With British staycations very much in the headlines of late, one of the most interesting and exciting ways to discover something new about the UK could be to see it through the eyes of some of our most famous literary geniuses. From Austen to Woolf, Shakespeare to Tolkien, this island of ours has created and inspired some of the world’s best loved authors. Here’s how to see Britain through their eyes…
Walking with Hobbits in Wales and the Forest of Dean
Both the Brecon Beacons and the Forest of Dean claim to have inspired Tolkien to start dreaming up his much-plagiarised fantasy epic (we’re looking at you, Rowling). Whilst working on an ancient Roman archaeological site in Lydney Park in 1929, it has been rumoured that his research into the battles that once commenced there inspired his writing of the Hobbit. Meanwhile, in the Brecon Beacons, many of Tolkien’s place names have strangely similar equivalents in the vicinity (e.g. Buckland and Crick Hollow/Crickhowell), whilst others draw on place-based Welsh common nouns (e.g. Chetwood – a tautology since ‘chet’ derives from ’coed’ – the -Welsh for ‘wood’). Perhaps even Tolkien’s friend Fred from Tredegar appears as Fredegar. Buckland Mill may well be the best spot to stay in the Beacons, but be sure to visit the magical Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean.
Take a Jane Austen tour in the South Downs
Austen has produced some of the world’s best loved period dramas, and it was at her home on the outskirts of the South Downs (now the Jane Austen House Museum) that she penned some of her best known classics including Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. It was here that she also revised Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. Take a Jane Austen’ Dancing Years’ tour with Hidden Britain Tours and you’ll explores the picturesque villages that Jane Austen knew, the site of her birthplace and her father’s church at Steventon, plus visiting the House Museum and much, much more. For more information: http://www.our-land.co.uk/thingstodo/7944/jane-austen-tour-hampshire
Follow in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf in the South Downs
Monk’s House is a tranquil 17th-century weather-boarded cottage inhabited by Leonard and the novelist Virginia Woolf from 1919 until Leonard’s death in 1969, and it was here that Woolf hosted the likes of T. S. Eliot and E. M. Forster. In addition to visiting Monk’s House you can walk the route from Monk’s House to Charleston. You’ll be following literally in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf who used to cycle and walk to visit her sister Vanessa. You could also stay at the Blue Door Barns B&B, where historian and author Quentin Bell often resided.
Wander the Dylan Thomas trail in Ceredigion
The legendary Welsh writer, poet and broadcaster was as famous for his pints as he was his prose, and he did much of his drinking along the beautiful Ceredigion coastline. There’s now even a trail in his honour, which follows places of inspiration for Thomas’ Under Milk Wood – buildings that were once home to his friends and muses, the pub that was one of the favourites of Thomas’ wife, the old post office where he used to post his scripts and even the bungalow where he once lived. http://www.newquay-westwales.co.uk/trail.htm
Go Harry Potter mad in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley
At the age of 9, J K Rowling moved to Tutshill (just on the edge of the Forest) and spent the next 9 years growing up amongst magical, imagination-sparking landscapes. Rowling has regaled stories to the online public of her and her sister ‘wandering unsupervised across the fields and along the river Wye’. With so many exhilarating and spellbinding scenes of the Harry Potter series set in the ‘Forbidden Forest’, it is easy to make assumptions over just how Rowling got her inspiration for her record-breaking series. http://www.visitforestofdean.co.uk