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10 of Britain's most fascinating literary landmarks

Friday 20 May 2016

1. Roald Dahl: Cardiff

The man whose stories (Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG, etc) shaped a million childhoods was born in the Welsh capital exactly 100 years ago this year, and to mark the milestone the entire city is celebrating. Cardiff, already a tourist hotspot – boasting Cardiff Castle, Llandaff Cathedral and other historic attractions − will be transformed in September into the ‘City of the Unexpected’. Don't be surprised to find talking centipedes, Oompah Loompahs and friendly giants roaming the streets, but just watch out for Spiker and Sponge.

2. Shakespeare: Globe Theatre, London

No literary figure looms larger on the world's stage than Shakespeare, and no stage is more closely affiliated with the Bard than the Globe in the Southwark district. Although the original burned down in 1613, and its replacement was demolished in 1644, this lovingly recreated oak-and-thatch replica from 1997 is one of the best places to catch a Shakespeare play in its authentic Elizabethan glory. This year, on Shakespeare's birthday weekend in April, the new Globe will curate and screen short films along the banks of the River Thames, while his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon will host several exhibits to mark the 400 years since his death.

3. Beatrix Potter: The Lake District 

The picturesque Crag Brow, in Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, is dotted with lush gardens and bright with bird song and seems little changed in the nearly 150 years since Beatrix Potter visited here as a young girl. Potter's beloved characters, Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-duck and Squirrel Nutkin to name a few, were inspired by the picturesque beauty of this town and the spectacular Lake District landscape. So evocative are Potter's descriptions that fans of the book will feel like they're returning to a familiar place even on their first visit.

4. Bronte Sisters: Yorkshire Moors

The Bronte Parsonage Museum, in the town of Haworth where the Bronte sisters lived and wrote, is a good starting place to plan walking trips through the sisters’ lives and works. www.bronte.org.uk/ From there, paths lead through the town and across the moody and wild Yorkshire Moors that inspired their greatest works. This year, the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth, is an especially good time to walk those same trails that inspired of the greatest works of English literature. One highlight is Top Withens, an old farmhouse which may have been the setting for Emily’s Wuthering Heights and is without doubt an inspiration for the windswept, stormy landscape described so poignantly in the book. 

5. Arthur Conan Doyle: London

There's still no greater guide to London than Sherlock Holmes. The detective's city is as alive today as it was in 1887 when Conan Doyle created him. Holmes' famous Baker Street address is now a museum, but many of his favourite haunts remain true to their original form. The Langham Hotel, where Doyle and Oscar Wilde met before penning The Sign of Four and The Picture of Dorian Gray, respectively, and which appears in several of Holmes's adventures, is as elegant as ever. The Sherlock Holmes Pub, featured in The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor and just off Trafalgar Square, is a great place to grab a pint; and Holmes's favourite restaurant, Simpsons-in-the-Strand, still carves roast beef tableside. 

Dylan Thomas: Wales

At the Brown's Hotel in the pretty Welsh fishing village of Laugharne – the town that inspired Under Milk Wood - you can sip a Thomas-inspired single malt in the bar where he was a regular and visit the Writing Shed where the poet lived and worked. From here, the whole of Carmarthenshire, known as the Garden of Wales, is within easy reach. Nearby Swansea is home to the Dylan Thomas Centre, Dylan Thomas Square and the infamous No Sign Bar − Swansea's oldest pub, a famed Thomas hangout and the inspiration for The Vaults in his short story, The Followers.  Guided tours of this and others of the great man’s haunts can be found at www.dylanthomas.com.

Charles Dickens: Kent

Although he was born in Portsmouth and his stories are most closely associated with Victorian era London, Charles Dickens spent many of his most productive years in the county of Kent. The Dickens World exhibit  in Chatham, where Dickens lived from the ages of 5 to 10, brings Victorian England to life and offers guests a look at how the author lived. Visitors to the pretty seaside town of Broadstairs can book the Charles Dickens room at the Bleak House B& B and sleep in the room overlooking Viking Bay, in a bed often slept in by Queen Victoria and seek inspiration in the same study where Dickens wrote David Copperfield. 

A.A. Milne: East Sussex

As a young father A. A. Milne would take his son, Christopher Robin, walking around Ashdown Forest and the stories these woods inspired became some of the best loved in the world. Anyone who grew up reading Winnie the Pooh will easily recognize this area as the 100 Acre Wood. In the forest, which is about an hour south-east of London, take a stroll to Gills Lap to see "the whole world spread out until it reached the sky,” then find “Pooh's Sandy Pit,” and finally try your luck at Poohsticks Bridge in Posingford Wood where you can play Poohsticks just like Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear. 

Robert Burns: Alloway

Walk in the footsteps of Scotland's National Poet along the Burns Trail in Alloway, birthplace of Robert Burns. The poet's path is marked by a series of weather vanes depicting scenes from the poem Tam O'Shanter. A little further along, the award-winning Robert Burns Birthplace Museum features more than 5000 artifacts, manuscripts and memorabilia relating to the poet. Carry on to Kirk Alloway where Burns' father is buried and end the stroll at Brig O'Doon House Hotel with a bowl of Cullen Skink, the traditional smoked haddock soup. 

Agatha Christie: Torquay

Of all the famous authors who have frequented Torquay on the English Riviera, such as Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Darwin, it’s still best known as the home town of the U.K.'s Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. Each year in September this charming Devon town celebrates the birthday of the creator of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple with the week-long International Agatha Christie Festival www.agathachristiefestival.com.  Mystery fills the air as the town is transformed with tours, readings, talks and theater recreations. For a scenic detour, ride the Dartmouth steam train along the stunning Torbay Coast to the Churston station that features so mysteriously in her novel The ABC Murders.


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