In this fascinating new series, renowned actress Dame Penelope Keith travels through Britain’s charming villages to uncover what makes these places so unique and special.
Armed with her beloved vintage ‘Batsford’ travel books, Penelope explores the rich artistic, literary and royal histories of each region, discovers how time has changed village communities, and seeks out quirky local traditions which continue to this day.
From county shows and village fairs to fertility dances and ancient ceremonial gatherings, she seeks out the community heartbeat of each village. She meets remarkable characters and joins in with everything from dangerous carriage driving events to vegetable gala competitions along the way, showing how even the horn dancers, cheese rollers and tree kissers of this world benefit from the continuance of these traditions.
Her journey takes her to some of the most picturesque and hidden landscapes in the country, spanning the stunning location of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, Castle Combe, and the site of the original English Country Garden, through a village that hasn’t changed in a century, and even to the Queen’s own vegetable patch at Balmoral.
Join Penelope on her mission to find out why we love villages so much; what’s disappeared, changed and stayed the same – and what’s the secret to their longevity?
S1 Episode One: East Anglia
Penelope begins her journey with a trip to East Anglia. While there, she attends a regatta on the Norfolk Broads, takes to the skies over the village of Little Snoring, learns to speak like a native of the county and attends a fete – complete with a performance by wheelbarrow display team the Red Sparrows.
S1 Episode Two: North-West England and North Wales
In this episode, Penelope travels to the industrial heartlands of north-west England and north Wales, where she explores a Victorian garden in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, finds out about burgeoning tourism in Snowdonia, and goes to her first music festival.
S1 Episode Three: South-West England
Penelope concludes her first trip with visits to Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire, where she sees villages that have been used on film and TV. These include the community where To the Manor Born was filmed, and the setting of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, Castle Combe, where she also discovers a motor racing circuit.
S2 Episode One: Devon and Cornwall
In the first episode, Penelope is in Devon and Cornwall – a land of rugged coastal communities and distinct identities forged over centuries, but also a region visited by five million people each year. She finds out that ancient traditions are certainly being kept alive and travels to a former silver mining village, a cliff-edge fishing village, the most exposed theatre in the country, and the small communities near Fowey Harbour.
S2 Episode Two: Cumbria
The actress learns about life in the renowned landscape of Cumbria. The wonder of the Lake District cannot be ignored, but from Morecambe Bay to the Pennines, Penny finds there is much more to life in a Cumbrian village than tourists and tea shops, and all of it owes a great deal to the dramatic local geography. Along the way she meets a community buying its local mountain, indulges in the unique Cumbrian pursuit of hound trailing and visits the home of Sticky Toffee Pudding.
S2 Episode Three: Royal Deeside
Penelope travels through Royal Deeside, a remote part of Aberdeenshire. It’s a land of enormous estates served by tiny communities. Penelope visits the few villages that exist and explores how important Queen Victoria was in shaping modern Deeside. She takes to the skies in a glider, visits the station built for Queen Victoria in the 1860s, goes to the Highland Games arena for the first time since the 1950s and discovers the secrets of the present Queen’s vegetable patch at Balmoral.
S2 Episode Four: East Sussex and Kent
In the final episode of the series, Penelope is in East Sussex and Kent – a rural, unspoilt swath of the busy south-east that never ceases to surprise and impress. She finds a remarkable hidden village that hasn’t changed in almost a century, discovers the origins of the English Country Garden and sees a war memorial which was helped to be established by Rudyard Kipling. Steam power whisks Penelope to the prettiest villages in Kent where she uncovers why so many of them take pride in their beautiful signs. She also visits a village that stopped a naval embarrassment turning into a national disaster and ultimately uncovers the unexpected origins of that seaside village institution – the bungalow.