Every story has a setting, and the famed novels of British literature find theirs across the country, from Cornwall to the Scottish islands. Not every such scene is recognizable today, however, or equally worth pursuing. Here is an eclectic, geographically representative collection of literary settings, though, that are a delight to discover in their own right—and magical for those who have read the novels set in them.
CASTLE HOWARD, YORKSHIRE—EVELYN WAUGH
While Waugh did not explicitly set Brideshead Revisited at this Yorkshire estate, the ancestral Howard mansion has been inextricably identified as Brideshead since the epic series of the novel filmed here in the early 1980s. It hasn’t changed a bit since Lady March-main, Sebastian and Charles wandered the galleries and lawns.
PLUCKLEY, KENT—H.E. BATES
The delightful idylls of Pop Larson and The Darling Buds of May clan in the pastoral innocence of the Kentish countryside found their film expression, at least, in the rural village of Pluckley and market town of Tenterden. Scenes from the stories abound and are a treasure to explore.
EASTWOOD, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE —D.H. LAWRENCE
The collieries that ringed Lawrence’s hometown village until the 1980s have disappeared without a trace, though his birthplace museum remains. Fans can still walk through the many scenes of his great autobiographical novels such as Sons and Lovers and take a pint at the Three Tuns.
BALQUHIDDER, STIRLING—SIR WALTER SCOTT
Among the most famous (and readable) of Scott’s historical novels is the story of Rob Roy MacGregor, brigand and folk champion of the early 18th century. The eponymous hero lived and died in the exquisitely beautiful countryside of Loch Katrine and The Trossachs—where his marked grave lies beneath the Braes of Balquhidder.
BODMIN MOOR, CORNWALL— DAPHNE DU MAURIER
This desolate moor feels a world away from pretty Cornish fishing villages, but the smugglers’ haven of Jamaica Inn is easily recognizable as the setting of one of du Maurier’s most enduring stories. Stay the night at the old stone inn and visit its museum devoted to the novelist’s life and work.
BATH, SOMERSET—JANE AUSTEN
The incomparable Georgian spa city is so popularly identified with Austen that its inclusion here might seem too obvious. Austen set parts of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion here, however, and though they present very different looks at the town, its street and public buildings would be quite recognizable today to the author and her heroines.
WHITBY, YORKSHIRE—BRAM STOKER
The Irish writer’s famous vampire, Dracula, came from Transylvania to victimize Whitby, where Stoker spent many of his summer holidays. With its romantic clifftop abbey ruins, ancient harbor, dark coastline and surrounding barren North Yorkshire moors, it is not hard to imagine why this was the vampire’s chosen landing spot in England.
NEAR SAWRY, CUMBRIA—BEATRIX POTTER
Hilltop, the beloved writer’s small farm above Coniston Water, is lovingly preserved as she would have known it by the National Trust. Strolling to the door up the garden path, visitors would never be surprised to see Peter Rabbit, Flopsy and Cottontail poking their heads out from behind a cabbage leaf.
NORFOLK BROADS, NORFOLK—ARTHUR RANSOME
One of Ransome’s much-loved children’s series Swallows and Amazons, The Coot Club, champions wildlife conservation in Norfolk’s interconnecting network of navigable rivers known as The Broads. Take a sail or broads cruiser through the unforgettable landscape in the bird-watching capital of Britain.
GILFACH GOCH, SOUTH WALES —RICHARD LLEWELLYN
Llewellyn based his 1939 novel, How Green Was My Valley, on interviews with folks in this small village near the Rhondda Valley. His poignant tale of the Morgan family in the rugged coal fields of South Wales can be palpably felt today throughout the Rhondda and at the Rhondda Heritage Park near Pontypridd.