The best literary travelogues
There are plenty of books out there telling the story of English literature: its history and development. But what about those guidebooks which take a geographical approach to literary Britain, and offer suggestions for places to visit around the UK based on their literary associations? Here are five of our favourite literary guides to travelling around Britain.
Oliver Tearle, Britain by the Book. Forgive the hutzpah of beginning with an Interesting Literature production, but this curious tour of literary Britain, written by this blog’s founder, is designed to be a light, entertaining, and above all, interesting guide to the literary history of Britain: a sort of cross between a guidebook and a book of literary trivia. If you want to discover the true location of Robin Hood (not Sherwood Forest), or the location of King Arthur’s court (not Camelot), or the Dorset writer who was the first one to resurrect the old term ‘Wessex’ to refer to his beloved West Country (not Thomas Hardy), you need to get hold of our book of literary curiosities. We say a little more about the book here.
Frank Morley, Literary Britain. Subtitled A Reader’s Guide to Writers and Landmarks, this is an erudite and fact-filled jaunt through the country, which uses the first six ‘A’ roads, including the Great North Road and the Bath Road which leads into Wales, as a structural framework for its tour of England. Two additional chapters cover Scotland and Ireland. Morley quotes liberally from the literary greats of the past from Chaucer to Dickens, using their works to read the places his book takes in.
Owen Sheers, A Poet’s Guide to Britain. The ideal poetry anthology for anyone seeking to travel around Britain in search of poetic inspiration, this book contains a host of little-known gems of poems, such as Louis MacNeice’s ode to Birmingham, along the more obvious anthology-pieces such as Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’. Divided into chapters that cover cities, islands, mountains, forests, and other geographical features, the book is full of wonderful poems about specific parts of the UK, as well as poems that deal with hills, trees, and the coast in a more general sense.
Daniel Hahn and Nicholas Robins, The Oxford Guide to Literary Britain and Ireland. This is the best reference guide to literary Britain available – here, in a much-expanded second edition, a large hardcover book which contains entries on different places in Britain and Ireland, and presents concise information about the literary associations of each place. An ideal coffee-table book for the book-lover who enjoys learning more about the cities, towns, and even the smallest villages of this sceptred isle.
Richard Shurey, Walking through Literary Landscapes. This book from 1984 takes a slightly different approach from the other great literary guidebooks on this list, following instead a series of walks based on classic writers, from Jane Austen (Hampshire) to Hilaire Belloc in the Sussex Downs, John Clare in the Midland Shires, and Beatrix Potter in the Lake District. Shurey takes each literary walk as an opportunity to sketch in the curious biographical details of each writer, before exploring their links to the locations describes.