Travelling close to home – why nearer can be better

Pennine Way

I can’t help but feel that there’s something unadventurous about taking a trip in our own country. People speaking the same language, familiar food and even the reassuringly boring shops when we need to pick up something we’ve inevitably forgotten to pack.

And yet there are few places that I look forward to visiting as much as I do in taking a trip in the UK. On our recent trip to the north-east of England we took the chance to revisit some of our favourite haunts from our time living in the region over 10 years ago. We took a detour to do one of my favourite walks in Upper Teesdale and it was great to see those big brooding hills after all this time living in the south where it’s hard to find anything steeper than what is a gentle slope in comparison to the northern landscape.

Most special of all was the chance to wander around the streets of our old home city of Durham, catch up with some of our old neighbours who we’d lost touch with and even peer over the fence into the garden I had spent so long digging up when we’d bought our house as a new-build, way back in 1997.

The familiarity of a domestic trip is a comforting factor, although whether that’s a positive or negative thing depends on your perspective. While a trip in England is hardly trail-blazing and despite the comfort of not leaving the country, or perhaps because of it, I do find a chance to experience things quite differently compared to a big foreign trip. And travelling close to home brings a certain freedom. We pack the car full of our ‘stuff’ – no weight restrictions, no worries about what fits into which bag; the worst that can happen (and inevitably does) is that there will be two or three trips to unload the contents of the car into our B&B room.

High Force

But there’s something else too. There’s a deeper understanding not just of what we see, but of why and how things are as they are. If we stop on a old railway that’s now a footpath and I read the interpretative board, the stories make sense to me. I can understand how the old line used to link two important industrial towns, about the line closures ordered by Beeching and about the way in which local community action has helped create a nature trail. How can I understand the story behind this type of detail in Japan, or Brazil, or even France? It’s in Britain that I know about the politics, the history, the social context into which I can fit and make sense of what I see. It’s one thing to experience a place with your eyes and quite another to be able to understand the how and why.

Then there’s the satisfaction in sharing your own knowledge with visitors. At the different bed and breakfasts we visited on our trip we met visitors from across the UK, from the US and from around Europe. I’m forever grateful when local people we meet on our overseas travels go out of their way to take an interest in why we are visiting their home country and when they offer their advice on what to do and see (even if we don’t always follow their suggestions). Once in a while it’s good to play the role of local and to be able to share our experience of travelling around the UK with people who may be on their first visits.

There’ll always be a place for foreign travel, but I don’t think I will ever tire of the excitement of exploring our own back yard.

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Freelance travel writer

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