An adventure out of the storybooks

Paul Edwards traces the world's literary legends to every corner of Britain.

From the savage and dangerous Scottish Highlands where Robert Louis Stevenson set Kidnapped to the sleepy little Welsh harbour at Laugharne where Dylan Thomas wrote about half-mad inhabitants in Under Milk Wood, it seems almost every square mile of the UK has featured in literature. Here's how you can join the never-ending stream of pilgrims seeking out mementoes in some of Britain's most idyllic locations.

For more than 600 years London has provided heroes, from Chaucer's pilgrims, who departed from the Tabard Inn in today's Talbot Yard, to Bridget Jones. There are whole streets that Charles Dickens would still recognise, including the once-dank wharf where Bill Sykes met his death.

The original Shakespeare's Globe Theatre may have burnt down in 1613, but a faithful reconstruction the lifework of actor Sam Wanamaker now stands on the site of the original near the South Bank of the Thames where you can see superlative drama at a budget price.

At 221B Baker Street in Marylebone, you can honour Conan Doyle's hero Sherlock Holmes, while further up the street was one of several London homes of War Of The Worlds author H.G. Wells.

A kilometre east, behind the British Museum, is the Bloomsbury district where an early 20th century band of writers and dilettantes, including E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey, formed to worship their leader Virginia Woolf, scandalising the sedate residents with their unconventional lifestyles.

Polish-born Joseph Conrad, author of Heart Of Darkness and Lord Jim, spent most of his creative life in and around London and one of London's famous blue plaques denotes his home in Gillingham Street, near Victoria station.

London's writers have always enjoyed meeting in their favourite club or pub, and the most famous of all is the Old Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street. Samuel Johnson was among many who supped here.

Dickens did more than most authors to expose the squalor and injustice that lurked within a short distance of London's fashionable areas. He knew the East End, the crime-ridden docklands and the city's law courts where many of his characters were tried. Not surprisingly he lived near the Inns of Court at 48 Doughty Street, WC1.

West and south of London


West of Windsor, visiting Eton College where John le Carre taught the sons of Britain's rich and famous, you're into rustic Britain. The sliver of land running down to Lands End in Cornwall is dotted with the stately homes beloved of Jane Austen and the market towns and heath lands brilliantly described by Thomas Hardy.

Austen wrote most of her romantic novels at her home at Chawton in Hampshire, but she was particularly fond of Bath (where you'll find the Jane Austen Centre) and is buried at Winchester Cathedral.

Just north of the mysterious Stonehenge and Avebury is the little town of Marlborough. The black and white house on the green at the eastern end of the broad high street is where William Golding wrote Lord Of The Flies.

The River Thames threads through much of this region and is at the heart of British literature. Every bend is lovingly described in Jerome K. Jerome's classic Victorian comedy Three Men In A Boat.

South is Brighton, where Graham Greene covered the crime scene in Brighton Rock. In nearby Rye many authors have written about the little town's piratical past and in Kent H.E. Bates set his bucolic novels, including The Darling Buds Of May. Drive through Ashdown Forest, where A.A. Milne placed Winnie The Pooh.

Dorset is the centre of the old kingdom of Wessex and the setting for Thomas Hardy's novels of tragedy, lost love and convention-breaking women. Call in at his birthplace in Higher Bockhampton and walk through the lovely bluebell wood then visit Stonehenge, where Tess of the D'Urbervilles becomes aware her death is not far away.

Rabbits still frolic on Watership Down (Richard Adams) in Hampshire, and further south the roads still twist around Clouds Hill, where T.E. Lawrence Lawrence of Arabia died in a motorbike crash. At lovely little East Coker in Somerset are the ashes of T.S. Eliot, who wrote the monumental The Waste Land and set the scene for the hit musical Cats.

Farther west you're into Lorna Doone country. R.D. Blackmore wrote that his gigantic hero John Ridd was born in the parish of Oare on Exmoor. The village exists and the few traders are happy with the free publicity. Nearby on the coast is Nether Stowey, where opium enthusiast Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. His pretty little cottage is a tourist magnet.

It was on the foggy hills of Dartmoor, where Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Watson did battle with the hound of the Baskervilles. Here, at Grimpen Mire, Watson saw the hellish, coal-black hound, as large as a small lioness.

Cheerful stuff indeed enough to turn you to drink. So you may as well turn to the Jamaica Inn made famous by Daphne du Maurier. More impressive are the ruins at Tintagel, perched above the pounding Atlantic, where many writers have set the legend of King Arthur. All incorrect, but the old castle is a popular spot on the literary trail.

Wales and the heart of England

Stratford is a glorious little city; all beams and cobblestones and church bells pealing softly by a slow-moving river. Here in the main street you'll find Shakespeare's birthplace, just a few minutes from Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Call in to Holy Trinity Church to see the bard's tomb with its grim warning: Cursed be he that moves my bones.

But wait there's much more. From Cambridge in the east, where Rupert Brooke asked whether the church clock still stood at three, and was there honey still for tea, to Swansea in the west where Dylan Thomas carried on his love-hate relationship with his native Wales, this is a breeding ground of poets, authors and playwrights.

Dick Francis made the transition from jockey to crime writer on the downs at Newmarket; scholarly C.S. Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe at Cambridge. Bad, mad Lord Byron got up to no good at all at Cambridge University and E.M. Forster wrote his major novels here.

John Bunyan did time in Bedford jail, using his enforced leisure to write The Pilgrim's Progress, and J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have been inspired by Birmingham suburbs to write parts of The Lord Of The Rings Australia's favourite book. Visit Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border for the world's greatest collection of second-hand books, and see how the once-black hills and valleys of South Wales are verdant again a fact not predicted by Richard Llewellyn in How Green Was My Valley.

As well as Dylan Thomas's boathouse at Laugharne on the Welsh coast, visit Llandaff to see where Roald Dahl spent his youth.

In the Cotswolds, have a pint in Slad's village pub where they'll tell you about Laurie Lee and Cider With Rosie. Stroud is where many of Jilly Cooper's catty novels are set.

The north

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, together with their drunken brother Branwell, all died young, leaving their father in his bleak parsonage in moorland Haworth. There are walking tracks over the sullen hills where Cathy and Heathcliff acted out their doomed affair. Go over the hills to little known Wycoller, where a ruined hall was the setting for much of Jane Eyre.

The whole of the north is kitchen-sink territory; from Nottingham where D.H. Lawrence set Lady Chatterley's Lover and Sons And Lovers to industrial Bingley, where Joe Lambton wenched his way to unhappy prosperity in John Braine's Room At The Top.

The Yorkshire Dales are narrow valleys running through the Pennines chain of hills. The region will be familiar to fans of TV's All Creatures

Great And Small and Heartbeat. In the ancient harbour town of Whitby, you can follow the Dracula Trail first walked by Bram Stoker. Charles Kingsley dreamt up The Water-Babies after a visit to Malham Tarn and magnificent Castle Howard acted as setting for Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

Tolkien's mystical land of Lothlorien was based on the Forest of Bowland on the borders of Yorkshire and Lancashire, where the author spent much of his later life.

The mountainous Lake District inspired Wordsworth and other poets. The patchwork hills also inspired Beatrix Potter, who churned out her Peter Rabbit tales from a desk at Near Sawrey.

Master storyteller Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850 but died in faraway Samoa. There's a shrine to his talent at Lady Stair's House museum in the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh's darker side is evoked by Irving Welsh in Trainspotting and The Acid House, and the Forth Bridge is central to Iain Banks's novel The Bridge.

Lighter stuff was written by Sir Compton Mackenzie, who used the Highlands and islands as setting for his novels including Whisky Galore and the stories that inspired Monarch Of The Glen.

The birthplace of J.M. Barrie is marked at his native Kerriemuir in the hills above Dundee, though his Peter Pan was written in London.
English author George Orwell retreated to the Hebrides to write Nineteen Eighty-Four and almost drowned in a whirlpool off the island of Jura.

Sir Walter Scott set many of his novels in Edinburgh and the border country, and there's a Scott museum at Selkirk. Also south of Edinburgh is Biggar, with its museum for John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.

The lonely Seil Island near Oban is the setting for Gavin Maxwell's lyrical Ring Of Bright Water.

It would be a sin to complete a literary pilgrimage of Britain without paying tribute to Scotland's eternal poet laureate Robbie Burns, who spent his life writing and farming at Alloway and Mossgiel in Ayrshire.
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