An Artists Guide To The UK

BRITISH ARTS AND RAIL NETWORKS

Mark Taylor artist Pixels gallery 

I love London. So I should, I seem to spend at least 50% of every week in the capital with my day job, and most weeks I spend a night and sometimes two in a hotel so I do get to see some of the sights and of course a whole lot of art either in museums or galleries.

So it was interesting to read recently that a committee of MPs (Members of Parliament) have suggested that theatres, galleries, and other cultural groups located outside of London should get a bigger share of arts funding. Whilst I love London, I love art even more, so this was welcome news.

They also suggested that it was easier for arts organisations in London to raise money through sponsorship and philanthropy, and I agree. The arts should be accessible much more widely, and particularly in the more socially and economically deprived areas.

The Arts Council England said that they would be increasing funding outside of London and went on to say that 56 percent of the Arts Council's annual government funding will be spent outside London 2017/18. This will rise to 60 percent in 2018/19. But 60% spread across the rest of England still seems a little disproportionate.

A 2011 Census indicated that 53.01 million people live in England, yet 2015 figures for people living in London suggests that 8.674 million people live in the area. So forty-four million three hundred thirty six thousand people live outside of London. Despite any pre-conceived ideas people may have, not everyone who lives in the U.K. actually visits London. Even for me, a commute to London and then back home is 250-miles.

Now don’t get me wrong, London is a tourist hotspot and many people solely come to London for business and their work, but the rest of the UK is often left behind and can never expect the kind of social and economic traffic that London generates. If more were put in to the infrastructure outside of London, then other places in the UK could also see an increase in visitors and it would take some of the economic pressure away from London. People do need something to visit though and the arts is a huge draw that would encourage many more visitors to other areas.

The proposed high speed rail network will possibly help people with their commute or visit the many beautiful museums and galleries, and will undoubtedly bring in even more people to the capital, but we have to remember that London is actually a tiny part of the UK geographically speaking and there is so much more to see beyond the walls of the city.

The high speed rail network itself is a contentious issue outside of London with as many supporters as non-supporters. Many are upset because the route will drive through greenbelt land and will significantly change some of the landscape along the route. Others are upset because they see that there is no real benefit to them or their communities. It’s a little more complicated than that though.

For example, for me to gain any benefit I would have no choice other than to either drive 30 minutes to the nearest mainline station and get to London on existing rail services in 1-hour and 15 minutes, or drive on a heavily congested road network for one hour and then park the car, walk to the high speed hub, and continue for another 45-minutes in to London.

So essentially it becomes a choice between driving for one hour or driving for thirty minutes, I will end up at the same place at the same time, only the latter option will cost more in fuel and I will be adding to congestion.

Local railway networks just do not work very well, so there is no real option of going to a local station to catch a train to the high speed hub, because local train services are just not reliable. Many see the issue as shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, others see it as a necessary investment.

But unless road networks and transport links between local hubs and mainline networks are vastly improved, and local services are sufficient to meet the demands of people needing to get to the mainline high speed hubs, we are spending money on new red paint to cover existing red paint.

The real benefits will be where people live on the doorstep of high speed hubs, but rail prices in the UK are extortionate and are already the highest in Europe, passenger capacity on existing services is too little and the cost of travel on high speed rail might cost even more. To provide some context, the cost of a return ticket for my commute using existing direct services can cost over £200 in standard class ($248.70 US).

Whilst they say that local transport will become a priority, yes it will be part of the new infrastructure, it will only be upgraded in regions closest to a high speed hub and of course, there are many people who don’t live in the closest regions.

How would I tackle it? Very simply I would stop the high speed rail project temporarily, and invest in better local public transportation. There also needs to be an increase cell phone coverage along the routes of existing railway lines to drive up productivity whilst travelling because existing coverage is woefully inadequate.

Existing passenger capacity could be increased by removing the excess first class carriages which often have seating available whilst everyone in standard class stands up because there are no seats. Then you can add a high speed rail network later on, once the foundations are in place. Of course the cost of existing rail travel shouldn’t increase, it should be comparable to anywhere else, and more investment in local rail services is of course a must.

I digress, the point being is that art needs to be in all communities and I have previously written about the socio-economic advantages that community arts projects deliver. With local authority funding in decline, more needs to be done to support the smaller galleries, museums, and community art projects, in areas which are accessible to many. Art should exist everywhere and not just in London despite me being a fan, but an increase in funding is certainly a start.

OTHER PLACES TOO

There are so many other places that you should visit in England, Scotland, Wales, and indeed Ireland, other than London. If it is history you are looking for, then there are so many places that a certainly less visited than the capital, yet offer so much more in terms of beauty and visitor attractions.

STRATFORD UPON AVON


halls croft Stratford upon Avon 

More than 800-years of history is nestled in the English countryside just 83 miles (133km) from the capital. Stratford upon Avon is not only one of my favourite English locations of all time, it was also the birthplace of the bard, William Shakespeare.

Quaint side streets and rolling countryside is the order of the day for the many visitors that come to Stratford upon Avon each year, many of them returning year after year and always discovering something entirely new.

The obvious places to see are the birthplace of William Shakespeare and the associated houses tied to this historical figure, Halls Croft is shown in the above photograph. This was the Jacobean home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall. You can wander through the tranquil walled garden and discover a range of medicinal herbs that would have been used in Dr Hall’s remedies.

Beyond Shakespeare there is a wealth of other places and sights to see in and around Stratford upon Avon itself. Compton Verney Art Gallery (you will have to visit in the summer as it closes for winter), is an independent national art gallery just nine miles away.  This is an inspiring and cultural day out and well worth a visit if you are in the area.

In the centre of Stratford you will find the High Street with its black and white Tudor style frontages and old shop signs. If you want some artistic inspiration then this is possibly one of the most beautiful streets in England if you want to step back in time.

If it is food and drink you want, head over to Sheep Street. There are many local independent shops and restaurants and the famous teddy bear shop, Curtis Brae is towards the bottom of Sheep Street. You can’t miss it, the large teddy bear outside is probably as well photographed as Shakespeare’s birthplace.

CONWY

Visit Conwy 

Conwy Castle 

You will need to head over the Welsh border to visit Conwy which sits on the edges of Snowdonia. This world heritage site with an imposing and strikingly beautiful thirteenth-century castle next to a quaint harbour is a place I spent some time regularly visiting since I was about two or three years old, and it has never lost its appeal.

Children can fish for crab in the harbour, and adults will find plenty to entertain them. You can take a boat tour around the harbour, or just relax with a local beer outside one of the quayside pubs.

When you visit you will notice the imposing mountains of Snowdonia looming closely in the background and when you stop to take a look around you will be amazed that this little corner of earth is just one hour away from the hustle and bustle of Liverpool which is also worthy of a visit.

There are an abundance of art galleries, and local markets which showcase local talent and produce. It really is a fantastic location for artists and especially landscape artists. In fact I would suggest that every landscape artist should make Conwy one of the top bucket list places to visit. It really is that beautiful, even in the cold winter months.

What I love about Conwy is that it has managed to maintain its historical beginnings and isn’t at all commercialised. Having said that, the one bit of Conwy which is commercialised is the world’s first commercial surfing lake which attracts visitors from all over the world. 

For me, there is nowhere quite as stunning as Conwy and its magnificent scenery, there are plenty of hotels, and really great places to eat, and it is just minutes’ drive away from the Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno.

You will also find within a short distance a hydroelectric power plant for which you can book a tour of Electric Mountain located at the foot of Snowdonia in Llanberis and 17-miles away from Conwy, you will find the stunning scenery and waterfalls of Betws-y-Coed   Remember you are in Wales, so some of the pronunciations might seem a little alien to overseas visitors. 

In summary you could easily spend a few weeks in the area and not see everything this wonderful part of the world offers. That is exactly why I keep going back, and did I mention that this area is an absolute paradise for artists?

YORKSHIRE

Visit Yorkshire 

Ribblehead Viaduct 

I like Yorkshire and not just the city of York itself. People are some of the friendliest you will find anywhere, and the scenery here too is often stunning as you can see in the photograph of Ribblehead Viaduct.

Many think of Yorkshire as rolling hills and the City of York yet there is so much more to it. With nine coastal dog walks, the area is within spitting distance of the sea. I don’t spend quite so much time in Yorkshire as I should do, despite it being less than a couple of hours drive away from where I live. Yorkshire’s rivers and streams are a constant supply of inspiration for landscape artists, and if you want to feat at a Downton Abbey style dinner party you can do so at Newby Hall

Off the Yorkshire coast you will find shipwrecks, caves, whales, and dolphins, hiding secrets that few ever hear. Somewhere off the Yorkshire Coast, near Flamborough Head, a famous shipwreck is sat at the bottom of the sea.

American thriller lovers who have read Clive Cussler’s works will no doubt know that the author has spent a few decades searching for it, along with help from the U.S Navy and a nuclear-powered submarine. The ship, Bonhomme Richard, captained by American War of Independence hero John Paul Jones sank in 1779, its whereabouts have been a mystery ever since.

If like me you are a lover of all things aviation, then you need to head over to the Allied Air Forces Memorial & Yorkshire Air Museum  Dedicated to preserving the memory of allied aircrews of all nations from WWI to the present day, the site is based on a WWII, Bomber Command Base and is a remarkable day out.

ArtisOn is a small and enthusiastic not-for-profit team providing art and craft workshops in Masham which nestles at the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.  Whilst you are in the area you can try out their workshops and ignite your creative spark! You can visit Artison here.

THE LAKE DISTRICT

Visit the Lake District 

the Lake District England 

Another place I absolutely adore and yet another place that is a haven for us artistic types is the Lake District National Park.

This is England’s largest National Park and home to Scafell Pike, its highest peak, Wastwater, its deepest lake, and wonderful lakeside communities of places like Keswick and Bowness-on-Windermere.

Most experts suggest that there are a total of sixteen lakes in the Lake District, and there are many other stretches of water called Tarns. You can find out more here

My favourite lake of them all, Windermere is just a joy to explore. There’s a funny story about my experience on Lake Windermere when I decided to take my wife and two friends on an expedition with a hired speedboat.

I have no idea how it is even possible, but we managed to get lost on the lake when the weather changed from winter sun to sleet and snow at around the thirty-minute mark. When steering the boat back, we decided that we should take a shorter route that would avoid some tight turns. There were so many boat yards on the shores we couldn’t quite work out where we were supposed to go, so ended up sailing the lake on fumes, narrowly missing a steamer, and at this point we couldn’t have got any wetter had we have gone for a swim in the lake itself.

I kissed the ground when we finally managed to get a strong enough mobile phone signal to find out where we were supposed to be going, so a word of warning here, make sure you are fully aware of the weather and your surroundings if you plan on doing the same thing.

The Lake District covers an area of 2,362 km² and is a popular tourist region in northwest England. Its glacial ribbon lakes offer outstanding opportunities for artists and they sit at the foot of rugged fell mountains with its highest being Scafell Pike.

Scafell Pike is a moderately challenging walk but the view from the top is outstanding. Standing at 3209 feet high, it’s certainly not on the scale of even some minor mountains in the USA for example, but you will on a clear day be able to see all four nations of the British Isles once you summit with views of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Isle of Man. Just one word of caution, you will encounter some pretty tough sheep on the way.

PEAK DISTRICT

Visit the Peak District 

Chatsworth House 

The Peak District is another must for artists and is an upland area in England at the southernmost end of the Pennines. The majority of the area covers Derbyshire but surprisingly to most people, it extends out to parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire (where I live), and Yorkshire.

It became the first national park in the UK in 1951, and is split in to the norther Dark Peak, where the landscape is primarily moorland, and the southern White Peak where most of the population resides and sits on mainly limestone geology.

For the most part, the Peak District despite its name has few craggy peaks, and is characterised by rounded hills and gritstone escarpments (the edges), covering a total of 555 square miles (1,440km).

Bakewell is a small market town in the Derbyshire Dales, and if you have ever tried Bakewell pudding then this is the birthplace of one of the very few cakes/desserts I actually enjoy. Bakewell itself is located on the River Wye, around 13-miles (21km) south of Sheffield which is or at least was, famous for its Sheffield Steel production.

Bakewell itself is a wonderful and typical English community with magnificent scenery for miles around. Not too far from Bakewell is of course Chatsworth House which you can see in the above photograph, which has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549.

The actual name Chatsworth is derived from Chetel’s-worth, meaning the Court of Chetel. We do so love our olde worlde words in the UK. In the reign of Edward the Confessor, a man of Norse origin, held lands jointly with a Saxon named Leotnoth.  Chetel was deposed after the Norman Conquest and in the Domesday Book the Manor of Chetesuorde is listed as the property of the Crown in the custody of William de Peverel.

In 1549 Chatsworth was sold to Sir William Cavendish who was Treasurer of the Kings Chamber and the husband of Bess of Hardwick.

Chatsworth House has 126 rooms in total, although nearly a hundred are closed to the public allowing the family to continue living in the house. The Elizabethan garden is also a joy to walk through and the grounds are filled with stunning sculptures. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful of the many such houses throughout England, and indeed Scotland, Wales and Ireland and is richly steeped in history.

THE WEST MIDLANDS

Visit Birmingham 

Birmingham Bull Ring 

Whenever I say to my US based friends I live a short distance away from Birmingham, they always ask why I don’t have an American accent because they usually associate Birmingham being in Alabama. No, Birmingham in England is actually England’s second city.

With a population of 2,440,986 at the 2011 census. Birmingham metropolitan area is the second most populous in the UK with a population of 3.8 million. This also makes Birmingham the 9th most populous metropolitan area in Europe.

In Medieval times Birmingham was a medium sized market town but grew to international prominence in the 18th-Century and along with Telford (more specifically Ironbridge around 36miles away (40.3km), was at the heart of Midlands Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution and led the way in many of the advances in science, industry, and technology for much of what we see today. Birmingham was and still is, one of the most innovative places you can visit.

Today though the city is vastly different even to how I remember it as a child. When I was young my parents would visit Birmingham on a weekend to go around the local markets of the Bull Ring. The Bullring itself was redeveloped in 2003 and today it is one of the most visited shopping centres in England.

If you visit Birmingham you will find a wealth of art and culture around the city, world class galleries, museums, and the Bourneville Chocolate Factory (Cadbury’s World) amongst exceptional restaurants and bars.

It is Birmingham’s proximity to many other areas of interest and especially to artists. Of course there is the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which is one of my favourite haunts, Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses, and the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

But just a short distance away you will find places such as Dudley with its zoo and the Black Country Living Museum (I am an annual pass holder here so you will certainly see me throughout the year), where you can join in with 300-years of history like no other.

Fans of the BBC drama Peaky Blinders will be familiar with the surroundings because this is the exact filming location used throughout the series. Many other films and TV programs have been filmed here too.

It is essentially one of the most extraordinary open-air museums in the UK and perhaps in the world. You can explore original period shops and houses where the staff will take on the role of various characters who lived and worked in the area during various periods in time.

You can also visit an original pub that was relocated to its new home in the museum, and even visit the coal mine to experience almost first-hand (without the work of actually mining the coal), the life of a nineteenth century coal miner. You can find out more about this fascinating museum here    

Another city and one that is not too far away from me is Lichfield which is actually the closest city to where I live. It is one of only eight civil parishes with city status in England, with a population according to the 2011 census of just 32,219 people.

Lichfield Cathedral is perhaps one of the most famous sights but again the city is steeped in history with plenty of fine dining options, art galleries and museums.

In the 18th century, Lichfield became a busy coaching centre. Inns and hostelries grew up to provide accommodation, and industries dependent on the coaching trade such as coach builders, corn and hay merchants, saddlers and tanneries began to thrive. Many of the original structures still stand today and indeed it is reminiscent of Stratford upon Avon in some respects.

WELCOME TO LIFE OUTSIDE OF LONDON

So if you are planning to visit the UK or you already live over here, there are many places where artists and everyone else can visit and get a more traditional feel of British life. The vast number of museums and galleries in many of the Shire counties will entertain and delight, and all without the hustle and bustle associated with any trip to London.

Whilst London is critical to the success of the UK, many other towns and cities are too. So many people from overseas will do the traditional London/Stonehenge trips and excursions, yet if you miss any of the above places you will be missing out on what Britain really has to offer.

It amazes me too that many people and particularly from the USA will visit Scotland, London, and some of the southern regions, and leave out some of the most impressive areas that the country has to offer. 

Other notable places are Weymouth in Dorset  the Cotswold’s ,  which runs through five counties, and Shropshire which is where I spent most of my time growing up after my parents had moved to the new town of Telford  which is yet another place that is an absolute must for art lovers.

I hope you have found this post as interesting as I did whilst creating it, and if you are planning on coming over to the UK please do let me know if you want some inside information on the best places to feed your artistic appetite, or indeed feast on some wonderful food. I have been fortunate in that I travel around the country so much with both my day job and my art that there are few places I haven’t visited.

ABOUT M.A

Mark Taylor is a UK based artist who lives in Staffordshire, England who has been creating art for over 30-years. His work is sold around the world and in some of the largest physical art stores in the US and Canada.

His work can be seen on his sales page on this site and at Pixels here.




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