Natural History at its Victorian Best.

“Mama, Papa, I’m going to make a museum…”

The historic market town of Tring is a busy, growing commuter town within easy reach of London and within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Located on the original Akeman Street – a major Roman road in England that linked Watling Street with the Fosse Way, the Natural History Museum (NHM) Tring is in auspicious company. Built in 1889 to house one of the finest zoological collections in private hands, this in a museum frozen in time.

Just across the street are the picturesque Louisa Cottages Alms Houses on Akeman Street, built in 1893.

Inside the NHM Tring is a veritable feast of the exotic, elusive, exquisite, extinct and downright delightful exhibits from another age of museum-going. With not a gadget in sight, the slightly surreal setting of sturdy, floor-to-ceiling wooden display cases, drawers and fine cabinets that house thousands of stuffed exhibits that continue to entrance generations of local residents. The galleries are busy, bustling with families looking for items to capture on their trail sheets and clearly enjoying themselves. But you don’t have to be five years old to qualify for the free trails, it’s a pleasure being able to potter and see the iconic Chilterns red kite and elusive kingfisher up close; to be delighted at the fruits of a busy mother’s labours as she sat up late at night dressing the fleas her children had caught from their pets, are on display next to exquisite moths and butterflies, to marvel at the 128-year old tortoise that lived with an assortment of animals (including kangaroos and an Emu), in nearby Tring Park.

Tring Park

Tring Park, within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

On display is more than just stuffed animals though. It is a whole other value system in which our relationship with wild and domestic creatures was clearly very different: witness the display case of stuffed domestic dogs, a dodo and the famous Tring polar bear. We accept them as the animals were captured, slain and stuffed long ago, but I was surprised to see some dogs ‘donated’ as late as 1970. Perhaps not such a lost art after all?

The museum founder, Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868 – 1937), second Baron Rothschild belonged to a rich and powerful family that influenced and shaped the local landscape (and seems once owned much of it), was a keen naturalist from an early age and collected all manor of exotic creatures which he brought back to his private museum in Tring. Famous for riding around town in a carriage pulled by a zebra, local response is not, unfortunately recorded, but I do wonder what they made of it all.

Natural History Museum, Tring

Armadillo, Natural History Museum, Tring

My son wanted to show me the Galapagos tortoise that Lord Rothschild once road upon, but I was too distracted by the dust on top of the display case to appreciate the size of the animal…I really must stop doing that. That said, this is no fusty-musty museum, some of the galleries have been overhauled to improve presentation and durability of the exhibits without detracting too much from what I really enjoy; a museum that is not trying to hard, knows its core product, doesn’t smell of fried food, nor does it break the budget – it’s free! What’s not to like?

For further information on visiting NHM Tring which is open all year round except from December 24 – 26th, there is also a regular programme of events and wildlife photography exhibitions.

For information on what else to explore and enjoy in the Chilterns

Posted in Chilterns, Local Distinctiveness, Market Town, Museums, Niche marketing, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, Twitter, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

For some destinations, food is integral to the visitor offer. For others, it’s an after-thought.

Why is more effort not made by businesses who supply food and beverage directly into the visitor economy to source and sell what is local when we know that enjoying good produce and local food is increasingly key to reasons why holidaymakers choose destinations in England? Perhaps this is true the world over?  Why is there also scant recognition that a robust local food and drink offer is integral to a memorable visitor experience? And I’m not talking about customer service. 

Stating the bleedin’ obvious: we all need to eat on our way to and from our holiday destination and whilst there; why then, despite the fact that up to a quarter of all holiday spend is on food and beverages, is there such a void in distinctive destination food offers?

What about local culinary traditions and dishes that could so easily reflect a destinations unique offer and experiences? Where are those artisan food producers who put so much love and attention to detail into what they make? Why don’t we know who they are and why aren’t they more visible?

Tastebuds are impared at 35,000 feet and a recent Skift article revealed how British Airways is brewing the new science of Sonic Seasoning; which broadly means that using the art of sound to enhance in-flight dining and what’s on their customers’ plates. So does it work? Well, inspired by the Fat Duck restaurant, and playing an assortment of musical combinations, the experiment revealed that cooks can dial certain ingredients down a notch while still ramping up flavour. Sounds like a gimmick to me!

Turning to companies closer to home, my straw pole had this to say about the state of my local food tourism industry:

“Beetroot and apple salad with snail caviar canapés flew off the plates when we prepared tasters at the Artisan Market weekend.”

“If you happen to hear a few whizzes & bangs, don’t be alarmed, we’re getting our nervous (Christmas) turkeys ready for Bonfire Night.”

“Local food? That has nothing to do with our offer” said a museum,

and this is my favourite; “We love to share inspirational stories about the people and places who produce the food we sell.”

A mixed bag of responses from quite different businesses but with one thing in common; they are selling directly to leisure consumers who will consume for different reasons – apart from hunger.

I was a guest recently at a food tasting event that was delivered in partnership by a local food deli and a lovely pub with more local history than you could shake a cocktail stick at – evident, but quietly understated. The event saw the launch of a new autumn tasting menu that was enjoyed with a thoughtful and carefully chosen affordable wine list that made for a memorable evening for which of number of things stood out for me; meeting two local food heroes – one was passionate about meat and the other wine and together they made beautiful food music by expanding my culinary repertoire and bringing new experiences to me in a delightful setting. I haven’t stopped talking about it.

Russell Arms Butlers Cross, Chilterns.

Russell Arms Butlers Cross, Chilterns.

Does it really matter if visitors eat ‘anywhere’ food? What are the economic impacts if visitors and locals bought their lunch from a food outlet stocking locally-sourced food vs a high street outlet stocking ingredients sourced from other countries? What benefits for the businesses and the visitor economy? That answer should be obvious, but not so, as I discovered whilst researching content for a food tourism workshop.

I recently ran a food tourism workshop for a destination looking at what their current offer is and what opportunities there are to make the offer more memorable and sustainable. Establishing a feel for a national picture was difficult; some pockets do stand out; Ludlow, Cornwall (too many websites to include a link), Kent, London and Scotland – who has been doing the food tourism thing for years and puts a worth of £17 billion against this sector. If I have missed out your food destination, please let me and the world know.

With the help of a medieval text, an Essex farmer has revived a tradition in what was once the heartland of production in Tudor times; saffron from Saffron Waldon is a wonderful example of place-making through food. Read the full story here.

And when it came to statistics for the volume and value of the UK offer; I might as well have been looking for cheese on the moon, so have no idea how this sector matches up to transport or accommodation; two key sectors well supplied by international companies with well established business models, expertise and resources. Perhaps therein lies the problem; where are the food producers? Why don’t we know about them or they us? One clue is that the majority of food producers are micro businesses (employing fewer than 10 people), who are typically located in hard-to-find premises making the very products that they also have to then market and sell.

Another clue is that the traditional grocery sector in the UK is undergoing fundamental change as consumers no longer flock to faceless out-of-town superstores, but instead are doing more (but not enough) shopping locally, perhaps two or three times a week and buying food from a variety of suppliers. Witness too, the rise and rise of the street food phenomena. The appetite is there, so  could this pattern be repeated in the visitor economy? Not quite so simple as there a number of  obstacles that need to be overcome first including;

A sustainable and reliable supply chain
B2b and b2c communication
Connections and harnessing the power of local networks
Brand building
Establishing volume and value
Product mix and of course that old chestnut, time!

Food tourism is bigger than just cafes and restaurants, it is also the relationship to local suppliers and producers and benefits the entire visitor economy. A holy grail for all destination marketeers and a rich  seam to be mined that will add so much depth and experiential offers to a destination that can go beyond simply dishing up an anywhere plate of food in an anywhere destination.  I have work to do!

Posted in Chilterns, DMO's, Local Distinctiveness, London, Marketing Communications, Niche marketing, Retail, Rural Tourism, Segmentatino, Short breaks, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, UK, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to the National Trust

Is this some kind of new and clever promotion? Pay 12 months for six months access?

Dear Sirs

I am contacting you regarding my lapsed membership of your august organisation, following receipt of my third and final renewal letter in the post today.

I confess to not being a lifetime member, nor spending every leisure hour seeking out NT properties, but I do live in a part of the country that is almost wholly owned by yourselves, so splashed out and bought family membership last year. We made good use of it, to wring out all the value an annual membership offers and was so impressed, I wrote a blog last year following a visit to your Ascott property near Leighton Buzzard. 

This unusual survivor is one of the oldest windmills in Britain. Pitstone windmill ground flour for the village for almost three hundred years until a freak storm in the early 1900s left it damaged beyond repair, until the marvellous volunteers stepped in.

This unusual survivor is one of the oldest windmills in Britain. Pitstone windmill ground flour for surrounding villages for almost three hundred years until a freak storm in the early 1900s left it damaged beyond repair, until the marvellous volunteers stepped in.

You have reminded me in your letter that without my support, you cannot continue to protect 700 miles of glorious coastline, 200 inspirational gardens, 300 historic properties and 612,000 acres of precious countryside….that’s quite a burden of guilt to put on a pair of shoulders!

And the question is of course; what will I do on these barmy summer days when I no longer have access to 200 parks? However will I spend a rainy weekend when I’m no longer able to amble at leisure through galleries and libraries? How will I sleep at night knowing I am no longer doing something special and worthwhile and being an all-round good egg by helping to protect so many historic treasures for generations to come?

And what of your volunteers, will they miss me? I’ll sure miss them.

I’m getting through it somehow, but feel that as one of 3.7 million members, that your automated renewal letters and quaint ways of getting in touch are quite possibly limiting your numbers.  You are clearly not short of communications staff who roll out impressive marketing campaigns, both on and off-line and are at home using persuasive language to encourage repeat purchase. But as is so often the case, the communications don’t chime with the gritty customer reality of membership renewal.

I haven’t told you what my problem is; my membership lapsed in February 2014 and for various reasons, I have not renewed it. This last letter made me chuckle as it must have slipped through the ‘is this lapsed customer going to laugh at us?’ department, because the expectation is that I will happily renew my membership back-dated to February 2014. You even thoughtfully included a Free post Plus envelope for my cheque. Why would I pay for 6 months for the price of 12? Is this a new type of clever promotion?

You do have options for your customers to get in touch:

  • I could have entered into correspondence with you asking for the membership renewal date to be changed, but I don’t know where the nearest post box is nor what a stamp costs anymore.
  • I don’t do telephones much these days either, so went onto your website to see what options you gave me there….there was only one option: back-dated renewal.
  • Maybe I missed it, but why no
  • No response on @nationaltrust and @southeastNT either.

I can’t be the only lapsed member? Does everyone just pay up regardless of how many months they actually have left to save our national treasures? Is this what you rely on?

Please don’t take your members for granted, by giving potential members lots of easy options and the rest of us don’t even deserve an email address.

Regretfully yours

Mary Tebje

Posted in Buckinghamshire, Chilterns, Local Distinctiveness, Marketing Communications, National Trust, Retail, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, Social Media, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, Twitter, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A road trip in the Free State and neighbouring Lesotho

This short travelogue follows the discovery of a set of images taken during a trip a relative took whilst on holiday in South Africa in 1957. His handwriting was even worse than mine, so I am unfortunately not able to identify specific locations or people. He traveled from Germany by boat, calling in at Cape Town, then disembarked at Durban and travelled by car into the interior. I wish he had kept a diary of this trip to give some insight into his and the locals’ interaction as I don’t expect many spoke German!

Cape Town Harbour; 1957

Cape Town Harbour; 1957

He was a landscape artist and sought inspiration from new vistas, worlds away from a continent re-building after the devastation of the Second World War.

This is a flavour of what he saw:

Wash day; Free State dorpie, South Africa

Wash day; Free State dorpie, South Africa

A butcher at work; Lesotho

A butcher at work; Lesotho

Nannies with their charges; Free State dorp, South Africa

Nannies with their charges; Free State dorp, South Africa

Basutho family group; Lesotho

Basutho family group; Lesotho

This timeless rural scene re-acted countless times in countless locations around the world; Free State, South Africa

This timeless rural scene re-enacted countless times over in countless locations around the world; Free State, South Africa

Hotel Staff; Free State 1957

Hotel Staff; Free State 1957

A Free State dorp, South Africa

A Free State dorp, South Africa

Basutho school children in their outdoor classroom; Lesotho

Basutho school children in their outdoor classroom; Lesotho

Basutho family group; Lesotho

Basutho family group; Lesotho

Wigmakers; Free State, South Africa

Weavers; Free State dorpie, South Africa

Posted in South Africa, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, Twitter, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Repair and Refurbish and They Will Come

Who knew that we owe so much of our complex digital lives to the war-time activities of code-breakers toiling in secret during the Second World War at Bletchley Park?

In an unexpected location, in the middle of a nondescript town in Buckinghamshire, north west of London, sits a visitor attraction that is bound to keep the heritage hordes happy…somewhere to while away an afternoon immersing yourself in long-forgotten stories and past selfless lives.

Janet and John

Janet and John

I have often commented on the insatiable appetite for heritage and history and all that falls in between. The market is well served with providers who are only too keen to help you part with your cash to support their heritage cause. As with many other heritage sites, the balance to be struck between access and paying those bills can’t be easy, so finding your niche is important. Bletchley Park, once home to the code-breakers, has a long, glorious and complex history, to which I cannot do justice here, but suffice to say that finally, the location of such mind-boggling war-time work, so much of it top secret, can now bask in the visitor attraction and heritage limelight. Bletchley Park is fortunate in having found an excellent niche and relevance with ICT and the security headaches it brings to all of us today; with our many electronic devices, computers, encrypted passwords and daily dodging of online fraudsters who do their very best to break our personal codes.

Perhaps the Trustees would think it an overblown description of this as a Cinderella attraction following its transformation since it first opened in 1994 and successful £8 million Heritage Lottery funding that has enabled at least some of the site to be developed – much more to follow in the future and an annual visitor forecast of 250,000.

It was hard to tell from where the visitors originate, as most of us where plugged into our complimentary headsets (with impressive content) that cocooned us in a 1940’s world, with added comical gestures and expressions of our own. Some thoughtful displays and some not so, but we did enjoy the puzzles, code crackers and how to even work an Enigma machine.

Where would the heritage sector be without volunteers? In fact, where would the UK be without volunteers? There were a number of them dotted about, ready to explain the complex machinery and their impact, and to the chap who, with wit and confidence made the inner-workings of a Bombe Machine seem so obvious to the dull-witted such as myself, your contribution was inspirational!

There has been much written and broadcast of the life of Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who for a time led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Now the focus of new biopic, the Imitation Game, he devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany. Turing’s pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles. He was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952 however, when such acts were still criminalised in the UK, that was to have tragic consequences.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

The further we got into the experience though, you could tell where the funding had stopped. The knackered toilets really felt like a 1940’s immersion experience (no pun intended), and it couldn’t have included customer training for the young staff who were working (and some relaxing) in the caff, where ‘spot something fresh, anything fresh to eat’ become pointless. Call me bias, but I always hold the Merlin Entertainments Group as a shining example of how staff need to deal with and interact with customers, they are fabulous. No matter what job is being done, they are always ‘in the moment.’

Chess on the lawn was how we finished the visit, a fitting way to get our brains working, but I suspect nothing like the 9,000 Bletchley workers who at the peak of the war, toiled night and day on the 10,000 codes messages that flooded in from every theatre of war.

Entrance to the museum costs £15 (and is valid for one year), for adults and is free for children under 12. For further information: Bletchley Park

Posted in Buckinghamshire, Chilterns, Film tourism, Imitation game, Local Distinctiveness, Niche marketing, Retail, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, UK, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have we just seen the real 2012 Olympic Legacy in Yorkshire?

The £8.7bn 2012 Olympics were a huge success, of that there is little doubt. But what of the Legacy? Inbound tourism and in particular London, are enjoying increased visitor numbers and spend, but what of the regions, what are they doing? Well, to the people of Yorkshire (sorry Cambridge and Essex), I salute you! You have shown us how Legacy should be done.

The government wants us to be fitter and healthier and have spent a lot of money telling us so – a sporting Legacy of which so much has been written in the years leading up to the 2012 Olympics, with very noble athletic aims set out including;

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport leading on getting more people active through sport, while Sport England is working to get one million more adults regularly taking part in sport. The Department of Health is leading on delivering the second half of the two million target by co-ordinating health-related activities.”

How is this being achieved? A sporting picture springs to mind of civil servants wearing unfashionable sporting attire, clipboards in one hand and a huge stick in the other, prodding the locals who laze, oblivious in the sunshine, ears closed to the public services-type health messages and unhelpful prodding.

Cue even more column inches since, filled with claims, rhetoric and counter-claims about whose budgets has been slashed or increased, whether or not school children are doing more or less sport, and I am really none the wiser on whether or not we are fitter and healthier, or fatter and lazier.

Then in July 2014, it all changed. Following an unforgettable weekend of international sport hosted here in the UK, including Formula One and Wimbledon, was dominated by the Tour De France Grand Départ in Yorkshire. The broadcasting and media coverage was simply staggering, unbelievable in fact. Remarkable too, given the habit of the British press of reporting on the build-up of all major sporting events by finding the smallest and unlikeliest events that will result in an apocalypse, for sure. The only story I read concerned some keen locals in Masham who had jeopardised the street lighting by hanging their own hand-knitted jersey-bunting from the poles and were told to remove them as they could cause a woollen hazard. Well, if this was the only non-disaster disaster story, then we were already in a good space.

Would the scenes of an estimated two million people squeezed along the narrow Le Tour route have happened without the 2012 Olympics? Would so much effort have gone into the build-up for what would be essentially a brief glimpse of the riders themselves? Would the tireless effort, creativity and ‘we don’t need officialdom’ mindset to tell us how to celebrate sport, have happened?

Even the marketing obstacles of not being able to use the official logo didn’t get in the way (remember all those silly stories about the Olympic sausage police?), well, who here had the time or energy to order the locals to un-dye their yellow and green sheep, remove the art from the roads, exterior walls and gardens, yellow bicycles from the hedges and fields? Therein lies the lesson; don’t even try and control how your audience is going to get involved, get behind their great unbridled enthusiasm which is to be commended and celebrated. Local pride, business confidence and most of all, a sense of place were all on show. You can’t buy this. The locals of course will have another view, I wasn’t there, I am merely looking in, comments are always welcome.

Friends and colleagues were packing their tents and bikes to head off to Yorkshire, unfazed that this would include for one, a 20-mile round trip on a dusty bike to reach their Le Tour vantage point. He was so excited, his belly wobbled as he told me of his plans!

I would like to suggest that we have seen the real 2012 Legacy, a legacy of new-found confidence, confidence that we can successfully host these international events and with the whole-hearted backing of the locals. The people of Yorkshire (sorry Cambridge and Essex), I salute you! You have shown us that it can be done.

To the instigator of this piece who says she is heading to Yorkshire for her next holiday with the words “it looks like a beautiful place, somewhere I have to visit’, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Then followed a long conversation about how a client destination could even begin to pull off such a thing….but that’s another blog for another day.

Posted in Cycling, Local Distinctiveness, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, UK | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspired Chilterns’ Landscapes at National Trust Cliveden

“The Rose Garden was described by designer Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe as a vegetable form, like a cabbage, with each bed intended to envelop the visitor and draw them deeper into the garden,” explained Cliveden head gardener Andrew Mudge.

Much like the entire National Trust estate at Cliveden, drawing you in up the drive as you quickly begin to get a feeling for the scale and complex textures of this beautifully landscaped garden. Cliveden means “valley among cliffs” and refers to the dene (valley) which cuts through part of the estate just east of the house. Perched on an impressive 130 feet above the river Thames, it has always been intended as a statement house for the succession of owners and high-class tenants who have the good fortune to live there in such idyllic Chilterns’ surroundings, with wonderful views south across the river since the first house was built in 1666.

I was there to see the restored Rose Garden, with it’s 900 blooms showing off their palette of soft sunrise pinks, bold oranges to yellows and deep sunset reds, inspired in part by the abstract painter Paul Klee. It’s a friendly space, with children kicking off their shoes to run on the wonderfully soft lawn and benches to pause and enjoy the spectacle.

A Wounded Amazon, Resting Satyr and Venus marble statutes watch over the assorted blooms, and help to give the garden a sense-of-place as they are all closely associated with the Astor family. This garden was, after all specially created for Lord Astor as a special place to relax after a busy day in the office.

A resting Satyr leans on a stump amidst the 9,000 blooms in the restored Rose Garden at Cliveden

A resting Satyr leans on a stump amidst the 900 blooms in the restored Rose Garden at Cliveden

What could be more English than a rose garden in bloom on a warm summers day? Why a cup of rose tea or rose-infused lemonade, accompanied by lashings of Cliveden rose cake – a real treat.

Dotted around the formal gardens are a number of mulberry trees that bare plenty of fruit, rarely seen in the shops, which is probably why visitors like to tuck in. The staff are too polite to comment on their red-stained hands! The mulberry has royal associations dating back to Tudor times and has a spreading habit and becomes crooked and gnarled with time, making an organic architectural feature.

My name if Morus Nigra 'black mulberry' and I'm very old. Please be gentle.

My name is Morus Nigra ‘black mulberry’ and I’m very old. Please be gentle.

Cliveden has enjoyed significant growth in recent years following a number of what I can only describe as intriguing non-National Trust initiatives – installing a giant stainless steel slide which is more water park than historic property, being the most impressive. The visitors love it, including the oldest who at 92-years of age, is inspiration for anyone feeling they are perhaps showing their age. A bit like the South Terrace, at over 350 years old, which is why the slide is there; to raise awareness and funds to complete a complex and fascinating conservation project that doesn’t only include the fabric of the building, but rare species of bats, snails, lichen and hotel guests. Cliveden House has always been dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, power and politics, so it’s no surprise it has been a successful luxury hotel since 1985. Hotel guests have free-rein of the house, visitors to the gardens are able to take a peek inside on the twice weekly tours.

The views across the Parterre – a formal garden laid out on a level surface – are breath-taking. I mean that quite literally. The south-east of England is such a busy place, stuffed full of people, cars, planes and trains – noise. To just stand somewhere that offers space and wide vista’s in this environment is really special.

What a fabulous place this is. Not trussed up like a Victorian lady, but somewhere that is bustling with activity and promise – from the newly restored Rose Garden to the being restored South Terrace. And I haven’t even explored the Thames Riverside yet. That’s for next time.

Glorious Gazania's make a statement in the Long Garden

Glorious Gazania’s make a statement in the Long Garden

For further information on National Trust Cliveden opening times, events and tours: For ideas and inspiration on what to explore in the Naturally Outstanding Chilterns: 

Posted in Buckinghamshire, Chilterns, Cliveden, Local Distinctiveness, London, National Trust, Retail, River Thames, Rural Tourism, Short breaks, Tourism, Travel and Leisure, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment