Darlene Foster's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Britain

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
https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mike-Biles/e/B07W928W23/

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


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