Loughborough almost as popular as Paris

Loughborough almost as popular as Paris
Exclusive: The Baptist preacher-turned-tour operator had a bold mission statement: ‘To make travel simple, easy and a pleasure’

On the 180th anniversary of Thomas Cook’s first excursion, a poll carried out for The Independent has found the destination of the trailblazing trip – Loughborough in Leicestershire – rated almost as highly as Paris.

On 5 July 1841, the Baptist preacher chartered a train from the Midland Counties Railway Company for a special excursion from Leicester to Loughborough. Thomas Cook was a campaigner against the evils of alcohol, and set up the trip on behalf of the South Midland Temperance Association.

Around 500 participants paid a shilling (£0.05, today the equivalent of almost £5) for the 12-mile trip to a temperance gala in Loughborough. The price included a cup of tea.

Following the success of the venture, Mr Cook expanded his operations, first within Great Britain and later into Europe and beyond.

His mission statement: “To make travel simple, easy and a pleasure.”

The destination of his first European venture was Paris, and this was soon followed by trips to Switzerland and Italy – including Rome, Florence and Venice.

By 1869, Thomas Cook had chartered two steam ships for his first venture up the Nile.

A social media poll to mark the 180th anniversary of the first trip asked: “Of the key destinations opened up to travellers of modest means by this great visionary, which has the greatest lasting appeal?”

The choices given were Loughborough, Paris, Venice or the Nile.

The two-hour Twitter poll attracted 2,599 votes – with Venice the clear winner on 35 per cent.

Paris was next with 23 per cent. But Loughborough was within a few dozen votes of second place, finishing a narrow third with 22 per cent.

Distant dreams: the final results of the Twitter poll on Thomas Cook destinations

On TripAdvisor, the leading attraction in Loughborough is the Great Central Railway link with Leicester – mirroring the pioneering journey by Thomas Cook.

The leading TripAdvisor attraction in Paris is the Musée d’Orsay, the modern art museum housed in a former railway station.

The Nile trailed behind on just 20 per cent. Loughborough stands on the River Soar, which at nearly 60 miles long is one-70th of the Nile’s length.

The travel firm that Thomas Cook founded collapsed in 2019 with liabilities of £9bn. Its name has been acquired by an online travel agent.

A spokesperson for thomascook.com said: “At our heart we’re trying to continue his vision of allowing people to broaden their horizons and experience new places.

“Albeit we’re a little less concerned about their alcohol intake.”

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