brit back


Mid October is, apparently, a favourite time of year for many Brits. While it is hard to deny the sheer sensual beauty of autumn with its great clouds of swirling leaves in fiery colours, the fragrant smell of wood smoke and the slanting golden light, I have a suspicion that there's another far more potent reason for loving the long slow march into winter.

At last the summer holiday season is well and truly over. With the increasing popularity of the staycation - a result of failing airlines, air traffic controller strikes and stagnant wages - Britain in July, August and now September has become more crowded than ever.

Every coastal town and resort, every Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, every National Park has been full to bursting this year and anyone who lives in or near anywhere remotely regarded as scenic - from the Scottish Highlands to the surfing beaches of Cornwall, from the rolling Welsh hills to the flatlands of East Anglia - is fed up to the teeth with tourism.

Infamously the population of the Hebridean island of Skye begged people not to visit during the height of summer. There was, the islanders claimed, nowhere left to stay, eat or even park.

Our own few days in the Outer Hebrides echoed this. Not a single hotel or B&B, from Stornoway in the north to Castlebay at the tip of the island chain and 150 miles south, had an available room and the CalMac ferry - which is the only way on and off the islands - was booked up for days in advance.

In spite of the head of Visit Scotland, Chris Taylor, claiming in the papers that “the benefits of bringing in international visitors and increased spending are huge” we only witnessed exhausted and bad tempered locals who had reached the end of their tether.

Lumbering campervans (or should that be camperjams?) blocked the single access roads which lace the islands all summer long and once empty beaches were crowded for the first time. The beguiling wilderness of Scotland is on the wane, it seems, and fast.

While we lived in Spain we travelled all over the country and drove several times from the Mediterranean sea to the north Atlantic coast on virtually empty roads. Because we went away out of season we always found a room, a bar, a beach with plenty of space. After this summer that seems harder than ever to believe.

I imagine that Southern Spain, however used it is to its millions of visitors, will also one day buckle under the pressure of seasonal tourism. The selfish truth is that I liked our local seaside town in the Axarquía precisely because it was endearingly unhip and I loved the city of Malaga most when the majority of tourists exited the airport and turned immediately right for Marbella.

So, thankfully, the summer is done. The Scottish islanders can return to farming, fishing, knitting and driving home on quiet roads.

Here in Suffolk we can now visit the coast and Southwold (which has just been voted Britain's best seaside resort much to our horror) without wading through the hoards of holidaymakers.

Our peaceful land has been returned to us - at least until the spring.