Having cycled 18 miles or so over the (admittedly long) weekend I’m going to have a rest today. I was going to cycle to Barrow yesterday, meet a friend, have lunch and then over to Quorn and back via the road, but this proved to be a little overambitious. It’s a lovely ride along the canal to Barrow – I’ve walked it many a time – but what I had forgotten is that the path crosses over at Pillings Lock and there’s a Bloody Great Bridge over which bikes must be carried. I reached it; I looked at it, I looked at the map and I thought ‘nah. This is far enough.’ So back I went, and far enough it jolly well was.
I’ve been thinking, as one does at this time of year, about holidays and travel. Like most of us I imagine I’d really like to get away but apart from the fact that nobody really knows what’s going to happen with Covid, I’m beginning to rethink tourism altogether because as a tourist you feel like a walking consumer. There are, it’s true, delightful holidays where you don’t have to feel that way at all – hiking in the Dales, climbing Monroes in Scotland, renting a cottage in the depths of France – but on most holidays you tend to feel like a walking market in which people are always trying to sell things. Buy this! Eat this! Look at this! Get the t-shirt! You can’t blame them – it’s the way most of them make money – but it’s not a pleasant experience. But though tourism may bring income to an area or country there are many hidden costs, not the least of which is accommodation. Last time I went to Southwold I felt very sad as I walked around and realised how many of the lovely houses near the sea front were actually holiday lets. Instead of staying in the heart of a town we were living in a tourist village where most of the locals had probably been completely priced out. I have very strong feelings about second homes too – appealing though it is to have a pied-a-terre somewhere delightful, it often means that local people are priced out and that you end up living in a community of city dwellers who only come down at the weekends. Besides, people have no business owning two homes when some people don’t even have one.
We’re going to have to stop flying anyway, so why not rethink tourism altogether? Instead of regarding the world as a spectacle to be consumed, see it as a place to be discovered. Instead of photographing everything, see and interact. Let’s forget tourism and bring back travel: in fact, let’s regard travel as a form of reconnaissance. Then again perhaps it’s like one of those irregular verbs: I am doing reconnaissance, you are a traveller, they are tourists.