. If there’s a square inch of display space left unused in any of the bustling rooms (which there isn’t) then the owners have got a willing Matchbox Volkswagen Beetle or a Fireman Smurf ready to fill it. At every turn something surprising yet comforting catches the eye, provoking an involuntary ‘I always wanted one of them! Or an ‘I had that!’…

The Hamiltons only managed to open a permanent home for the exhibition in 1995, when Philip’s retirement meant he no longer had to spend all day administering hospitals. Realizing that the museum’s visitors might not have quite the same taste in toys as they did, the Hamiltons grudgingly began to acquire items of which they weren’t so fond, concentrating particularly on more modern items dating from after their own childhoods.

Their haul is now representative of so many decades of British growing up that it seems worthy of national collection status. All of the displays are reorganized and revitalized during the closed season, the cabinets tipped out onto the carpet to be sifted through. It’s easy to picture the scene as Patsy sits on the floor, ministering to her eagle-eyed Action Men and button-eyes bears, trying her best not to play with them…

The Hamilton Toy Collection helps to preserve our sense of nostalgia without taking it for granted. It isn’t accessed at the click of a mouse button; we actually have to travel in order to be rewarded by its contents. Despite spending a whole afternoon there, the mind predictably proves incapable of holding on to the fine details of everything it has just tried to take in. But that’s as it should be. Childhood memories require an occasional refresher course, not a televised twenty-four-hour drip feed of stand-up comedians pretending to remember how long it used to take to melt a Ninja Turtle figure in mum’s wok.

The Hamilton family should, of course, be offered immunity from any charges of wallowing in Britain’s cultural history. Not dour collectors or traders in false memories, but real enthusiasts, they have built a very big toy cupboard for all of us. They have surrounded themselves with their (and our) playful past for common good. And then they have poured it all over their house. This is the loft of dreams. Go and have a poke around.

Buy This Book From Amazon

Bollocks to Alton Towers: Uncommonly British Days Out

 

England

Gloucestershire, England By Sam Jones The full moon is beginning to fade as day starts to dawn
. England: My search for Moushill Mead By Janis Turk Jules wrote the number 7 with a line
the footsteps of EnglandAs most profound novelists. LOVE ENGLAND? Get our new England Plane
St Aldates Tavern in Oxford, England. Photo: Great Escapes Ltd. Oxford: Top Pub Picks in the City
A Native ponies roam freely on Dartmoor Dartmoor, England: Preserving an Ancient
Boogie woogie piano man jamming in the center of York, England. Photos by Max Hartshorne
. LOVE ENGLAND? Get our new England Plane Reader for your Kindle or Nook with dozens of articles
Love in Manchester, England. Photos by Max Hartshorne. Northern EnglandAs Capital
of England. You know, that part outside London that other English people live
, England: Walking With a Vengeance By Mirdula Dwivedi I went to Oxford in June 2008 for work
and is what brings history to life and lets the imagination run riot. LOVE ENGLAND? Get our
The view from Lincoln Cathedral Lincolnshire, England: Two Thousand Years of History
Hartshorne The North of England: Where The British Go on Holiday By Max Hartshorne GoNOMAD
The origins of Stonehenge are among many unexplained mysteries in Wiltshire, a county in England
A A book can be a work of art. England by the Book: A Guide to the Best Bookstores


 
 


Subscribe to GoNOMAD's monthly enewsletter for all of our new travel articlesGet our free monthly travel newsletter
and help support sustainable and responsible tourism.
No spam, no selling
your email, we promise!

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter!

csa-03 300x250-04

Call Now: 855-605-3846new-300x250