A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the area north-west of London that includes the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire & Berkshire.
A pleasant drive through the Thames Valley along the A4128 brings you to Great Missenden, the home village of Roald Dahl.
Dahl (1916-90) was one of the world’s bestselling fiction authors, with sales of 250 million. He wrote 48 books including 20 for children, and a series of adult thrillers: Tales of the Unexpected.
Born in Cardiff to Norwegian parents, he was named after the explorer Roald Amundsen. As a young man looking for adventure, he joined the RAF as a fighter ace. However, a serious head injury after a crash 1940 made him change tack. He became a military attaché in Washington. Invited to White House to meet the Roosevelts, he became good friends with the US president.
His first book, The Gremlins, was published in 1943. It was all about the mischievous mythical creatures that RAF pilots blamed for all problems. Walt Disney met Dahl and offered to make it into a movie. In the 1950s, Dahl met James Bond writer Ian Fleming in New York. Dahl late wrote the screenplay for You Only Live Twice. Joining the Hollywood set, he also wrote the script for several Hitchcock films and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1953, he married American actress Patricia Neal, and a year later they bought a family home in Great Missenden, Bucks.
Dahl knew everything about the village. He went on to write Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here. The Library was often visited by Matilda while her mum went off to play bingo. The book perhaps most inspired by Great Missenden and the surrounding countryside was Danny the Champion of the World
Dahl lived at Gipsy House on Whitefield Lane, a small Georgian building. The garden is open on selected dates. Dahl built a hut in the garden where he wrote his stories. He received over 4,000 letters a week there.
Dahl is buried in the graveyard at St Peter & St Paul Church. He was interred with his snooker cues, a bottle of Burgundy, chocolates, pencils and a power saw! Fans sometime leave chocolate bars on his grave.
The main highlight for kids is a visit to the Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre (once a bank used as a location in the Midsomer Murders tv series). It is usually open most days of the week. Admission fee payable on entry. Advance booking recommended.
Lunch is an option in the ‘Twits’ Cafe’, or in Dahl’s favourite pub, the Nag’s Head, as featured in The Fantastic Mr Fox.
The nearby town of Aylesbury features the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery.
Great Missenden is an unmissable treat for fans of the BFG, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear next tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)