As the days lengthen and the sun warms the earth, cow parsley fills the hedgerows and bees cloud above fragrant blooms, the English imagination turns in one accord to one idea: getting slightly drunk outside. Yes, the season of the picnic is nearly upon us – freakishly hot Easter bank holiday weekend notwithstanding – and it’s time to shake out your rugs, dust off your baskets and dig out the Factor 50. To lend a sophisticated sheen to your picnic, we have rounded up the spots across the UK with a rich literary picnic history. So you can imagine yourself in a Jane Austen novel as you squabble over sandwiches and ponder the ineffable problem of how to keep wine cold outside on a hot day. And if you need inspiration for what to eat, check out Tori Finch’s A Perfect Day for a Picnic, which contains recipes for all sorts of gatherings. Bon appetit!
The Chilterns, Buckinghamshire
Book: Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
The Chiltern hills are forty minutes from Central London, and offer bluebell woods, beech forests, grassy common land and sweeping views. They are also where Joe and Clarissa celebrate their anniversary before witnessing a freak hot air balloon accident at the start of Enduring Love. Pick up some hams, cheeses and organic wine from snazzy deli No 2 Pound Street in Wendover before wandering up to Wendover Woods or hiking part of the ancient road known as the ridgeway.
Box Hill, Surrey
Book: Emma by Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Jane Austen novels are set in Bath. Except they’re actually not: in Emma, our heroine organizes a picnic on Box Hillin Surrey, less than an hour from London Victoria on the train. That picnic might end in tears, but Box Hill is one of the National Trust’s most popular outdoor eating spots. You don’t even need to bring your own food; the caféoffers soups and sandwiches in the herb garden, so you can eat in a shady spot surrounded by the smells of mint, rosemary and thyme.
Book: Can You Forgive Her? By Anthony Trollope
You might not have the bevvy of servants to carry out trestle tables, silverware and platters groaning with roast beef that the characters of Trollope’s classic can call on, but a picnic on Brighton beachis a quintessential British experience. Food covered in sand, pastel coloured beach huts, ice cream stands and fairground rides: all tick. There’s masses to do, from the mini trainthat whizzes along the seafront to the boutiques and cafes that line the narrow alleys in Brighton’s Lanes area. Or just run in to the sea, squealing, like generations past and generations to come.
Book: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
‘I’ve got a motor-car and a basket of strawberries and a bottle of Château Peyraguey,’ announces Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s classic – which sounds like the perfect picnic to us. Although you may want more than strawberries to soak up the wine if you’re driving. Oxford’s Port Meadow, common land beside the river Thames (or Isis, as it is here) is as dreamily romantic a picnic spot as you can find: long grass, wild horses and the dreaming spires in the distance. The Perch is a 17th century tavern by the water with an outdoor bar and a huge garden, a twenty-minute stroll from the town centre.
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
Book: One Day by David Nicholls
Emma and Dexter spend the morning-after-the-night-before having an awkward picnic atop Arthur’s Seat, the mountain in the middle of Edinburgh which offers breathtaking (particularly after the hike up) views of the city and the gleaming Firth of Forth in the distance. Pick up delectable goodies from celebrated deli Valvona & Crollato sustain you for the walk, then luxuriate in the smugness of having reached the top.
Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall
Book: Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
The Lizard is Britain’s most southerly point, and is awash with delicious beaches and coves. Helford village and Helston town are good starting points for both a du Maurier and a Poldarktrail. Kynance Cove, with its white sand and glittering turquoise water, is perhaps the most renowned beauty spot in a region full of gorgeousness. Grab a fresh crab sandwiche from Wavecrest, and pick up salted caramel ice cream from nearby Roskilly’sorganic farm – you can even watch the cows being milked.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Still the archetypal picnic for anyone who read this book as a child, Mole and Ratty’s picnic on the river has an innocence and universal appeal that can be recreated anywhere. Their ‘fat wicker luncheon basket’ is packed with ‘cold chicken… cold tongue, cold ham, cold beef, pickled gherkins, salad, French rolls, cress sandwiches, potted meat, ginger beer, lemonade and soda water’ and they spend a harmonious day eating and pottering, chatting and dozing, and sitting on the mustard. Perfect happiness, in a picnic hamper. The journey by punt from Cambridge to Granchester is a particularly scenic way of taking to the river – top it off with a cream tea in The Orchard – a favourite haunt of modernist writer Virginia Woolf.