‘I’ve done 332 so far’: man aims to visit England’s 10,449 civil parishes

·3-min read

When Andy Smith moved from the Lincolnshire countryside where he grew up, to Rotherham, he immediately longed for a return to his rural life.

“For the first 24 years of my life I lived in a village, and living in a town is a big difference,” said 37-year-old Smith, who was born in Saxilby. “It made me miss village life. So I thought, how can I combine the missing of village life with my passion for geography?”

His answer was to launch a lifelong quest to visit all 10,449 civil parishes in England, documenting his travels via a YouTube channel under a new name – The Village Idiot.

“I’ve done 332 so far, but my enthusiasm is not going to waver, I’ll say that much,” said Smith. “It’s probably going to take me the best part of 25 to 30 years to do it. But as long as I’ve got that enthusiasm, I’m going to just keep pushing and pushing.”

Smith, who also works as a Hermes delivery driver, usually spends three days a week travelling to different parishes, and puts out a new video about a parish every day.

Before setting off, he extensively researches each parish and makes sure he knows its boundaries. He then creates a video a tour of each area pointing out local landmarks and amenities en route, all while wearing his Village Idiot-branded hi-vis jacket and occasionally joined by his wife, Nicola.

He starts each of his videos with the same catchy intro: “Hello my name is Andy and I am The Village Idiot, a man with a car, a GoPro and an unhealthy amount of time on my hands.”

One thing that helps him stay motivated is the support of his followers, who grew from a small handful in January when he started his mission, to about 2,500 now. “I get a lot of people talking to me from Australia and America, people who have emigrated and who enjoy seeing their village again for the first time in so many years.”

He often puts polls out on social media to allow his fans to choose where he goes next, or to vote for their favourite parish. His current personal favourite is Gamston in Bassetlaw, where he got to travel in a light aircraft and film the parish from the sky.

Smith says most of the people he meets on his travels are happy to see their little patch of the country getting some positive limelight. “They like the idea of their village being put out there for the world to see. If you live in a town or city, things get covered all the time. Certainly if you live in London, for example, you can turn on the TV and you can see London 10 times a day. But you’re not going to see the likes of these villages every day.”

Civil parishes are the smallest type of administrative area in England and are predominantly rural, with many cities wholly or partly unparished. Most parishes have long historical roots, but there has been a revival in recent years and new parishes are being created all the time.

Northampton – with a population of 130,000 – became the country’s largest parish in 2020 due to local authority reorganisation, while a small few parishes are so rural or small they have zero inhabitants.

Smith admits its a mammoth task but takes it step-by-step by visiting parishes on a district by district basis – although he juggles seven different districts at a time to ensure variety for the viewers on his channel. He eventually anticipates embarking on long roadtrips around the country to visit parishes farther afield.

“People have an interest in this, they like what I’m doing, and that’s what is pushing me to keep going with it,” he said. “It’s not gonna die anytime soon.”

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