Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: Touring the United Kingdom

 There really is no place like home, and when home is that green and pleasant land, that precious stone set in the silver sea, that land of brown heath, shaggy wood and rugged strand that we today call the United Kingdom, well, why not explore a bit?  Betty does!

A full 100% of the 135 Novels Neels are set, at least partially, in the U.K. – more specifically, in England or Scotland or both.  However, as in real life, while the heroines and heroes acknowledge the beauty and richness of their immediate environs, they’re sadly disinclined to tour like the guidebooks do.  Only 43, or 32%, do any serious tourist-type attention-paying to the country around them in England, and another eight, or 6%, give us insight into the riches of Caledonia.  (Two of those eight explore both countries, so it’s a total of 49, or 36%, of the books that offer England/Scotland tours.)  Compare this to the 60% who offer useful perspective into sightseeing in the Netherlands.

Unlike our experience of touring the Netherlands with Betty as our guide, touring England and Scotland involves vigorous shunning of the larger cities.  Only 1% of our heroines browse about London with any real conviction (they often live there, but take every opportunity to flee to the country).  Sadie Gillard of A Girl to Love (1982) and the young Misses Trentham thrill to the grisly history and gleaming jewels of the Tower of London, and Beth Partridge and a whole gaggle of kids take a few ganders about the big city in A Star Looks Down (1975).  The bodacious Josephine Dowling van Tacx has several days to explore the delights of York, population 198,000 today, while the small and nicely plump Amabel Parsons gets a few weeks to become familiar with its seamier side – though when Oliver Fforde shows up, they cover the higher-end bits together (Never the Time and the Place, 1985, and Always and Forever, 2001, respectively).


London and York – seriously, Bettys, how can you pass on these?

As an aside, I am distraught to imagine all these Londoners never taking a good look around that historic and charming city.  Although Amsterdam is the most-named location (after ‘other’) to tour in the Netherlands, the English capital is relegated (mainly) to a vague background for slightly down-at-heels family homes (hers), richly-appointed Regency townhouses (his), valiant bedsits, Victorian-era hospitals, swank hotels with Grill Rooms and staunch East-End clinics, with the occasional dog-walk in Green Park or Richmond and vaguely-worded visit to Harrod’s or an unnamed art gallery.  Pshaw!  One might almost surmise that Mrs. Neels was tired of London – and we all know what that means.  My own favorite thing to do in The World’s Most Interesting CityTM is to wander.  I’ll carry a map or cab fare, because one wants to get back eventually, and set out on foot, and then next thing you know, I’m watching the Queen’s Guards parade across some side street on their way to Buck House for the Changing of Themselves.  Or checking a street sign to read that I’m on Downing Street – and quickly noting that that house over there has a large number “10” on its door.  Or gazing delightedly at the Savoy Hotel, meandering under Nottingham Gate into an outdoor art show, or cantering down Rotten Row... (okay, the last one took a smidge of planning).

However, I am not Betty Neels, and I adore a good dose of difference-of-opinion.  So off we go to Betty’s favorite beauty spot:  ....no, I’m not telling.  Guess.

It’s the West Country.  For purposes of this dissertation, I’m defining the West Country as comprising the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.  Some scholars include Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, but then we start bumping into the Cotswolds, of which more later.

The hills are steeper than in the self-proclaimed “quintessentially English” Cotswolds, but the West Country nonetheless boasts greenness, pleasantness and the occasional thatched cottage.

So you may have noticed that a healthy portion of heroines, and some of our heroes, have or had homes in Devon or Dorset or Somerset, and one or two have aunts in Cornwall.  That is the topic of a future BbtN.  For now, let’s stick to the tourists:  14 heroines, 10% of all heroines and 27% of those who tour in the UK, make their ways to the West Country.  The first to do so is Tabitha Crawley, taking in the glories of Lyme Regis, Stoke Fleming, Churston Ferrers and Chittlehampton from the passenger side of Marius van Beek’s Bentley T convertible (Tabitha in Moonlight, 1972).  Beatrice Browning makes it farthest west, as she pokes her splendid nose into Polperro in Cornwall, a wonderful place for a Hilltop Tryst (1989) (though not Beatrice and Oliver’s designated trysting-top).  We know Emma Trent is The Right Kind of Girl (1995) in part because of her embrace of the simple glories of Dartmoor, Lustleigh and Torquay.  And we know the West Country is the right kind of place because in Betty’s swan song, Emma’s Wedding (2001), the two places Emma Dawson tours are Amsterdam (extensively) and Devon (a bit).  Incidentally, the photo that appends my comments in this blog is of me, leaning against a rent-a-Punto pulled over to take in a pastoral roadside scene in Devon.  Or maybe Dorset.

Polperro Harbor – plenty of hills for Beatrice’s trysting pleasure.

A close second on the list of visit-worthy locales in England & Scotland is ‘other,’ with 13 visits (10% of books; 26% of UK tourists).  And the category had some catching up to do, as after Mary Jane takes a peek ’round Cumbria in 1973 (Winter of Change/Surgeon in Charge), no ‘other’ visitors show up until Katrina Bennett enjoys visiting Edinburgh (pop. 482,000!) in When May Follows (1980).  Don’t be alarmed by that big Scottish city; the rest of the ‘others’ are towns and villages like Ightham in Kent, as described in Heaven Around the Corner (1981) and not much of anywhere else in the world (although The Rough Guide England (4th ed., 2000) recommends a visit to Ightham Mote, an “idyllically situated medieval dwelling,” while noting that “Ightham is tricky to get to by bus, with only the infrequent #404 from Sevenoaks (not Sat or Sun) making the trip.”).

 Ightham, I presume?

Then there’s a sprinkling of Sussex and Suffolk and Hampshire with a heavy dose of not-quite-Cotswolds Wiltshire – specifically, Wilton, Salisbury, Castle Cary, Amesbury and the Longleat Estate near Warminster.  Only one of our young ladies is intrepid enough to explore Brighton within the pages of her romance; perhaps that’s part of what makes Venetia Forbes ter Laan-Luitinga The Convenient Wife (1990).  Although, if I recall correctly, she and Duert were not yet married when they browsed about the pier.  Shocking!

Now, if you’ll wave goodbye to Worthing’s delightful sea breezes, and Brockenhurst by the New Forest, we’re off again.  This time, to the Cotswolds, with nine heroines and heroes squashed in to the socking-not-great-enough Bentley.  (Betty Keira is forced to sit on a lap!  Sadly, it is Betty Debbie’s lap.)  Those nine comprise 7% of all Neels partnerships, and 18% of those who tour the UK.  The Cotswolds, for those who have always wondered, are a series of hills (“wolds”) full of sheep sheds (“cots”), and the region is an irregularly-shaped Area of Natural Beauty incorporating pieces of six counties in more-or-less the central part of southern England.  It’s a lot like the West Country, actually, though with more tourist-friendly quaintness (subjective opinion!), gentler hills and a wealthier population base.

Victoria Parsons is the first of Betty’s heroines to look about the mellow hills of limestone (Victory for Victoria, 1972), and then we stay busy elsewheres for a decade or so.  Six stories feature Cotswolds tours from 1982 to 1985, including two of our three visits to Bath (pop. 84,000), in A Girl to Love (1982) and All Else Confusion (1982).  Jemima Mason visits another major attraction of the area in A Dream Came True (1982), becoming the only heroine to pay homage to her creator’s literary progenitor with a whip-round his home town of Stratford on Avon.  Over the next few years, we swing through Warwick and Bristol, and take a peek at Elmley Castle, and then depart the area until 1990’s visit, with Venetia and Duert, to Moreton-in-Marsh and Woodstock.  Olivia Harding rolls back through, with a busload of schoolgirls, in 1994 (A Christmas Wish) for another visit to Bath (Shakespeare 1, Austen & Heyer, 3), and then we depart the magical land of quintessential Englishness, mellow golden stone and thatch forever.

Stow on the Wold (Cots-wold, that is), Glocs.

 The Romanesque-Georgian architecture of Bath serves up golden stone in verdant Somerset.

Okay, scorecards back out:  fourth most-toured in the UK?  The Scottish Highlands.  Six of the eight books that offer us a view into the scenic wonders of Scotland serve up the Highlands – and all eight of them if you’re willing to consider the island of Mull and the Isle of Eriska (a very, very small island owned by one family and featuring a snazzy resort hotel) as Highlands, which is up to you.  Those six constitute 4% of all books, and 12% of those that guide us through the UK.  Three are from the 70s, one from the 80s, and two from the 90s, which seems a fair distribution given how long the trip is from The One True Betty’s West Country home to the remoter bits of Scotland.  While the names of English villages are often great (Saffron Walden, Churston Ferrers, Buckland in the Moor), let us reflect a moment on Sappha Devenish’s itinerary in the Tangled Autumn of 1971:  Ullapool, Inverewe, Balmacara, Auchtertyre and Lochcarron.  Shove a half-dozen marbles into your mouth and say those names aloud, rolling the “r”s, to get the true local flavor.


Scottish Highlands, with not a Nissen hut in sight – note low-hanging clouds, please, and take appropriate precautions.

Stourhead, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Bath, is just outside the Cotswolds, so gets its own place on the rankings list:  five of Betty’s stories take us to that meticulously-landscaped Palladian mansion in Wiltshire, starting with 1985’s Never the Time and the Place (though Stourhead seems the perfect place for a declaration of love).  Then there’s one visit each in ’87 and ’88, and we skip ahead eleven years for one in ’99, then finish up with Julia and Gerard’s 2001 visit in An Independent Woman.  If we include the five edge-of-Cotswolds locations I’ve thrust into “other” with the Stourhead visits, “Wiltshire just outside the Cotswolds” has more Betty tourists than the Cotswolds proper.

I have got to get to Stourhead – bee-yoo-tee-ful!

There are three (2% of books; 6% of UK tourists) visits to Yorkshire, and the same for Bath, both touched on above.  Finally, we have two visitors (1% of books; 4% of UK tourists) each for Scottish islands, Guernsey, Essex (“the true Essex”), London as mentioned, Cumbria, Northumberland (Hadrian’s Wall!), the Lake District, Oxford (just outside the Cotswolds) and Cheddar Gorge (also just outside the Cotswolds).  Zero for the Midlands, the Peak District, Liverpool, the eastern Fen country, ‘Madchester,’ Durham’s coal-mining country, the storied St. Andrews or the gritty Glasgow.  But then, Betty didn’t go in for grit much, did she?

So, what’s your favorite part of the UK that Betty skipped?  They say Birmingham is awfully hip...

“Brum,” as some folks call the UK’s second-largest city:  old and new; classic and (horrors!) modern

The usual caveats:  1) Eliza Proudfoot spent half a book in Scotland without exploring any notable landmarks, so she doesn’t count; similar examples abound.  2) Sometimes I don’t count so good myself.  3) Sometimes I don’t count five words (“They drove through Middle Carnage”) as ‘proper’ touring, and sometimes I do.  This whimsy is part of what keeps me young at heart.  4) You can argue as much as you like about what’s in and what’s out of the Cots, the West C., the Highlands, etc.  You’re not wrong.  Neither am I.  Seriously, that’s an invitation to state your case.


  1. It is I, Betty von Susie, the broken record, once again:

    Sappha visited the Menkemaborg, a moated country house, in Uithuizen. Mi familia's hometown.

    Betty von Susie

    1. Ha ha ha. Betty Broken Record von Susie, you are so funny.

  2. Yay! I've missed these BbtNs. Thank you, Betty v.d. Betsy, for a lovely tour of Betty's England. I wish I even knew enough to debate whether Wiltshire is in the West Country or the Cotswolds. Looking forward to the next installment. Touring the Netherlands, right?

    1. Ooops. I meant "Betty's UK." Scotland is not England, and England is not Scotland. And what does Betty have against Ireland? And Wales?

    2. Despite Betty von Susie's desperate halloo-ing and hand-waving from the peanut gallery, we have already toured the Netherlands, just last month. Take look, please, Betty Lulu, and let me know what you think.

    3. Wales
      I don't think Betty had anything against Wales, other than its being remote, perhaps? At least, she seems to have approved of it as a place for spending a vacation.

      Not Once but Twice
      It would be fun to go away, abroad, perhaps, even Scotland or Wales. Perhaps she could persuade George Henry to come with her, she was sure he hadn't made any plans. She couldn't have been more mistaken. They had had their supper ...

      Sun and Candlelight
      'Oh, I don't think I mind, I've never flown; if Granny and I have gone away on holiday we've always gone somewhere like Scotland or Wales or the West Country.' 'Then we'll fly, it's very quick and I'll arrange for Al to fetch us from Schipol.' 'Al?' 'I ...

      Nanny by Chance
      'Thanks, Briskett. You took Miss Pomfrey back to her home?' Briskett nodded. 'There's a nice young lady for you. I didn't fancy leaving her in that empty house.' He met the doctor's sudden blue stare and went on, 'Her ma and pa are in Wales.

      Tabitha in Moonlight
      If that was brotherly behaviour then the quicker she uprooted herself and went to live somewhere inaccessible, like the Highlands of Scotland or a remote part of Wales, where even a Bentley wouldn't reach her all that easily, the better for her ...

      The Little Dragon
      She had had a variety of patients during the last six months, spending the first few weeks in a Scottish castle miles from anywhere, followed by a mercifully brief period in a remote Welsh cottage with no telephone, a very sick patient and only a deaf old woman for company.

      Once for All Time
      (Do I sense disapproval here? He, he, he.)
      'He’s—he’s getting married soon. I have an awful feeling it's to his house doctor—a Welsh girl who has been angling for him for weeks. None of us like her, which is horrid of us, I suppose...'She launched into a light hearted description of Mary Evans to make Rosie laugh ...

    4. B vd B,
      I would be highly insulted but I am too busy ROFLing. Whenever I see the words "Tangled Autumn" it triggers my selective attention span and I must blurt out "Uithuizen!", no matter what the conversation is about.

      I'm like that cartoon dog that yells "SQUIRREL!".
      every few minutes.

      Betty von Susie

    5. Haloo to the peanut gallery! Where was I?? Right there, apparently, commenting and everything. Sorry :( It just seemed a long time since the Tour of the Netherlands, what with people (i.e., Betty JoDee) traveling to England and everything.

  3. While Betty send a few shadow siblings to Cambridge, I don't recall any other visit (except the shopping trip in A Summer Idyll). I quite enjoyed strolling around there.

    1. I quite enjoyed Cambridge, too, Betty Debbie, despite carrying an 11-year old niece on my shoulders around the place, and at one point sneezing, with 90-or-so pounds (six-and-a-half stone) of kid pressing down on my torso, so when the sneeze precipitated a stabbing pain in my midsection, I thought I might have cracked a rib. Turned out it was a lurking case of pleurisy, which I insisted on referring to as "me plerzee" in a bad mock-Cockney accent for the rest of the family visit to a gracious manor near The Wash.

      However: Cambridge. Beautiful city, a bit too much of the 'tourists, try punting like scholars of the 20s did!' (though I yearn to try punting), good art galleries and a shop where I bought a wonderful teapot (infuser, minimal drippage). I'd go back. I wonder why Betty didn't take us 'round a bit; I'm sure several RDDs studied there.

    2. Hooray, another Betty by the Numbers! Thank you, Betty van den Betsy. You are right about the RDD's studying in Cambridge. Giles ter Ossel in Enchanting Samantha "Got his M. D. Cantab. too, as well as a fistful of Dutch degrees." And there are quite a few others I was too lazy to pick from the list and count.

  4. Brighton. Often mentioned - seldom seen.
    I remembered from another post that there was more than one heroine in Brighton.
    BbtN Official Tourist :
    In The Convenient Wife Venetia Forbes was taken for a walk and given tea in Brighton by Duert ter Laan-Luitinga.
    He drove to Brighton, where he parked the car and walked her for miles along the promenade, until her cheeks glowed and her eyes sparkled. Back in the town they had tea in the Lanes and spent half an hour looking in the shop windows ...

    Other Visitors to Brighton who have not been accorded official tourist status :
    In A Kiss for Julie Professor Simon van der Driesma took Julie Beckworth, her sister Esme and their mother to Brighton.
    Over coffee he said, 'How about going along the coast to Brighton? We can go to Chichester and take the A259 for the rest of the way; it's barely an hour's drive. We'd have plenty of time to go to the pier or wherever you would like to go before ...

    In The Doctor’s Girl Loveday West was given coffee, lunch and tea in Brighton by Charles the Wrong Mr Fforde.
    'No, except that it's south—towards the coast.' 'Brighton, darling. Plenty to do and see there.' She had expected a day in the country—he had mentioned a country pub. Surely Brighton wasn't much different from London? But what did it matter ...

    In The Final Touch it is mentioned that Charity Pearson was taken to Brighton by Cor the Dastard van Kamp.
    Cor van Kamp had changed all that for her; he had singled her out, talked to her, taken her to romantic little restaurants for dinner, walked with her in the parks of London, borrowed a car and taken her to Brighton for the day, to the theatre, ...

  5. In defense of The Great Betty, when she was writing her "little stories" (as I believe her family called them) she was writing exclusively for Mills & Boon. She probably knew that M&B sold the stories on to Harlequin, but that must have felt as real to TGB as if I sold a story to a Dutch publisher.

    Anyway, writing about the touristy bits of London to an exclusively English readership might have felt unnecessary to her. It's hard for us in America to comprehend that, as England is so much smaller than the U.S. I guess it might be like writing books read only by Texans and thus figuring there was no point describing Dallas... (Or L.A. for Californians.)

    1. PHOTOS! We want PHOTOS! I propose a shot of Miranda Neville, Golden Heart Finalist Betty Magdalen, and a copy of Fate is Remarkable riding the King Arthur Carousel.

  6. Also, I think TGB just preferred the English countryside to its big cities. The Spencer family is positively scathing about Birmingham (curate Joshua's hometown) in A Secret Infatuation.

  7. There is one novel set entirely in the Netherlands, I think, The Final Touch.

    Betty Anonymous