It’s hard to believe that Rough Guides have been with us since 1982. In that time, they have become the ‘go-to’ travel guide for any budding explorer, dream holiday planner or fact-finding ninja determined to get the best out of their break away.
The best thing to happen to these guides was the internet. No longer do we tune into Judith Chalmers to find out where we want to go on our package holiday, we have taken control with the confidence and knowledge to book complicated trips which were once the domain of gap year students.
I confess that I have a love/hate relationship with guide books. I want to be the kind of person who reads them for fun and has a Rolodex of facts at my disposal but, after discovering the third bed and breakfast in Amsterdam, my mind starts wandering. What is great about Rough Guides is the writing. The prose is totally accessible and lacking in the usual text book style.
In order to truly put them to the test, I opted for a guide to the Lake District. Having spent the first 19 years of my life there, I wanted to see if they could teach this old dog a new trick or two. Which they did – I’ve picked at least three places in my old stomping ground which I’ve never heard of and will definitely have an explore next time I am in the homeland.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some contradictions. I am fully on board with the keenness to reduce traffic on the roads but to big up the public transport links quite as much as they do could be selling a false reality. Also, after they’ve done this repeatedly, the guide then launches into the best drives in the Lakes. Seems a bit of a mixed message to me.
The level of detail is astounding and there are tons of quirky facts down to who owns the B&B and their interests – great if you’re a solo traveller wanting to spark up conversation.
If you’d rather flick through the book than absorb every page, there are some great introduction pieces such as author picks and 15 Things Not to Miss. They even provide you with themed itineraries – perfect for lazy tourists like me.
But the guide is not blessed with many photos – I suppose the idea is that you get out and take your own. I like that there is a section on places to go on the edges of the National Park if you fancy something different. Mountains are great, but there are some brilliant coastal towns in Cumbria.
Overall, I was pretty impressed with this guide and, from an ex-local lad, it is fascinating to view the Lake District that visitors see.
My next guide was The Insight Guide. This time I kept things general and went for Western Europe. The Insight Guide is a completely different take on the guide book. It’s a heavy tome and one of those books you know you will keep coming back to.
The format is different to the Rough Guide but reassuringly familiar with top attractions over the continent clearly visible. Regardless of whether you’re planning a trip or not, it’s a brilliant read.
It covers everything from European history, country profiles, an A to Z of Europe and, this time, the publication is rich in beautiful photos. I would recommend having your credit card and iPad under lock and key when reading this edition as the temptation to book a holiday is strong, so very strong. I thought I had my bucket list locked down but now it’s got the Dordogne, Heidelberg and Siena pushing their way in – and that’s just the start. And at the back there are some great tips when visiting each country such as local customs, budgeting and public holidays.
As I mentioned, this might be a bit big to slip into a rucksack but fear not for there is a free eBook and app with the guide.
As the travel bug continues to grip me, it may be a fatal error to explore guide books. But it’s also reassuring to know that they have moved on considerably from rows of entries with B&B listings and dull facts. I’d fully recommend both books, one for pre-trip and one for during trip, but don’t say you weren’t warned: the need to discover new places is contagious.
By Chris Park, Travel Editor
The Rough Guide to the Lake District by Jules Brown. 7th edition, updated by David Leffman. Editor: Samantha Cook.
Insight Guides Western Europe. 8th edition, updated by Nick Inman. Commissioning Editor: Rachel Lawrence