If you’re a literature lover looking for future travel inspiration, you can trace the footsteps of Britain's finest writers, playwrights and poets, on this cultural foray across Southern England.
Marlowe is a well-known 16th-century English playwright and poet, a key protagonist of the Elizabethan theatre period and a source of inspiration for fellow playwright, William Shakespeare. The author of The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine the Great was born in 1564 in Canterbury, Kent, where he also spent part of his youth. If you’re a fan of the literary legend, you can dream of following in his footsteps on a walking route that explores buildings with links to the playwright, while also delving into the mysterious circumstances of his tragic demise.
The author of Orlando and To The Lighthouse was born in London in 1882. In 1919, she bought a 17th-century property called Monk's House with her husband Leonard, which is located in the village of Rodmell, in East Sussex. This idyllic location surrounded by greenery was used as a country residence by Woolf and fellow members of the Bloomsbury Group, the famous intellectual circle of writers and artists, who gathered there.
When their London home was damaged by bombing in 1940, the couple moved to Rodmell on a permanent basis. Following her death in 1941, Woolf’s ashes were buried in the garden of Monk's House, where her grave still stands today. About ten miles away is Charleston Farm, another meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group, which was inhabited by Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell, her husband Clive and Duncan Grant (an artist of the group).
Joseph Conrad, widely regarded as one of the greatest English-language writers of all time, was born in Poland in 1857 and later became a naturalised British citizen. The author of masterpieces such as Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard was particularly adept at creating stories set in exotic locations and at sea, as he was an officer in the Merchant Navy.
After traveling for a few years he settled with his wife in Stanford-le-Hope, a town at the mouth of the River Thames in the county of Essex. During his time here, Conrad lived in two houses. One has never been identified with certainty but is said to have been located at the southern end of Victoria road, close to the train station. The second was an old wooden farmhouse called Ivy Walls, on Billet Lane, which was demolished in the 1950s and replaced by a brick house, which still exists today.
Conrad spent the last years of his life in Bishopsbourne, a village in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, until his death in 1924. His former property now bears the name of Conrad Hall and is used as the town hall. The writer is buried with his wife in Canterbury Cemetery, with his full name engraved on the gravestone: Joseph Teodor Conrad Korzeniowski.
The author of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and David Copperfield needs no introduction. Born in 1812 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, his birthplace is now a museum housing a number of personal items from his life. A collection of 14 sites with links to the author can also be discovered as part of the Dickens Trail, including the first public statue of the author in Guildhall Square.
Dickens spent part of his life in Kent, first in childhood and later as an adult. As a child he lived in Sheerness and Chatham, while for the last 15 years of his life he resided in a house called Gad's Hill Place, located in the village of Higham, not far from Rochester. This residence is now a school, with tours available on selected dates. A circular walking route explores Higham and a number of key sites connected to Dickens, while Broadstairs is another location packed with links to the great novelist. Dickens used the Grade II-listed Bleak House, which overlooks the town, as a holiday home, and you can also view a fascinating collection of memorabilia at the Dickens House Museum, which is said to have served as the inspiration for Betsey Trotwood’s cottage in David Copperfield.
You may know T.E Lawrence by his pseudonym: Lawrence of Arabia. Born in Wales in 1888, he was a British army officer who became famous for leading the Arab revolt against the Turks during the First World War. He was also a writer, with his prominent works including The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (his memoir) and a translation of Homer’s Odyssey.
After his discharge from military service, Lawrence retired to Clouds Hill, in the Dorset countryside, where he lived until his death from a motorcycle accident. He is buried in the village of Moreton, in the cemetery of the Saint Nicholas church. In the 11th century church of Saint Martin in Wareham, there is also a statue of Lawrence, created by the official British war artist, Eric Kennington.
The author of Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, Hardy was a novelist and poet who was very critical of the society of his time. He spent most of his life in the county of Dorset, where he was born in 1840. His birthplace, Hardy's Cottage, can be found near Dorchester, as can Max Gate, another former residence and one that he designed himself. Hardy was also friends with T.E Lawrence and visited him regularly at Clouds Hill.
After his death, Hardy had two funerals and two burials. His heart rests in Dorset, in the graveyard of St Michael's Church in Stinford, near Dorchester, alongside other members of his family. Meanwhile his ashes are interred in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. If you want to find out more about the places related to the great writer, a project called Hardy Country explores many of the main sites.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859, but it was when living in Portsmouth and practicing as a doctor that he created the character of Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in the novel entitled A Study in Red. The writer's house no longer exists, but the local museum has dedicated a section to him entitled the Conan Doyle Collection.
He spent the last 23 years of his life with his second wife in Crowborough, East Sussex, in a residence called Windlesham Manor. This building still exists but has become a retirement home for the elderly. In Crowborough, located within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there is also a statue dedicated to the writer, who is buried in the All Saints Church Cemetery in Minstead Village, New Forest National Park.
The great poet was one of the founders of English Romanticism and was born in 1772 in Ottery St Mary, in Devon. His birthplace in the Old School House was demolished in the 19th century, but a memorial plaque now stands at the site, which is part of Grandisson Court. Coleridge was baptised in the local church of Saint Mary, where his father was pastor, and for some time he attended The King's School in the town.
For three years from late 1796, Coleridge lived in a house in the village of Nether Stowey, Somerset, where he wrote his most important works, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan. The building is now called Coleridge Cottage and, despite functioning as an inn during the 19th century, has now been restored to reveal many of its original features.
The queen of mystery novels was born in 1890 in Torquay, a well-known seaside resort in the county of Devon, located on the English Riviera. Ashfield, her birthplace, was demolished in 1960 but there is a plaque on Barton Road that commemorates the place where it stood. In the Torquay Museum you can also explore an exhibition dedicated to the writer.
Also in Devon, about six miles to the south, is Greenway, Agatha Christie's holiday home. This stunning Georgian-style mansion, which sits on the River Dart and is surrounded by lush gardens, belonged to her until her death. The writer called it "the loveliest place in the world" and it’s easy to see why. If you want to learn more about the life and works of Agatha Christie you can get inspired by this itinerary, which takes in many of the key sites associated with the world’s best-selling novelist.
The other founding poet of the English Romantic movement, Wordsworth was born in 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumbria, in northern England. Coleridge’s friend and collaborator, Wordsworth also settled in Somerset for a year in 1797 and lived in a property called Alfoxton House, which still stands today in the village of Holford, three miles from Coleridge Cottage. During this period the two writers published their famous work Lyrical Ballads. Alfoxton House can be reached as part of the Coleridge Nature Walk, a circular itinerary starting and ending in Nether Stowey, which follows the walks in the countryside taken by Wordsworth and Coleridge hundreds of years ago. If you’re a fan, you can also get inspired by this ultimate Wordsworth itinerary.
Even if she is not a classical author, visitors may be familiar with Rosamunde Pilcher, as the television dramas based on her novels have been regularly broadcast on television around the world. The writer, who has sold more than 60 million books, was born in 1924 in Lelant, Cornwall, and many of her works are set in the county. Pilcher lived in Scotland from 1946 until her death in 2019 and never returned to live in Cornwall, although her childhood home provided inspiration throughout her writing career. A popular German television series tiled Rosamunde Pilcher is shot across Cornwall, showcasing a number of iconic locations in the county and creating a growing circle of fans of her romantic works.
Jane Austen is one of the most beloved British writers and the author of Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice, to name just a few. She was born in 1775 in the village of Steventon, Hampshire, although unfortunately her birthplace was demolished in the 19th century. In 1801, her father, who was an Anglican pastor, decided to retire from the service and moved with his family to Bath, an elegant spa town frequented by British high society. You can find out more at the Jane Austen Centre, which explores the life and times of the writer in the city.
Austen stayed twice in Lyme Regis, a charming Dorset town located on the Jurassic Coast, where she set part of her novel Persuasion. A number of objects relating to her time in the region are housed within the Lyme Regis Museum, while a small elevated garden dedicated to the novelist can be found at the end of Marine Parade, close to the seafront.
After her father died in 1805, Austen moved with her mother and sister to Worthing, in West Sussex, staying at Stanford Cottage. In 1807 the three women returned to Hampshire to settle in Southampton, where locations connected to the author can be found by following the Jane Austen Heritage Trail.
In 1809, Austen moved with her mother and sister to the Hampshire village of Chawton, where she spent the last eight years of her life. Now the Jane Austen House Museum, her former residence is a poignant pilgrimage site for literature enthusiasts, and it’s possible to combine your trip with a visit to her grave at Winchester Cathedral, which is located just under 20 miles away.
During the First World War, between late 1915 and 1917, the author of the scandalous novel Lady Chatterley's Lover lived with his wife Frieda in Zennor, Cornwall. At first he stayed in the village pub, the Tinners Arms, before later renting a cottage called Higher Tregerthen, which also still stands today. Born in Nottinghamshire, DH Lawrence loved Cornwall, something that was reflected in his later works. Unfortunately, however, he and his wife – who was of German origin and a distant relative of the World War One aviation ace Manfred von Richthofen (known as the Red Baron) – were accused of spying and expelled from the county.