John Carter: Short UK Breaks and Their Unexpected Bonuses

Red and white flowers on a windowsill in Buxton.

We asked Dementia Adventure Ambassador John Carter what he thinks is the best thing about holidaying in the UK. As it turns out, our small island nation has a steadfast appeal even for the most veteran globetrotters!

More years ago than I can accurately recall, my wife and I spent a weekend in the Cotswolds. Our base was the superb Lygon Arms, located on the wide main road which runs through the village of Broadway.

Because I know the Cotswolds well, having grown up in that part of the world, and because we had stayed many times at the Lygon, I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Neither was Sheila.

However, going down to the bar for a pre-dinner drink on the Friday evening after having arrived from London late that afternoon, we found it far busier than expected given that it was very much out of season. The Cotswolds thrives during Spring and Summer, and this was late January. 

It transpired that the local branch of the National Farmers’ Union was having its annual dinner/dance in the hotel. And, after dinner and a few glasses of wine, we needed little persuading to join in the fun.

It was a real bonus. It made that weekend more memorable than most and was a reminder that, all too often, unexpected events and encounters are what holidays are made of.

One of the best things about a short holiday in the UK at this time of the year is that destinations, free from an influx of visitors, are getting on with enjoying themselves. One hotelier in the Lake District told me, when I was enjoying an out-of-season break, that his village was livelier when local folk were having their annual dinners and dances, putting on their amateur pantomimes and plays.

And to demonstrate his point he took me that evening to a modest looking pub where an amateur, but first-class, jazz band was performing. The piano player was a doctor, two other musicians were a local plumber and a butcher, and another — the saxophonist, if memory serves — was a BOAC pilot.

‘Unexpected bonuses’ can come in all forms when you’re spending a weekend (or for that matter, a midweek short break) in the UK. With no cultural or language barriers, they’re easier to find, too. 

For Sheila, it was unearthing small treasures in local antique shops. She assembled a magnificent collection of owls — little porcelain ones, some of which came in small glass cases, owl paintings and sketches — which were bought for trifling sums, but served as reminders of our various jaunts.

For me, it was diving into secondhand bookshops in a bid to add to my own collection of books produced, many years ago, by the Religious Tract Society. Beautifully bound, they told uplifting stories (e.g. ‘Jack the Conqueror’, ‘Brave Sons of the Empire’) and were frequently given as prizes to schoolchildren. When I glance now at my bookshelves, I remember exactly where each volume was discovered.

I know one should approach any holiday in a receptive frame of mind, ready to enjoy whatever crops up, but as I say, unexpected encounters and experiences are more likely here in the UK at this time of the year, when local folk are letting their hair down in the absence of visitors.

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Of course, one can plan one’s break to coincide with special events, though these are more likely to occur later in the year. I particularly recall a few days in Sidmouth — normally a very quiet and sedate destination — when the English Folk Dance and Song Society were having their annual get-together. It provided material for a TV report and was, much later, included in a book of traveller’s tales. And for lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan (who isn’t?), the Derbyshire town of Buxton in high summer is the venue for a mass gathering and some extremely interesting performances. Back in, I think, 2006, a theatre company from Tokyo performed ‘The Mikado’ in Japanese! It was unforgettable.

In recent years there’s been a growth of themed or special-interest short breaks. They certainly are added-value deals, and can be all the more enjoyable when you know you will be in the company of fellow enthusiasts.

Some years ago I sampled a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ break, based at Cricket House in Cricket St. Thomas in Somerset. It is an excellent Warner Hotel, instantly recognised by people who have never stayed there because it featured as the titular property in the BBC TV series ‘To the Manor Born’. At the time of my visit in late February, I knew absolutely nothing about ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and anticipated a few elderly couples waltzing around a dusty hotel ballroom to music from a gramophone. Boy, did I get that wrong!

There was a live, and excellent, band. The hotel was packed and the guests, by no means all elderly, flaunted their finery on a well-sprung dance floor and watched demonstrations by professionals from the programme.

So, whether you deliberately choose a short break with a theme that attracts you, or a few days in an unfamiliar destination with no particular plan in mind, do keep your eyes open for that unexpected extra ingredient ⁠— a bonus that will stay in your memory for decades. And that is something I can vouch for from personal experience.

If you share our love of experiencing local life while on holiday, a Dementia Adventure break might be for you! We offer small-group holidays and individually-tailored breaks for people living with dementia and the people who care for them, enabling you to get away together and enjoy some time off.

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