[Braintree Station (c.1961)Edward Bawden. In the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden which is on the list.]
A while ago I wrote about my plan for a Grand Provincial Tour, a week of visiting provincial art galleries with some tea and cake, books and buildings thrown in for good meaurure. I know it was all fantasy, but it had its roots in reality. The basic premise of the Tour was to explore provincial towns with a simple cultural agenda, and as I'm still as keen as ever on walking around cities and towns, browsing in bookshops, looking at old shop fronts, finding good cafes and paintings, I see no reason why I shouldn't do the Tour, but just not as a single one-week tour, more a peripatetic tour.
This blindingly obvious solution only occurred to me last night after I'd been to Eastbourne for the day yesterday as I was telling Phoebe about my visit. I hadn't thought of it as the beginning of something, just an away-day on the train. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to see Eastbourne as No.1 on my list of Provincial Towns to Visit for Cake and Culture and More Besides. I already have plans to see another place to visit very soon, but the map of Great Britain is suddenly looking very exciting as I consider where else I could go.
[The Terminus, Penzance Railways Station Cornwall (1925) Stanhope Forbes. In the National Railway Museum, York, which has been visited but is still on the list]
There is such a huge wealth of stuff to see and do all over the country that the possibilities are enormous; I always have a number of destinations on my list at any given time - at the moment these are St Ives, Salt's Mill and Wakefield - but it gets even more interesting once you start making real plans. All I need are some OS maps, a few Shell Guides, the spirit of Pevsner, Piper and Betjeman, an Art Fund pass, some train timetables, Google for the bookshops and cafes, a good pair each of shoes and glasses, and I'm off. I don't mind travelling alone as I've been doing this since I was a teenager, and there are times when I realise it's easier on my own because I don't have to make apologies for Victorian churches/musty second-hand bookshops/incomprehensible art installations/poor catering. But I also don't mind travelling with an uncomplaining companion who will enjoy whatever's on offer, read maps, be enthusiastic about lettering/railway stations/time-warp cafes, and not decide that it's time to leave after thirty minutes.
[Letchworth Station (1912) Spencer Gore. Also in the NR Museum in York]
So I'll be taking my Tour as and when I can, creating a personal map of provincial Britain (I may include some smaller places in/on the edges of London, too), travelling by train if possible. I have no schedule, no deadline, no pressure - just plenty of curiosity and a love of travel, no matter how provincial.
First stop of the Tour is Eastbourne - post coming soon.