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The great outdoors

This is a transcript of episode 7 of our podcast series A History of England in 100 Places. Join Emma Barnett and category judge Dr Bettany Hughes as we continue our journey through the history of travel and tourism in England.

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Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast, sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

Emma Barnett:
Welcome to Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, I’m Emma Barnett and in this series we’ll be exploring the amazing places that have helped to make England the country it is today. You’ve been nominating the places you think should on this list and today we’ll explore two more locations from our Travel & Tourism top ten, as selected by the expert judge of this category historian and author Dr Bettany Hughes. There’s still time to get your nominations in for our remaining categories, from Music & Literature, to Industry, Trade & Commerce. So go to HistoricEngland.org.uk/100Places to nominate the places you think should be on the list. Our panel of expert judges including Bettany Hughes, George Clarke, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Monica Ali are revealing the locations they’ve selected from your nominations to tell the story of England and in these programmes we’re finding out why. Last episode we heard about some of the ideas that inspired England’s greatest journeys. And today we’ll be looking at how travel across the country became less of a necessity and more of a pleasure. Joining me in the studio today is our category judge historian, author and broadcaster Dr Bettany Hughes, Bettany hello.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Hello!

Emma Barnett:
Also here to steer us through the story of England is Dr Su Barton, research fellow at De Montfort University Leicester.

Dr Su Barton:
Hello!

Emma Barnett:
So far we’ve covered Roman roads, age-old pubs and incredible journeys and quite a lot of fertility! What's next Bettany?

Dr Bettany Hughes:
No fertility in this I don't think! We’re heading to Cumbria and to Helvellyn. So we’re going into the great outdoors and I would like thank all those people who nominated this beautiful, beautiful spot in the Lake District. I think that we sort of know that the Lake District is special and was special, particularly, in the nineteenth century but it has such an important place in our history because it inspired so much literature and so many big, bold ideas, and it really has to be one of the most stunning places on Earth. So Helvellyn definitely had to be in there.

Emma Barnett:
Su, putting a mountain in there, putting a natural spot, were you surprised by that?

Dr Su Barton:
Not really. I think that it’s important if we’re talking about a history of travel and tourism that we include places like Helvellyn, because Helvellyn became famous around Britain through the writings of travellers that were travelling to places just to see what they were like. The length of time it would take people to travel, it meant that some places were very, very remote. Until the early nineteenth century or late eighteenth century hills and mountains like Helvellyn were seen as very dark, foreboding, frightening and places of fear. With the Romantic movement of around that time, people’s outlook changed towards these spots so instead of it being a place to be dreaded it became somewhere that was peaceful that embodied nature and had a spiritual content, and was somewhere to visit to relax and just to enjoy the spiritual aspects of nature and the beautiful surroundings.

Emma Barnett:
Also it's 950 metres high, the third highest peak in England: a real natural wonder, Bettany.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
It is. It has been described as having this savage beauty and I think it does. If you go there now it physically and metaphorically takes your breath away. I do love what’s happening to the Lake District at the moment as well. That it’s reviving as an extraordinary place to visit, the fact that tourists are welcome there with open arms now. And they’re sort of going back to the earth - it’s become a very foodie place with lots of natural produce. Children are encouraged be out on those lakes and to learn how to sail themselves. It seems to be kind of being very true to itself.

Emma Barnett:
And the idea of actually walking as tourism - you know we didn’t necessarily have all the kit back then, did we? We're talking about walking boots and waterproofs. This was becoming a proper pursuit.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
It was! Hill walking became 'a thing'. And what was great about it was it was thought to be suitable for women as well as for men. I mean that was incredibly liberating so women could join, not necessarily with their husbands, they didn't necessarily have to have chaperones. So they could take these extraordinary walks and think as they went. So again we sort of just imagine somehow that always happened but absolutely, as you say, it was really at the beginning of the nineteenth century that this takes off as a phenomenon.

Dr Su Barton:
And later in the nineteenth century it also had an important role to play in the history of women’s dress because to do the hiking you would need comfortable clothes. So women were able to go out perhaps, maybe secretly, to take their skirts off and walk around in knickerbockers or trousers.

Emma Barnett:

We’ve not done fertility but we’re doing women’s underwear now!

Dr Su Barton:
But if they were being photographed they’d probably put their skirt back on and also if they were in a village or company.

Emma Barnett:
William Wordsworth wrote his guide to the lakes in 1810. Alfred Wainwright, just to bring him in for a moment, wrote his guide to the Lakeland fells in the 1950s and 60s. This was incredibly influential, inspiring a real love for the area and also boosting that tourism of the area. We’ll continue talking about the popularity of outdoor pursuits in a moment but first let’s join one of Helvellyn’s rangers for a walk.

Suzy Hankin:
My name is Suzy Hankin, I’m an area ranger for the Lake District National Park. We look after the national park, we look after the rights of way and make sure that we’re preserving and protecting this landscape for future generations. Really fortunate today, we’ve got some fantastic blue sky, it's quite mild for the autumn in the Lake District. But, obviously, Helvellyn can be quite challenging in wet or windy weather. Helvellyn itself actually keeps snow a lot longer than most of the other mountains in the Lake District. You get a real mix of people who come up to Helvellyn. I think lots of people hear about Helvellyn and want to come and see it for themselves. So we get your average walker, a real mix from families to individuals going up there. In the winter, we’ll get avid mountaineers who are really coming to challenge themselves against the ridges and you'll also get people coming up with their skis to try out the ski tow on Raise (a fell next to Helvellyn). It's a fantastic adventure playground for all sorts of people. You see so many people coming up Helvellyn. (To a walker): "Morning!"

Voice of male walker:
"We’re going climbing - just behind us. It’s great!"

Suzy Hankin:
Helvellyn to me is a real mixture of the place where I work but also where I come and enjoy myself. So you know I’ve got really fond memories growing up here, coming out in my teenage years and enjoying it for myself. And then also going out here doing some amazing things, being able to ski when the weather's right or coming up when the mist is swirling round the top. And you can see some stunning distances towards Scotland and Wales. I think it has everything in quite a neat package and it's also quite accessible I think. Some of the others, like Sca Fell for example is a bit harder to get to so I think Helvellyn offers a relatively easy way in to one of the most classic English landscapes.

So I’m climbing up these rocks here. The scenery is really opening up. We’re heading towards Red Tarn, a fantastic glacial tarn. And then just above there we’ve got the two ridges: Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. So these edges are narrow, rocky paths which people have to take care on when you go up there. There have been, unfortunately, fatalities on these ridges in the past so it's very much just about making sure you’re equipped for the mountain.

So we’re just walking past one of the many waterfalls as you walk up the path towards Helvellyn. There are some fantastic pools where people can go swimming in, in the summer. So yes it's one of the reasons so many people come and visit this area. (To another walker): "Hiya!" We’ve seen lots of people out walking the fells today, which is fantastic. But obviously, with that, brings challenges for us looking after the landscape, so managing the erosion from the sheer number of people that walk on the fells - and that's to ensure that this landscape, you know, looks the way it does now for future generations. It's fantastic that we see people out in the landscape enjoying the national park. You know, that’s what it’s all about, getting people out there and seeing this beautiful landscape. It obviously brings benefits as well for the local communities - Glenridding and other villages really benefit from that tourism and the income that it generates for people, whether that’s people staying here or going to the pub after a nice walk. So it obviously has fantastic benefits for the local area. Helvellyn, as part of the Lake District National Park, is an area which people have loved for generations I think. Wordsworth and Coleridge identified the landscape as being a national park in itself, something that the whole of the nation should appreciate. So eventually, in 1951, the Lake District became a national park and it's due to the fact that people admire and find inspiration from this landscape.

Emma Barnett:
Su, let’s talk about this attitude that used to be: "Why walk if you don’t have to?" But that changed thanks, in a large part, to the Romantic poets, the likes of William Wordsworth who was actually born and lived in the Lake District, didn't he, until his death.

Dr Su Barton:
I think it’s important because it gave people a freedom and it was something that anyone could do. You didn’t have to be wealthy to be able to do it. And for people that were wealthy and were driven everywhere it was a big change as well. So it was something that could appeal to all classes if that was something that they wanted to do.

Emma Barnett:
I’ve just never even thought about the fact that you’d have to convince people to walk, Bettany Hughes let me bring you back in here. The Romantics extolled the spiritual virtues of 'wandering alone, lonely as a cloud,' as William Wordsworth wrote.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Well I think life was really tough then, you know. And physically, incredibly demanding, exhausting. Many people, actually of all classes, were under-nourished - we forget that. But I think they had the right idea that almost - that was the situation so you had to embrace it and try to make something out of that physical activity. And I’m always struck by - I mean maybe this is just because of who they were and what was already in their heads but - the exquisite, liberating ideas that came out of the minds of people like Wordsworth and Coleridge. There's a... I mean slightly misquoting him but I think Wordsworth says in one of his poems that 'humanity has many faces but we always have to remember we share one human heart'. And, you know, what a remarkable thought to have in that beautiful landscape!

Emma Barnett:
We could do with thinking about that a bit more maybe at the moment! There's an interesting story or myth about Charles Gough, a Romantic artist who went there walking alone between Helvellyn and Grasmere one afternoon in 1805. He had a fatal fall and yet his body wasn’t found for months.

Dr Su Barton:
Oh, the dog!

Emma Barnett:

Yes well let me tell you. Eventually, a shepherd came across this and there was nothing but a skeleton left, which was watched over by his faithful spaniel, Foxy. Not only does this story demonstrate how dangerous early hill-walking was, particularly along Striding Edge as it's called. It also captured the hearts and minds of the Romantic poets, who were touched by the loyalty of the dog. They took it as a special sign of humankind’s connection to nature. Wordsworth’s poem, Fidelity, tells this story in high-blown terms. Let’s here an extract:

Actor reading an extract from the poem, Fidelity, by William Wordsworth:

...proof was plain that, since the day
On which the traveller thus had died,
The dog had watched about the spot
Or by his master's side:
How nourished here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime,
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate.
 
Emma Barnett:
On the other hand, Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Helvellyn, paints a dramatic picture of the unconquered landscape:

Actor reading an extract from the poem, Helvellyn, by Sir Walter Scott:
Dark green was that spot 'mid the brown mountain heather
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay,
Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather
Till the mountain-winds wasted the tenantless clay.
Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended
For, faithful in death, his mute favourite attended,
The much-loved remains of her master defended,
And chased the hill-fox and the raven away.

Emma Barnett:
So there we have it, two poetic depictions that show just why this mountain has always held a special allure for walkers, climbers and lovers of the outdoors. Bettany, the Lake District was recently designated a World Heritage Site. What do you think that signifies? Is it a huge moment, do you think?

Dr Bettany Hughes:
It is a huge moment. I think that we appreciate what’s on our doorstep. It allows the 'staycation' to happen with pride rather than thinking we've got to flee this island and get to somewhere better. We’ve got somewhere better right at our heart!

Emma Barnett:

In the English landscape?

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Yes!

Emma Barnett:
Let’s hear about your seventh location, Bettany. You’ve picked... where? Tell me! Along the Norfolk coast, come on.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Ha ha! Well is this the sublime to the ridiculous? I don’t know. This is Caister Camp. So this is a kind of precursor of Butlin’s and Pontin’s. It was a kind of leisure holiday camp, established very early though, in 1906 by somebody called John Fletcher Dodd who was a very idealistic grocer - a teetotal grocer. And he thought that people would just have a better time in their life if they had a moment when they could get together and enjoy themselves. But it was, as I said, there was not much letting your hair down though. We’ve got a fantastic picture of some of the attendees of the camp in front of us, 'Caister Camp' written on the roof with people cycling very sedately on these giant adult-sized tricycles, which is all quite funny.

But I kind of love the fact that he had this idea. He was a founder of the Independent Labour Party. He understood that we're social beings, that we need to get together to fulfil ourselves and he did it in the most kind of rigorous and healthy way. Interestingly, drink was allowed later on and then Butlin’s and Pontin’s then became incredibly important. But it sort of reminds us, someone said rather cleverly that we shouldn’t be called 'homo sapiens', we should be called 'homo ludens' - that what we like to do is get together to play. So it was sort of institutionalising the possibility of play, again, for people who did not have a lot spare change in their pockets.

Emma Barnett:
It was established in 1906, 30 years before Billy Butlin founded his first camp in Skegness. What do you make of this Su? What’s special about it?

Dr Su Barton:
I think it shows us that the history of holidays is not necessarily about great entrepreneurs that come up with massive business ideas but it’s about the way people can live and work together. The idea of the holiday camps was initially something that charities did to help poor people get away. And they were usually religious or just aimed at children of the poor so that they could get away from some of the industrial cities. What was special about Dodd’s camp was it was the first one for families not just particular groups, and it wasn’t religious. Dodd’s was a member of the Clarion Cycling Club - again a socialist organisation. And, in 1906, his first holiday there was with ten friends who camped on the seafront, and then he made that a regular thing until there were eventually about 1,000 people staying. And they lived communally, they shared the tasks. It wasn’t a socialist utopia because there was still a gender division of labour, because the women would do the cooking whereas the men might be digging up some of the vegetables on the plot that grew food for the camp. They made their own entertainment. People would take musical instruments and even play on the way down there on the train with an accordion or something. As places like Butlin’s came along and were able to offer perhaps a more expensive experience in a holiday camp and a much more regimented kind of holiday. The Caister Camp was able to say in their advertisements: "Everything is provided, from the energetic round of sport to a quiet, cosy armchair and a favourite book. You can do just as you please, there’s no regimentation at Caister." So he's contrasting it there to the perceived regimentation and the tannoy system telling people what time to get up, the games that people were expected to join in at Butlin’s, and what Butlin’s became famous for.

Emma Barnett:
Organised fun... The 50s and 60s - a golden era really, for holiday camps.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
It was! I always wonder whether it was almost in spirit a bit more like a kibbutz originally, actually. Isn’t it lovely the thought of those people just sitting there, as you say: "My goodness" (in your life you didn’t have time to sit and read a book in an armchair) and somebody saying: “Go on, do it, you deserve it, it's great!” It's genuinely liberating.

Emma Barnett:

It sounds like you’re bettering yourself.

Dr Su Barton:
And we’re talking as if it's something old-fashioned. But for a lot of people staying in caravan or camping is still a good alternative to perhaps some of the more commercial holidays. And in that section of the east coast there are lots of holiday camps, even now.

Emma Barnett:

And some of that camaraderie as well. Well that is it for this episode. Next time we'll reveal our final three Travel & Tourism locations, as nominated by you and selected by our guest judge: historian Dr Bettany Hughes. Thank you very much Bettany, today for that and that insight. Thank you very much to you Dr Su Barton for helping us understand why these places are so irreplaceable to English history. If you think something's missing from our list head online and check out the categories, you can still make nominations. You can help us tell the story of England. Please make sure you rate, review and subscribe to this podcast too so you don’t miss out on any episode and join the conversation please by using the hashtag #100Places.

Voiceover:
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