Meet Ben Aitken – author of ‘The Gran Tour: Travels with my Elders’

Travel Talk

Ben Aitken talks about his hilarious book

The Gran Tour by Ben Aitken

The Gran Tour contains three journeys. The physical journey, the journey across generations, towards people and your own personal journey. Tell us a bit more about that?

I didn’t undertake The Gran Tour to change or transform, I did it to have a good time really but on the back of the six trips something did happen, it wasn’t dramatic or colossal, but I did start The Gran Tour a little bit complacent, a little bit grumpy and little bit scared of growing up and think I ended The Gran Tour still those things but much less.

You met many characters along the way, did any particularly stick out?

Yes, definitely. Mick from Leicester who I met in St Ives sticks in the mind. Tattoos, chunky gold necklace, always in shorts. We got talking one night, and he says he’s worn nothing but shorts for 60 years. I asked him why, and he says “I just find them easier to put on”. A memorable answer and memorable philosophy on life. There was also Jill who on Lake Como, removed her bra and tossed it over the wall of George Clooney’s garden. When she was asked why, replied “Well, I’ve plenty of others”. Gary from Leeds who I met in Killarney lost his wife, but it’s alright because “she’s in t’boot”. Turns out Gary keeps his wife’s ashes in the boot of his car, and whenever he finds a place, he thinks she’d like, he scatters some of her there. My nan who joined me on the trip to Llandudno is also the star of the show.

Nan and meDid you glean any nuggets of wisdom from them? 

None at all, and I would like my money back! That’s the unofficial answer, it’s difficult to put your finger on those bits of wisdom but what I can say without any doubt is that there’s more grist in the mill. I’ve been presented with different examples of living and thinking and behaving.

Do you collect souvenirs or mementoes from your travels?

The best souvenir for me was the diary I was keeping, so getting all that down was a real pleasure and will be a real pleasure to look at in the years going forward.

What was your most memorable trip? 

The first because it was a baptism, not quite of fire but approaching fire. I was nervous, apprehensive, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be accepted or ostracised, whether I was going to have a great time or a glum time. Those first days and nights in Scarborough in the middle of the winter sharing all my meals with Alan from Birmingham on table 13. On subsequent trips I became more at ease and enjoyed myself more, but I think that first toe in the water was the most memorable of the journeys.

Did you meet any entertaining coach drivers?

The first driver Roger who took us up to Scarborough, within 45 minutes had offered a cracking one liner. He said, “It’s a small group today, ladies and gents, average height 5’4”, which set the tone and in Killarney, Ireland the driver called Frank was just a seriously nice chap, and we had a few pints each evening in the bar, watching the football, talking about Irish politics, Scottish politics.  He didn’t suffer fools Frank, if you didn’t tip him enough, he’d chase after you.

What do you like to read when you travel?

I don’t read up so much in advance, some of the best elements of travel are surprise, revelation, chance. When I am travelling, I like to read the scenarios, the scenes, landscapes and other people. I did buy Graham Norton’s novel when I was in Ireland and enjoyed reading that in the bath. I’ve recently read The Saltpath by Raynor Winn because it’s sold about 4 billion copies and I wanted to know what the secret was! And Bill Bryson’s memoir about childhood and H is for Hawk.

Do you have any future coach trips planned? 

I did have one booked up with Shearings for November which has been pushed pack to April.  I’m taking a bunch of millennial mates down to Eastbourne to show them the light and teach them how to play bingo and get them to cross that generational bridge as well.

Sit back, relax and let the coach take you there!

We Love CoachesAre you inspired by Ben’s experiences to try a holiday by coach? You are in good company as more than five million people take a coach tour or leisure trip by coach in the UK each year. We Love Coaches is your guide to high quality, professional coach tour operators and is provided by industry trade body, Coach Tourism Association. Their website We Love Coaches lists operators all around the UK who offer a very wide range of coach holidays and excursions, and you can find a local operator by following the links.

For information on Shearings holidays please go to www.shearings.com.

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