Sunday, 22 September 2019

Town really should make the most of tourist appeal

Town really should make the most of tourist appeal

I’VE just easyJetted back from the Med and it would appear that Brexit nicked my wallet — sterling cashed out with an exchange rate where £1.10 bought me one euro.

A one pound to two euros exchange rate doesn’t seem that long ago — bottle of Retsina, Greek salad and Kleftiko for under a tenner. This time four of us couldn’t escape the frugalest taverna for under £150.

Yet things in Henley seem pretty chipper. On the property market a rabbit hutch is southward of a quarter of a million. There’s virtually no unemployment (perhaps due to all the young becoming bloggers, Instagram and TikTok gurus helping cyber chumps like myself).

To declare my hand, I voted to stay. But Henley and Oxfordshire should look on the bright side of Brexit. Tourism.

They’ll be noshing on Michelin-starred tucker at Danesfield House for the price of sauerkraut and bratwurst with the Deutsche Mark exchange rate. Feasting on Raymond Blanc’s seared scallops at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for the price of parmigiana melanzane with the Lira exchange.

Henley’s social calendar makes us the South’s tourist hotspot. From “Salvo”, the antique, decorative, salvage and reclamation fair at the Fawley McAlpine estate at the end of May (akin to stepping through the back of a wardrobe into Narnia) to Henley Literary Festival from September 28 to October 6, our diary haemorrhages brilliance.

Salvo, Regatta, Stonor Food Festival, the Trad river festival, Henley Festival, Rewind, the Henley Farm & Country Show and more than 150 events at the literary festival, we should capitalise on tourism.

Americans offer Beverly Hills tours where tourists stare open-mouthed through celebrities’ security gates. The Bucks & Oxon Arriva bus could schedule a route around Boris Johnson’s old patch, passing the homes of WH Smith, Abba, Mr Bean, George Clooney, Jimmy Page and where Oscar Wilde resided for a while.

Arriva could do a Midsomer, Morse, Downton Abbey and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang location tour. Americans and Australians would love that. (And thanks to Chris Evans for lending Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to next July’s Trad river festival.)

Although it’s a postcode down the road and whilst Legoland isn’t exactly Atlantis, Chessington World of Adventure isn’t exactly Florida Disney, we do have Ascot and the royals of Windsor. Henley’s tourism potential is humming with pent-up energy. One of the hurdles in unleashing that potential is us.

We’re so self-deprecating and negative about our magical summer events and festivals. Let’s show off, be proud, extend the regatta week, build more hotels and make Greys Road a multi-storey car park.

Henley appears to have a bizarre mindset towards anything successful or lucky — celebrate the river, its Olympians, locks and lock keepers. Celebrate our art and music — John Piper, George Harrison, Deep Purple. (Did you know Francis Bacon had a studio on Hart Street?)

Americans marvel at our need for preservation and architecture. Many of our country pubs are older than America. With Americans’ grasp of history they might think because of Brexit and Scotland remaining in the EU that we built Hadrian’s Wall.

Food and tourism go hand in hand. Seventy-five per cent of Oxfordshire is agricultural, we’re blessed with incredible seasonal produce, a growing number of farm shops and farm gate schemes, allotments and market gardens where you can experience just-picked fruit and veg at their true peak of ripeness and full of flavour.

Much of Oxfordshire’s burgeoning produce ends up on the tables of our eclectic mix of eateries (more than 2,000 in Oxfordshire) and wonderful country pubs — we boast the best in Britain.

So any overseas visitors reading the Henley Standard and enjoying their favourable exchange rate, please enjoy our September events — including the Henley Farm & Country Show on the 14th and our literary festival at the end of the month.

Book a table at the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, where Dick Turpin enjoyed gastropub local produce when courting Bess, the landlord’s daughter.

• Paul Clerehugh is chef patron of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch his Food on Friday show on BBC Radio Berkshire from 2pm to 3pm weekly — tune in for recipes, foodie affairs and an assortment of light-hearted kitchen chat. Paul is also hosting an entertaining cookery demonstration, food and wine tasting and demo luncheon on Monday, October 14. For more information and tickets, call the Crooked Billet on (01491) 681048.

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