Special Interest tours
With the announcement that People Express Airlines would seek a $149 one-way fare from Newark to London, one could almost feel the land tilting Britain-ward. Never mind that People's single daily flight would accommodate only a trickle of those eager to go, many Americans were lost in reveries of barge trips up the Thames, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, affordable evenings at West End theaters.
One's summer dreams shouldn't stop there, for no country on earth offers such a variety of vacation ideas - ''schemes'' they call them over there - as does that beleaguered but always resourceful nation. On the theory that travelers no longer go abroad on general-interest vacations - a day trip to Stratford, a night at the Royal Opera - Britain seems to have a special-interest tour for everyone, and at every price.
To get a sampling, I raided the racks of the British Tourist Authority on Fifth Avenue the other day, climbing over and around other pamphlet pluckers to get at some of 1983's more enticing schemes. Of course the perennials - the fixtures in British lingo - were well displayed, sticking out like bright new tulips: Wimbledon, Henley, Ascot, Glyndebourne, which for some are the very definition of an English summer.
Wimbledon, though the recently retired Bjorn Borg will not be back to thrill his legions, will doubtless overflow its green acres outside London during the famous fortnight June 20 to July 2. Keith Prowse, a two-centuries-old theater-ticket company with a newly formed branch at 234 West 44th Street in New York claims to be the official overseas tour operator for Wimbledon, charging about $1,500 a person and up for a tennis-filled week.
If you don't want a full package (and American Express also books Wimby weeks), you can always take your chances and line up at the hallowed gates, which open daily at noon. Even if the center-court stands are full, you can wander the grounds with your strawberries and cream and look in at the tennis museum.
At one time, special-interest tours might have included visits to such cultural and historic shrines as Stonehenge and the spot where William the Conqueror stepped ashore, but today it seems everything is keyed to popular movies and Masterpiece Theatre performances. Thus an outfit called ICTS/InterContinental Travel Systems of San Diego will track down a number of Masterpiece Theatre and movie locations, including Ripley Castle, which, says the brochure, ''you'll recognize as Lord Haselmere's estate from the 'Duchess of Duke Street' and the film 'The Flaxsom Boys.' ''
In case you hadn't heard, this is the 50th anniversary of the Herb Society of America, and to mark the event, Garden Tours (1150 Fifth Avenue, N.Y. 10028) is staging an aromatic excursion May 27 to June 12 to the great English country houses and herb gardens. Guy Cooper, a noted British herb authority, will lead the scented trail in and out of gardens from the Norfolk Fens to the back lanes of Dorset.
This also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the bursting on the scene of the Beatles, and Rock Apple Tours (PO Box 586, Lexington, Mass. 02173) will lead rock lovers to the appropriate shrines in Liverpool and London. A ferry ride across the Mersey is among the tributes.
Two of the slowest but most thorough-going ways to see Britain are by barge or foot. One, of course, is a pampering existence, as the leaflet put out by Floating Through Europe (271 Madison Ave., N.Y. 10016) so graphically shows. This barge-tour veteran can book you on either the Beverly & Jean, a tandem of traditional English wide boats, to float rather sumptuously through Shakespeare country, or the Actief, which plies between Oxford and Windsor, serving food perhaps more typical of the Seine than the Thames.
Far less pricey and less pampering are the various walking holidays one can arrange to all corners of the realm. One of the more spartan outfits is a Welsh company called Earthwalk (write Pen-y-wern, Kerry, Newtown, Powys, Wales) which takes you up and down the rugged Welsh landscape, using tents for lodging.
English Wanderer (13 Wellington Court, Spencers Wood, Reading) runs seven-day walking tours to Dartmoor, the Lake Country, and Exmoor providing rooms in hotels, inns, and farm houses, while the Wayfarers (44 Trumlands Road, Torquay, South Devon) labels its two treks through Dorset ''The French Lieutenant's Woman'' and Hardy's Country, tracing the footsteps of Fowles and Hardy, not to mention Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.
A simple little pamphlet called Special Interest Holidays 1983 has 50-plus pages of vacation ideas - painting, bird watching, writing, even falconry. For this, write to the British Tourist Authority, 680 5th Avenue, N.Y. 10019.