Seeing as Keith clearly had strong and well-researched opinions on how best to experience England, I decided to ask him for his personal list, the Anti-Rick-Steves, Forget-About-London list. Below is Keith’s response.
As a ToursByLocals guide in Yorkshire, I have this year come across an increasing tendency from my North American guests to have visited the same spots in the UK. This, it seems, may be due in large part to the influence of a certain Rick Steves, whose guidebook many seem to carry. I’ve heard he is to be blamed in part for the recent American obsession with the Cotswolds. I decided to look up some of his articles and respond to them here. He says in his book "The Best and Worst of Europe":
”London, York, Bath, and Edinburgh are the most interesting cities in Britain. Belfast, Liverpool, and Glasgow are quirky enough to be called interesting. Oxford pales next to Cambridge, and Stratford-upon-Avon is little more than Shakespeare’s house — and that’s as dead as he is. Extra caution is merited in southwest England, a minefield of tourist traps.”
I can disagree with some of his choices right away, and I know them well. It’s not that they’re places I would disagree with visiting; they just wouldn't be my highest priority, or places where you’ll really see the best of England. Bath and York are probably the two places outside London that I would call tourist traps; they are crowded with visitors, and their prices are higher, especially for accommodation, than anywhere else in England. I would favour Cambridge somewhat marginally over Oxford (although, again, they don’t pass the “unspoilt by tourists test”), but neither make my top 10. Again, I’m not saying “don’t go,” rather “don’t ONLY go here.”
My top 10 list will, therefore NOT include Bath (even though I was brought up nearby, and know it well), it will not include York (even though I now live nearby, and know it well) and it will NOT include London, mainly for being obvious and unnecessary to recommend.
My list is not in order. I believe each of these places would offer fertile ground for an itinerary which would suit a "ToursByLocals" style tour, usually a full day, and I like to cover ground quickly. On to the list:
2. The Mendips - Glastonbury Cheddar and Wells
3. Alnwick to Lindisfarne and the Northumbrian castles
4. North York Moors, Helmsley, Pickering, Goathland and Whitby
5. Avebury and surrounds
6. Hull and East Yorkshire, Beverley, Spurn point (Holderness) and Flamborough (the white cliffs of Yorkshire)
7. Keswick and the northern Lakes
8. Thomas Hardy's Wessex, the Jurassic coast and Hardy/TE Lawrence's homes
9. Yorkshire Dales, Hawes, Aysgarth, Castle Bolton and Jervaulx
10. Cornwall, St Ives, St Michaels Mount and Lands End.
So there you have it: an itinerary that will get you away from the Rick Steves-toting crowd, and into the England you’ve been dreaming about. I’m putting this in a safe place for the next time I have time to escape London and get out to explore. Over the next couple months, Keith will be sending us details on his favourite things to do in each of these places, and we’ll publish them here.
If you’re headed to the UK this fall or in 2015, consider sending Keith a message: he not only designs immersive tour itineraries around Yorkshire, but as a professional landscape photographer, he will help you take fantastic photos along the way.