England's National Parks - Literary History in Stunning Scenery
There are many good reasons to visit England's National Parks – breathtaking scenery, charming villages, the extraordinary diversity of plants and animals – but did you know that Britain's literary history is well represented too? Whether you visit the Lake District (England's largest National Park) or the New Forest (the smallest) you come face-to-face with writers from across the centuries, and the landscapes that inspired them. Whichever park you visit, you can enjoy literary festivals and events, welcoming pubs, restaurants and hotels and miles and miles of footpaths and trails suitable for all levels of fitness and ability.
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Grand property set in a 900 year-old castle with modern rooms.
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The Durham Ox
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The Lake District in the northwest of England is renowned for its soaring mountains and patchwork of lakes, attracting countless hikers, climbers and boaters every year. The landscape we enjoy today is closely tied to the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Perhaps the most famous poet associated with the Lake District, William Wordsworth lived in the area for much of his life. His poetry reflects his love for the landscape, a belief in the harmony of nature, and a person's place in it. Visit Dove Cottage, home to Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, and now a museum dedicated to their lives and work.
The influence of the Lake District on literature extends beyond the Romantic period. Beatrix Potter - famous for her children's books like "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" - lived and farmed in the Lake District. Her stories often feature the local landscape and wildlife. The "World of Beatrix Potter" attraction includes a Peter Rabbit garden where you can nibble on the same carrots and lettuces as Peter!
Curiously, two well-known literary figures are buried near each other in the New Forest National Park on the south coast. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived in the forest and is buried in the quaint village of Minstead. Visitors to his grave sometimes find a pipe placed on his memorial, a nod to his famous creation Sherlock Holmes.
A pleasant hour's walk in the dappled woodland takes you to Lyndhurst and the final resting place of Alice Liddell, the "Alice" of "Alice in Wonderland". Author Lewis Carroll was a friend of the Liddell family and named his character after her. As an adult, the real Alice lived most of her life in the New Forest.
To the east, the rolling hills and wooded heaths of the South Downs National Park have inspired writers down the generations, from William Blake to Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling to Jane Austen. Indeed, Austen's home in Chawton, Hampshire, is a site of pilgrimage for fans from across the world.
The rugged landscape of Dartmoor National Park, in the southwest of England, is where Sherlock Holmes tackled the beastly Hound of the Baskervilles. The hound was based on local legends of spectral hounds and headless riders. The modern Dartmoor is still highly evocative and romantic, but perfectly safe for the visitor!
Finally, the North York Moors National Park is famously associated with Emily Brontë's classic novel "Wuthering Heights". The novel's atmospheric and desolate setting, which is said to be inspired by the moorlands, plays a significant role in the story. But North York Moors is not just about literature – history buffs can explore Bronze age burial mounds, Roman forts, medieval abbeys and castles, and even World War II radar beacons.
- Brimstone Hotel - Luxurious suites with log-burning stoves, emperor beds and private balconies
- The Quiet Site - Carbon-neutral holiday park set amongst the stunning fells that overlook Ullswater in the heart of the Lake District
- Borrowdale Gates Countryside Hotel - Set in Borrowdale, surrounded by mountains and amazing scenery.
- Lime Wood Hotel - Renowned hotel, spa and restaurant in the heart of the Forest. Booking restaurant reservations is essential!
- The Pig - Luxurious but charming, this hotel also boasts a laid-back restaurant specializing in home-grown ingredients. Again, reservations for restaurant are recommended.
- Bovey Castle - Stylish self-catering lodges in the grounds of this stately home on the edge of the National Park. A plethora of activities from archery and falconry to gin making and yoga will certainly keep you busy.
North York Moors
- The Durham Ox - A 300-year-old pub offering a locally sourced menu, plus rooms & cottages with free breakfast.
- Amberley Castle - This 900-year-old West Sussex castle offers luxury accommodations within medieval walls.
Where to Dine
- Source at Gilpin, Windemere - Michelin-starred restaurant conveniently located near Lake Windemere
- Fellinis - Reasonably-priced Mediterranean vegetarian dining at an independent cinema
- East End Arms - Cozy country inn that has excellent food but still retains its local charm
- The Elderflower - Situated on the quayside of the attractive port town of Lymington, the Elderflower serves elegant British cuisine within ever-changing tasting menus
- Warren House Inn - Isolated pub on the highest point of the moors. Serves typical pub grub with spectacular views and a side serving of legend.
Need to Know
Getting around: Driving is the best way to see the English countryside, but it is also possible to arrange tours if you are not familiar with or comfortable driving on the left.
Lunch breaks: Country pubs are often closed between lunch and dinner, so try to make sure you stop for lunch by 1pm to avoid disappointment.
Dinner time: It is common to book reservations for evening meals and this includes pubs.
Opening times: Make sure you check opening times for museums or ancient sites as some are closed on weekdays.
This trip report is part of our ongoing series on travel to England. In need of further inspiration? Check out Lisa Metrikin’s guide, A 6-Day Itinerary for Exploring Literary England in Style.
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