1,000 years of English Literature in 70 walks
Inspiring walks around Britain exploring writers’ landscapes
My inspiration for Literary Rambles first came to me on a weekend away exploring the nooks and crannies of Oxford. We sat on a bench in the ancient Botanic Garden and learnt that maths professor Lewis Carroll had often visited the garden in the 1860s, using it as a source of inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; that in the 1940s, JRR Tolkien had spent a lot of time here under his favourite tree, Pinus nigra, which inspired the Ents, the talking tree-people of Middle-Earth. And that in Philip Pullman’s 1990s trilogy His Dark Materials, Lyra and Will sit on a bench in the back of the garden to feel each other’s presence. The very bench we are sitting on now in fact. A tingly ‘Aha! moment’ of realisation and comprehension. And that’s what makes literature in its place so thrilling – it brings stories and characters to vivid life in a way the classroom seldom can.
There followed soon after a second ‘Aha! moment’. We were exploring Thomas Hardy’s Beeny Cliff and St Juliot in Cornwall and had paused to eat our sandwiches. We found a sheltered spot in a lane behind a blackthorn hedge and, as we started to munch, the wind suddenly picked up and began to gust through the small gaps in the hedge: ‘the wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward’ (The Voice) … ‘Aha’, that famous line in the poem finally makes sense, the wind is coming off the sea which is to our north here…
These special moments made me want to see with my own eyes more of the spots that have influenced my favourite classic writers… and also to discover new writers who have a fresh voice about a landscape. It certainly got me reading more again.
Literary Rambles comprises 70 walks dotted around Britain that enable the reader to get ‘under the skin’ of how an author uses landscape in their work, give you those ‘wow’ moments when you make a connection between a description and an actual place, and gives you a better understanding of the author’s reference points and meaning. A sort of Tristan Gooley of literature, #howtospotliterarysigns or #howtoreadliteratureinthelandscape.
The literary inspirations range from the ancient to the contemporary, from Piers Plowman to Anita Sethi (both fascinated by riverbanks incidentally), many classics but also much modern stuff too, above all throwing different lights on our relationship with the landscape, nature around us and its importance to our well-being.
There are three lengths of walk: Quick walks, which visit one spot and can be done in a half-hour stop; Medium walks, typically up to five miles, which explore a single writer in more depth and might take a couple of hours; and Longer Walks, six miles or more, that might take half a day to do, exploring a single writer’s landscape in great detail, or looking at a place that has inspired several writers e.g. Edinburgh or the Malvern Hills.
My ultimate goal is to help awaken, reawaken or deepen your interest in a writer – to make you want to pick up their work again and learn more about them. And, of course, to enjoy a fine walk too!