Foreign Territory?

My pictures show Castle Combe and Torbay, and will be less familiar to Londoners than Americans. Let me explain.

I make a big deal out of being a Londoner, but there are downsides – nobody in my family (that I’m still speaking to, after the revelations in ‘Paperboy’, anyway) lives in the countryside. My brother lives in a rural area but it’s only a short distance from big towns. London is often praised by overseas visitors for having ‘soft light’, which means there’s none of the intensity you find in France, Spain or Italy. We have the light of Poland, Ireland and Germany, and in winter everything’s grey and brown.

London has a dustbin lid of grey cloud over it for nine months of the year. This dissipates at certain times to leave bright mornings and bright late afternoons – it would appear to be connected with the heat of the working day generated by so many people, and airplane vapour (we had a straight run of clear skies the whole time the volcanic ash grounded flights). But London has a unique, complex life that makes it a great location for fiction.

However, most Londoners I know are more familiar with continental Europe than their own country. My parents had never been to rural England until I took them when they were in their seventies. There’s a reason for this.
1. It’s awkward to travel to. A weekend in Cornwall takes much more organizing than a trip to France and takes at least six hours if you’re driving.
2. It’s expensive to reach. Train fares are insanely pricey, air travel almost as bad.
3. The weather is so unreliable that your dream of strolling through meadows is likely to become a mud-trudge through bitter pouring rain.
4. The cost of staying in hotels and eating out is much higher than in France or Spain.

Consequently, the above places are simply too much trouble to visit.
I set most of my novels in London, but I’ve realised that this can also hold back my writing as well as help it. Which is why my next book will have a surprising setting. A change, as they say, is as good as a rest.

3 comments on “Foreign Territory?”

  1. Alan Morgan says:


    I hitched all over the place from when I was 15 for about ten years – it was how I got about. Back then London was a bastard to get out of and a breeze to return to and every good spot across the country you’d have competition for rides (I’m in my 40s now to put into context). Mostly you took a ride to wherever that was in the general direction and so saw a lot of the country. I’d end up somewhere and think that since it was getting on and I knew somewhere thereabouts, there I would be till the morrow. A few times I hunted down the scruffy pub and found myself a floor or sofa. Oh, to be young.

    So I saw a lot of the country and now live in the Lakes – though want to return south. But you don’t see anyone hitching now and I’ve met people in London that have never left it other than to the airport.

    So I’m inspired and it probably won’t work but given the horrid cost of the train to London, I’ll actually hitch it next time. People can laugh and point, but I bet I won’t have to compete for rides.

  2. Mary says:

    I’m afraid Castle Combe is rather twee..mostly full of American visitors. It was used in a Poirot episode ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. The West Country is crowded with tourists, and as you say, expensive. It’s beautiful, but at a cost. I live in Yeovil, Somerset, and my rural peace is, at the moment, being drowned out by helicopters, from Westlands and RNAS Yeovilton. The Thames at Richmond looks good to me!

  3. Helen Martin says:

    So my feeling that it is easier to get from Glasgow to London or Edinburgh to Glasgow than to go from anywhere to Binghampton-on-Frith for example is not my imagination. I wanted to see the huge wheel that lifts boats from the upper to the lower canal near Edinburgh and was told that you need to take a taxi from Edinburgh if you aren’t driving. Phooey.

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