This post was most recently updated on January 8th, 2018
Love English literature? Dream of seeing the world through the eyes of Elizabeth Bennett or Jane Eyre, Heathcliff or Mr Darcy? Step this way and enjoy our tour of ten wonderful English literature locations made famous by the great classics.
Norton Conyers House – Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Reopened in 2016, Norton Conyers House in North Yorkshire is said to be the inspiration behind Thornfield Hall, the forbidding gothic mansion to which Jane Eyre is despatched as governess to the daughter of Mr Fairfax Rochester.
A young Charlotte Brontë visited the house in 1839 and heard the story of a mad woman locked in its attic, inspiring her to create the character of Mr Rochester’s first wife, Bertha.
Today, the house is open to the public on selected dates between April and August (see www.nortonconyers.org.uk/ for details), and you can even visit the “Mad Woman’s Room”!
London – Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
It’s hard to imagine any bond between author and city stronger than that between Charles Dickens and London.
Get to know the city of Oliver Twist by visiting the district of Clerkenwell, site of Fagin’s lair and now home to independent shops, cosy pubs, and the Charles Dickens museum at 48 Doughty Street where the author penned the novel.
And if you’re after a bigger slice of Dickens’ London, numerous companies offer Dickens-themed walking tours. As the great man himself said in Sketches by Boz, “What inexhaustible food for speculation do the streets of London afford!”
Jamaica Inn – Jamaica Inn, by Daphne Du Maurier
Yes, the inn made famous by Daphne Du Maurier’s tale of smuggling and intrigue is a real place and is still open to guests and day-trippers alike.
It’s everything you would hope for: standing alone in the wild beauty of Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor, its metal sign swinging in the wind, low sooty beams and creaking floorboards ooze an atmosphere of skulduggery. Spend the night here if you dare: it is reported to be haunted.
Derbyshire – Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
The most famous of Austen’s novels sees Elizabeth Bennett living in the southern county of Hertfordshire but it’s further north, while touring Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, that she encounters Mr Darcy on his estate at Pemberley.
Whilst Pemberley itself was a figment of the author’s imagination, many real places are mentioned on Elizabeth’s tour: the scenic towns of Matlock and Bakewell, the beauty spot of Dovedale, and magnificent Chatsworth House.
And for fans of the BBC adaptation, no itinerary would be complete without hopping over the county border to Lyme Park in Cheshire, setting for the iconic scene of Mr Darcy emerging from the lake.
West Yorkshire – Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
The windswept moorland and distant horizons of West Yorkshire provide a fitting backdrop to Emily Brontë’s tale of passion and revenge.
Whilst a number of houses have claimed to be the inspiration for the Earnshaw family home, Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse set in dramatic landscape near the town of Haworth, is the most well-known. After visiting, refresh yourself with afternoon tea at nearby Ponden Hall, an Elizabethan farmhouse believed to be the inspiration for Thrushcross Grange, home of the Lintons.
The Brontë sisters were regular visitors there, making use of what was at the time the best library in West Yorkshire.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland – The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling
Alnwick Castle was used as the location for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter films, and a day spent there is a magical experience.
The seat of the Duke of Northumberland, it is the second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor. It is open to the public throughout the summer, with visitors treated to a range of exhibitions and Harry Potter themed shows.
And for Potter fans who find themselves further south, a visit to the Warner Bros. studios in Watford is not to be missed.
Dartmoor – The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The most famous of Sherlock Holmes’s cases, The Hound of the Baskervilles is set on Dartmoor and draws on local legends of a black hound on the moor.
Several moorland locations are mentioned in the story, including Princetown and Bellever Tor, while Fox Tor Mires was almost certainly the inspiration for the book’s Grimpen Mire. Various houses near the Dartmoor town of Buckfastleigh have claimed to be the inspiration for Baskerville Hall, but the real hall carries the same name and is to be found near Hay-on-Wye in Wales.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reputedly changed the location to “ward off tourists”!
Ashdown Forest – Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne
The home of Winnie-the-Pooh, Hundred Acre Wood is based on the real Five Hundred Acre Wood, part of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. It lies near A. A. Milne’s summer home of Cotchford Farm (still a private residence), and the young Christopher Robin – A. A. Milne’s son and the basis for the hero of the stories – loved exploring there.
A number of features in the stories can be traced to specific locations in the dense beech wood today, including the delightfully named “Enchanted Place”. Visitors can find a map of locations at the hilltop car park at Gills Lap.
Whitby – Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Stoker visited the harbour town of Whitby in North Yorkshire in 1890 and there found inspiration for his classic vampire tale. Then, as now, the haunting ruins of thirteenth century Whitby Abbey dominated the cliff top
Nearby lie St Mary’s Churchyard, where Lucy Westenra was attacked by Dracula, and Tate Hill Sands, where the ship carrying the Count ran aground, its crew missing and its dead skipper lashed to the wheel. For those feeling energetic as well as brave, you can climb the 199 steps known locally as the Church Stairs, up which Dracula ran disguised as a black hound.
Oxford – His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
Fans of Pullman’s epic trilogy will find Oxford awash with places encountered by Will and Lyra on their adventures.
Visit the fascinating Pitt Rivers museum and search for the skulls with holes in them, or wend your way down to the Botanic Gardens and seek out the famous seat where the two agreed to meet, each in their own worlds, on a set day in June every year.
For those looking for the complete experience, Pullman’s short book Lyra’s Oxford includes a pull-out map of the city “by Train, River and Zeppelin”, a guide for your own alternative tour!
From the moody moorlands of Yorkshire to the dreaming spires of Oxford, England’s towns and countryside have provided the backdrop to the greatest tales in literature.
Stand under the trees of Hundred Acre Wood with Christopher Robin, or marvel with Elizabeth Bennett at the beauties of Chatsworth House; wherever you choose to visit, see the worlds of your favourite books come to life.