Britain has inspired some of the world’s most celebrated masterpieces that have entertained generations of readers.
From childhood classics to Victorian love stories, literary Britain has something for any genre.
Here are five must-visit locations for bookworms to step inside some of the world’s most iconic novels.
1) Find Winnie-the-Pooh in Ashdown Forest, Sussex
Known as the very place that shaped the Hundred Acre Wood in A.A. Milne’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh stories, Ashdown Forest is one of the southeast’s most treasured locations.
It was here where Milne watched the adventures his son, Christopher Robin, had with his toys in the forest by their home. Christopher Robin even said in his autobiography the area was “identical” to Pooh’s forest.
And despite the first book almost being published 90 years ago, Ashdown forest, just 40 miles from London, has become a popular location for nostalgic adults who grew up reading the books and have shared them with their children.
Ashdown Forest is now home to several story references – you can literally walk in Pooh’s footsteps. You can even visit the very spot that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood, although it is actually called the Five Hundred Acre Wood.
At the River Medway you’ll find Pooh Sticks Bridge, a tribute to the game Pooh and Piglet play. This is a popular location for visitor photos.
All you have to do is drop a stick into the water from one side of the bridge, and see whose comes under the other side of the bridge first.
It’s simple but addictive!
Ashdown Forest isn’t the easiest of locations to find. The simplest route is to follow the A22 towards the High Weald. The main part of the forest lies below the highest ridge of the High Weald, which you can reach along the B2026.
2) Visit the Shire’s Inspiration, Moseley Bog, Birmingham
We all know New Zealand was used to shape Middle Earth in the movie adaptations of Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, however for the books it was a different story.
What actually inspired the mind of one of Britain’s greatest writers, J.R.R Tolkien?
To some Moseley Bog is just shadowy marshland. But for J.R.R Tolkien, it was his childhood playground and the very location he used to create The Shire – home of the hobbits.
Despite featuring in such legendary stories, Moseley Bog was actually listed as top place in the UK’s “top 50 hidden spots”. It’s a must-visit for Middle Earth fans.
Speaking in an interview with The Guardian in 1966, Tolkien described Moseley Bog as a “kind of lost paradise … There was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond with swans on it, a sandpit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream with another mill. I always knew it would go — and it did”.
The historic Sarehole Mill, known in The Hobbit as the Great Mill, was where Tolkien and his younger brother spent many hours being chased away by the bad-tempered miller – similar to the young hobbits in the Shire.
Now a museum the mill is closed during the winter months, however it’s still worth a visit to see it’s stunning brickwork in the secluded woodland.
3) Discover Jane Austen’s Life in Chawton, Hampshire
Jane Austen is arguably Hampshire’s most celebrated literary resident. Not only was this her birthplace, but Hampshire’s beautiful countryside provided great inspiration for her novels, including the timeless Pride and Prejudice.
One of the most famous routes showcasing her history is the Jane Austin Circular Walk. This walk, from Chawton to Farringdon, is approximately 4.5 miles long (about three hours) and allows you to follow in Austen’s footsteps in her beloved hometown.
You will begin at Austen’s 17th century cottage where she wrote all six of her novels. Now a museum, you will find the ‘Jane Austen in 41 Objects’ tour, which showcases memorabilia linked to her life – even the very table she wrote on!
The route also passes Chawton House, an Elizabethan manor that belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. She often visited here to research books in the library and explore the gardens for inspiration, which are both open to the public.
The route also pays a visit to St Nicholas Church, where Austen worshipped. Last year a statue of Austen was placed outside the church to highlight her significance in Hampshire’s literary history.
4) Step into Thomas Hardy’s Dorchester
Dorset was Hardy’s backdrop. Known as “Hardy’s Wessex”, he set all of his novels here. They were inspired by real places across Dorchester, however the locations were given fictional names.
From pretty villages to vast landscapes, Hardy loved using Dorchester as the settings for his tales of love and tragedy.
In Hardy’s ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, one of his most powerful novels, was actually inspired by, believe it or not, a Barclay’s Bank (although it wasn’t at the time).
Used as inspiration for story’s protagonist, Michael Henchard’s home, the building in South Street Dorchester was described by Hardy as “…one of the best, faced with dull red-and-grey old brick”.
Puddletown, located just four miles northeast of Dorchester, was used by Hardy as his model for the village of Wetherbury in ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ (1874), his first major literary success.
Some features of the village have changed since Hardy wrote his novel, however much of the surrounding countryside has remained identical.
Aside from quaint towns and villages, Hardy also took inspiration from Dorset’s landscapes. Slepe Heath, a wild wetland in Purbeck, was the setting for Hardy’s fictional Egdon Heath in his novel ‘The Return of the Native’.
This 200-acre is a paradise for rare flora and fauna, it’s certainly a place to lose yourself in Hardy’s imagination.
5) Explore Diagon Alley in Exeter, Devon
J.K Rowling is one of the UK’s best-loved authors. Responsible for creating the world-famous Harry Potter series, it’s no wonder diehard “Potterheads” are desperate to receive their Hogwarts letter.
Sadly we can’t transport ourselves into Rowling’s wizarding world, however there are plenty of locations in Exeter, Devon’s beautiful cathedral city, that will get us muggles a step closer.
One of the most popular spots to visit is Gandy Street, which was large inspiration for how she pictured Diagon Alley, the go-to place for wizard supplies. Filled with tiny boutiques and pretty cafes, it’s no surprise that Rowling transfigured this ordinary cobbled street into a magical one.
PLEASE NOTE – It was commonly believed the Old Firehouse, a rustic pub in Exeter, was the inspiration for The Leaky Cauldron – Harry, Ron and Hermione’s regular for a butterbeer. However, Rowling debunked this urban myth last year, confessing she has never visited this pub in her life.
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