Insider View - Cultural experiences - With a Difference

Hilton ParkMy son likes to remind his prurient mother that she once, when driving through Gloucester, suggested making a detour to see the house where murderers Fred and Rosemary West carried out their foul deeds. I can't remember this, but it is possible. I admit to a fascination with gruesome venues. I also like to see places where famous people have lived and died; cemeteries are irresistible.

Viewing crime scenes is not an attractive pursuit, but arguably a 'cultural experience'. At last year’s Hospitality Ireland conference, we were told that it is vital to provide these in order to attract visitors. I take this to mean that it's not just about museums, art galleries, theatres and heritage sites, but it is also, more specifically, about highlighting the spots of cultural significance, say, where films have been made or books have been written.

The Japanese, apparently, love the English Lake District and flock there in their thousands. This is not, as one might imagine, because of the beauty of the landscape, or because they like hill-walking, but, strange as it might seem, they just love the works of Beatrix Potter, who had her home there.

One of my cheeriest and most memorable travel experiences - you could call it cultural - was a guided tour in a stretch limo to ogle the houses of the stars in Beverly Hills. I was amused to see on television the other day that an enterprising man who had enjoyed this tour now runs what are known as the 'Jilly Tours' in his native Gloucestershire.

By all accounts, they are a great success, and we watched as a busload was driven to view the gates of author Jilly Cooper's residence. The house was out of sight. Following this, we saw the bus draw up at another set of gates belonging, apparently, to Liz Hurley. One of the participants insisted on getting off the bus and speaking into the intercom. A voice, indubitably Liz Hurley's, answered. "May we speak to Ms Hurley?" the cheeky punter enquired. A long silence ensued, after which the voice said, "Liz Hurley is abroad."

It's possible that all areas can throw up a famous name or two, but I rather fancy that my own neighbourhood has more than its fair share, and word of this has travelled. When my brother-in-law was crossing from Brazil into Argentina, an official saw that he had been born in Clones, Co. Monaghan, and cried in delight, "Ah, Barry McGuigan." We can also boast a cannibal recently recollected on film, writers Pat and Eugene McCabe, a man who invented shorthand, the first Russian ambassador to the United Nations ... I could go on.

I have, incidentally, issued the Downpatrick challenge to my son-in-law, who was brought up in that area, but apart from the immediate connection with our national saint, no names have yet been forthcoming. Sometimes places are reluctant to make much of their own cultural experiences. Take Clones, for example. Every year the town hosts a film festival, yet there are no indications in the town marking the many different locations where Pat McCabe's book, The Butcher Boy, was filmed. Is it, I wonder, because there is unease with the book's iconoclastic attitude to religion?

There is, apparently, a hotel in New York where you are asked, on booking, if you have any particular interests. Then, say, your preference is for wildlife, you are given a bedroom where there are a number of books on the subject. Couples can choose a room with erotic literature. This seems such a good idea that I shall spend the winter months rearranging the large number of books on this premises. Anyone for crime or film history?

[* Lucy and Johnny Madden have done much more than re-arrange the books at Hilton Park this year – building on the literary associations of the house and area, they have started offering ‘Book Club’ weekends, to run throughout the autumn and winter – the inaugural event is next weekend, 13th and 14th November 2009, when Pat McCabe will join guests for dinner on the Saturday evening to lead the discussion. Details of this and related events are on their website,]

Together with her husband Johnny, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.

Kindly supplied by the respected food service and drinks industry magazine, Hospitality Ireland. Click here to read more about them Hospitality Ireland Magazine.

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