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When Christine Bleakley was a child, her family always holidayed at home, her strongest memories coming not from when they travelled to the Lake District or the Giant's Causeway, but when they explored the UK's less well-known destinations.
In this brand new series for ITV, Christine goes in search of this side of our country that's hidden from view - a world you can only discover if you turn off our busy main roads and follow our enchanting byways, bridleways and winding country lanes.
This is off-the-beaten-track Britain as you have never seen it before; a Britain that we may have thought was disappearing but is in fact thriving - brimming with secret histories, curious customs and lively traditions - where old-fashioned and modern ways mingle.
And there's only one way to truly explore it: by getting involved. Across the six episodes Christine rolls her sleeves up and joins a ladies' tug of war team in the Peak District, is chased by bloodhounds in Essex, dodges whirlpools in Northern Ireland and that's before she's even uncovered ancient cave markings in Fife, whipped up some eye cream in Herefordshire, or gone swimming in the River Wye.
Episode one: Derbyshire
In the first episode of the series, Christine heads to Derbyshire where she discovers an ancient ‘motorway’, takes part in a tug of war, works in a traditional sweet shop and takes part in a well-dressing ceremony.
Christine’s first job in Derbyshire is to meet up with a local historian who shows her a historic trading route which ran through Derbyshire, going up and down the country, like an early M1. Christine takes in the views of the Derbyshire scenery as she heads along the route, chatting to other walkers on the way.
Next on the list, Christine heads to the tiny village of Sheen, which has a population of just 250. The Sheen Farmers Tug of War Club are the current men’s world champions in the sport, and now the women in the village have got involved as well.
Team member Rachel tells Christine: “I started at 17 with the farmers and then I joined the ladies team. We were lucky enough to be representing England that year and I’ve carried on competing ever since. A lot of the girls come from a farming background, or their families or dads or uncles or brothers have competed in tug of war, and I think that kind of raw grit and determination from a physical nature of the sport is kind of instilled in us and we just pass that on to people as they join the club.”
Christine decides to get involved and is trained up by the team before having a go.
Afterwards she says: “If you ever get asked to go out on the pull with the ladies from Sheen, trust me, they mean something different to what you’re thinking.”
The village of Tissington in the southern peak district is over a thousand years old and is recorded in the Doomsday Book. Christine explores the village, which has no pavements, no streetlights and no traffic signs. The presenter meets David Walker, who owns a sweet shop from a bygone era in the village. David explains that he stocks childhood treats from over the decades.
He says: “It’s a dream come true. I’d been walking and I’d been in Derbyshire for years and years and I loved this spot and, actually, I loved this cottage as well. I wanted to create a little bit of magic. I’m a child at heart, I think most people are, and for somewhere like here, it’s a little bit unexpected. You turn the corner and suddenly there’s this amazing old sweet shop with lots of fantastic things that we loved as kids. We try to keep in stock things that are from everybody’s childhood, so whether you’re a child of the seventies, or the fifties, or the sixties, or forties even.”
Christine is keen to get inside the shop and dons a 1940s dress and works a shift behind the counter.
Christine’s final stop in Derbyshire is the village of Youlgrave, where the locals are preparing for a well dressing ceremony. The ceremonies, which take place in over a hundred towns and villages in the Peak District, date back to pagan times and involved the villagers presenting elaborate displays of flower petals at their wellheads.
Christine speaks to the locals who explain that preparation for the ceremony takes a week and starts with them soaking wooden pallets in the river. The villagers and their children then get the wooden pallets out and cover them, and themselves, with clay.
One local tells the programme: “All the children from the village come here, mainly to have a bath in the river and get as covered as they can with clay and hope, when they get home, they don’t get in too much trouble and it’s just a funny evening for everybody.”
For the next stage Christine meets 30 volunteers who are placing individual flower petals onto the clay to create a stunning image. Christine has a go at filling in one section with yellow petals, and has a nervous moment when the artist comes to inspect everyone’s work.
The next day, to round her trip to Derbyshire off, Christine watches the parade and sees the works of art go on display.
She says: “From the ancient port way to the champions of the tug of war in Sheen, it’s been a real privilege to be here in the south peaks. I’ve discovered a Derbyshire that’s committed to keeping alive our oldest and dearest traditions.”