Why Are Chinese Tourists Flocking to This Small English Town?

Why have busloads of tourists been coming to this sleepy Oxfordshire village and taking selfies in people's yards? I decided to find out.

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Jul 8 2016, 3:25pm

All photos by Jake Lewis

I wonder what it is about the color green that seems to fill us with so much joy. Anytime you see it, deep or light, in the flora or fauna of the British countryside, a sense of ease fills the soul. Endless stretches of different shades, kissed by the sun and the rain, humming with energy. You look out of a train window on the way to somewhere distant, and your eyeballs are filled with the richness of nature. What a time to be alive, you think, before paying $10 for a bag of chips and a bottle of Fanta in the grub cart on a train that yanks you back into the dripping grayness of reality.

Kidlington is a village just outside Oxford. I had never even heard of it until about 48 hours ago. This village, purportedly the biggest in the UK (or Europe, depending on who you ask) has become a tourist destination recently for truckloads of camera-clad vacation-goers, all of whom hail from eastern Asia.

Newspapers have been speculating as to why they've decided to go to the village: Harry Potter was filmed there, Inspector Morse was filmed there—basically something was filmed there and presumably they want to see it. But this makes no sense, as it would've been a tourism site way before now, since both of those things finished more than five years ago.

So what was drawing these people to this relatively sleepy Oxfordshire village? Much like my trip to Hull, I wanted to have a little vacation in Kidlington, to see what on earth was going on.

My first stop was the two roads which the tourists had been photographing with great fascination. Benmead Road and the Moors have been the site of most of the selfie-snapping and front-lawn-napping, so I wandered through to its crossroads to see what the deal was. I was met with a fairly unremarkable residential street with houses of varying aesthetic quality. Some were cute little semi-detached old-school style places, with terrier statuettes in the windows and lawns sheared as cleanly as an army cadet's hair. Others, though, were kind of bland, nondescript beige cubes that could probably be warped onto the surface of Mercury without anyone batting an eyelid.

There were also a load of TV film crews loitering on the corner of the street, waiting for the tourists to arrive. It kind of ruined the peaceful homely vibe of the place—their giant black CCTV cameras were ready to capture your vulnerability and broadcast it on one of their sinister satellite vans, as if they were looking for an escaped alien or something.

A very nice man named Jim rolled up to me on his bike to see what all the fuss was about. I asked him why he thought the tourists were coming here. "One of the neighbors was saying they come from big cities, so they don't see any flowers or gardens or anything like that," he told me. "It started about four weeks ago I think. It's quite good—I think it's great."

Not long after this, the Tory vice chairman of Kidlington East Council, Maurice Billington, turned up to join in the chat. He was wearing stained overalls and mentioned something about being a painter and decorator. He suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that the tourists were coming to Kidlington because potential future prime minister Theresa May recently canvassed there.

Jim the lovely bike man told me about two destinations I should visit on my root around Kidlington: the pub down the road and the church. I looked at my watch, and it appeared to be Beer O'clock, so I ventured to the pub first.

The King's Arms, with its thatched roof and tiny interior, was the archetypal village pub. Populated only by pensioners eating soft food like boiled potatoes and gravy, I went into the equally pokey back patio to soak up the Oxfordshire sun.

In the yard, there was an old one-eyed dog who had hair covering his missing soul window. His floppy lock was akin to that of a guy called "Cory" or something from a 90s teen beach drama. He was the most blessed creature I've ever laid eyes on.

On the walk to the church, I became quite emotional at the beauty of Kidlington. The air seemed to have a hint of sugar in it. All the houses were beautiful and ornate, all in different ways. Some were the kind of places an evacuee would find a new home, others the kind of bolthole you retire to with your one true love.

The church was, typically, very nice, and completely empty. It had a book of the war dead inside (WWI), little black-and-white photos of young men who died 100 years ago, with the name of the roads they lived on in Kidlington.

To add to my moroseness I went into the graveyard, with fresh headstones bearing the names of loved ones: grandparents, fathers, mothers, even a children's section—all engraved with sad, store bought messages, some exactly the same as the one adjacent to them. Even in this cute little friendly village, the agony of death hits the lungs like a poison gas.

I needed to lighten the fuck up. The high street, I was told, was only a stones throw away, so I headed in that direction.

As you can imagine, it was an uninspiring place, with a tackle shop, a coffee shop, a few thrift shops, and a Tesco Extra. I thought that, though I'd had my fill of this chuckling plot of land they call Kidlington, I'd maybe find something interesting in the thrift shop. I wasn't holding out a lot of hope.

But when have I ever been right about fucking anything? I managed to buy this badass sexist T-shirt for a mere $2. Look at it. How can something be so deplorable yet so fucking cool at the same time? It's a wearable paradox. Is there anything Kidlington can't do?

I returned to the original roads that the tourists frequented to get my obligatory front-yard selfie. The tabloids like to think of this as a mystery; why would anyone from abroad want to come to this motionless, boring village? I think of it like this: It's just really fucking nice here. The people seem nice, the air is clean, the vibes are good. Isn't that the reason you go on vacation anyway?

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