Great Britain

UPDATE: following the June 2016 Brexit referendum there are potentially big changes ahead and the wide-ranging uncertainties are already affecting the country. I've been back to the UK twice since the referendum and witnessed first-hand how divided British society has become. In fact, the political atmosphere has been described to me as “toxic” on more than one occasion. And this is not just along the obvious pro- and anti-EU rift line, but even within each of the two camps. I used to live in the UK for almost seven years and have always regarded it as a kind of second home ever since. So I find these developments quite disturbing. HOWEVER: for the incoming tourist nothing much has actually changed (yet), except that visiting Britain has become noticeably more affordable thanks to the slump in the value of its currency. What changes may come in the mid- to long-term future are impossible to predict at this stage, but for now there's no real reason not to visit. But watch this space …
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Great country with a great – and in some respects not quite so great – history. The British Empire was certainly responsible for enough dark stuff – but that was largely perpetrated outside Britain itself, namely in the then (now mostly "lost") colonial territories – see. e.g. India (although there are also still modern "colonies"/"overseas territories" such as the Falkland Islands, fought over not that long ago). Of course Britain also suffered, i.e. was the victim in some of history's darker chapters, both abroad (see e.g. Thailand) and at home.
 
In the British homeland, there is a sort-of quirky, eclectic mix of dark tourism destinations, ranging from disaster and war memorial sites via beautiful old cemeteries to Cold War and nuclear sites.

Personally I have a very special relationship with Britain myself, as I used to live there – for nearly seven years in total. I still have friends and family (in-laws) there and go back to visit quite frequently (while I now have my home in Vienna, Austria).

But I still feel I haven't got to the bottom of the country as far as travel destinations are concerned. Nowhere near, in fact. So I expect to discover more sites qualifying as dark or weird enough to be featured on this website. (Hints are also welcome – contact me). For the time being, this is probably a very incomplete list of individual sites that I can come up with (ordered roughly south to north):
  

- Beachy Head, East Sussex, England

- Lynmouth, Devon, England

- London, England (Highgate cemetery, Imperial War Museum,
                            Churchill War Rooms)

- Kelvedon Hatch secret nuclear bunker, Essex, England

- Aberfan, Wales
 
- IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England
 
- Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England

- Coventry Cathedral & memorial, West Midlands, England

- National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, England

- Hack Green secret nuclear bunker, Cheshire, England

- Bradford, West Yorkshire, England

- Whitby, North Yorkshire, England

- Ruskin museum, Coniston, Cumbria, England

- Sellafield, Cumbria, England
 
- Sellafield Story exhibition, The Beacon, Whitehaven, Cumbria, England

- Alnwick (with poison garden),  Northumbria, England

- Necropolis cemetery, Glasgow, Scotland

- Scotland's "secret" bunker, Fife, Scotland

- Gruinard island, Ross & Cromarty, Scotland

- Dounreay, Caithness, Scotland
 
- Dounreay exhibition at Caithness Horizons, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland
 

Note that Northern Ireland is covered as a separate entity here -  even though it is part of the "UK", but unlike Wales and Scotland it's not part of Great Britain. It's not just a pernickety political terminological distinction, it is also a practical one: Travelling in England can easily and seamlessly cross the invisible borders into Wales and Scotland, whereas Northern Ireland is a distinct country from a traveller's perspective, requiring a ferry crossing or flight to get there from the British mainland.

The Channel Islands off the coast of France also have a separate chapter for much the same reasons. Needless to say then, that British "possessions" in other, further away parts of the world have their own separate entries too (see e.g. Montserrat or St Helena).

Travelling around in (mainland) Britain can be a joy, esp. roaming across the country by car. Those used to driving on the right often fear the British left-hand-side traffic. But it's actually quite easy to adapt – I've personally never had any trouble with it, either way, switching from continental right to British left or vice versa.

Ferries to Britain have become much fewer than used to be the case (the famed hovercraft of old have long gone completely). This is of course in part due to the Channel Tunnel, which is now a very important artery for car travel into Britain.

You can of course also fly into the UK. But to get around outside the cities, having one's own vehicle is the best mode of transport.

There is a train network, but unless you book well in advance it's outrageously pricey, and the quality of the service, well, "patchy", to say the very least. Having to cope with overcrowded and grimy carriages, with cancelled trains, delays and inconvenient connections can be frustrating. Only with regard to the frequency of disruptions to the system (be it accidents or just the wrong kind of snow) has Britain led the field for years. The British railway system is the prime example of the shambles that can be the result of privatization.

If you need to travel on a shoestring, then you could resort to the overland bus network provided by National Express – but esp. on longer journey it's not exactly comfortable.

Public transport in the cities can also have its faults, but is OK, though often high prices have to be expected. London is particularly expensive, but at least offers the densest network (esp. the "tube", the metro, is an indispensable lifeline). Outside larger towns, having your own car is still the best way to get around (in the cities it's not!). For some of the places covered on this website, a car is practically a necessity.

What is particularly cool about travelling in Britain is the fact that you can be more spontaneous and flexible than in many other countries. There's a remarkably dense network of tourist information offices, you can even find them in many really small places. They offer help in finding accommodation on the spot, so you don't necessarily have to plan ahead. The typically British B&Bs play a major role in this. Only in really remote parts, such as the wild north of Scotland, can it be advisable do a bit of forward planning, as all tourist facilities get far and few between up there and the distances between settlements can be great.

In terms of food and drink, Britain often has a bad reputation amongst outsiders. Which at least today is totally unjustified! Britain's multi-ethnicity alone makes for a great variety of culinary options. But traditional British regional cooking has reached a very high standard over the last few decades. You just have to stay away from those ubiquitous fast-food joints, whose detrimental health effects can be seen in quite a proportion of the population.

In London you can bet on any cuisine of the world, at all levels of quality and price. Out in the country, choices are naturally narrower, but even in small hamlets you can often eat surprisingly well.

The national dish in contemporary Britain is curry (which has long overtaken fish & chips). And the levels of quality in ethnic Indian and Pakistani restaurants can be absolutely top-notch – in particular in certain parts of the country such as the Midlands and Yorkshire. (My five years in Bradford have totally spoiled me in that respect!).

Pubs in the country often offer the best (if not only) dining options. Quality varies, but increasingly many pubs these days double up as good-quality proper restaurants. And the traditional British beer (aptly called 'real ale') has to rank as amongst the best traditional brews in the world – only Belgium could also lay claim to that title (that is, if you do not count the new craft beer scene, which started in the US and has by now also taken a firm foothold in Britain, not least in a famous "canine" brew form in Scotland ...).

In Scotland, finally, the world's best and most noble spirit is made … and I suppose it goes without saying what that is.
 
 
 
  • Great Britain 01 - green countrysideGreat Britain 01 - green countryside
  • Great Britain 02 - olde worlde StratfordGreat Britain 02 - olde worlde Stratford
  • Great Britain 03 - where I used to live in NottinghamGreat Britain 03 - where I used to live in Nottingham
  • Great Britain 04 - steep ClovellyGreat Britain 04 - steep Clovelly
  • Great Britain 05 - country pubGreat Britain 05 - country pub
  • Great Britain 06 - old-style pub interiorGreat Britain 06 - old-style pub interior
  • Great Britain 07 - olde worlde charmGreat Britain 07 - olde worlde charm
  • Great Britain 08 - bitter and ciderGreat Britain 08 - bitter and cider
  • Great Britain 09 - curry delightsGreat Britain 09 - curry delights
  • Great Britain 10 - Salts Mill in YorkshireGreat Britain 10 - Salts Mill in Yorkshire
  • Great Britain 11 - Big Brother is listening at Menwith HillGreat Britain 11 - Big Brother is listening at Menwith Hill
  • Great Britain 12 - Cumbria black black-headed sheep - ie with white headGreat Britain 12 - Cumbria black black-headed sheep - ie with white head
  • Great Britain 13 - Rame Head in CornwallGreat Britain 13 - Rame Head in Cornwall
  • Great Britain 14 - South CornwallGreat Britain 14 - South Cornwall
  • Great Britain 15 - WalesGreat Britain 15 - Wales
  • Great Britain 16 - Welsh coastGreat Britain 16 - Welsh coast
  • Great Britain 17 - WellsGreat Britain 17 - Wells
  • Great Britain 18 - Bristol engineering featGreat Britain 18 - Bristol engineering feat
  • Great Britain 19 - Cornwall north coastGreat Britain 19 - Cornwall north coast
  • Great Britain 20 - Northumbrian coastGreat Britain 20 - Northumbrian coast
  • Great Britain 21 - BirminghamGreat Britain 21 - Birmingham
  • Great Britain 22 - Birmingham city centreGreat Britain 22 - Birmingham city centre
  • Great Britain 23 - Morris dancingGreat Britain 23 - Morris dancing
  • Great Britain 24 - WorcesterGreat Britain 24 - Worcester
  • Great Britain 25 - praying for EnglandGreat Britain 25 - praying for England
  • Great Britain 26 - old-style phone boothsGreat Britain 26 - old-style phone booths
  • Great Britain 27 - Lake District HillsGreat Britain 27 - Lake District Hills
  • Great Britain 28 - Durham cathedralGreat Britain 28 - Durham cathedral
  • Great Britain 29 - Angel of the NorthGreat Britain 29 - Angel of the North
  • Great Britain 30 - Newcastle with its iconic bridgesGreat Britain 30 - Newcastle with its iconic bridges
  • Great Britain 31 - Baronial style in Aberdeen, ScotlandGreat Britain 31 - Baronial style in Aberdeen, Scotland
  • Great Britain 32 - Dunnottar castle, ScotlandGreat Britain 32 - Dunnottar castle, Scotland
  • Great Britain 33 - sarcasmGreat Britain 33 - sarcasm
  • Great BritainGreat Britain

 
 

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