Don’t holiday in the predictable places, stay put for the summer
Growing up in Cromer, we called them grockles - the tourists who descended upon our town between Easter and September.
Wearing socks and sandals, flip-up sunglasses and bumbags, they made the streets a melee and the centre of the town into a car park.
I confess that I preferred the off-season, when I could drive through the town in minutes, not hours, and walk along an empty beach.
But I have always understood that tourists should be made welcome - not least because the vitality of Cromer depends on them.
(There was another reason that us young lads made tourists welcome. In a small town with a finite number of girls our age, the arrival of more people meant more opportunities to make fools of ourselves.) Their money is its lifeblood, so anyone who moans about grockles should ask themselves whether they’d prefer a ghost town with no shops and no soul.
It’s an easy argument to make in Cromer or in pretty much any place in Norfolk that’s popular with visitors.
But things are changing in some European tourist traps. In places including Barcelona and Venice, large-scale protests have been staged about the damage that visitors are doing.
The sheer volume of people is making beautiful places ugly: the streets heave, the cafes are full and the buildings are being eroded.
In essence, the thing that gives tourist centres life is now threatening to choke them.
I’ve experienced it - a long time ago in Venice, where my brother’s sunstroke provide light relief from the chaos, and more recently in Dubrovnik, an extraordinary place that has allowed tourism to steal some of its soul.
Why would you do it? Why go to Rome, Venice, Barcelona or Paris at the height of the season? Or why go to the Costa Brava to sit on a beach that is so full that you can’t see the sand?
I don’t know what possesses people to subject themselves to the tourism scrum, with packs of visitors shoving for superiority.
The tour parties barrel about, led by somebody holding a brolly, while all around the vain are taking selfies. (I’ve never understood why people think putting your gurning face in front of a beautiful building makes it better. Just photograph the building.) It’s not a holiday, it’s an ordeal. And it’s currently made much worse by the delays at airports.
By the time you get home, you’re exhausted and stressed. And yet, the sheep still follow the flock to the predictable places, to enjoy the irresistible holiday mix of heat, frustration and sheer annoyance.
At risk of sounding like a rep for Visit Norfolk, and having to deny that this column is sponsored by Hoseasons, have you tried staying put for the summer?
I’m at the start of a holiday that will be spent entirely in Norwich and Norfolk. No airport queues, turbulent flights, long drives or clamouring crowds - just me and the prospect of a quiet, dignified, delightful area to explore.
“Escape” doesn’t have to mean putting long distance between you and your home, it can mean just getting away from your daily routine.
When I’m walking along Marriott’s Way or exploring Norfolk’s churches, I’ll spare a thought for those in the midst of the holiday madness - and laugh.