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2021 podcast series: Destination UK

International travel is pretty difficult right now, but why look anywhere else when there are so many fantastic parts of the UK to explore?

FlightFree UK
13 Jul 2021 7 min read

This is episode seven of our 2021 podcast series. Listen to the episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

Cat Jones. standing in a garden in a blue and white striped jumper, from Byway Travel.

This month we are showcasing the UK as a destination, and our guest is Cat Jones from Byway. We’ll be speaking about the beauty of touring in the UK and the joy of finding fantastic holiday experiences off the beaten track.

The Flight Free Fact: What do you think is the country most visited by British people going on holiday? It is, of course, the UK! According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2019 the number of holidays taken by British people in the UK was 60 million. That’s about the same as the number of people holidaying in every other country in the world put together.

Flight Free UK

Byway is a travel agency set up to plan people’s holidays in the UK and Europe, and all the journeys are 100% flight free. Cat, welcome to the podcast. Can you tell us a bit about Byway and why you set it up?

Cat

Byway is about flight-free holidays, but we are also about the joys that come with a holiday that is ‘travelling through’. When you are experiencing things as part of the journey as well as the destination, it’s much more exciting than flying over. So we are very much a slow travel company as well as a flight free company.

"When you are experiencing things as part of the journey as well as the destination, it’s much more exciting than flying over."

I’ve always been a slow traveller. I’ve never owned a car, I’ve always had family holidays by train and boat and bike, and loved it, but not loved organising it. The level of research that you have to do to construct a trip that is tailored to what you want to do is hard enough – and then you have to get under the skin of the timetabling! All of that synching up of timetables, taking advantage of transfer times so that they are not seen as waiting time but as holiday time, is really difficult to do. So that was the vision with Byway.

Flight Free UK

Could you recommend two top itineraries for travel within the UK?

Cat

One of our top trips for us and our customers at the moment is the West of Scotland. The Scottish Highlands and Islands, Mull, Iona, Staffa, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Skye and some of the small isles, and Fort William with the Harry Potter train. We’ve got some people away right now who are going up past Inverness and up to Orkney as well, so there are whole worlds of extension and detours around that. That’s a really popular region for us at the moment.

landscape of Scottish countryside
Scotland

The other that’s been very popular this summer has been Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It’s very common to fly to the Isles of Scilly, and there’s no reason why it should be. There’s a great night train, so you get on a night train to Cornwall and then out on the ferry, and you are there.

Flight Free UK

What do you like most about travelling around the UK?

Cat

The ease of travelling without a car, even though that might sound counterintuitive for lots of people. My family holidays were to the Jurassic Coast. You can hop on a train at Waterloo, whizz down to Bournemouth – I actually carry my bike on the train – and then you can go for a little paddle, cycle along the seafront, and go on a chain ferry onto the Studland peninsula.

There are also buses you can hop on and off. The ticketing infrastructure in the UK is set up to be flexible. You can hop off at any time in your journey and just get on the next train two hours later.

Also, your holiday doesn't have to rely on excellent weather all the time. If the sun was shining you’d plan this, but there’s a really lovely pub here where you can go and have a cosy experience. There’s a diversity of experience here that allows us to do a range of things really easily in a small region.

"Your holiday doesn't have to rely on excellent weather all the time. There’s a diversity of experience that allows us to do a range of things easily."

Flight Free UK

Is there anything that’s not so good about travelling in the UK, compared with other countries?

Cat

Yes – that’s the flipside of what I’ve just said! It really works and it’s very flexible, and there are great options for getting around, but the downside is that to access that information is really difficult.

St. Ives Bay, Cornwall

Flight Free UK

Is it true that holidaying in the UK is more expensive than holidaying abroad?

Cat

You can spend as much as you want on a holiday! But it doesn’t have to be more expensive. Obviously, if you are staying closer to home, then that immediately brings the price down because you are not going a long way. But you can still go a long way in the UK. We use the sleeper train a lot to get up to Scotland. The sleeper train is not inexpensive, but when you remember it’s a train and a night’s accommodation all rolled into one, then it’s a bargain! The other thing is to make sure you have a railcard, because it makes a huge difference to the price of the travel.

Flight Free UK

We’ve mentioned the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall and the Jurassic Coast. These are places that are already quite popular. So what might happen if we start to holiday abroad less, and holiday here more? Are we going to be suffering from over tourism?

Cat

There is so much here in the UK that doesn’t see loads of tourists, and there are so many people who would be really delighted to have more tourism in their local economy. One of the things we try to do with Byway is find the quieter places, sometimes within regions that might themselves be very popular.

I think as we see a shift in sustainability consciousness and decision making around holidays, there need to be more companies that are helping people explore this way. And in terms of COVID recovery, that’s a good thing for whole areas of the UK.

Seasonality is really interesting as well. We’re not selling trips in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles in August – we’re selling them in September and June. Our August trips are around the Yorkshire Moors and Yorkshire Dales. Everywhere is quiet sometimes.

Spring ariel view of St. Agnes, Isle of Scilly.
St. Agnes, Isle of Scilly

Flight Free UK

To celebrate Destination UK we have picked four of our favourite posts about UK travel from the Be Inspired page of our website.

This one is about Anna’s cycle ride around the coast of Britain: an ‘adventure of a lifetime’ that showed you don’t have to get on a plane to have an adventure.

We love Gope’s story – he is a triathlete who used to fly to Mallorca and Lanzarote for training rides. Since taking the flight free pledge he has now discovered the Lake District and Wales, and says that even though the roads aren’t quite as good and the weather is a bit more unpredictable, ‘the lakes and the mountains in the UK are as beautiful as anywhere in the world.’

Alastair Humphreys is a round-the-world adventurer who spent a month cycling around his home county of Yorkshire. He’s a great example of what happens when you slow down and travel more mindfully, and he discovered so much that he hadn’t known existed in a place that was really quite familiar.

Finally, moving away from cycling, Destination Scotland talks about exploring Scotland by public transport. That can be a real eye-opener. The time you spend waiting at stations and bus stops, and encountering local people, or having time to watch the birds, can be really enhancing to the holiday.

Cat

Exploring by public transport can be a bit daunting. I set up WhatsApp groups for our travellers, and we found that people really valued the WhatsApp support. There is naturally more unpredictability when you’re relying on public transport, but the idea is that you can embrace the uncertainty of those journeys. It is part of the energy and the enjoyment of the trip, and makes the stories that you tell when you get home.

Flight Free UK

What do you think about the future of travel, and what sort of businesses do you think will thrive in a low-carbon future?

Cat

I think the future of travel is slow travel. I think there’s a huge shift in consumer consciousness coming out of the pandemic around sustainability but also around a more mindful approach. I think that we are going to be seeing a whole lot more slow trips being taken. So there are businesses that will do well when they start to plug into that.

"The future of travel is slow travel. There's a huge shift in consumer consciousness around sustainability but also around a more mindful approach."

Destination of the Month

For Destination of the Month we have chosen our favourite UK byways.

Maggie chose a two-day walk called the Saints’ Way in Cornwall. Most people, when they go to Cornwall, go to the coast, but this path goes across the middle, from Padstow to Fowey.

Cat chose a place in the Studland Bay area, called Dancing Ledge, where there is a tidal pool blasted into the rock. The path up from Dancing Ledge is a bit of a scramble, then a byway takes you up through the fields and finishes up at a pub called the Square and Compass.

Anna chose Cape Wrath, the north west corner of Scotland. You can only access it by ferry across the Kyle of Durness. There’s a minibus that takes people up to the lighthouse at the very tip of Cape Wrath. When you get to the top there’s a small visitor area, and the lighthouse, and then the next thing is Canada, across the sea.

Thank you once again to Cat from Byway for talking to us. We hope that Byway enables more people to experience the wonderful travels that there are to be had here in the UK.

Listen to the episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

Voiceover: L. Sophie Helbig. Soundtrack: Chasing Balloons by Yeti Music.

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