Enid Blyton wouldn’t have been a fan of Dorset’s Famous Five trail. The area’s haunted castles, secret caves, smugglers’ coves, mysterious moors and countless picturesque picnic spots do seem to be straight out of a Blyton book and Dorset is widely thought to have inspired the series. But whenever Blyton was asked which bits of the county popped up in her stories, she refused to say. So Blyton would probably have thought tourists like me traipsing around Dorset trying to spot locations from the books, were wasting their time.
There are surely worse ways to waste time though. And it’s hard to deny that exploring Dorset’s charms does feel like a familiar experience if you’ve ever read a Famous Five book.
Corfe Castle has the trappings of a real-life Kirrin Castle. Studland, with its tiny police station, looks like Noddy’s Toytown. And you can well imagine the Famous Five adventuring to Brownsea Island – or Whispering Island, as its apparent namesake is called. But whether or not Blyton did base her stories on these places, there is no doubt that she loved Dorset dearly.
Three times each year, without fail, she returned here on holiday. To locals in Swanage, Blyton was a familiar sight and could be seen braving the cold sea water for a daily paddle around both piers (today there is only one) before dinner. For an author who wrote 800 books in her lifetime, there was little time to relax though. And when Blyton travelled to Dorset, she was also here for another reason: to make money.
Although Blyton is best known as a children’s author, she was also something of a savvy investor, snapping up property in Dorset and helping add to the coffers of her fortune. Blyton paid a pound for the Isle of Purbeck golf course, where she used to play several rounds a day on visits. Her name – or a lesser-known version of it – is immortalised in the clubhouse here: Mrs E Darrell Waters was ladies’ captain in 1951.
Blyton also turned her hand to farming in Dorset, buying up a prime plot of English countryside near to Sturminster Newton. Manor Farm at Stourton Caundle still exists today. Although Blyton only owned the land for a few years in the 1950s, she stuck around long enough for it to seemingly provide the inspiration for another Famous Five adventure. Five on Finniston Farm was the result. And it’s close to here that we’re staying in the beautiful grade II-listed Droop Farm Cottage in the tiny hamlet of Hazelbury Bryan. Tucked away from the tourist traps of south Dorset, it’s a perfect place for a family adventure. And an ideal spot from which to launch an expedition of Enid Blyton country.
For those wanting to follow in the footsteps of Blyton, a useful map from Visit Dorset points visitors in the right direction. An easy favourite is Dorset’s Blue Pool, a shimmering lake off the beaten track in the middle of the woods. When the Famous Five take a trip here – or somewhere like it – in Five Go Off in a Caravan, the water ‘lay glittering in the August sunshine’. It’s much the same in September, and with the summer holiday crowds gone you can have the place more or less to yourselves.
Fans of Five Fall into Adventure should make a beeline for Kimmeridge Bay. As in the book, it’s an ideal spot for toddlers to splash around in the rock pools and catch crabs. Thankfully, unlike in the stories, locals no longer throw rocks at visitors.
And when the Five go to the Mystery Moor, it’s thought that the setting for the book was based on Stoborough Heath. Dorset’s heathlands are also the perfect location for reptile spotting: it’s one of the few places in Britain where all six species of British reptiles can be seen.
Even if you can’t stand Blyton – which, as the recent hoo-haa over her omission by the Royal Mint shows, there are plenty who can’t – there is still lots to do in Dorset. And you don’t need to be a Blyton fan to share in her love for a county that, while only two hours from London, feels a world away. In Five on Finniston Farm, Julian says: ‘I somehow feel more English for having seen those Dorset fields, surrounded by hedges basking in the sun’. Fifty years on since Blyton’s death, Dorset has changed very little – and it’s all the better for it.
Seven nights at Droop Farm Cottage in Hazelbury Bryan cost from £588 with Sykes Cottages