Fall in love with Britain again with these literary staycations

    15 June 2020

    After 10 weeks of snitching on neighbours, clapping for carers and being parent shamed on WhatsApp groups for sending children back to school, many of us are screaming for a change of scene.

    Yet hopes have faded of escaping to that delightful agriturismo in Umbria — booked way back when coronavirus was just something happening far, far away. With most arrivals in the UK required to enter a fortnight’s quarantine from 8th June (including UK nationals returning from trips abroad), foreign holidays are, in effect, impractical.

    With the British ‘quiet, good-humoured resolve’ evoked by The Queen rather thin on the ground at the moment, enthusiasm for the staycation may be muted. But look beyond the irritations of the incessant sourdough starters and #bekind hashtags and turn to one of these books, to rekindle your affection for home.

    The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley

    The East Wing of Wolterton Hall – available to hire.

    ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ Rarely has the opening line of LP Hartley’s tale of lost innocence and social hierarchy felt so prescient. Ted and Marian’s doomed love affair plays out against a gorgeous golden Norfolk summer. Julie Christie carries a parasol on the cover of my copy; a still from the 1971 movie which co-starred Alan Bates and was filmed at dreamy Melton Constable Hall in North Norfolk.

    Where to stay:

    Close by, in Palladian splendour at Wolterton Park.

    A Room With A View – E.M. Forster

    Denbies Vineyard Hotel, near Dorking.

    When France was locking down, our French au pair opted to stay with us. The British, she reasoned, were so repressed that Covid-19 wouldn’t gain a foothold here.

    This sadly (for her) outdated view sent me straight back to Forster. It might seem contrary to pick a book that opens in Florence — given that the closest we’re likely to get to Tuscany this summer is watching the 1985 Merchant Ivory film. But the descriptions of his beloved Surrey Hills sustained me until travel restrictions eased and we could escape London to walk there again.

    Coldharbour and Holmbury St Mary are used as settings in the book. Windy Ridge, the Honeychurch home, ‘seemed on the edge of a green magic carpet which hovered in the air above the tremulous world’.

    Lucy and her passionate renditions of Beethoven, priggish Cecil (‘I say, listen to this… Three split infinitives! Dreadful!’) and dear, dear Mr Emerson, who finally makes Lucy ‘see the whole of everything at once’ make the book as glorious as the view from the top of Leith Hill.

    Where to stay:

    Denbies Vineyard Hotel near Dorking Guaranteed vineyard views with all rooms.

    Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne du Maurier

    Tremayne House, Cornwall

    If there’s a mindfulness app that can soothe the soul as effectively as the opening paragraphs of this book, I’d like to find it. The author’s lyrical description of the Helford River, with its shining waters, sandy shores, waders, mudflats and guillemots, transports the reader immediately to her beloved Cornwall.
    Written during the war, this swashbuckling tale of a noblewoman and a pirate was, du Maurier declared, ‘Romantic with a capital R’ — and it’s exactly what we need right now.

    Where to stay:

    Trelowarren, seat of the Vyvyan family, is thought to be the inspiration for Navron House in the novel. But the setting of Tremayne, with its private quay for Lady Dona’s pirate to moor his ship feels the more likely setting. Three rental properties available.

    Some Tame Gazelle – Barbara Pym

    St Mary’s Hall, Chawton

    One of Pym’s many famous fans, Jilly Cooper, invariably takes one of her subtle, slyly comic novels on holiday ‘to remind me of what is true, good, funny and touching about English life’.

    Some Tame Gazelle — with its monstrous clergymen, curate-chasing spinsters and unfathomably hilarious repetition of the word ‘marrow’ — is for me the acme of Pym’s high comedy of a certain genteel sort of Englishness.

    Where to stay:

    Any English village with a tearoom run by a gentlewoman — Chawton in Hampshire, given that many see Pym as a twentieth century Jane Austen, is perfect. Stay at the absurdly Pymm-ish St Mary’s Hall — a B&B in a converted church.

    Five On A Treasure Island –Enid Blyton

    Holiday cottages on Brownsea Island, National Trust

    Nothing captures the excitement and anticipation of a British bucket-and-spade holiday quite like the first volume in the Famous Five series.

    Blyton’s prose has been mocked for being simplistic, but her pacy plots are thrilling for children (my six year-old would often dive under the duvet while I read this to him).

    Kirrin Island was inspired by Corfe Castle and Blyton’s descriptions of sandy beaches, coconut-scented gorse and heathland swathed in purple heather are wonderfully evocative of Studland Bay.

    Where to stay: Lashings of atmospheric fun can be had at Knoll House Hotel, where Blyton stayed several times a year or for something more secluded, try renting a National Trust cottage on Brownsea Island.