It came as a shock to realise that I'd spent more time in Chile, Spain or France than the upper two thirds of Great Britain, so I resolved to do something about it.
I'd wanted to explore the north for quite a few years, but my older son couldn't cope with any car journey over three hours and after a disastrous trip to Spain, we decided to give up on family holidays.
However, my son has made so much progress during the last year, we felt that it was worth trying again, so I got out a map and worked out how far we could travel over ten days.
I checked distances on Google Maps and came up with the following intinerary: Lewes-Knaresborough-Whitby-Alnwick-Lindisfarne-Edinburgh-Inverness-Fort William-Glasgow-Lake Windemere-Yorkshire Dales-Haworth-Lewes. It would be a whistlestop tour of northern England and Scotland.
After confirming that our trip would include visits to Scottish relatives and a detour to the Lake District, my wife gave her royal ascent and I booked family rooms in a succession of hotels and b&bs. Then, two weeks ago, we got in the car and looked for a road sign that pointed to 'The North'.
For many years, I assumed that the North began somewhere slightly beyond Northampton, where people began to rhyme 'luck' with 'push' and many placenames ended in 'by' or 'thwaite'. There would be drystone walls instead of hedgerows and wild, windswept moorlands. But I was wrong. Before the North there is a place called the Midlands and everything looks quite similar for a long time.
I also noticed that even when I reached Yorkshire, it didn't look particularly northern until I'd driven right up to the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, at which point the landscape dramtically changed and became more interesting.
But rather than bore you with a blow by blow account, here is a brief summary of the highs and lows of the trip:
- The landscape of the Scottish Highlands.
- The accents, all of which were music to my ears compared to our local one.
- Knaresborough - one of the most beautiful towns I've visited, anywhere.
- North Yorkshire, which fulfilled my dreams of wild and windy moors.
- Whitby - a beautiful fishing town with the best fish and chips in Britain.
- The B&Bs we stayed at - a far cry from their grim predecessors.
- The museums and galleries of Edinburgh - all within walking distance, unlike London.
- Visiting my wife's Scottish relatives.
- The awful chain hotels we stayed at - soulless and expensive, with suprisingly bad food.
- Glasgow - I enoyed exploring the city, but my sons hated it and refused to leave the hotel.
- 11 days of UHT milk pods - you can't make a decent cup of tea with it.
- The eternal struggle of finding somewhere to park.
- Holy Island - It had always looked impressive from a distance. Up close, it has bungalows.
- The cost of even the most basic evening meal.
- The drive home, which went on and on and on.
My wife took a while to adjust: "They don't seem to have a wine list. Is that a northern thing?"
I'd wanted to visited Whitby ever since I'd watched a BBC Play for Today called The Fishing Party.
I don't normally long for bad weather, but I felt that the Abbey had lost some of its mystery in the bright sunshine, so in the evening I climbed the famous 199 steps and took some more atmopsheric shots, like this one:
An octogenrian relative offered to drive us around the city and out of politeness we assented, but it turned out to be one of the most terrifying experiences I've ever had, like a very slow but deadly James Bond car chase.
This photo above is of a very attractive Edinburgh cafe that serves haggis sausages.
I remember a time when, along with the Japanese and the Scandinavians, the Chinese were the most well-behaved and self-effacing of travellers. What has happened?
I had been to Plockton once before and met an interesting woman who was a very keen member of the SNP. She very kindly drove me around the Isle of Skye and gave me a map showing a route that took me on a path up into hills above Plockton. When I reached the top, the view was breathtaking. I vowed I would return as soon as I could.
That was 13 years ago.
tragic history. I intended to go for a long walk, but when my sons found a stream and started building a dam, I didn't have the heart to stop them:
Although TB no longer ravages the tenements of Glasgow, the city still has many public health problems and I noticed many people who were not only morbidly obese, but also keen smokers. Glasgow is officially the sickest city in the United Kingdom and one in four men don't reach their 65th birthday.
After Glasgow, we drove down to the Lake District and hired a boat on Lake Windemere. Like Loch Ness, it was full of Chinese tourists with selfie sticks, but I managed to find a self-drive boat and we escaped from the madding crowd. Apart from a near collision with a paddle steamer, we had a very pleasant time.
I was particularly struck by a display of locks of hair - Emily was very blonde - and wondered if it would be possible to recreate the Bronte family using Jurassic Park-style technology.
I said I wouldn't bore you with a blow by blow account, but I seem to have done exactly that. To conclude, the holiday was a success and my older son, who once refused to leave the house, seems energised by the experience. Like so many children with his issues, he loved the most remote parts of the Highlands and hated anywhere that was full of tourists.
As for me, in the same way that some middle aged men realise that they're gay after years of denial, I have discovered that I am a closet Northerner. I suppose all the signs were there - a fondness for mushy peas, an aversion to direct sunlight and a preference for plain speaking.
Perhaps I've been living in the wrong part of England all this time.