British Literary Towns That Bookworms Will Love
Bookworms, rejoice! As of tomorrow, bookshops will be reopening in the UK. Once more we can browse a greater choice than that provided by Tesco’s feeble book aisle, which seems to consist of three genres; thrillers, “chick lit”, or celebrity autobiographies. God, I can’t wait.
Another thing permissible as of tomorrow is ‘staycations’. While holidays overseas may not return to us for a while yet, let’s instead take the opportunity to explore all that the UK has to offer.
For book lovers, I have compiled a list of the UK’s best literary hotspots to visit this summer.
Where else to begin than at the hometown of the Bard? Or should that be double capitals? The Bard? Even if you only familiar with a couple of Shakespeare’s plays, a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon is a must for any literary lover.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust does an amazing job in preserving historical sights in Stratford-upon-Avon linked to Shakespeare, including his childhood home, and those of his wife, Anne, his mother, Mary Ardern, and Hall Croft, believed to have been the home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, after her marriage.
- Shakespeare’s Birthplace
- Anne Hathaway’s Cottage & Gardens
- Hall’s Croft
- Shakespeare’s New Place
- Mary Arden’s Farm
- Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall
- Royal Shakespeare Theatre
- Holy Trinity Church
JK Rowling’s Edinburgh
Dozens of literary figures have emerged from Scotland’s Capital, or later come to call it home, including Arthur Conan Doyle, James Barrie, and Sir Walter Scott. More recently, the city has become associated with JK Rowling, and her Harry Potter series; Rowling wrote part of the series at The Elephant House Cafe, who I’m sure have been grateful for the increase in custom ever since.
- Edinburgh Castle
2. The Elephant House Cafe
3. Greyfriar Kirkyard
4. The Writers’ Museum
5. Scott Monument
The Brontë Sisters’ Haworth
Hidden away amongst the Yorkshire Moors lies the isolated little village of Haworth. It was here that the three Brontë sisters wrote their novels, including Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
The village has changed little since the days of the reclusive Brontë family’s residency — but for better sanitation, thankfully. Walking down Main Street, you can almost expect the three sisters to emerge from the churchyard at any moment. Stop at The Black Bull pub, frequented by their troubled brother, Branwell, for a pint, and, of course, visit the famous Parsonage in which the sisters spent most of their lives, as well as their graves (besides Anne, who was buried in Scarborough), in the Parish Church.
- Brontë Parsonage Museum
- Haworth Parish Church
- The Black Bull Pub
- Brontë Waterfall
- Top Withens (The alledged inspiration for Wuthering Heights)
- Bonus: For fans of ‘The Railway Children’, the nearby Edwardian Oakworth station was used as a location in the 1970s film adaptation.
Beatrix Potter’s Lake District
A lifelong lover of the Lake District, which she visited often with her parents, Beatrix Potter eventually settled in the Cumbrian national park when she purchased Hill Top Farm in 1905. The landscape provided a constant source of inspiration to Potter who produced many of her famous tales and artwork while simultaneously becoming a prominent member of the local farming community and a fierce campaigner for local conservation. By the time of her death, she had purchased 4000 acres of land and 14 farms.
- Hill Top (Beatrix Potter’s House)
- The Beatrix Potter Gallery
- The World of Beatrix Potter
- Wray Castle
- Lake Windemere
One of the most literary counties in England, Dorset was the home and birthplace of both Thomas Hardy and Ian Fleming and provided inspiration for Jane Austen, who adored Lyme Regis, and Enid Blyton, for whom the Isle of Purbeck (a peninsular between Poole and Weymouth) featured often in her novels.
Other famous former residents include T.E Lawrence, who lived in Clouds Hill near Wareham, William Barnes, and Sylvia Townsend Warner. Robert Lewis Stevenson famously met with Thomas Hardy for a drink at The King’s Head Hotel in Dorchester in the late 19th century, though on telling Hardy that the yet-unpublished Tess of the D’Urbervilles was too racy, they never met again.
Two of Hardy’s former homes are open to the public; his childhood cottage in Higher Bockhampton, where he wrote Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd, and Max Gate, a house of his own design just outside of Dorchester.
- Thomas Hardy’s Cottage
- Max Gate
- Clouds Hill (
- Fleet, Dorchester
- The Cobb, Lyme Regis
- Isle of Purbeck
JRR Tolkien’s Oxford
Countless illuminary figures have passed through the hallowed halls of Oxford University, including no shortage of literary greats, including Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Dorothy Sayers, and even Dr. Seuss, while JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis were both Oxford professors. It makes sense, therefore, that a simple wander down Oxford’s cobbled streets is enough to stir up inspiration for budding writers. Not to mention that a trip to Oxford feels like you’re visiting Hogwarts itself.
- Oxford University Tour
- Bodleian Library
- Percy Shelley Memorial
- Eagle & Child Pub
- Botanic Gardens
- Bridge of Sighs
Charles Dickens’ London
No literary tour in the UK can possibly omit London. From Sherlock Holmes’ 221B Baker Street to the many locations which Dickens inserted into his novels, you can hardly turn down a street corner without stumbling across a literary sight of importance.
From Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross (and the adjoining Harry Potter shop) to Poet’s Corner at Westminster Cathedral, London has something to offer for every kind of bookworm. When you get thirsty, stop by the Fitzroy Tavern, once (and likely still) known as a drinking hole for bohemians, artists, and intellectuals. Its regulars included Dylan Thomas and George Orwell. Alternatively, visit the Old Cheshire Cheese; the pub of choice for Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton and Mark Twain.
- The British Library
- Charles Dickens Museum
- Sherlock Holmes Museum
- The Globe Theatre
- Keat’s House
- Poet’s Corner, Westminster Cathedral
- Highgate Cemetery
- Fitzroy Tavern
- Ye Old Cheshire Cheese Pub
Jane Austen’s Bath
Back in the day, anyone who was anyone would come to Bath for the season, including Jane Austen (whose family lived in Bath for six years between 1800–1806). Charles Dicken was another frequent visitor to the city, from his early days as a parliamentary reporter in the 1830s, to the heights of his literary fame.
A visit to Bath is like stepping into the page of Austen’s novels; the Georgian streets have changed little and the city is protected by UNESCO heritage in order to preserve it for future generations.
- The Royal Crescent
- Bath Assembly Halls
- Jane Austen Centre
- Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights Bookshop
- Roman Baths
- Pulteney Bridge
- Milsom Street
- Topping & Company Bookshop
For more Jane Austen sights in the UK, click here.
Bram Stoker’s Whitby
This unassuming little coastal town in North Yorkshire may not seem like a prime literary spot at first glance, but while visiting in 1890, Bram Stoker found inspiration for a certain gothic novel; Dracula. It’s easy to see why. From the ruins of Whitby Abbey and windswept hills to the morning mist rolling in from the sea, this place screams gothic (or, nowadays, dark-academic-on-sea). Stoker even found inspiration for the name ‘Dracula’ in the local library, where he picked up a book about the infamous Vlad the Impaler.
Local ‘attractions’ include a narrow seat carved from stone, known as the wishing chair (wishes granted to any who can squeeze their bums into the narrow seat). Meanwhile, while climbing the 199 steps to St Mary’s Church, you may notice a number of handy benches lining the way for weary walkers. In fact, these benches were not designed to hold the living but were in fact designed for weary pallbearers to rest the coffins of the dead while taking a rest on their way to the church. Gothic, indeed.
- Whitby Abbey
- The Dracula Experience
- Dracula Locations Walking Tour
- Bram Stoker Memorial Seat (& View)
- 199 Steps Coffin Benches
Bonus: Hay-on-Wye, Wales
While few authors specifically spring to mind when mentioning Hay-on-Wye (though Terry Pratchett was born and briefly lived there), Hay-on-Wye is arguably one of the most famous literary spots in the UK. Renowned worldwide for its annual literary festival, writers, and book lovers travel from across the world to attend. Naturally, such a book-loving town is teaming with bookshops, including the Honesty Bookshop; no tills, no present staff, all books cost £1, and the service is run (successfully, I might add) on trust alone.
Hay festival runs from late May to early June each year. More information can be found here.
- Hay Festival
- Richard Booth’s Bookshop
- Honesty Bookshop
- Hay Castle
*It should be noted that while shops and galleries reopen as of tomorrow, museums and historical/stately homes will not open until, according to current Government guidelines, 17th May, so long as they can conform to Covid guidelines to ensure the safety of visitors.