Which is the most backwards county in the UK?
From Norfolk to Rutland to Fife, Britain is home to some peculiar places
There are still corners of the United Kingdom where outsiders are shunned, cattle is used as currency and no-one will read this article because the internet there is so dodgy.
Yet despite their old-fashioned nature, it’s the lack of 21st-century civility that makes these locales so easy to love – but which one is most loveable of all?
Here’s an in-depth look at the country’s most backwards counties: the ones brimming with real ale, real characters, and really narrow-minded old people.
The first stereotype Aberdeen conjures is “sheep shaggers”. Inhabitants claim it’s a slur, but there’s no joke without fire. Furthermore, the in-breeding (or inter-species breeding) means its population speaks with an unintelligible accent. Let’s face it, it’s very small-minded to have a dialect that means you can’t really speak to people outside your county.
Its attractions are pretty analogue – castles (Balmoral), mountains (the Cairngorms National Park), nature (Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve). It’s got a bloody Roman settlement (Raedykes). And its biggest city – Aberdeen – is basically dark for nine months a year. Even the cavemen had fire.
Of course, those from Aberdeenshire know that its ruggedness manifests real character. Its stubborn resistance of the 21st century is noble – if you want a bloody theme park, go to M&D on the outskirts of pikey Glasgow. The Romans were bad-ass; as is a country park that incorporates some pretty big mountains. And persistent darkness means you can drink peaty whisky at all times of day without feeling guilty.
Think of a lake. What does “lake” conjure? Placid. Calm. No current, no waves. Dip your toe in the water and it will just ripple a little. Land-locked. What does a lake conjure? A cop-out version of the sea. A sort of pre-evolutionary, unambitious version of the sea. That’s quite backwards, and that’s what the Lake District is like.
Guess there’s also Keswick, famous for its pencil museum, pencils being those things that scribes of the olden days used to use. There’s Carlisle, a dark, ailing Borders city – once a place of fervent industry, but whose meaningful function in the modern day is to serve as a landmark on your drive up to Scotland (“We’re almost over the border! Get us the fuck out of Carlisle!”)
And there’s Hadrian’s Wall. It looks like all the other walls, except it was built forever ago and it’s sort of fallen down. Backwards.
Denbighshire is delightful – the Vale of Clwyd is a particular stand-out. Maybe visit the ironically named Sun Centre in Rhyl – dilapidated and empty, all that happens in the town is the occasional assault or battery charge.
But the jewel sitting firmly astride the middle of the North Walesian crown is Prestatyn. I won’t try to describe it. Philip Larkin did a far better job than I ever will with his poem, “Sunny Prestatyn”:
Come to Sunny Prestatyn
Laughed the girl on the poster,
Kneeling up on the sand
In tautened white satin.
Behind her, a hunk of coast, a
Hotel with palms
Seemed to expand from her thighs and
Spread breast-lifting arms.
She was slapped up one day in March.
A couple of weeks, and her face
Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed;
Huge tits and a fissured crotch
Were scored well in, and the space
Between her legs held scrawls
That set her fairly astride
A tuberous cock and balls…
On a Sunday walk down the banks of the River Exe, I saw a man with a can of Tyskie in one hand and a dog lead in the other, using his Boxer to goad a swan. The swan hissed loudly and spread her wings to protect her cygnets as the man’s children watched on, laughing.
This was in Exeter – the most civilized part of Devon.
A night out in Devon involves a flagon of 7.5 percent cider, heading to a small-town club before it’s back for a barn orgy with two women in their mid-forties, 10 teeth between them. Out in the villages, it gets even weirder – from the neckless men of Ottery St Mary carrying flaming tar barrels on their shoulders to the Barnstaple man who tried to fuck an ambulance.
Other counties need not apply – Devon have got the most backwards trophy in the bag.
Ever since the Black Death first arrived on a ship in Melcombe Regis in 1348, Dorset has been something of a thorn in the side of the rest of the UK. Towns like Weymouth and Swanage dot the coastline with the promise of a beach holiday without the fuss, but will always let you down after a six-hour drive with grey skies, frigid waters and locals who peek at you through their curtains like you’ve turned up and done a shit in their front garden.
Even Dorset’s most famous resident, Thomas Hardy, obviously didn’t enjoy Dorchester much – if he’d lived elsewhere he’d probably have written comedy.
Deep in the heart of the North East, with the chilling pennine winds blowing wistfully across the green and pleasant land, Sharon, 50, from Tudhoe, is lying in a pool of her own vomit. Meanwhile her husband, Steve, 46, reminiscent of a square bollock and built like a brick shithouse, is taking a shit in the brick shit-house outside the Watergate Arms.
Such is a typical Friday night scene at around 8:30pm in the little county of Durham.
Between rolling hills, world heritage sites and never-ending valleys are the party animals of the northeast. They know how to drink, and they drink what they know. And generally they know ale.
Outside of the fake-tanned, tighty-whitey, glossy world of Towie land, you’ll find some of the most bizarre parts of the UK. It’s not all just Chigwell and Brentwood. There’s no Sugar Hut or Faces out here. We might be the wealthiest county in the UK, and the 53rd largest economy in the world, but here it’s just tractors, the largest population of adders in the UK, a not-so-secret secret nuclear bunker and a village called Ugley.
With the highest density of speed camera to stop all the Audi R8s from flying around, the hidden corners of Essex give you an abundance of beaches to go to. Just don’t venture to the docks, where the towns are filled with Poundworld and Wimpy outlets. It’s as backward as it gets in these small towns, full of closet racism and teenagers who want to fight you in the park.
One year, we hit headlines when a lion was spotted on the loose in a field. The local area in St Osyth was locked down and everyone rushed to their homes, 25 specialist policeman were called out included firearms officers. It turned out it was someone’s ginger cat called Teddy Bear.
There’s a place called Cowdenbeath. In the 21st century, nowhere should be called “Cowdenbeath”.
Things I have heard people in Kent say: “That Farage is a bit of all right”; “I’m in the EDL”; “Why would you go to London when you have Chatham?”; “If I could live at Bluewater I would”; “What would you want to go to stuffing your head full of books for?”.
There is “Dickens World”, a Charles Dickens-themed theme park. There are Chatham and Gillingham high streets, which are a model in the strange uncompetitive equilibrium of the pound shop economy. All the shops on these streets are pound shops, and all those shops continue to survive. As a price, “a pound” is pretty backwards.
In the more picturesque parts of Kent, there are cider festivals and small houses with thatched roofs that look like they were dropped from the Canterbury Tales. There is also Canterbury itself, which riffs heavily on the Canterbury Tales – literature written in the late 14th and early 15th century. Walk around the town and much of it reaches back to this dark, unenlightened age.
And obviously, this jumbled, muddled, confused and confusing set of influences makes for a cracking set of anecdotes. Dickens World is a laugh if you suspend your cynicism. Bluewater certainly has everything you need. A pound shop is a wonderfully democratic concept; Chaucer’s quite funny when you cut through the Middle English. Kent’s the bloody back(wards) garden of England – and you love it.
A friend of mine lives in Powys, and he spends his holidays working on the family pheasant farm.
There are around 20,000 pheasants on the farm, which is 19,995 more people than there are in Powys.
Corrie, hotpot, “ecky peck” and “owt or nowt” – all the finer things in life originate from the North West. And who could forget about Blackpool, or as some call it, “the Paris of the North”? Once Lancashire’s thriving tourism hotspot, now just Coral Island, pound shops and some very unsightly characters. In fact, it appears five times in annual list of top-10 deprived towns. Preston is what some would call metropolitan – there’s a Pizza Express and a Vodka Revs.
And then there’s Chorley, a town so much a parody of itself that Peter Kay decided to dedicate a show to it. You can see why: absolutely nothing of interest happens here. It’s essentially a high street of pound shops and bakeries and pound bakeries. If you don’t believe me, take a look at some of the news billboards.
Actually, come to think of it, Blackburn, Burnley, Wigan and Bolton are all pretty much the same. To Lancashire’s credit, the people are without question the friendliest in the country, and Manchester is the best city outside of London. There are some lovely hills and greenery, notably Beacon Fell and Rivington, and the accent can be pretty tantalising.
Anyway, at least it’s not Yorkshire.
What the fuck is Rutland? Apparently this is an actual coun… oh wait, so that’s where the Rutland Country Museum is. Don’t mind me.
Home to Grimsby – a town so dire Sacha Baron Cohen made a film about it. Home to Scunthorpe, the location of a Channel 4 documentary called “Skint”. Home to Boston – the fattest town in Britain. You get the idea.
Lincolnshire is the flattest county around, yet all you can for miles is nothingness. It’s the kind of place where you can see a “Sausage Festival” advertised without a single trace of irony. With names like Gainsborough, Grantham and worst of all Sleaford, there’s nowhere you’d ever really want to stop and visit.
Much like a medieval village or Pride Rock from the Lion King, its epicentre and only place of value is on top of a very steep hill. They even named it Steep Hill. If you’ve ever found yourself in the smoking area of Home on a Friday night, you’ll understand the definition of backward.
Neath Port Talbot
Any county in the UK is in truth, the sum of its parts, and more. Any county apart from Port Talbot. The reason for this is that Neath is situated in Neath Port Talbot. Yeah, Bridgend is pretty bad. Yeah, Newport is also pretty bad. But they’re towns people laugh and joke about. Their residents are familiar with you, they get out, they descend on Cardiff’s Mill Lane on a Friday but Neath: Neath is a black hole.
Mention its name to anyone who has been there and you’ll elicit the same response – a disheartened groan and then a thought for those lost to the Golden Lion.
Things Northumberland has: castles, landscapes, surfing.
Things Northumberland doesn’t have: civilisation.
There is an argument to be made that spending your days speaking in a West Country accent, drinking scrumpy and listening to the Wurzels is actually a very forward-thinking approach. That argument is wrong.
The only reason Somerset escapes the scorn visited upon Norfolk and Devon is it’s not as easy to pretend cutting Somerset off from the rest of the country is feasible.
Don’t get me wrong, Surrey has a lot going for it. Guildford’s great and the people are generally speaking quite well-to-do. But outside the few big towns, it’s backward as shit.
Places with names like Abinger Hammer, Sutton Green and Frimley are weird little villages stuck in a time capsule. Their shops are never open longer than three hours a day, they stock maybe four items at best and obviously they don’t take card.
The village pubs are still scary affairs, full of angry old men who used to be farmers but now have no discernible profession. The cricket clubs reign supreme over these little shire kingdoms, with their vice-like grip on any semblance of social life.
This part of Surrey is dusty, wooden and really quite racist. The rest of the world is yet to infect their little old-man bubble – and they’re absolutely fine with that.
God’s Own Country is pretty terrifying, and not just because it’s so big that it has to be split into four separate counties.
West Yorkshire is the county’s thunderous powerhouse, home to the pounding clubs of Leeds and the pounding fists of Wakefield lads on stag-dos – not to forget Bradford, drizzly birthplace of greasy-haired crooners like Zayn Malik and Gareth Gates. East Yorkshire, by comparison, is relatively docile – mainly because its City of Culture 2017, Hull, is so morbid it had Larkin as its librarian.
Aside from Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster, the jewel in South Yorkshire’s crown is tough-talking Sheffield, home to the North’s premier snooker venue and Sean Bean’s brother’s chip shop. And North Yorkshire? Well it’s mainly just moors, aside from inhospitable and creaky seaside towns like Scarborough and Redcar and the haunted, crumbling pub garden that is York.
Take all these and mash them together and what you get is Yorkshire: a Frankenstein’s monster of thick accents, jagged landscapes, warm pints and cold winters. Non-Yorkshiremen are understandably scared, only partly because Jane Eyre was dreamt up in Haworth and Whitby inspired Dracula.
But if Yorkshire seems inhospitable t’outsiders, a’gate: we don’t need your kind anyway.
Written by backwards residents Bobby Palmer, Phoebe Luckhurst, Grace Vielma, Oli Dugmore, Tom Jenkin, Craig O’Callaghan, Jack Cummings, Matt McDonald, Charlie Capel and Josh Kaplan