Darlene Foster's Blog

Guest from A Bit About Britain

Posted on: April 8, 2021

I am pleased to feature Mike Biles from A Bit About Britain (ABAB). Since we can’t travel right now, and who knows will we will be able to again, it’s good to read travel blogs. ABAB features great articles about fascinating places in Britian, a small island with an immense history and fabulous places to visit.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Firstly, thank you so much for inviting me onto Darlene Foster’s Blog, Darlene. I will try to behave.

A bit about myself? Well, I was born, at a very young age, atop a remote, windswept, tower one dark night in a thunderstorm.  The lights flickered at the appropriate moment. A surprisingly uneventful childhood was then spent in the deep South of England, followed by a slightly more exciting spell at university in the Midlands (history and a post-grad teaching certificate) with more than two fairly serious decades thereafter in and around London.  I am now exiled in the frozen north, surrounded by moss and flat vowels.  It’s a cliché to say that I always enjoyed writing, though for many years, whilst running my own business, this was mostly limited to tedious documents like project plans, specifications and contracts.  Along the way, I conspicuously failed to become world tiddly-winks champion; but I have maintained a life-long love of Britain, history, idle scribbling, beer and conversation.  I also enjoy a good movie and would be lost without music.

  • You have such an interesting blog. How long have you been blogging and what inspired you to start your blog?

Thank you! A Bit About Britain was conceived some time ago and trundled along quite happily for a year or three as a kind of hobby, but the current website https://bitaboutbritain.com/ was launched in 2016. In some ways, the inspiration had always been there, because a love of heritage attractions and good stories had been drip-fed into me.  But, staying at various places around the country for work, I often found myself falling into conversation with people about local places of interest and began thinking about creating some kind of independent online database for visitors.  Much of the information out there at the time seemed rather partisan, often with pompous articles at one extreme, sometimes vacuous ones at the other and occasionally written by people who didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.  I had no idea to start a blog, but perceived a gap for an unbiased, accurate, resource that didn’t always take itself too seriously, and arrogantly thought I may be able to fill it – somehow.  Of course, it’s not that easy, it is a hopelessly ambitious aspiration – and I’m also lousy at the technical stuff; but we try.

  • Tell us about your books and how they came about.

Ah, well. The first one, A Bit About Britain’s History, pretty much had to be written in some form before the website was launched.  If you’re banging on about places to visit, particularly castles, stately homes and what-not, a little context is helpful. So I created a potted history of Britain and the book ripened from there.  It is not a tough read; I like to think of it as accessible history, from prehistoric to modern times, neatly pitched somewhere between arcane academia and dumb drivel.  It could probably do with more illustrations, but it does contain three maps and offers a respectable introduction to Britain’s story if you don’t know the subject, a refresher if you weren’t paying attention at school – and the context that visitors need.  Some very kind people (let’s hope the cheques don’t bounce) have even said it should be in school libraries, to give an idea how the topics studied as part of a curriculum fit into the bigger picture.

The second book, A Bit about Britain’s High Days and Holidays, has a similar pedigree. The website features articles about Christmas, Easter and other occasions. The book explores a baker’s dozen of these notable annual celebrations, or commemorations, their origins and the traditions associated with them. For good measure, it includes a couple of recipes, an A-Z of Christmas and a list of Britain’s Big Days – the events that normally form part of our calendar, some mainstream, some obscure, through Spring to Winter. It’s the kind of book I hope people might like to have on their bookshelves; I know I would.

Available on all Amazon sites

In your opinion, what is the most fascinating place in the UK and what makes it so?

That is a very good question, but almost impossible to answer.  I can get fascinated among a pile of stones, imagining children playing thereabouts thousands of years ago.  I find multi-layered places, where the stories almost pile one on top of the other, absorbing. At Wallsend (literally, at the end of Hadrian’s Wall), for example, is the site of the Roman fort of Segedunum. After the Romans, the area reverted to agriculture; later, coal mining arrived; then shipbuilding – and a whole community around that. They built some of the biggest ships in the world there.  Now that community has vanished too and we’re left with the outline of the Roman fort.  Or Fotheringhay – tumble-down deserted birthplace of Richard III and the site of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution.  Places where big history-changing events took place and your imagination can run riot, such as Hastings and Bosworth, are fascinating and it takes no effort to get captivated by the atmosphere of sites like prehistoric Avebury and the Anglo-Saxon burials at Sutton Hoo – both of those places fit my ‘multi-layered’ description, actually. Come to think of it, I also got extremely excited on the trail of The Beatles in Liverpool; like a kid in a chocolate factory. So – tough question.

But I guess, if forced to choose just one fascinating place in the UK, it would – reluctantly – be London.  ‘Reluctant’, because everybody goes to London, there is so much to see beyond its boundaries that visitors miss and London is so untypical of the rest of the UK.  However, there really is so much in and about our capital; and not only the obvious must-see attractions and museums, excellent though many of them are. The place has a two-thousand-year history with intriguing tales and obscure facts lurking everywhere you go, round every corner, behind the street names, plaques on walls, statues, memorials, churches, pubs, wonderful parks, squares and traditions. If you’re of a curious mind, it’s a hard place to be bored in, that’s for sure.

  • Is there some place you have not yet visited that you would love to see?

Er – how long have you got?!  I will never finish exploring Britain; there simply isn’t time.  I need to visit the west more: the lovely border country between England and Wales, Wales itself (did you know it has a designated path all the way round its coast?) and the West Country. I have been to them all – just not enough. One thing I have never done, but have long-wanted to do, is island-hop off the west coast of Scotland – and I’d also love to visit Orkney and Shetland too. Rumour has it that some of my ancestors came from Caithness, so it would be great to go there as well; perhaps drive the North Coast 500 route, the circuit around Scotland’s North Highlands; fabulous! Think dodgy single-track roads, wild scenery, stunning beaches, remote castles, legends and malt whisky. This is all subject to Head Office approval, of course; much depends on the incredibly tolerant, long-suffering, Mrs Britain.

  • Do you feel that reading about travel destinations will help us get through this time of pandemic, when we can no longer travel freely?

Yes, I think so.  Frankly, pretty much any reading is helpful, and a gift – as is the Internet, for all its faults and dangers. The pandemic forced western society to change its priorities and it’s certainly been an opportunity for many to take stock and learn, to ease the path through odd, and awful, times, without going anywhere.  So, there is the chance for those that can to look around, get some background, soak up the stories behind places, and plan.  But we do need to be phlegmatic and remember that the world waits beyond the boundaries of our personal lockdowns, that it’s been there for a very long time indeed and it’s not going anywhere.  It doesn’t help to get all emotional about what you cannot do, how terrible you believe the restrictions are, and so on.  It is not only pointless, but some people don’t have that luxury.  And don’t get me started on the flat-earth conspiracy theorists!

  • What is your next writing project?

There are big plans for the website, but I’m painfully slow.  Book-wise, it is hoped to bring out at least one further volume of ‘A Bit about Britain’s something or other’ before I shuffle off this mortal coil. My follower will be the second (or maybe the third) to know!

Thanks so much, Mike, for this informative and entertaining interview. If you want to do some armchair travel or start planning that next trip for when we can travel:

check out Mike’s Blog https://bitaboutbritain.com/

his books https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23/

follow him on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19553725.Mike_Biles

81 Responses to "Guest from A Bit About Britain"

I have to agree with you that London is fascinating. However, I was born there so I’m a bit biased, lol!

I have enjoyed every visit I have had to London. I’m sure I still have lots more to see there.

Must confess I enjoy London much more as a visitor than a workplace!

I hated travelling on the tube or on crowded trains. Ugh.

Yeah – travel is/was a challenge at certain times!

I remember standing by the door of a very crowded train, and somebody slamming the door on my hand. Every time I hear a train door slam, even 45 years later, I shudder.

A future book of mine will be set in Britain, circa 850,000 years ago. I may need Mike’s expertise!

He would be the one!

I’m thinking Doggerland, Jacqui? 🙂

Happisburgh I think, on the southeast coast of Britain, where the land bridge used to be. Where scientists found a 900,000 year old flint hand-axe. It was frigid there at the time. I’ll probably have to read a lot from the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain.

Doggerland–haven’t heard of that. I’m off to Duck it (the Duck Duck Go version of Google).

Yes, Happisburgh in Norfolk (East Anglia) evidence of primitive hunter-gatherers. Doggerland was the now drowned area in the North Sea, before Britain became an island. Fascinating!

This looks like a wonderful blog about Britain Darlene – thank you for sharing this interview!

It is really good with great details and wonderful pictures. You will feel like you are there.

Thank you – hope you pop across and have a good rummage around!

Great interview with Mike. He has a really interesting blog and I must check out the books.

Thanks, Mary. I love his blog!

Thanks, Mary – that is much appreciated.

This was such a fun interview–I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Mike has a great sense of humour which is reflected in his writing.

Thank you, Liz; if it raised a smile, I’ll be happy!

You’re welcome, Mike. It raised a smile and a grin or two as well. 🙂

A smile AND a couple of grins – even more betterer!

A great interview, Darlene and Mike. I have just followed your blog, Mike – looking forward to connecting over the miles!

You will enjoy MIke´s posts and make you want to visit all these great places.

Thank you, Clanmother; ditto!

Hi, Darlene – I completely agree about the importance of virtual travel and travel blogs. Thank you for featuring Mike Biles here!

Thanks, Donna! So pleased we have great travel blogs to help us through this time.

Thank you – hope you pop across to the site and, if you like it, revisit occasionally.

Hi Darlene, it is great to see Mike here. I am embarrassed to admit I have his book A Bit About Britain and have not as yet read it. I have been sulking since lockdown and didn’t want to read about places I couldn’t visit. Our trip to Glasonbury and Wales last year was cancelled. SIGH! “have even said it should be in school libraries, to give an idea how the topics studied as part of a curriculum fit into the bigger picture” important words and I hope this happens. Kids do need to understand history in context and not just isolated instances that get manipulated to suit the agenda of certain groups of people.

I agree history has to show both sides of the story. We have all been sulking about not being able to travel and having plans cancelled. So I know how you feel.

Thank you so much for buying the book, Robbie; hope you enjoy it, when you get to it. 🙂

My pleasure, Mike, it will be soon.

Darlene, a wonderful guest post by Mike!

Mike, what a brilliant concept for a blog and I look forward to exploring it further! Your books will be perfect birthday present for my husband (and for myself by extension!) Your love of travel shines through here and I agree, it is amazing to visit places and imagine the lives all those years ago. Sutton Hoo, where my expectations were low, was incredible and the atmosphere and sense of history are palpable. I’ve been to a few of the western isles off Scotland and the scenery is just breathtaking. Remember sitting on one beach and a small colony of puffins peacefully ambling by! I was stoked and couldn’t stop smiling for days. Your description of Wallsend is enthralling and having been ‘there’ virtually as part of a Hadrian’s Wall Conqueror challenge I hope to visit this year!

Happy Travels, Writing and yes, always music! 😀

You will enjoy Mike´s blog, Annika. So much to see and do in Britain.

Thanks very much, Annika – and for the follow; have followed you back via WP Reader. I remember seeing a puffin on Skye – one of those magical moments; and Scotland’s beaches can be stunning (if a little chilly!).

Ah something new to me and clearly a chap after my own heart. I will check out Mike’s blog and vicariously break all lockdown rules on staying local. Get me,, the subversive traveller.

You and Mike have a lot in common, Geoff, especially the clever wit. You will enjoy his posts.

We like a bit of subversion; inevitable really, coming from sarf of the river.

V true. South is best

Thanks for this, Darlene; proud to be a guest on you lovely blog! xxx

Great having you here. Thanks for responding to the comments. I have a great group of followers!

Lovely interview, Darlene. I just might follow Bit About Britain.

I can highly recommend it, Jennifer 🙂

Great Britain is on my travel wish list. Has been for some time, but still have my fingers crossed! Will follow. 🙂

You would enjoy the posts.

Enjoyed the interview. I’ve only been to London once, when visiting England and Wales in 1997. Would love to go back some day. Great resources for visitors.

I love London and have been a number of times. I took my 14-year-old daughter once and we had so much fun. MIke’s blog is a great resource.

Thank you, Patricia! I hope ABAB whets your appetite to return as soon as you can!

What an excellent interview. Well done, Darlene, but I must add that Mike is a fabulous interviewee. Love his sense of humor (what we Americans call ‘that British wit”) and beautiful phrasing. I felt like I was in a room with you two, and part of the conversation. And that says a lot, since neither of you were in a room together! My last name is Wight, and I contain a lot of English blood. The few times I’ve visited England (I think I count four, or five, so far) I have felt at home. London is my favorite city (paired with San Francisco, where I’ve lived, and Boston, where I am now). I’d like to take a walking tour of London for a few days, and then a walking tour of the English countryside for a week. I think Mike would be a GREAT tour guide!

I’ve done a walking tour of London and it was great. MIke would be the perfect tour guide. One of his books would be a good alternative if you can’t hire him in person. I love the British wit as well! One of the things that attracted me to hubby.

Ohh, for the days we can travel again. Internationally, England is first on my list.

Thank you – happy to be hired; I’m incredibly good value! 🙂 Jesting aside, London is a great city to walk in; which part of the countryside beckons?

If Mike’s books are half as entertaining as his writing in this post then I am in. My paternal grandfather was from Britain and we would love to do an in-depth trip to learn more about his roots. Thanks for the introduction and will pop over to Mike’s blog for a look.

You need time to do a trip to Britain justice. I hope you can make the journey soon and perhaps find your roots. Mike has great articles that will make you want to go tomorrow. Oh that’s right, we can’t travel, yet!

Welcome, Sue; where was your grandfather from? Drop me a line via the website.

I enjoy reading Mike’s blog and have his first book which is great to dip into. Someone said to me after a mini break to London ‘you need more than a few days to look round London’ – I replied you need more than a lifetime. Plenty more for Mike to write about in London and the rest of Britain!

What I love about Britain is that every place has a story or two attached to it.

I enjoy Mike’s blog very mush. His photos are as good as his detailed writing. Fabulous guest post, Darlene!

Thanks, Jennie. A great way to travel without leaving home. At least for now.

Exactly! You’re welcome, Darlene.

Ooops, ‘much’ (and not mush), of course.

Awesome post Darlene. I thoroughly loved it and it truly elevated my interest (which I already had) of Britain. So much history and part of my family (late 1800’s) hails from Britain!! Thanks for sharing!!

Have you been to Britain? It would be fun to look up your family. There are great records there. Do you know what part of Britain they hail from?

Have been to other parts of Europe, but not Britain. As I understand it, the last name Tisdale is an America version of the British version Teasdale. I was told that the name comes from a valley named Teas or something like that. My older brother has done a lot of research and I would have to ask him for more details if we have them. Hadn’t thought about it in years untilI read your blog.

I believe that is in the Northern part of Britain.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tees_Valley Gorgeous countryside, perfect for photography and sketching.

Thanks Darlene….much appreciated!!

These sound fantastic – and so nice to meet Mike. There’s nothing I love more than British history and travel. Toni

I know and Mike is an expert on British history. So pleased I could introduce him to my readers.

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