Fantasy holidays with Ivanhoe & Co

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The Independent Online
For many years tourist authorities have had a touching belief that people will willingly spend their holidays in certain places for no other reason than that famous writers lived there. And the extraordinary thing is that it seems to be true. Americans do flock to Shakespeare's Stratford. British people flock to Wordsworth's Lakeland and Hardy's Wessex. I have met people who did go to John Fowles's Lyme Regis and James Herriot country and Dennis Potter's Forest of Dean and Dylan Thomas's Laugharne.

I have done it myself, if only by accident. I once had to do some research on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway for a book on steam trains. This line at one point passes Haworth, the little old Yorkshire town where the little old Bronte sisters lived, and I trudged up Haworth main street to the parsonage where the blessed sisters lived and saw the pub where brother Branwell got drunk The fact that I have never in my life read anything by the Brontes from start to finish did not deter me.

I do not suppose I was the only one. The only Bronte book I saw being read that day was in the hands of a Japanese student. But that's not the point. We don't worry much about our painters or composers - we certainly don't often plan our holidays round them - but we do have an instinctive reverence for our writers and their country - du Maurier's West Country, Jane Austen's Bath, Dexter's Morse's Oxford, even Betjeman's suburbia - and are prepared to make a pilgrimage there.

Or we were. Not any more. Not if the Radio Times "Holiday 97 Week 2" supplement is a true sign of the times. This little booklet has been hanging round since it made its initial bid for freedom by escaping from its mother magazine, and I thought for a while, whenever I glanced at it, that I must have kept it to help plan a holiday. Not so.

Rereading the cover I now realise I kept it to pinpoint a new holiday trend.

Well, read it for yourself and see what you think.

Holiday 97. Take the High Road to the home of Hamish Macbeth, Ivanhoe, and Doctor Finlay ... Take to the high seas with the Archers ... Plus how to track down the TV locations of Ballykissangel, Cadfael, Rebecca, Wildfell Hall ..."

Do you spot what is different? That's right. The author has vanished. No mention of Scott or du Maurier, or whoever created Dr Finlay. Instead, you are invited to go to Scotland to visit the locations of Dr Finlay and Ivanhoe and Hamish Macbeth. Not where the authors lived. Not even where they set the books. But where the books were filmed.

Did I say this is a new trend? In fact it's been going on for years. Where I live on the Wiltshire/Somerset border is where they shot The Titfield Thunderbolt 30 years ago, and there's a pub up at nearby Dunkerton which has renamed itself "The Titfield Thunderbolt" and people still come to nose around for the actual places used for filming. (At least, I assume they do. They can't all be opportunist house-burglars on a day out from Bristol, can they? Some of the more disreputable-looking ones must be railway film fans, surely ...)

And what made the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway famous and profitable in the first place was not its position in Bronteland but its selection as the location for the film of The Railway Children.

Yet these were all straws in the wind compared to the present flood of pilgrimages-to-the-location. Nobody ever wrote a book called The Shooting of the Titfield Thunderbolt along the lines of The Making of Pride and Prejudice. Nobody organised trips to the stately homes where they shot Kind Hearts and Coronets. Yet now supplements are falling out of the Radio Times urging us in this post-Austen era to go to Scotland, because it is the home of Hamish Macbeth (not Shakespeare's Macbeth, notice) and of Ivanhoe.

Do you notice something else odd there? Ivanhoe is not a Scottish story. It was all about Normans and Saxons. Not a Scot in the lot of them. So in what sense is Scotland the home of Ivanhoe? Well, in the sense that author Sir Walter Scott lived, went bankrupt and died there, and you can still see his house. But that's not what the Radio Times is on about. The Radio Times doesn't want you to go to Abbotsford or Princes Street. It wants you to go where Ivanhoe was shot in Scotland, using Scottish clan extras: to places like Craigmillar Castle. Well, I've been to Craigmillar Castle, and let me tell you ...

No more space today, alas. This sentence will be completed tomorrow, plus full details on how to visit the place where this column was penned.