“The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog’s mercury and oak-tree roots…”
Wrote Richard Adams in the opening to the iconic Watership Down, a tale beloved by generations (in between the heartbreak anyway). But my first encounter with the story of Watership Down wasn’t in between the pages of a book or on the screen. Instead, it was stood on the Down itself, spotting rabbits with my Nan, and listening to my Great Aunt read directions from one of her many, dogeared, walking books.
That walk was one of the many in my childhood, guided by my Nan and my Great Aunt who both thought a good adventure for a Saturday afternoon was to pick out an odd-sounding feature on a map and bushwhack through the English countryside to go figure out what it was. Between them and my mum, who has the ambition to visit every brown signposted attraction in England, a significant chunk of my childhood was spent exploring green bits of England and uncovering the stories that flowed through the valleys of this extraordinary island nation.
May is National Walking Month, an awareness-raising effort spearheaded by the NHS to help us all get out and about a bit more for the good of our mental and physical wellbeing. So, in the spirit of wandering, in this Blog Post I want to share with you 5 literary themed walks and locations in England which I’ve either done myself or are on my bucket list. I’d love to know if you’ve done them or what your favourite literary walk is!
Starting at the pretty little village of Kingsclere you can wind your way through the stunning vistas of Watership Down, through the vale, and onwards towards Nuthanger Farm. Whilst Watership Down is the strongest literary connection to this walk, you might also be interested to know that the Sydmonton Court estate which can be espied from the trail is home to the composing genius, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Photo by @sarah-swift bookhunters.co.uk
Blaise Castle is another of my favourite places, and not least because my wonderful fiancé proposed to me on the rocky outcrop of Goram’s Chair. This walk has a tenuous link to Jane Austen, with the castle being mentioned directly in her novel Northanger Abbey by John Thorpe who describes it as “the finest place in England–worth going fifty miles at any time to see”.
However, the strongest link to the world of stories is actually through the ancient legend of Goram and Vincent, two giants who competed for the love of the beautiful Avona when challenged to drain a great lake. The giants picked two different routes and two different methods. Goram rushed to the task, digging out the gorge that dissects the Blaise Castle estate with such vigour that he soon tired himself out in the midday sun. Exhausted, he fell into a chair that he had made from the rocky cliff and drank a gallon of cool ale.
Vincent had been cleverer. Slowly but skillfully excavating the Avon Gorge with his mighty pickaxe and strength. And so, as Goram slept off the ale he’d quaffed in his rocky chair, Vincent reached the sea and drained the lake.
Goram awoke to find that his brother had won the hand of Avona and stamped his foot in a rage, creating ‘The Giant’s Foot Print’ in the woods above the gorge. Driven by fury and sorrow, he smashed his way towards the estuary and drowned himself. The islands of Steep Holme and Flat Holme are said to be his head and shoulders sticking out from the water. The story is featured in William Camden’s Brittania and was reworked by the boy poet Thomas Chatterton whose brief life proved an inspiration to many renowned writers of the Romantic period. Following ‘The Castle Walk’ you will walk past the footprint and see the chair from across the gorge. The Rhododendron walk will take you to the top of the chair.
Bath has to be one of the most iconic cities in England. The Roman baths which lend the great city its name, stand ancient and spectacular at its centre, whilst the buildings crafted of Bath stone create a thriving modern city with a majestic veneer.
Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens and many more writers through the ages have pulled inspiration from the city and its rich history. The unchanging facade of the city, and its stunning period features, have led to the city being used as a setting for a good few films and programs, including Javert’s Suicide in Les Mis, which was filmed on the weir, and the recent Bridgeton series on Netflix, featuring the lovely Bath (and Primark in the bloopers!) in the background.
Isle of Wight
“Half a league, half a league, half a league onwards…” walk in the steps of the poet who wrote of the six hundred.
OK, that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Tennyson’s famous ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, but it should give you an idea of what this walk’s literary connection is!
The Isle of Wight is a gorgeously picturesque island just off the south coast which can be reached from Southampton, Portsmouth, or Lymington by ferry. The raging sea has battered the island’s shores, creating its iconic shining white cliffs and natural formations like the famous Needles. The Victorian poet laureate spent many a happy day wandering through the island’s magnificent scenery whilst pondering his next work of art. Following his death in 1892 a fund was raised by his friends and admirers to erect a monument in his name, which can be visited on this trail.
By Nigel Homer, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9196695
Haworth Bronte Waterfalls Circular
This is a walk that’s on my bucket list. It’s an absolute must for fans of the Bronte sisters, and for anyone who enjoys waterfalls and wildflowers in the quintessential country charm of Yorkshire.
File: Pendle Hill and the Ribble Valley – geograph.org.uk – 72304.jpg” by Charles Rawding is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
Do you want to walk in the footsteps of the legendary JRR Tolkien? Like any true artist, Tolkien drew his inspiration for the monumental work that is Lord of the Rings from many places and cultures across the world. The stunning Ribble Valley and country village is said to be his true inspiration for the homely Shire that we all know and love.
England might be a small country, but the landscapes are epic in their own gentle ways. They might not be wonders of the world but when you’re trekking through the wilds or admiring the ancient ruins, it’s easy to see how many great authors, poets, and other creatives were inspired to write of quests and battles, magic and dragons, and of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
If you want some more reading to inspire you to get your walking boots on, check out these excellent titles.
Notes From a Small Island: Bill Bryson
Wild: Cheryl Strayed
The Last Hill Walker: John D Burns