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3.9 out of 5 stars24
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Slough, Croydon or Coventry wouldn't be many people's idea of places to go for a holiday. Travel writer Tom Chesshyre thought differently though and over a series of weekends he visited these and eight other destinations within the British Isles that are well away from the tourist trail.

He finds that whilst these destinations may be at best unfashionable or at worst salubrious (and even a little dangerous)each has something good to offer that makes them well worth a visit. He finds for example, that Port Talbot, which is dominated by its steelworks, may not have a pretty face but if you look closer you will find acres of forests that have become a haven for mountain bikers. Similarly Coventry's once historic city centre may have been blighted by war-time bombs but he finds that the new Cathedral is a breathtakingly beautiful building.

I enjoyed this book and was particularly impressed by Tom Chesshyres writing. Whilst not trying to amusing he was able to bring out the humour of the situations that he found himself him. He also appears to be a fair writer, never exaggerating the downsides of the locations he visited nor does he overdo his praise when he discovers the upside. Many times when reading travel writing I have a strong suspicion that some of the events that are being related are embellished to make for a more interesting read; I never thought that whilst reading this book though.

I have visited practically all of the cities in this book and, to be truthful, disliked most of them. After reading To Hull and Back though I am inspired to pay them all another visit.
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on 21 July 2010
Having got bored of reading books by Bill Bryson etc on visits to quaint towns and picture postcard villages, this book is a refreshing antidote to British travel writing.

The author visits places you wouldn't dream of going and this makes the narrative fascinating, giving insights into the real Britain. Humourous in tone of voice this book makes an excellent read and is chocca full of 'pub nuggets' that you can recall to your friends.

Recommended (and has given me a few novel - excuse the pun - weekend break ideas)!
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on 4 August 2011
Overall, I was disappointed with this. I bought it based on the suggestions of cover and title that it was a humorous potter round the parts of Britain that are off the well-worn tourist trail - something between "Bollocks to Alton Towers" and Stuart Maconie. Well, the pottering-about and the off-the-beaten-track aspects are there, but sadly, not the humour, and without a few laughs along the way, this soon became a tired trudge through a travel journalist's checklist of things to see/people to meet in any given location. I think that as soon as the reader becomes aware of the author actually taking down notes, arranging interviews (John Hume for god's sake) and doing things for their supposed anecdotal value, then the game is up and it feels like a leaden-footed 'commission' rather than an individual's intimate travel diary.
There were three other annoyances:
1. The title. I'm convinced this was originally going to be called "From Hell to Hull". Chronologically I have a suspicion that he actually started in The Scilly Isles rather than finished there, but a return trip to Hull presented itself because of Larkin commemorations last year, and I think they re-structured/re-titled the book accordingly. The inclusion of The Scilly Isles seemed completely spurious as they are hardly an "unsung" tourist attraction, and the return to Hull as required by the title was also completely spurious. So the whole book was hung on a weak pun that doesn't really work.
2. The author's wife. I just got fed-up hearing about the author's phone calls home in which his wife was so aghast at the very prospect of even being in Coventry or South Shields. Come on, we're hardly talking about Mogadishu or Kandahar! This sneery subtext betrayed the author's true thoughts on his destinations.
3. The author. Considering he's the travel editor of The Times, why did EVERYTHING come as a complete surprise to him, whether socially, historically or geographically? It was as if his sphere of consciousness before his trip didn't extend beyond the M25 or before this century. In the end he came across as being as wet and windy as his ferry ride out of Penzance.
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on 12 February 2011
In his previous book Tom Chesshyre took us on a tour of Eastern European low cost airline destinations. This time he guides us to parts of the UK that are well off the tourist beat, usually because they are unremittingly grim.

As a newspaper journalist Mr Chesshyre's press pass opens doors that remain firmly closed to you and me as he meets historians and tourism officials and the occasional local celebrity. He must also be praised for his courage (or foolhardiness?) as he roams alone around Derry's Bogside or the wilder parts of Salford or Croydon.

With the exception of Norwich and the Scillies - the two "nice" places that found their way into the book when the author fancied weekends away from unemployment and crime - it's unlikely that the towns featured in this book will ever become tourist magnets. So we should thank Tom Chesshyre for writing this book: read it, and you'll never have to visit these places yourself.
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on 8 April 2013
Tom Chesshyre's book is in a similar vein as Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island in that the author seeks to explore parts of the British Isles places that tend to escape the tourist trail. In this case destinations like Hull, Milton Keynes and Port Talbot. The main difference is unlike Bryson's book is that it lacks any intentional humour. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining read with Chesshyre taking a back seat to the people (from drunkards to Delia Smith) and situations he encounters along the way, which in some cases happen to be humorous.

It appears that the intention of the book was not to sing the praises of these 'unsung' places but take a more balanced view; at least that's what I get from it.

I liked it for its rather refreshing, slightly unassuming, easy-to-read style that avoided any attempt to be witty or political. A good book to take on a journey of your own.
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on 19 August 2010
When a professional travel writer who has experienced some of 'the most exotic, exclusive and downright glamorous locations on the globe' chooses to explore Unsung Britain, by rail, I simply had to clamber aboard for the ride.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tom Chesshyre's whistle-stop tour of the British Isles in 'To Hull and Back'. His enthusiasm and willingness to see the best in everything, is quite inspirational. Since I too enjoy travelling by rail whenever possible, I plan to make South Shields (with the delights of the Grand Central service from King's Cross) first on a weekend 'hit-list'; to be followed quickly by Norwich, Coventry and, yes, Milton Keynes. Can't think why, but I shall probably give Croydon a miss!

Unsung Britain with its quirky local heroes and characters, so proud of their hometowns (despite all the odds) fully deserve this recognition. Chesshyre's latest book gives them a voice.
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on 17 August 2010
Refreshing, different, and just takes your mind somewhere else to explore the most unexpected places. It's just fascinating to see how much is out there....and really close to us! Certainly I feel better `equipped' with some good ideas to explore more of the UK in the next few months.
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on 6 May 2011
This is an entertaining and funny journey around the more unfashionable towns of the UK and Tom is a funny guy to accompany around his explorations of these places. This book has inspired me to check out a couple of these destinations myself (Norwich & Derry & Hull in particular). I know Salford which he visits in the book and he really captured how the City is really trying to reinvent itself -it does have incredible bits of regeneration Salford Quays/Media City with areas of poverty but it is trying to improve. If you do decide to visit I can recommend the Chapel Street area and its pubs & Salford Quays to any visitor.
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on 27 August 2013
I have read just about every travel book there is and it helps if there is a little humour in there. There was none in this book. Some mildly interesting information is provided but as someone who lives in the 'north' this book reeks of a southerner thinking he is being cool by visiting downtrodden places. Only halfway through and there are 2 massive mistakes. Hull is NOT in South Yorkshire and never has been. He also claims that 3,500 people died in Northern Ireland which he cites as being 2% of the population. It is 0.2% which is a big difference. Not sure I can be bothered to read the rest of it if it is like this.
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on 22 July 2010
Having read the author's previous book (How Low Can You Go) I was looking forward to this one and it didn't disappoint... Who knew there was so much to uncover in Milton Keynes, Coventry and Croydon? I especially loved the episode in Salford (The Lowry hotel sounds amazing) and wanted to know more about the girlfriend who gets dragged all over the UK chasing concrete cows! A really enjoyable book, full of hidden insights into the treasures just waiting for us out there - I'm off to South Shields this weekend!
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