You’ve read the books, enjoyed the movies, and may even have the DVDs, but have you ever thought of using Agatha Christie, Inspector Morse, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens and other popular British authors, poets, and playwrights as the focus for literary tours to Britain? Many of you have spent evenings glued to the latest Masterpiece Theatre production. You may belong to reading circles, support the local library, teach English literature and are waiting for us to turn fiction into fact with tour suggestion. The Bronte Sisters, William Wordsworth, Catherine Cookson, James Herriot, Bram Stoker, Lewis Carroll. . .aaaaaaah, the possibilities.
Novels, history, biography, thrillers, politics, art, adventure, science, drama, music, poetry… if it’s between two covers you’ll find it in England. The secret to a captivating U.K.-bound special interest literary tour is the quality and variety of the value-added special details that can be included in each program.
Are you a member of a murder mystery book club in your town or neighborhood? If so, how about a “Hoofbeats” tour of Newmarket, Britain’s horseracing capital, that’s like a stroll through a Dick Francis novel. A visit to Oxford is transformed when you see the colleges and pubs through the eyes of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse.
Arguably the best murder mystery tour of them all is an in-depth look at the English Riviera (a.k.a. Torquay), which for years was home to the queen of crime writers, Agatha Christie. There’s enough there to fill three full days and it gets even better in September, when the region stages its annual Agatha Christie Festival.
For those of you looking ideas for family travel, there’s Harry Potter, of course. To broaden the content a little further, you can add visits to Oxford for “Alice in Wonderland,” Mapledurham House on the banks of the Thames for “Wind in the Willows,” Roald Dahl’s home at Great Missenden, and a game of pooh sticks after a visit to Rudyard Kipling’s home in Sussex. How about Nursery Rhymes? Behind each one lies a fascinating piece of English history. Nursery rhymes offer a whole new perspective on a tour of Great Britain.
A children’s literary tour could also be of interest for teachers when we add special visits to Milton’s Cottage in Chalfont St. Giles, where the poet completed “Paradise Lost” and started “Paradise Regained,” a reading of Grey’s Elegy in St Giles Churchyard in Stoke Poges and a visit to George Bernard Shaw’s home and the revolving summer house where he retreated to write.
A few miles north, near Bedford, is the former hometown of John Bunyan, the tinker turned preacher, campaigner for religious freedom and author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” His name is known the world over and his works cross barriers of time, age, language and culture. Today you can visit the place of Bunyan’s birth, see where he played as a child, where he followed his trade as a tinker, where he was baptized and where he preached, where he was arrested and imprisoned, and the places that inspired his writings.
Starting near Southwark Cathedral, you can take a trail that follows in the footsteps of Chaucer’s Pilgrims. It pauses in Rochester, where there’s a lot to see involving Charles Dickens, and finishes in Canterbury, a good base for visits to the Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs, the house in the cliff immortalized as the home of Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield’s aunt.
There is an Arthur Conan Doyle exhibition in Portsmouth. Bequeathed to the city, it explores the mind of the author and his master creation, Sherlock Holmes. Also in Portsmouth you will find the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum.
In Salisbury and the New Forest, there are local guides who can bring to life Edward Rutherfurd’s novels, including “Sarum” — Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Salisbury — and “The Forest” – the New Forest, where you’ll also find the graves of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves, nee Alice Liddel, who inspired Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” And if you’ve never seen one before, you can visit a medieval chained library in the picturesque town of Wimborne. Similarly, there are local experts who can bring to life the villages and towns which inspired Thomas Hardy’s Dorset where the landscape remains pretty much as he would have known it.
For Jane Austen fans, a fascinating itinerary begins at Steventon, where she grew up. It takes in Chawton, where she wrote or revised her six great novels and ends at Winchester Cathedral, her burial place. Her life and times can be imaginatively interpreted in Bath where the delightful Jane Austen Centre is the starting point for some really interesting visits.
Across the border, Wales has deep literary roots. The earliest tales of King Arthur originated in the country and there are plenty of other epic tales, with the expected cast of monsters, heroes, and magicians. But Welsh storytelling doesn’t stop there. Social injustices are often righted in the form of ghost stories that allow the “losers” of history to see their richer and more powerful masters get their comeuppance. But many of the tales are of more domestic matters — including stories of hearth and home passed on through the generations. Dylan Thomas’ witty glances at his own community are far from unique.
Back across the border, the Shakespeare Houses in Stratford Upon Avon have introduced costumed interpreters at Mary Arden’s House and the VIP tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, which is a notable addition to any program.
If you’ve read Arnold Bennet’s “Anna of the Five Towns,” visits to Wedgwood, Spode and Portmeirion can be enhanced with a literary twist. Further to the north, other literary giants step onto the stage. Lewis Carroll was born in the Cheshire village of Daresbury.
On the way into the Lake District, there’s the village of Haworth, where at the Brontë Parsonage Museum you can see the rooms as the three sisters would have known them, along with displays of their personal treasures. You can wander on the moors to find the inspiration for “Wuthering Heights,” then journey into Cumbria for gingerbread, wine, and a Wordsworth poetry reading and perhaps a sighting of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.
British literary tours can be given an extra lift when they are timed to coincide with a year-long calendar of different festivals and book fairs. These events take place in some very appealing parts of the country, such as Oxford and Essex (March); Swindon on the edge of the Cotswolds, Hay on Wye on the Wales and England border (May); and the cathedral cities of Chester, Guildford and Cheltenham (October). Some have a very specific focus as in Daphne du Maurier in Cornwall (May), Charles Dickens (June and December), Jane Austen (September) and Dylan Thomas (October), where a visit to his home and writing shed in Laugharne is a must, as is an evening of poetry, pints, ballads and boisterous songs with the Merlyn Theatre Company.
For poetry lovers, the place to be is Ledbury (June-July) in undiscovered Herefordshire. Because of its associations with William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, it is not surprising to find that in the Lake District they stage “Words by the Water,” a Cumbrian literature festival (March). And over a weekend in the autumn in small villages and market towns you’ll find the absorbing “North Pennines Storytelling Festival” (October).
For lovers of James Herriot’s popular stories about a Yorkshire veterinary practice, don’t forget the annual James Herriott conference. At other times of the year, you could easily blend together a seven-night program focusing on “Last of the Summer Wine,” “Dracula,” “Heartbeat,” “Brideshead Revisited” (Castle Howard) and “Calendar Girls.”
These and many more British travel products are ready to be imaginatively blended together. Contact us as we turn the pages of English literature and discover the sources of inspiration and places associated with some of our best-loved authors. See how many of them lived and follow in their footsteps as we turn back the clock and immerse ourselves in the life and times of many outstanding novelists and poets. All packages are custom-created to suit your interests.
Appealing? Want to plan a vacation with a focus on literary tours of Britain? I would love to make this happen for you.
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