For literary buffs, Northern England boasts some of the most enduring and historical journeys in the world. Whether you seek to learn more about your favourite writers, or to simply immerse yourself in the places which sparked so many of England’s greatest poets and authors, the ancient and industrial cities, historic villages, sweeping moors and verdant valleys of Northern England are as timeless and transcendent as the classics they’ve inspired.
It comes as no surprise that the juxtaposition of warring ancestors, industrialisation and a stark, remote beauty in Northern England inspired many of the England’s literary greats. No matter where you go ‘Up North’ it’s possible to walk in the footsteps of some of the most influential literary minds since the Middle Ages. Choosing who you want to focus on is actually the biggest challenge!
The Lake District
Around two hours’ drive from Liverpool or Manchester, lies the Lake District. Its incredible valleys, dales and mountains are home to the waters and villages which inspired many Romantic and Victorian poets and writers we still quote today.
Wordsworth – Grasmere
“To begin, begin!” William Wordsworth wrote many of his most famous poetry while living in Dove Cottage in Grasmere. Guided tours of the cottage immerse you in the family life of Wordsworth. You can imagine yourself sitting down with paper and quill to write by the window or illuminated by candlelight and glowing coal fires. Stroll or read amongst Dove Cottage’s gardens to appreciate, as Wordsworth put it, “the work of our own hands” where the same flowers and vegetables still grow.
Coleridge – Keswick
Samuel Coleridge, like William Wordsworth, is recognised as one of the unparalleled ‘Lake Poets’ who drew inspiration from each other and the surrounding landscapes.
Coleridge moved to Greta Hall in Keswick and was a regular visitor to Dove Cottage. Unlike Wordsworth who found peace and beauty in the Lake District, for Coleridge, it was a darker, more brooding muse.
Visit or stay the night in Greta Hall, now transformed to a B&B. As you walk through its doors think of those contemporaries of Coleridge who are also known to have visited including Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Walter Scott and John Ruskin – just to name a few!
Beatrix Potter – Windermere
No mention of the Lake District’s influence on English literature could ever be complete without mentioning Beatrix Potter.
She bought Hill Top Farm from the proceeds of Peter Rabbit, which is now home to the Beatrix Potter Gallery and is a Grade II Heritage Listed property. Step over its stone flagged entrance and you can almost hear the soft sweep of Potter’s skirts as she moved quietly throughout the house, dreams of capricious characters forming in her mind as she went about life on a working farm.
2016 celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of this uniquely gifted author and artist. At Wray Castle, where Potter holidayed as a teenager, a special birthday party will be held on 28 July.
Brontë Sisters – Haworth and Scarborough
A visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum is a must see for all lovers of the Brontë Sisters novels. This modest home stands adjacent to the church, with roads trailing down into the village of Haworth. Stand beside the table where Jane Eyre was written or if you are visiting in August/early September, cast your eyes out the windows and see the purple of the heather on the moors in bloom and.
If you have the time and hiking boots, hit the tracks which wind their way amongst the heather and bogs to find yourself upon the rock where Cathy might have called to the hapless Heathcliff. Other walks include Brontë Waterfalls and the Brontë Bridge, which are also close by. Nearby Birstall is also a must see for literary lovers, known as ‘Shirley Country’, the inspiration behind the famous novel, ‘Shirley’, written by Charlotte Brontë.
For the true Brontë Sister fan, add Scarborough in North Yorkshire to your itinerary. This quaint seaside village was the place Anne, the only sister not to be buried at Haworth, visited three days before her death – all in the hope that the sea air might improve her health. Finding her grave is like stumbling across treasure, unassuming and on a slope overlooking the ocean.
Lewis Carroll – Cheshire
Cheshire is home to rural villages of half-timber and red sandstone buildings. Like its neighbours in Manchester and Liverpool, Cheshire also has a rich Industrial Revolution heritage.
Within the county lies Chester, which was founded as a Roman fort in the first century A.D. However you don’t have to “go down the Rabbit Hole” to understand Chester is also celebrated as the birthplace of Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland fame.
No literary devotee should visit Cheshire without going to the Danbury Church and seeing the beautiful ‘Alice in Wonderland’ stained glass windows. Visit ‘The Lewis Carroll Centre’ where you can hear stories of Carroll’s family and the life which shaped his creativity. Finish with a visit to Davenports Tea Room and image that you are indeed, in Alice’s Wonderland.
Bram Stoker – Whitby
After the windswept moors of Haworth and crystal blue waters of the Lake District, a journey further north to Whitby takes you to another time in Northern England’s great literary history. Whitby is home to the ruins which inspired Dracula, a truly gothic story that has continued to capture the imaginations of countless generations.
This sloping seaside town retains all the charm of its fishing village heritage, calling visitors to cross the river waters and walk the cobbled streets up to the abbey ruins which still stand on the cliffs above. Bram Stoker was a visitor to Whitby, and his notes reveal that it proved an incredibly ambient backdrop to his novel. That atmosphere, like the bats that cry out, circling the abbey, remain present today.
Get Lost in a Good… Trip
England may be small, but the roles its people have played on the world stage means its cities, towns, villages and countryside are full of opportunities to explore. The North of England is a living library of literary experiences that will stay in your mind long after you’ve closed that chapter of your life. Keep your senses open and you’ll discover that every corner, every flagstone and every pathway across a desolate moor is rich with literary history just waiting for you to discover.
Indeed, if truth be known, no literary tour of England would be complete without a trip ‘Up North’. A little like finding a good book to read over again, for true lovers of literature, one trip will never be enough.