Having just returned from a wonderful twenty-four hours at Cliveden House in Berkshire, I was reminded why England remains to be such an incredibly popular tourist attraction. Other countries absolutely have their own unique selling points but England easily competes for the tourist trade despite our propensity for rain, unfriendly prices and bad traffic.
Cliveden House is just one of the hundreds of beautiful stately homes dotted around the country. Owned by the National Trust and leased out as a five star hotel and spa, it is possible to not only visit the grounds but also to stay there as we did this weekend. The National Trust owns over three hundred historic buildings open to the public. Of course there are also the ones not owned by the National Trust for example Longleat House and Woburn Abbey which both have their own safari parks plus eccentric, cultural history making them absolutely worthy of a visit.
A trip to the quaint village of Burford in Oxfordshire however reveals that not all beauty comes in large, grand packages. England is also renowned for the idyll of the Cotswolds cottages, the mystical Stonehenge, Beatrix Potter's picturesque Lake District and with some of the white sandy beaches in Cornwall and Wales (on a sunny day); there really is no need to go anywhere else.
Looking around the garden at Cliveden, I was stopping every time to smell the glorious rose blooms in their final flourish of summer. The English pride themselves, and rightly so, on their nine hundred varieties of fragrant David Austin's. A visit to Hampton Court a few years ago stands out in my mind for having one of the most abundant rose-gardens. It was there that I realised (to my absolute delight) not all roses smell the same! Each colour seemed to have its' own special fragrance.
Lets face it, the English do appreciate good food - as well as our rather delicious national dish of fish and chips served pretty much everywhere, there are currently twenty-six Michelin star restaurants in the UK. The Michelin starred Hand and Flowers in Marlow happens to be a good old traditional English pub, so they're not all posh frocks and tie affairs. We only have to notice the current obsession with cookery programmes on television to see that as a nation we love good food. English breakfasts cannot go without a mention, often dripping in oil and with suspicious looking bacon, but always good for a hangover and mostly very tasty.
We also appreciate a good bottle of something and although our climate prevents us from being famous for our vineyards, our traditional brew houses do very well and we are more than happy to import some delicious Chilean Pinot Noirs and Austrian Rieslings instead.
Our stately home stay this weekend was made all the more pleasant by the incredible politeness by everyone on duty. Not only were the staff kind, they gave the impression that it really was their pleasure to go out of their way for you. I've seen this many times before and it really is typical of the English. We recently stayed at the Half Moon Hotel in Sherborne, a place with very little luxury set above a pub lit by fruit machines. Despite appearances of this place, the staff was particularly efficient and polite to boot. This doesn't only apply to the English service industry, I think you will find that stopping people in the street, even in London, to ask for directions usually gets a friendly reaction, and often a far more helpful response than might be necessary. Even the British art of queuing holds its own attraction - echoing the tradition set from World War II, a result of waiting for rations in a polite and orderly manner.
Personally I am terrified of driving on the motorway, so getting to any of these wonderful places means being driven there by someone else or of course, taking the train. I know that the English train system is complained about a lot because of frequent delays - however I love it and I bet the tourists do as well.
Apart from being able to make a roaring trade from umbrellas, the benefit of having a lot of rain is that England has absolutely lush green, vibrant countryside. Each of the British seasons has its own unique signature beauty, autumn being my personal favourite, from September onwards we have conkers falling and the London parks are full of tourists photographing squirrels preparing for winter at this time.
Roasting chestnuts and cups of tea - quintessential British warmers as the days draw closer to Christmas, Sunday roasts, cricket, rowing and of course The Queen. There's steep competition with Japan, America and most of Europe but luckily England does pretty well at remaining an attractive tourist attraction and hopefully visitors to this little island think so too.