20+ Literary Pilgrimages in the U.K.

My BFF and I have spent years planning a literary tour of England to celebrate our respective 50th birthdays.  Alas, our list has now become so vast, we'd actually have to spend our entire 50th year in Great Britain actually to see everything.

Anyway, here's our current list, in alphabetical order, because asking me to put them in priority order is like asking a mother to tell you which of her children she loves most - they're all special in their different ways.
  1. Bath.  If you're a Jane Austen fan, then Bath is a must.  There's a Jane Austin museum here, of course, but real fans (like my BFF and I) will head straight for the Pump Room.
  2. Buckinghamshire. Roald Dahl hung out in a little village named Great Missenden, writing some of his most unforgettable novels, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in a small, idyllic little cabin that hasn't been touched since his death and is now open to tourists.
  3. Camelot.  But first, we have to find it!  As far as I can tell, there's no general consensus.  Some have placed it in Wales, others in Somerset, home of Cadbury Castle and Glastonbury Abbey, both of which have ties to the original legend which are supported (more or less) by archeological evidence.
  4. Canterbury Cathedral.  It's a bit of a drive to get to the cathedral from London; we are hoping to pass the time by sharing stories with fellow passengers along the way.  
  5. Cornwall. Calling all Daphne du Maurier fans!  The author of Rebecca moved to here after falling in love with this enchanting place and now, every May, there's a literary festival dedicated to the author.  (By the way, if you are a du Maurier fan, be sure to include Frenchman's Creek and the Jamaica Inn on your itinerary - they're both real places!)  No less romantic, Cornwall is also the site of Tintagel Castle where, legend has it, King Arthur was conceived.
  6. Devon.  Otherwise known as Agatha Christie's hometown.  By all means visit Greenway, her summer home, where there's a garden, some artifacts, and books.  But for the more adventurous, check out the "Agatha Christie Mystery Tour," an opportunity to discover the scenes of mysteries and murders that the author placed in the British Riviera.  I am so doing this ...!
  7. Dorchester.  Where Thomas Hardy called home. 
  8. Dublin. Mention Dublin to any book geek and you're bound to get the same answer - James Joyce.  My research suggests the most popular way to pay homage is a pub crawl - ideally, one that includes the Davy Byrnes, visited by Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses.  However, it's worth noting that Dublin was also one of Oscar Wilde's haunts.  You can visit his house and, while you're there, pass through Trinity College, where he studied.  Bring your own absinthe.
  9. Dumphries and Galloway.  Enjoy a tasty haggis in honor of Roger Burns, Scotland's national poet.
  10. Edinburgh.  Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns all left their hearts in Edinburgh. Our plan is to start by getting lost amidst the streets of the Royal Mile neighbourhood, replete with charming bookshops and multiple cafés where one can imagine JK Rowling writing the first chapters of Harry Potter. Guided tours are both varied and authentic, from reproducing Edinburgh from the cult novel Trainspotting, to another in pursuit of Inspector Rebus, the popular character in the novels by Ian Rankin. Furthermore, there is a route around the taverns that threw their gates open to William Wordsworth, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. Pints and books galore - what more can one ask for? 
  11. Hampstead. Visit the home of the poet John Keats or follow in the footsteps of Dickens, Sherlock Holmes and Oscar Wilde.  It was one of the Hampstead Ponds that was the subject of a learned paper, presented by Mr Pickwick to the Pickwick Club entitled, ‘Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds, with Some Observations on the Theory of Tittlebats’. What Dickens meant by ‘Tittlebats’ is anyone’s guess.
  12. Lake Country, Scotland.  I've read that Beatrix Potter's cottage here is one of the most visited National Trust properties, but surely Wordsworth's Dove Cottage can't be far behind.  The man did enjoy a good daffodil ...!
  13. Portsmouth. Famed writers associated with island city include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and H G Wells. Visit Dickens' home-now-turned-museum where the author was born. It could be said that the character of Sherlock Holmes was also born in Portsmouth because his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was living in the city when he published A Study in Scarlet, the first book of the mythical detective. The city runs the literary festivals of the Portsmouth Festivities in June and the Portsmouth BookFest in October.  
  14. Sherwood Forest.  Don't even think about visiting England without stopping through Sherwood Forest, the legendary arboral home of Robin Hood and his Merry Men!
  15. Stratford upon Avon.  This is a must if you're interested in all things Shakespeare.  You'll see the house where he grew up, the house where his widow lived, and the farm where she grew up - plus countless bookstores, gift stores, pubs and theaters all dedicated to helping tourists get their bard on. 
  16. Staffordshire.  In a world full of unique libraries, Staffordshire's "book barge" is a don't-miss!
  17. Swansea.  A required stop on the Welsh literature trail, with emphasis on Dylan Thomas.  The town plays host to the annual Hay-on-Wye Festival, the most prestigious literary event in the world, which every year brings well-known thinkers and authors to this small village full of old and second-hand libraries (over 40 of them!).
  18. London.  The city is so full of worthy literary destinations, it probably deserves its own list!
    1. 221B Baker Street.  What you won't find here is any mention of Arthur Conan Doyle - but you will find a reproduction of Holmes and Watson's townhouse, stuffed with "relics" from all their cases.  Cheesy, yes, but would you really want it any other way?
    2. British Library. Don't neglect the Rare Books Room, which houses a first folio of Shakespeare, an original Alice in Wonderland, and dozens of other dazzling acquisitions.
    3. Charles Dickens house.  Located at 48 Doughty Street
    4. Covent Garden. The Poetry Cafe is the “public face” of The Poetry Society where you can go to learn more about the society or go for a quiet place to read and write, enjoy a vegetarian meal, coffee and dessert or attend the nightly poetry readings.
    5. The Globe Theater.  Seriously, does it get better than watching an original Shakespeare in the theater where it was originally produced?  All that's missing are the orange sellers!
    6. Gough Square.  Stop by and pet the statue of Dr. Johnson's cat!
    7. Kensington Square. It's practically a requirement that tourists stop here to have their picture taken with the Peter Pan statue.
    8. The Reform Club.  Can't tell you how excited I was when I found out that Phineas Fogg's Reform Club was a real place!  Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to convince them to let me in - I understand this is one Pall Mall club that still values it's exclusivity. 
    9. Paddington Station.  A popular import destination for Peruvian bears.
    10. Scotland Yard.  I've spent so much time haunting the halls of Scotland Yard - figuratively speaking - they should probably issue me a badge.  I wonder if they maintain a gallery of all the famous fictional Scotland Yard detectives that have come before: Goerge Gideon, Commander Dalgliesh, Inspector Richard Jury, Inspector Lestrade?  If not, they certainly ought to do.
    11. Templar Church. The Da Vinci Code made it famous, but tourists aren't ordinarly admitted, I'm told.
    12. Thames River.  Winnie the Pooh fans - rejoice!  Every year there's an annual World Poohsticks Championship at Days Lock. 
    13. Twickenham.  Alexander Pope, known as 'the wasp of Twickenham', wrote many of his great works here (including The Dunciad), and specifically asked to buried at the local church rather than be deposited among all the rubbishy other poets crowded into Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey.  Speaking of which ...
    14. Westminster Abbey.  Dare you not to develop a serious case of goosebumps as you stand at Poet's Corner, surrounded by effigies and plaques honoring practically the entire pantheon of Britain's literary gods: Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, Shakespeare, Dryden, Tennyson, Browning, Samual Johnson, Dickens, Sheridan, Kipling and more.
    15. Oxford. Not only was it the college that spawned such notable literary figures as C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Dorothy Sayers, and JRR Tolkein, but is has also served as the setting for some of our favorite moments in history: Harry Potter's first meal in the Hogwart's dining hall, Lord Peter Whimsey's proposal to Harriett Vane.  In addition to the famous campus, the town is full of lovely little bookstores and, when all the shopping starts wearing you down, a pub named the Eagle and Child, where Tolkein and Lewis used to linger over pints.
  19. Rodmell.  Virginia Wolfe lived here in a place called Monk's House, and was buried there as well. 
  20. Shrewsbury.  Stop by the abbey and visit with Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael!
  21. Sussex.  Rudyard Kipling made East Sussex his home.  The house and gardens, now open to visitors, are said to be lovely. 
  22. Tinturn Abbey.  Made famous by the Wordsworth poem, and it's gotten even more crumbly and romantic since then.
  23. Yorkshire & the Moors. This is the countryside James Herriott traversed in All Things Bright and Beautiful (plus sequels), and Howarth in West Yorkshire was, of course, home to the Bronte sisters.  You can visit their graves in an old cemetery there, or just stroll through the moor listening for Heathcliff's ghost.  If you want a taste of what Dickens' London looked like, though, be sure to stop through York proper and visit The Shambles, where some of the buildings date back to the 14th century.  Wow. 
If you've made it through the list this far, then you're obviously a book geek too.  Which destinations would make to your top 10 list?  What worthy destinations have we omitted?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like much fun to be had! I would love to see Ann Frank's House in Amsterdam, Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee and Truman Capote grew up and Wordsworth House in Cumbria.