16 TV escapes for 2016
Need inspiration? Here's where Mary Beard, Rick Stein, Billy Connolly, Michael Portillo, David Baddiel, Robson Green and John Torode are heading this year...
9. The Durrells' Corfu
Gerald Durrell’s memoir My Family and Other Animals is being turned into a comedy-drama with Keeley Hawes as his mother – cash-strapped widow Louisa Durrell. In 1935, when Gerald was ten, Louisa and her four unruly children upped sticks to live hand-to-mouth on the Greek island of Corfu. Their Corfu home plays a central part in The Durrells. “Pudding Island” (as the family refer to their UK homeland) is soon forgotten as they succumb to the charms of the unspoiled island with its oranges, lemons, olives, kumquats, verdant mountains, wildlife galore, azure sea (and handsome locals).
Literary holiday-makers still travel to the Durrell’s Strawberry-Pink Villa, Snow-White Villa and Daffodil-Villa, and ITV’s adaptation – which will be shown in spring – is filmed in a villa in which the Durrells are said to have stayed.
10. On the trail of Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings
On the Nile's west bank, near Luxor, is Egypt’s Valley of the Kings – a royal burial ground for almost 5,000 years. Its ochre cliffs and great sweeps of baking sand have been re-created in South Africa for an ITV drama about British archaeologist Howard Carter and his discovery, in 1922, of the tomb of one of Ancient Egypt’s forgotten pharaohs, the boy-king Tutankhamun.
There may also be a cameo for Highclere Castle – the real Downton Abbey – because Carter’s financial backer was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the great-grandfather of the current owner. Lord Carnarvon (played by Sam Neill) took a punt on Carter when no one else would. Carnarvon was a keen amateur archaeologist and to this day Highclere Castle houses an exhibition of his finds.
11. David Attenborough returns to the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s best-known natural wonder – a vast string of coral shallows off Queensland’s Pacific coast, running 1,600 miles from Cairns to Brisbane. The mind- boggling expanse is matched by magnificent marine life and stupendous coral gardens, as well as beautiful beaches and low-key resorts.
Its fragile ecosystem is threatened by man and by climate change, which partly explains why David Attenborough chose to return to it in his latest series.
12. Robson Green braves Australia's outback
While David Attenborough is exploring the Great Barrier Reef, the Grantchester actor is exploring Australia’s outback and meeting the people who choose to live there. His escapade starts in South Australia where he joins a snake-catcher whose job is to scoop up deadly species from suburban gardens; climbs down an opal mine; wrestles with calves on a ranch and enjoys a campfire sing-a-long with indigenous locals.
Green’s journey also takes him to the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland.
13. Michael Portillo braves America
Railway buff Michael Portillo is shelving his trusty Bradshaw’s guides and heading across the pond to retrace two 19th-century rail trips: the first from upstate New York to the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls; the second from Philadelphia to Richmond, Virginia. Both journeys are steeped in history and blessed with stunning scenery – but how will America react to Portillo’s colourful dress sense?
14. ...as does Billy Connolly
Billy Connolly will also be taking to the railroad in 2016: 8.000 miles, across 28, US states. It's not the first time the comedian has been seduced by the wide horizons of North America. In 2011, in Billy Connolly's Route 66, he drove 2,488 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica on his three-wheeled motorbike.
In this new three-part series, he will marvel at the Badlands of North Dakota, the Smoky Mountains, the swamps of Louisiana – and a graveyard in Alabama. "I'm going to visit Hank Williams’s grave in Montgomery,” says Connolly. “That’s who I wanted to be, growing up – Luke the Drifter. I remember the album cover with him walking into the sunset and that’s how I saw myself. I used to yodel for my dog, where most people whistle for theirs.”
15. Back to the Dark Ages in Northumberland and County Durham
Much of Beowulf was filmed up on the moors in Durham in an exposed spot in Upper Weardale. Why? Because when filming a story set between the eighth and 11th centuries, you have to finda landscape unmarked by the intervening years. Northern beauty spots such as the Bamburgh coast and Druridge Bay in Northumberland and the Upper Derwent Valley in the Peak District also make cameos. Druridge Bay is a seven-mile stretch of beach. The country park of the same name boasts meadows, woods, a lake – and recently housed a Dark Ages village in the sand dunes.
Behind the scenes of Beowulf
The Upper Derwent Valley’s lakes are actually reservoirs, built to supply Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester. When the water level drops, you can still see the remains of Derwent village, which was “drowned” in the 1940s.
Beowulf is on ITV on Sundays at 9pm
16. Griff's Great British adventures
For his new series, Griff Rhys Jones travels through eight different types of British terrain. It’s a journey that sheds light on the obscure and downright odd ways in which the British spend their leisure time – whether it’s crossing a rope bridge or downing oysters, hunting vampires or “weaseling”.
Griff's Great Britain is on Mondays on ITV at 8pm. Read more about what Griff got up to on his tour here.