We’ll soon be able to venture beyond our local park … and to help us, the Observer has launched a guide to Britain’s hidden treasures, starting with Jay Rayner’s hunt for tasty morsels in unlikely places
The Oban docks on Scotland’s west coast are a functional place. Veteran CalMac ferries to the islands heave on their moorings and, from time to time, there’s a waft of diesel in the air. It’s not the first place you might think of visiting for lunch. But there, alongside the blocky, modern ferry terminal building, is the glory that is the Oban Seafood Hut. It’s in the kind of prefabricated shed only its designer could love, and emblazoned with a garish bright green signage that can doubtless be seen from a mile off shore. But oh, the food. One afternoon, beneath gunmetal skies, I feasted on scallops the size of a baby’s fist in ponds of hot garlic butter, shiny black mussels and crab sandwiches thicker than an airport bonkbuster novel.
I cannot claim that the Oban Seafood Hut is a secret, newly whispered. I’ve written about it in my column and, in any case, part of my job reviewing restaurants in normal times involves giving exposure to the relatively obscure. I have no secrets. But it is proof, if we needed it, that a very good time out is not necessarily found in all the most obvious places; those destinations weighed down by labels like “beauty spot” and “national park” and the crowds of visitors that flock to them.
Soon, we’ll be able to go out again if only, for the most part, across the UK. Which means it’s time to get creative and to find our good times down the roads less travelled. This guide, by some of the Observer’s best writers, shines a light on a glorious selection of the less expected and less familiar destinations. There are the quiet, often hidden joys of our urban parks, and the uncrowded walks to be had along the Essex side of the Thames estuary, where England leaks away into the sea; there are canal boat trips through the Midlands and, while you’re there, things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon which have nothing to do with Shakespeare.
We celebrate fabulous Dales which deserve to be as well known as those of Yorkshire and, for those with the legs for it, a bunch of bike rides across various corners of the country. And then, of course, there are our seaside towns and beaches. We usually think of them only as places for when the sun is shining so vigorously the Mr Whippy begins to run down your hand. But there is a glowering majesty to Britain’s off-season seaside. So come with us to the less fashionable fringes of Scotland and Lincolnshire, and to other places besides. And if the sun does decide to shine on you, well, all to the good.
A few years ago, I was sent by an editor to learn about the fish-and-chip business from that year’s winner of the chip shop of the year title, 149 in Bridlington. I put on chef’s whites and a hair net and cooked portion after portion of haddock and chips. At the end of my shift I went to the front, my skin smelling of hot fat, sat on a bench and ate my own fish and chips from their paper wrapper, under clouds the colour of an old bruise. Bridlington, I noted at the time, does not have the carefully managed cute fishing village vibe of nearby Whitby or the Regency heft of Scarborough. It is very much its own place. And that was what made it the perfect spot for my fish supper. I had stumbled happily off the beaten track. This guide is designed to help you do the same.
Courtesy: The Guardian