Quick – March to a great holiday inspired by what you’ve been reading.

10 October 2013

Misc Travel News

Literary tourism is an-ever growing tourism niche-market and one that is exploited by many destinations in the UK to attract visitors to their particular neck of the woods.  In fact, according to a list compiled previously by TripAdvisor, the UK features four times in the worldwide Top 10 of literary destinations.  Check out the full list here.  The UK destinations that made the list were London (top of the chart) – both the home of and the inspiration for many great classic and modern writers including Chaucer, Milton and Dickens.  Following closely behind at number 2 was Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford upon Avon, where visitors can watch the Royal Shakespeare Company bring one of the bard’s pieces to life on the stage or visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, his final home or Anne Hathaway’s picturesque cottage and gardens.   At Number 3 is Scotland’s Edinburgh, where many influential authors have hailed from, including Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) and J.K Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series).  Visitors can walk the ancient cobbled streets on a walking tour to find out about Scottish literary characters and history. Rounding off the UK’s dominance of the chart, is Dublin at 4, most notably the setting for James Joyce’s “Dubliners”, fans can visit the James Joyce Tower and House or take a tour of the city’s pubs with the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl.

Of course, there are many other locations that are well-established literati magnets in the UK, famously:

Jane Austen – Hampshire

Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy – The West Country

Charles Dickens, A.A Milne, H.E Bates – Kent and Sussex

Beatrix Potter – The Lake District

Literary tourism is a kind of cultural tourism where people visit a place or area that is the setting for a fictional text or somewhere that an author is associated with.  You can obviously make your own way on a literary pilgrimage, or there are often literary tours, long-distance walking routes, guides and maps that exist to help you on your way.  Often, museums linked to writers are housed in buildings associated with a writer’s birth or literary career.  Modern technology is extending this  bridge between literature and real-life settings by utilising things like Kindle Reading devices, where readers can click on links to tourism or information websites as they are reading a piece of text.

The existence of literary tourism was brought to my personal attention by a friend who recently went on holiday to Herefordshire (for the third time!) inspired by the fact that many places in the locale are settings in the “Merrily Watkins” series of books by Phil Rickman.  I myself can now vouch for the entertaining nature of this series, as I am currently enjoying book three.  Places – their geography, their history and the folklore of the area – are integral parts of Rickman’s internationally-acclaimed series of novels featuring rural diocesan exorcist Merrily Watkins.  In fact, Rickman himself, is so influenced and inspired by “The Marches” (the area along and around the border between England and Wales that all of the series is set there.  The regions belonging to the Welsh Marches include Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.  The western half of Gloucestershire, as well as Flintshire and Wrexham are also sometimes included). Rickman has also penned a book called “Merrily’s Border: The Marches Share Their Secrets”  which  contains many atmospheric photographs of the area and is lauded as “a fascinating,  lavishly illustrated guide to the locations, history and legends which the series is set.” The series and the guide seem to complement each other perfectly, and the guide can still be enjoyed if you haven’t read any of the novels – although your appetite will inevitable be whetted!  My friend was a little surprised when she visited Herefordshire, and made her own trips to the places she was particularly interested in seeing, that the novels weren’t very well known by the locals that she encountered and that more wasn’t made of the link by local tourism (aside from an author-signing session in a local library).  Of course, if devotees continue to descend on the area, it’s only a matter of time before the local tourism board decide to make a focus of it! My friend said that her mission to visit particularly intriguing settings profiled in the books, gave an enjoyable focus to her trip (and even her husband and daughter enjoyed tagging along too), allowed her to explore them more thoroughly and bring the settings of the book to life and gave her the opportunity to take her own photographs as a record of where she’d visited.  And of course, her trip didn’t revolve solely around these settings, as inevitably, these research forays led to other outings and diversions as they went.

As mentioned before, the area that these supernatural-tinged crime novels are set, is the Marches on the Welsh/English Borders (the area definition was originally used in the Middle Ages to denote an area where Marcher lords had specific rights, held to some extent independently of the King of England.  This area was the scene of many turbulent times as the frontier between the Welsh and English and was the scene of many a bloody skirmish between the two.  Nowadays it is renowned for the quality of its local produce, as well as retaining its historical significance embodied in the huge number of castles within its realm.  There are three walks that also embody the history and untamed beauty of the area:

Glyndwr’s Way – An 132 mile trail taking in Welshpool, Machynlleth and Knighton following the warpath taken by the 15th Century warrior “Prince Owai Glyndwr of Wales”.

Offa’s Dyke – One of the earliest National Trails, this famous route lasts for 177 miles extending from coast to coast.  It follows an 8th century earthwork built by King Offa to contain the Welsh tribes.

The Marches Way – Stretching from Chester to Cardiff, it takes in the charming towns of Montgomery, Knighton and Hay on Wye.


Focussing in on Herefordshire as my friend did, there are many places and experiences worthy of a visit:

Cider-making – Hereford is renowned for its farm cider making and there are several farms that you can visit and buy a bottle or two of their finest.  Cider, orchards and apples themselves are a theme of the first Merrily Watkins novel “The Wine of Angels”

Hereford Cathedral – a magnificent building housing the Mappa Mundi, the Chained Library and the shrine of St.Thomas of Hereford – a central part of the second Merrily Watkins novel “Midwinter of the Spirit”

The Black and White Village trail – The motor/cycle route is characterised by the large number of timbered and half-timbered houses in the area, some dating from medieval times.  It wends its way through quaint villages and beautiful landscape, with each village having its own unique character and attractions.

The River Wye – the fifth largest river in the UK, forming part of the border between England and Wales.  Walk or cycle beside the river, do some fishing, sit in a beer garden overlooking the river, or for the more energetic, go canoeing.

Of course, not all literature uses real settings or place-names, so it’s not always possible to visit the places that have been immortalised in writing.  If you do have a favourite novel or series, and it is based on a real area, it can be a rewarding and revealing experience to walk in the footsteps of the hero or heroine of the tale, or see for yourself a location that sparked the author’s imagination.

Let’s hope that the reality matches up to the fiction – if not, at least you’ll have an interesting time finding out!

Related posts