My Countryside interview: Anita Rani
Countryfile presenter Anita Rani talks about wild walks, hair-raising holidays and the importance of inner-city access to the great outdoors
My earliest childhood countryside memories would be scrambling up onto Ilkley Moor at the Cow and Calf in West Yorkshire. It would always be a race between my brother and me, probably instigated by me. I grew up in Bradford, which is most commonly associated with all kinds of race issues and curry. However, my memories of the grand old Yorkshire mill city is the beautiful, rugged countryside that surrounds it. We would spend most weekends out walking and exploring: Shipley Glen, Ilkley, Haworth, Bolton Abbey and Malham Cove. More often than not we would be the only brown faces there but thankfully that’s now changing.
The place I love the most is Whitby. The excitement for me begins on the drive up there. Bank holiday traffic on the single road is not so much fun, but as soon as it opens up and I’m in the wild expanse of North Yorkshire, I feel so at home. There are other highlights that have stayed with me – I once drove from Shannon all the way up to Donegal in Ireland and was blown away by the dramatic coastline. Connemara is breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve also been craving a holiday in the Highlands. The plan is to visit and explore next year. Any tips welcome...
I have so many brilliant rural memories. Most of them are based around climbing up hills and mountains. I adore the Brecon Beacons and have stayed in some gorgeous rural hideaways. Opening a window and seeing open countryside and nothing much else puts a smile in my heart. The more rural the better. A day walking and an evening in the pub with a great meal, an open fire and a creaky floorboard or two and I’m happy.
My worst rural experience would have to be a post A-Level holiday that I went on with a group of friends, which included about 10 boys and girls. We had rented a fantastic cottage on the North Yorkshire moors and the nearest pub was the Tan Hill Inn. It was the most gorgeous place and we had the benefit of fantastic weather, long walks and a picnic by a waterfall. As for why it was my worst rural experience – let’s just say I lost the drinking game on the first night! In hindsight, we should have left the boys behind. Thankfully all the people on that trip are still my best friends to this day. So it couldn’t have been that bad...
Everyone loves Countryfile and when I was invited to join the team of the Number 1 factual programme in the country by the boss of BBC1, it was a no-brainer. I get to leave London, breath country air, meet fantastic people and get to tell their stories. I leapt at the chance to work on the show.
The countryside sometimes feels less accessible to urban Britain. I think it’s vital that children who grow up in inner cities should have a connection with the countryside, and get to know and love all that their own country has to offer. The simplest way I see this happening is through school trips. They should be mandatory, in my opinion. Not only are they great fun but they are also important – there is something very basic and human about connecting with something other than concrete underfoot and seeing nothing manmade for miles.
I did my first wild swim in the UK on Countryfile. I swam in the River Dart and loved it. I need to get a few more wild swims under my wetsuit – at the moment I’m more of a walker.
My rural hero is Michael Eavis, who runs the annual Glastonbury music festival. Think back to the 70s... I wasn’t really around, but I love the fact that a hippie farmer opened up his land in Somerset for a free music festival. These days Glastonbury is a behemoth but the ethos behind it is brilliant.
Main image ©BBC
Maria Hodson is production editor at BBC Countryfile Magazine, alongside Margaret Bartlett. Since moving to Bristol in 2014, Maria has made every effort to escape into nature and loves all things wild and watery, from surfing and swimming to paddle-boarding and kayaking. Her adventure highlight in recent years was sea kayaking around remote St Kilda, off the coast north-west Scotland, in 2016. Most weekends, however, are spent exploring the great outdoors with her small child and doing accessible walks. Favourite family adventures are bird-watching at Slimbridge Wetland Centre and exploring the Forest of Dean, as well as an annual pilgrimage to see the starling murmuration on the Somerset Levels.