Over the years, England has produced huge swathes of talented writers whose words have transported us to new worlds, given us a glimpse into the lives of others, and stayed with us through the ages. Here’s a list of some great places around the country where you can walk in the footsteps of your favourite author, enjoy the landscapes that inspired them, or imagine yourself in one of their books.
One of my favourite places and an absolute must for Brontë fans. Their home has been carefully transformed into a museum, the house itself returned to the state it was in while they lived there, with an exhibition space at the end where you can see their famous little books, childhood toys, and some of their other creative work. Directly opposite is the church and graveyard in which all but Anne are buried, giving you a sense of what it must have been like to grow up surrounded by death. Venture a little further and you’ll find yourself on the windswept moors that they loved so much. A bracing (well signposted) walk will take you to Brontë falls, and for the heartier walkers, a steep climb up to Top Withens, thought to be the inspiration for the location of Wuthering Heights. You can either retrace your steps across the moor or loop back through Stanbury, allow the best part of a day. The moors are beautiful and feel timeless. On a sunny day you might have to share with a lot of other Brontë fans but if you go out of season you’ll have them largely to yourself. Haworth Main Street is full of independent shops selling an eclectic mix of goods, but they don’t have set opening hours and if you’re there out of season might find that most of them are shut. The Black Bull pub was frequented by Branwell and you can still enjoy a meal there or a well earned pint at the end of a long walk. Haworth also has an additional gem for fans of the film of The Railway Children as the steam train that passes through was used in the film. On my first visit to Haworth I walked from Keighley station meaning I happily got to see some of the countryside en route. It’s a beautiful part of the country and there are so many places to walk in the surrounding areas.
|Brontë Parsonage Museum
Oxford is a city that has played host to some of our most well-loved authors – Philip Pullman, Lewis Carroll, and J. R. R. Tolkien to name but a few, and is rich in literary history. Exeter College is reported to be the inspiration behind Jordan College in Pullman’s His Dark Materials. A little outside the city you’ll find Godstow Abbey and The Trout pub, both of which feature in La Belle Sauvage. The pub itself is a great place to stop for a drink and delicious meal by the river. Speaking of pubs, The Eagle and Child was the meeting place for The Inklings in the 1930s and 40s. This informal group would meet to discuss literature and included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Any book lover visiting Oxford won’t be able to resist a tour of the Bodleian Library (which also featured in the Harry Potter films). Founded in 1602, it has a remarkable history and collection that includes a First Folio of Shakespeare and manuscripts of Tolkien’s works. All those books will doubtless leave you hankering for some new additions to your own shelves and Blackwell’s is just the place for you, the original of the chain. There’s also an excellent Oxfam bookshop.
Jane Austen fans flock to Bath for its beautiful Georgian buildings and the glimpse they offer into the life of a much-loved author. It’s worth taking time to just wander around this historic spa town, but there are a few stops that no Austen fan would want to miss. The Jane Austen Centre delves into her life and what the city would have been like when she lived there (1801-6). The Fashion Museum is housed in the Old Assembly Rooms which feature in two of her novels, and in which Charles Dickens gave readings. The Fashion Museum itself is worth a visit in its own right, as well as offering the opportunity to try on some period costume yourself. Even if you’re not a big Jane Austen fan, Bath has a rich history, and some excellent bookshops, including Mr. B’s Emporium, which all bookworms will want to check out.
The Lake District, Cumbria
This stunning area of England has inspired many a writer over the years, including Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, and William Wordsworth. Lake Windermere and Coniston Water provided inspiration for Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and visitors can get out on the water in a kayak or boat to experience a slice of adventure for themselves. Beatrix Potter did a lot to preserve the natural beauty of the area and the breeding of Herdwick sheep. You can visit Hill Top, preserved as she left it with a gorgeous garden you can just imagine Peter Rabbit scampering around in. There’s also a great Gallery dedicated to her work in Hawkshead, and the National Trust has put together a guide for some less well-known places of interest. William Wordsworth wrote some of his most famous works in the Lake District and you can visit his home, Dove Cottage, where he hosted other literary giants such as Walter Scott and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Thomas Hardy spent most of his life in Dorset, and the landscape appears in all of his major novels as Wessex. He is known for his heavily descriptive writing style and the central role the locations play in the plot. You can visit the home he designed, Max Gate, where he wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Dorset County Museum holds a large Hardy collection and have on display some of his manuscripts and a reconstruction of his study at Max Gate. Visit Dorset have put together a handy leaflet with places of interest for Hardy fans.
Ashdown Forest, Sussex
Ashdown Forest, better known as the Hundred Acre Wood, makes the perfect day out for Winnie the Pooh fans of any age. A.A. Milne lived on the edge of the forest and took inspiration from it for creating the wonderful world that holds a special place in the heart of anyone who grew up with his tales. On the walk you can even play Pooh sticks on the original bridge. The forest is more rugged heathland than wood but it’s a beautiful place for a walk. In nearby Hartfield village is Pooh Corner, a shop dedicated to everyone’s favourite bear, which also has a café to refuel after a frolic through the forest.
You can barely turn a corner in the capital without stumbling across a bookshop, a literary location, or a blue plaque relating to an author. From wandering the streets of Bloomsbury channeling your inner Virginia Woolf to heading to Baker Street to do some sleuthing, or rushing to King’s Cross to live out your childhood dreams of finding yourself at Platform 9 3/4 (and don’t forget to pop next door to the British Library for an incredible encounter with their collections). There’s the Charles Dickens Museum to visit, Shakespeare’s Globe to enjoy, and the bookshops of Charing Cross Road to browse. There’s enough literary history in London to write a whole book about. To get a sense of the huge array of independent bookshops check out the London Bookshop Crawl.