Reading a leaflet in a motel on the way back from holiday, I noticed that we were in Hadrian’s Wall Country – a set of Roman-linked places stretching from coast to coast, presented to enhance tourism. I wonder of these ‘countries’ have borders and checkpoints – ‘You are now leaving Hadrian’s Wall Country and entering Herriot Country‘; or ‘Please remember to change your money before entering Beatrix Potter Country.’ Perhaps they behave like real countries – expansionist Bronte Country annexing tearooms and gift shops from Catherine Cookson Country; the Emmerdale/Phinn Alliance severing trade links with Miss Read Land, thus creating a doily mountain and clotted cream lake.
Many ‘countries’ (and a few Trails) seem to be based on authors, which seems to reduce their work to its picturesque aspects – I doubt if the guide-writers and tour-operators who have created ‘Hardy Country’ expect visitors to sell their wives, kill their husbands and die in despair, for instance. (Perhaps the nasty bits happen offstage, in Hardy’s imaginary Wessex.)
Like the Star Trek universe or the Wild West, these are virtual/fictional spaces that large numbers of people enjoy revisiting – overlaid on to real places.
Which ones might I pass through when I resume my Southport-to-Brighton journey? It would be great to see brown tourism signs around Shepperton, welcoming one to J G Ballard country, though these could legitimately be erected all over the place, pointing the way to any car showroom, shopping mall or gated community.
Brighton could be part of an international Graham Greene Country I guess, or maybe the alcoholic gloom of Patrick Hamilton Country could be a good draw. I’ll be writing to the relevant tourist authority to suggest that brown signs on the borders of Portslade and Southwick give a cheery welcome to Attila the Stockbrocker Country…