My Life In Travel: Ann Widdecombe, novelist and former Conservative MP
'The Arctic has such a strong pull for me'
Saturday 06 August 2011
First holiday memory?
Cornwall. I had a cousin of my age who lived in Saltash. We went to the seaside in Looe, and also out walking on the moors at Dartmoor. Those early years probably informed my love of Dartmoor, where I've since retired.
A cruise to the Arctic. When you get really north, there's no night at all during summer. The quality of the sunlight doesn't change, whether it's 9pm or 9am. The captain took the boat into Magdelena fjord and commanded silence for about an hour. We were rewarded when a polar bear ambled along. Another time, a whale popped up outside the window.
Favourite place inthe British Isles?
The North West Highlands of Scotland. I almost retired there, but decided they would be too remote for the latter part of old age. I love them for the same reason as Dartmoor: the bleakness of the landscape and the fact I can walk around and not see another soul all day.
What have you learnt from your travels?
Before I went to India, I could have written a description of the poverty there and I would have been absolutely right. But there's nothing like seeing a culture up close, to understand first hand what it really means.
Ideal travelling companion?
Nobody. I like not having to please anyone, and the peace and quiet when I travel. I once went on holiday to India with a very established friend, but it soon became clear that we enjoyed different things. I like a bit of luxury and a swimming pool at the hotel; she liked to be endlessly visiting sights.
We decided, perfectly amicably, to have separate holidays for the last week. I went to Goa, she went to some very remote part of the country, and we both had a whale of a time.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I love combinations. If I go to Rome, for example, I'll want to visit the Forum and the Colosseum. I'll want to visit the Sistine Chapel and see Hadrian's villa. But I'll also want to just to enjoy the Roman sunshine and sit in St Peter's Square.
Greatest travel luxury?
Clean laundry. It's wonderful to have nice crisp sheets every day.
I'll generally take something long with me – like a biography or a historical book – but I also like to pick up whatever's available. I stayed at the Mara Intrepids camp on safari in Kenya, which offers complete luxury in the middle of the bush. They had a great hospitality tent where people would leave old books that they didn't want anymore. You could just pick something up and leave it.
Where has seduced you?
The Arctic would always draw me back. It has such a strong pull for me. Firstly, for the wildlife, but also for the majesty and bleakness of the landscape.
Better to travel or to arrive?
Arrive. At the Mara Intrepids in the Maasai Mara, I remember lying there on the first night listening to the animals. When I came to do Desert Island Discs, one of the tracks I chose was, to everybody's great amusement, a recordingof African wildlife.
Worst travel experience?
India. Partly due to thesanitary situation, partly because of the poverty, but mainly it came down to the chaotic lack of organisation. Delhi airport is a nightmare. One of my friends now lives in India and she said you just have to let it wash over you after a while.
A hotel in the outskirtsof Rome – a really surly place, where nobody wanted to help or give you directions. The service ethos was zero. We even contemplated moving, but it would have eaten intoour holiday.
The Prince Hall on Dartmoor, which operates likea country house. You can leave your walking boots on the porch and your wet jacket in the boiler room.
Best meal abroad?
A restaurant in Singapore where, quite surreally, I ate a brilliant Swiss fondue. It was beautiful and completely unexpected.
There's a long queue. I haven't yet seen the Great Wall of China or the Terracotta Army. I also haven't made it down the Nile or the Rhine on a cruise, which I also want to do.
Rome. It's got everything: ancient history, Renaissance art, the seat of the Catholic Church, and sunshine, too.
A few years ago, I found myself, quite unexpectedly, going to Madeira. I told one of my assistants to book a holiday and surprise me. I wouldn't have thought of that and it turned out to be lovely. So I might just do that again.
Ann Widdecombe appears in the new series Britain's Hidden Heritage, which starts on Sunday 14 August on BBC1
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