Inspirational settings behind our best-loved literature

Date Posted: 17/02/2012

From Dickens and Shakespeare to Beatrix Potter and Jane Austen, there’s so many wonderful settings that helped inspire our literary greats. You might be surprised to see how much you can do when organising group travel.

This month marked 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens, one of England’s most celebrated authors. As Rochester, Chatham, Portsmouth and London capitalise on the bicentenary with a year of special events and exhibitions to group visitors, VisitEngland has highlighted some of the country’s other literary hotspots and the authors they inspired.

Dickens Country, Kent: Dickens 2012 is an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Dickens, held to mark the bicentenary of his birth. Events will take place throughout the year in locations associated with Dickens’ life but Kent is where Dickens spent much of his childhood and where he lived out the final 13 years of his life.

It’s where stories like Great Expectations and Pickwick Papers come alive, with many of the original settings surviving into the 21st century. For group travel organisers in search of a Dickens experience, Kent is a place of tours and trails and of big vistas and little alleyways that inspired some of the world’s most enduring stories.

Shakespeare Country, Warwickshire: The World Shakespeare Festival will run from 23rd April to 9th September, celebrating how the world performs, teaches and engages with the works of William Shakespeare.

This unprecedented celebration of England’s famous playwright will form part of the London 2012 Festival and is sure to catapult Shakespeare Country to the top of the wish list for many group breaks. Shakespeare Country has a wealth of things to see and do for all ages. Enjoy family attractions, stunning gardens, the history of its famous castles at Warwick and Kenilworth, as well as shopping, eating and entertainment.

Bronte Country, west Yorkshire and east Lancashire Pennines: A windswept land of heather and wild moors that makes for an enjoyable coach tour, it’s hardly surprising that this region became the inspiration for the classic works of the Bronte sisters: Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Geographically, Bronte Country consists of the Pennine hills of west Yorkshire, as well as Kirklees and Calderdale.

Small wonder then, that this landscape fuelled the imagination of the Bronte sisters in writing their classic novels - including Wuthering Heights (which was reputedly inspired by the isolated moorland farmstead of Top Withens) and Jane Eyre.

Agatha Christie’s English Riviera: Ever since actor David Suchet tweeted that ITV would be filming the last five Agatha Christie’s Poirot books in 2012, speculation has been growing about whether the English Riviera would be playing a starring role. This final outing for Christie’s dapper Belgian detective includes Dead Man’s Folly, based on Christie’s own home Greenway at Galmpton, near Brixham.

Greenway was her family’s holiday home from the late 1930s until it was gifted to the National Trust in 2000. Greenway’s boat house is where the first victim is discovered, though in the book Greenway becomes Nasse House. The ferry landing, where the second body is found, is where the Greenway Ferry now drops off fans of ‘The Queen of Crime’ to visit the house which is open to the public.

For those on a group trip, fans can enjoy a huge collection of exciting and glamorous ‘Queen of Crime’ events at the next annual Agatha Christie Festival from 9th to 16th September.

Jane Austen’s Bath: If you’ve ever lost yourself in the adventures of Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith or lusted after Mr Darcy as he emerges sopping wet from that lake, you might well appreciate getting better acquainted with their creator, Jane Austen. There’s no better way for a coach tour to get an insight into the great author than with a group visit to Bath, where she lived between 1801 and 1806.

The city’s Georgian architecture remains unchanged from the streets depicted in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Head to The Jane Austen Centre, located in a Georgian town house just a few doors down from where she once lived. Inside, an exhibition of costumes, manuscripts, and film clips brings the author’s world to life and explores the city’s influence on her work.

Get refreshed in the Regency Tea Rooms, where you’ll find 15 varieties of loose leaf tea to sample - after which you’ll just have time to nip into the gift shop and pick up that ‘I Love Darcy’ T-shirt.

Keats House, London: Poet John Keats lived in this house with his friend Charles Brown from 1818 to 1820, and this is the setting that inspired some of Keats’ most memorable poetry. Here, Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale, while sitting under a plum tree in the garden; the spot where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door. It was from this house that he travelled to Rome, where he died of tuberculosis aged just 25.

The Heath Branch Public Library occupies the space where various outhouses once stood. The library was opened in July 1931 and displays some artefacts from the house, including the engagement ring Keats offered to Fanny Brawne and a copy of Keats’ death mask.

A. A. Milne's East Sussex (Ashdown Forest): A. A. Milne was a humourist and playwright who is remembered for his children’s books featuring Winnie-the-Pooh in Ashdown Forest. Ashdown Forest became the setting for Milne’s stories inspired by his son and his toy animals. In Ashdown Forest you can find the setting of many of Christopher Robin and friends’ adventures, including Roo’s sandpit and the North Pole. Owl’s tree in Hundred Acre Wood was really a beech tree in 500 Acre Wood.

Poohsticks Bridge was originally called Posingford Bridge and was built in 1907; it can be found in Posingford Wood near Upper Hartfield. Disney helped fund repairs to the bridge in 1999. A memorial to Milne and Shepard can be found near the ‘enchanted place’. To visit the places from the Pooh stories, a group travel organiser should download a map from the Ashdown Forest website or take a coach tour of Pooh Country.

Beatrix Potter’s Lake District: Beatrix Potter is best known for her beautifully illustrated children’s books of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck and friends. She spent many childhood holidays in the Lake District, an area that was a huge influence on her later writing.

Squirrel Nutkin sailed on Derwentwater, while Hawkshead was the setting for The Tale of Johnny Townmouse. With the profits from her highly successful publications, Beatrix Potter bought Hill Top farm, as well as other hill farms and estates in the Lake District. When she died in 1943 she left 14 farms, sheep and 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust.

If taking a group break in the area, you can follow in the real-life Potter’s footsteps and take a trip to Brockhole, The Lake District Visitor. This was the home of Beatrix’s cousin Edith who married merchant William Gaddum. According to letters, Beatrix Potter and her husband came to Brockhole for the Gaddums’ golden wedding anniversary celebrations in 1936. The film Miss Potter, starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, has brought a surge of interest in the writer’s Lake District connections, especially in the filming locations of Loughrigg Terrace and Loughrigg Tarn, Grasmere and Yew Tree Farm, Coniston.

Bram Stoker’s Whitby: With its imposing abbey looming from the cliff tops, age-old cobbled streets, Dracula-inspired sights, sea mists drenched in folklore, and picturesque houses, the north east fishing town of Whitby was the atmospheric inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For a guided tour with extra bite, group travel organisers can book their coach tour onto the Bram Stoker Dracula Experience and hear spooky stories about Whitby and Stoker trivia on this walk-through attraction. Alternatively, you could load up on garlic at dinner and climb the 199 steps to St Mary’s Churchyard by moonlight.

Dracula fans should love the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, held this year from 25th to 28th October. This festival of scary flicks is held every year and has everything a gore enthusiast could want – including screenings of classic and new horror movies, Q&A sessions with directors and an awards ceremony (think the Oscars, but scarier). The climax to the four-day scare-fest is the Vampire’s Ball – an extravaganza that promises illusionists, magic and distinctly dark surprises to provide a group break like no other.

Lewis Carroll’s Oxford: The famed author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll spent much of his life teaching maths at Christ Church College in Oxford. Here he met the Dean of the College and his family. He built up great friendships with the Dean’s daughters and it was Alice Liddell, the younger daughter, who is said to be the inspiration behind his magical stories. Besides touring Christ Church College, those on a group trip can see Alice’s Shop, where Alice Liddell used to buy sweets.

Additionally, the Museum of Oxford has some of Alice’s personal items on display alongside the first edition books and the original illustrations. Meanwhile, the University Museum of Natural History is a monument to the natural world, and has stone statues of various animals and plants on display; and it was these creatures that inspired the author to include them in his famous stories, most notably the dodo. Each year, Oxford turns into Wonderland for a day to mark the first telling of the story on 4th July 1862. 2012 marks 150 years from the first storytelling and so a full programme of special events, walks and talks are being planned for the city over the weekend of 7th and 8th July.  

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