As the lockdown begins to ease up, and with most of the summer still stretching ahead, many of us are plotting a homespun escape. What better way to explore the magic of the British Isles than to visit somewhere that inspired a favourite childhood book?
Scilly Isles – Michael Morpurgo’s Why the Whales Came
The Scilly Isles offer the quintessential bucket-and-spade holiday with one crucial difference: they are deeply chic. Off the westernmost coast of Cornwall, they bask in a temperate climate, white sand beaches and glittering turquoise waters. Tresco, home of the famous subtropical Abbey Garden, is practically traffic-free, and the journey over feels like an adventure in itself. Once there, grown ups can relax in the spa or peruse the deli at the heavenly Sea Garden Cottageswhile children relive the capers of Enid Blyton’s Island of Adventure or take a trip over to Bryher to see the place that was the inspiration for Michael Morpurgo’s Why The Whales Came.
Tintagel – King Arthur
Meanwhile, back on the mainland, Cornwall is the epicenter for Arthurian legend, whether you’re a fan of Susan Cooper, T. H. White or Kevin Crossley-Holland. Tintagel is the legendary birthplace of Arthur, and the English Heritage castle on the site (opening in early July) is as dramatic as you could wish, especially with the new bridge which unites the two ruins over a dramatic chasm. Once you’ve had enough of grail questing along the glorious coastal paths, nip across the border to Devon and Olga Polizzi’s staggeringly gorgeous Hotel Endsleigh, where you can wander the Repton landscapes and eat under parasols overlooking the 108 acres of private grounds.
North Wessex Downs – Richard Adams’ Watership Down
The North Wessex Downs AONB is the setting for that quintessential children’s favourite Watership Down. The seemingly cute tale of rabbits searching for a new warren is a mystical, epic feat which draws on classical myths, religious symbolism and political theory – yet children love it. Wander the woods and dells where Fiver, Hazel, Pipkin et al face their fates and then head to The Vineyard Hotel in nearby Newbury to discuss all those metaphysical themes over the award-winning wine list (while the kids doze off their rambling). You can also pop in on nearby Highclere Castle – the stately home where Downton Abbey was set – for a stroll around the grounds.
Oxford – C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
The inspiration for countless beloved books, Northern Lights, Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia series among them – not to mention adult classics including Brideshead Revisisted, Inspector Morse and Jude The Obscure – Oxford is a literary haven. You can hardly turn a corner without encountering the bench in the Botanic Gardens where Will and Lyra reunite, the door in St Mary’s Passage that inspired The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or C. S. Lewis’s Dodo in the Natural History Museum. If, by some miracle, you still have any literary energy left, head out to the Cotswolds and The Swan Inn in the village of Swinsbrook where the Mitford sisters grew up.
The Lake District – Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit
The Lake District provides something for book lovers of all ages, from tiny ones with their first Beatrix Potters through older children embarking on Swallows and Amazons to adult fans of Wordsworth and Thomas de Quincey. Windermere is the literary epicenter with its World of Beatrix Potter museum and the school Arthur Ransome attended, while Wordsworth’s house at Grasmere is half an hour away. The lakes themselves offers plenty of sailing, wild swimming and canoeing opportunities while the entire district is one vast perfect picnic and hiking site. If your little ones are still brimming with energy, chuck them into the (Ofsted-registered) childrens’ zone garden at Another Place – The Lake on the banks of Ullswater while you perfect your stroke at the swimming clinic or simply curl up with a book in the quiet, welcoming library.
Alnwick – Harry Potter
Alnwick Castle was used as the on-screen Hogwarts in the film version of J.K. Rowling’s children’s classic. The Castle’s famous water gardens are arguable even more of an adventure than the house itself and will provide hours of fun for grown ups and children alike. And don’t miss the delightful Barter Books in the town of Alnwick- a secondhand bookshop housed in an old railway station, complete with a model railway winding its way around the shelves. What better place to inspire your little ones with a love of reading?
Fowey, Cornwall – Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers
Blyton never specifies which part of Cornwall her famous boarding school series is set in but we do know she based the books on her daughter’s experiences when her boarding school, Benenden, relocated to the Cornish coast during the war.
Those looking for a Blyton-esque adventure can’t go far wrong with a stay in family-friendly hotel Fowey Hall. There’s plenty of Malory Towers nostalgia to be found in this grand country house, complete with fishing nets and wellies at the door and canoes to take out on the river. Lansallos Beach and Lantic Bay will help you recapture heroine Darrell’s love of sea swimming and are sufficiently off the beaten track for you to sidestep the summer hoards.
Fowey Hall was a favourite haunt of Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame and also boasts the largest library for children of any UK hotel – perfect for inspiring a love of reading in your little ones.