Britain’s literary heritage spans hundreds of years and many of Britain’s great works are known and loved the world over. Visiting the homes of and places associated with these literary greats is a highlight of many trips so here we look at a couple of the most popular houses associated with these renowned authors.
William Wordsworth - Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage Grasmere (c) VisitEngland/CumbriaTourism/Dave Willis On the edge of bustling Grasmere, what was once an inn, the 'Dove and Olive Bough', became the home for William and his sister Dorothy in late 1799. They lived there for the next eight years. In 1802 William married Mary Hutchinson and three of their five children were then born here as well.
As with Hill Top, a visit to Dove Cottage transports you back in time with plenty of the family’s own belongings throughout the house, with little having changed in the house since the Wordsworths lived there. The impressive Wordsworth Museum is next door to Dove Cottage and they have on show the most extensive collection of the Wordsworths’ letters, journals and poems in the world.
Entirely unconnected to Wordsworth, it wouldn’t be a proper trip to Grasmere without sampling the delights of Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread. This delicious Gingerbread was invented in 1854 by Victorian creator cook Sarah Nelson who mixed and baked her spicy-sweet chewy concoction inside her Church Cottage home – now The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop – and sold it to villagers and visitors from a table top on a tree stump outside her front door! Step inside the shop and it doesn’t feel like much has changed!
Turning back to Wordsworth, he was born in the Northern Lake District, in Cockermouth, and his childhood home is also open to visitors, presented as it would have been when they lived here with their parents, three brothers and servants in the 1770s.
Beatrix Potter - Hill Top
The home of one of the world's best-selling and best-loved children's authors, Beatrix Potter's 17th-century farmhouse, Hill Top, set in the picture perfect Lakeland village of Near Sawrey, is a key stop for any literary fan visiting the Lake District. Purchased by Beatrix Potter in 1905 with proceeds from her first book, the Tale of Peter Rabbit, she used Hill Top and the surrounding countryside as inspiration for many of her subsequent books.
Both the garden and house have been maintained exactly as she left them, so provide a fascinating insight into the author’s life. Sketches of her famous characters are still strewn across her desk and every room contains a reference to a picture in a 'tale'.
Hill Top is a small house and the National Trust operate a timed-ticket system (to avoid the house getting too busy!) so there may sometimes be a small wait to get inside the cottage, although you can always enjoy the gardens in the meantime!
Also in the Lake District, for fans of Peter Rabbit, visit the Lingholm Estate on the banks of Derwent Water, which has a strong connection with Beatrix Potter who spent many holidays on the Estate and credited the Lingholm Kitchen Garden as her original inspiration for Mr McGregor’s Garden in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Agatha Christie - Greenway
Use the beautiful Devon town of Dartmouth – which has a lovely setting on the edge of the River Dart - as a base while visiting Agatha Christie’s glamorous rural retreat. Agatha Christie called Greenway 'the loveliest place in the world' and it became a treasured holiday home for her and her family.
With views over the Dart, you can see why Agatha loved it as her escape to the countyside. The Christie family filled each room with items dear to them, brought to Greenway from Ashfield, Agatha's childhood home, and from their travels, much of which remains in the house today. The house had a distinctive 1950s styling, when Agatha and her family would spend summers and Christmases here with friends and family.
A visit to Greenway isn't complete without seeing the Boathouse, scene of the crime in 'Dead Man’s Folly', and the battery complete with cannon.
There are many different ways to get to Greenway, including ferry and steam train from Dartmouth (both of which really add to the experience!). If you'd like to arrive by car you must pre-book your parking space online or by telephone. Timed tickets may be issued at visitor reception at busy times, just to ease congestion in the house.
Jane Austen - Chawton
Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life in this charming Hampshire cottage from 1809 until 1817 (and it is proudly said that Chawton is the only house where Jane lived and wrote that is open to the public!).
2017 marks 200 years after her death, and the museum is currently exhibiting, “Jane Austen in 41 Objects”, which is a celebration of her life. Jane was only 41 years old when she died, and the exhibition tells the story of her life and legacy with reference to 41 different objects in the Jane Austen’s House Museum collection.
On 16 December, all are welcome to visit Chawton free of charge as part of their annual open day which marks Jane Austen’s birthday. Mince pies will be served and there will be free Christmas craft activities inspired by the Austen family!
The Regency town of Bath is also a fantastic stop for any Austen fans, as she lived in Bath in the early 1800s and it is the setting for a number of her novels. The excellent Jane Austen Centre houses an exhibition telling the story of Jane’s experience in the city and the effect it had on her and her writing.
William Shakespeare – Stratford-upon-Avon
No list of literary sites around the UK would be complete without a mention of The Bard! Whist Stratford-upon-Avon itself doesn’t always have the charm of the other stops listed here and gets fairly crowded, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, ‘Anne Hathaway’s Cottage’ (his wife’s childhood home) and the homes of other members of Shakespeare’s family make an absorbing day out.
Shakespeare’s birthplace is particularly atmospheric – wander around the house he was born and grew up in with his parents and siblings. He also spent the first five years of his marriage living here with his wife Anne Hathaway. During your visit, you are likely he hear tales of Shakespeare’s family life, enjoy live theatre on demand and get up close to rare artefacts from the Shakespeare Trust’s world class collections.
If you would like any help in planning your trip around the literary highlights of the country or would like us to create a tailor-made itinerary for your England self-drive trip, please get in touch.