With a title featuring the words ‘hidden places’ you’d expect this weighty tome – sporting no fewer than 666 (eek!) pages – to be about the secret nooks and crannies of this great country of ours. Places you’d never find in normal guidebooks; places only the locals know about; places of myth and, indeed, legend…
But it’s not. So that’s its unique selling point out the window, then.
This is ‘just’ a travellers’ guidebook, featuring – according to the colourful county map next to the contents page – information about everywhere except London (greyed-out)… and the West Midlands (same), for some odd reason.
It was only natural that I turn to pages about my homeland first of all, but according to the aforementioned map Tyne and Wear simply doesn’t exist. You can have Durham and you can have Northumberland but there is nothing at all sandwiched between the two.
To compound this heinous crime, the book has actually dumped my beloved town of South Shields within the Northumberland “boarder” (yes, boarder), along with Newcastle and Gateshead and even as far south as Houghton-le-Spring which is beyond Sunderland!
And then, to add insult to injury, it doesn’t even mention anything about those places. Harrrrumph.
When it comes to general coverage the book is obviously fairly well researched but it pays barely more than lip service to its featured locations and, although there are lots and lots of towns and villages around England mentioned, it doesn’t go in to huge detail. It feels rushed.
Take one of my favourite places – Pooley Bridge in the Lake District. The book tells us in the first 26 words that it’s on the northern tip of Ullswater and there are regular cruises from there (it ignores the fact that they are seasonal). The next 99 words skim over the six-miles of Ullswater in general – still under the heading of Pooley Bridge, and spend more time talking about William Wordsworth and daffodils than anything else.
Even Ambleside near Windermere, arguably one of the most popular tourist traps in Cumbria, feels rushed. In particular the main road leading north from the town “climbs sharply” according to author Kate Daniel, but she omits to tell the reader the road is called The Struggle because it’s downright lethal in places and drivers are more likely to drop dead from fright than reach the top (disclaimer: not necessarily true).
Worcester, according to Ms Daniel, is dominated by its cathedral. Fair enough – it is. Royal Worcester is also Britain’s oldest continuous producer of porcelain, she says. Except the industry is now defunct and has been since around mid-2009 (this edition of the book was published in 2010).
I could go on, but I don’t want to. Although I’ve really only skimmed some of the book I think I’ve seen enough.
There appears to be a lot here, but when you look deeper The Hidden Places of England has a loud voice without saying much at all. Sure, it picks out some specific places to stay, eat and drink, but that’s not enough. It mentions hundreds of locations, but it seems as though the focus is on quantity rather than lingering detail. Rushed – there’s that word again.
Hidden Places… has individual books about various regions and I’m sure they treat their subjects with more care, but England is too big to be covered like this, and I can’t trust a book which doesn’t recognise Tyne and Wear. I just can’t.
Finally, the back cover summarises the whole thing for me. It carries two limp-wristed endorsements, much like those you would see on movie posters from Jonathan Woss or the LA Times.
The first is from a past employer of mine – the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. “It is interesting…” it enthuses.
The second, brilliantly, is by ‘a reader from Thornton‘. That’ll get it flying off the shelves.
PS – I’ve been told by Mrs Muz to say something positive. Okay, it’s probably handy if you’re visiting a place you’ve never researched and know nothing about. The thing is you could glean the same information from it by spending 20 seconds reading the write-up in Waterstones rather than splashing out the thick end of 12 quid (cover price) for it.
SUMMARY: A bit crap, really. Not focussed enough. Possibly handy if you’re an American tourist but don’t expect to find Edin-burg in there cos that’s in Scotland, which is north of England.
Publisher – Travel Publishing Ltd
ISBN – 9781904434931
Price – £8.39
From – Amazon
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