Discovery Tapes Ltd.
Audio Cassette & Guide, 2000, £12.95
Although it's not formally a book, the Reviews section seemed like an appropriate place to post our explorations of Discovery Tapes' e[x]plore Cotswolds - one of a number produced by the company (fuller details at the bottom of this page).
The Guide is a combined audio-cassette and short printed booklet package; designed to guide car tourers around a carefully selected drive through localised countryside. All you have to do is pop the cassette into your car's audio system and pause, stop and re-start the tape as directed.
There are, in fact, two drive and walk trips per 'Guide', and the Cotswolds one reviewed included drives/walks around Stow-on-the-Wold and Painswick.
The narration of 'your personal tour guide' as the e[x]plore Guides are described, is a two-handed affair; your talkative guides being Helen and Richard. Their style is conversational, and not at all brow-beating or stuffy as they describe the countryside and history of the places you pass.
The Stow-on-the-Wold drive is a 33 mile circular trip which begins in Stow and heads towards the village of Naunton where you are directed to the village church with its 14th century pulpit. Continuing your journey the narration points you towards a bored looking St. George, Charles Wade's personal collection, and spectacular views at Broadway Tower Country Park. You'll discover that Blockley village was a silk centre, despite the fact that the Cotswolds is linked mainly to the woollen industry, and that Sezincote House has Indian influences - very much like Brighton Pavillion. The route instructions are clear and sometimes provide helpful hints such as taking care of merging roads.
If there is one small criticism to be levelled at the Guide content, it is that it lacks a certain depth (although each illustrated booklet contains supplementary information), which you might normally find in a printed guidebook. But then it should be remembered that Discovery's e[x]plore Guides are designed for a different audience (globe-trotting tourists who need to hoover Britain's culture in a fortnight should find these tapes ideal!).
As mentioned, each booklet contains a walk in addition to a guided drive. In these cases the completion time and distance are given, and basic route and terrain descriptions. However, the printed walk pages provide little cultural comment or content.
Bottom line: Discovery's e[x]plore guides represent an exciting appearance on Britain's tourist scene. They will be best suited to folks who mainly prefer armchair (from a car seat, that is) tourism, and will provide a good framework for touring an area at your leisure.
There are 8 Drive and Walk guides currently available [Peak District, Devon, New Forest, North Yorkshire Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia, Lake District and Cotswolds] with work underway on a further seven ['Ring of Kerry', Pembrokeshire, Brecon National Park, Scottish Highlands, Northumbria, Suffolk and Isle of Wight].
Discovery are working on a series of guided Battlefield Tours (the first about Waterloo), and also on a tape series designed for the disabled. The first of these 'Wheelchair Walks' will be for The Peak District, and will follow a route suitable for wheelchair navigation. A 'personal' walkman-type audio system is used for playback. Discovery Tapes are to be applauded for bringing the countryside to a section of the population which is sometimes overlooked.
For more information you should look at Discovery's website - www.findexplore.com - while there's a Freephone order line on 0800 169 1557.