Literature fans should visit these British places
There are plenty of beautiful and fascinating places in Britain that are teeming with literary associations. But what are the best places to visit if you’re a book lover? We suggest that the literature fan pack their rucksack full of sandwiches, a flask of drink, and a copy of our own indispensable guide, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape, and head to the following five places of outstanding literary interest.
Haworth Parsonage, Yorkshire. Despite the deleterious effect Haworth was to have on their health, the Brontë sisters treasured the wildness of the Yorkshire countryside surrounding their home at Haworth, and none more so than Emily, author of Wuthering Heights. ‘Emily loved the moors,’ Charlotte later wrote; ‘they were what she lived in and by as much as the wild birds, their tenants, or the heather, their produce … She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best loved was – liberty.’ Visit the Brontë Parsonage to learn about the landscape and upbringing that gave us Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Fleet Street, London. Dr Johnson worked on his famous Dictionary in Gough Square, not far from Fleet Street; his house is now a museum. A statue of his cat, Hodge, can be found in the street. Johnson cut his teeth as a journalist for the Fleet Street newspapers and periodicals, but alongside the explosion in the newspaper industry, Fleet Street was also the home of another relatively recent institution: the coffee house, where people would go to read the news and discuss it. Indeed, Fleet Street could boast the very first Nando’s in London – Nando’s Coffee House, that is, which was up and running by 1696 and could be found next door to the shop of the bookseller Bernard Lintot. The poet and early landscape gardener William Shenstone (1714-63) wrote to his friend Richard Jago in March 1744: ‘I lodge between the two coffee-houses, George’s and Nando’s, so that I partake of the expensiveness of both’. These coffee houses have long gone, but visit Dr Johnson’s House on Gough Square round the corner to learn about the eighteenth-century culture of news media and the press that Johnson thrived in.
Abbotsford, Scotland. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a sort of one-man marketing campaign for his country, essentially inventing modern-day tourism with his vast home, Abbotsford, near the River Tweed. The house was crammed full with relics from the author’s own novels, as Stuart Kelly observes in his book Scott-Land: a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair (a nod to Waverley), a fragment of a dress that had once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots (who features in The Abbot), and even the doorway to the old Tollbooth prison in Edinburgh, the jail that had housed Effie Deans in Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian. The house was like a museum to a writer who hadn’t got round to dying yet. Visit Scott’s house near the Scottish Borders to learn more about Scotland’s most famous novelist.
Gower Peninsula, South Wales. Everyone thinks the Gower is beautiful. Although Dylan Thomas thought his hometown of Swansea ‘ugly’, he considered the nearby Gower Peninsula to be marvellous, and would often take the bus to Rhossilli on the western side of the Gower, armed with a book and his lunch, and then walk along Worm’s Head, where he’d spend all day reading. Not that such halcyon pursuits didn’t sometimes end in disaster. Thomas once fell asleep and got trapped out on Worm’s Head by the incoming water, and couldn’t head back onto the mainland until midnight, when he began the eighteen-mile walk back home to Swansea. During the long walk home, he experienced a series of hallucinations, including see-through ladies who vanished as he approached them. The forename ‘Dylan’ was rare before David John ‘Jack’ Thomas, the poet’s father, lifted it from relative obscurity among the pages of the Mabinogion, the book of Welsh legend, and gave it to his only son. All future boys named Dylan – to say nothing of Bob Dylan, who took his stage surname from the poet – owe him a debt for having done so. (Curiously, the Welsh pronunciation of the name is ‘Dullan’; it was only because the poet grew up preferring ‘Dillan’ that the latter pronunciation became established.) Explore this scenic part of South Wales to learn about the landscape that Thomas loved.
Whitby, Yorkshire. In the same churchyard in which you can find a memorial to Cædmon, the Anglo-Saxon goatherd who is arguably the first English poet, you can also follow in the footsteps of one of the most iconic fictional characters ever created: Dracula, the most-filmed fictional character in the history of cinema and the chief poster-boy of the Undead. Sir Henry Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker duly rented rooms on the Royal Crescent and set about getting a bit of rest and relaxation in Whitby. It was while he was roaming the town that Stoker began to dream up the details of his novel. It was in Whitby library that Stoker encountered the name Dracula – meaning ‘son of the dragon’ – and thought it might be a good name for a character in a horror novel. In Stoker’s novel, Count Dracula arrives in Britain here at Whitby, in the shape of a black dog, when a Russian schooner, the Demeter, runs aground. Here, Stoker was drawing on a real event of 1885 involving the Dmitry, a ship that ran aground on Tate Hill Sands, a stone’s throw from the abbey.
Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape by Oliver Tearle is out now in glorious paperback, published by John Murray.