Christmas Markets with Wolsey Lodges
- Travel Guide
It would be easy to succumb to the long December nights, but the runup to Christmas brings a show of defiance. Across…Read More
There’s nothing like curling up with a good book to make the most of a winter evening. But this is also a great time to explore Britain’s cultural heritage: to visit the homes of the country’s famous authors, explore literary locations and forage cult bookshops for collectibles.
Britain doesn’t greatly revere its writers. Go to Germany or America and whole towns revolve around native authors. But generally the most famous authors’ homes are preserved and open to the public, and iconic literary locations retain all their original atmosphere. These are some Wolsey Lodges best poised to explore.
Literary links about near Knelle Dower B&B, a glorious property just outside Rye. Perhaps the most important is Lamb House in Rye. This rather wonderful Georgian townhouse must have literature in the plumbing: it has variously been home to Henry James, E F Benson and Rumer Godden. Henry James, though born in America, found a natural home in Rye and his output, that includes ‘Portrait of a Lady’, ‘The Ambassadors’, ‘Daisy Miller’ and more: it was at Rye that he wrote ‘The Turn of the Screw’, perhaps the most famous Gothic horror novel ever written in English. E F Benson was the next great writer to settle here. His first novel ‘Dodo’ was an immediate success and while he was in Rye he wrote the Mapp and Lucia series: many of them are clearly set in the town and the heroes lived in Lamb House itself. This did at the time have their ‘lovely garden room’ adjoining the street but sadly this was destroyed by a WWII bomb. Benson also went on to write atmospheric ghost stories, including the childrens’ fantasy ‘David Blaize’, and adult horror such as ‘The Man Who Went Too Far’ and ‘The Bus Conductor’ – both of which went on to be developed as several films – so perhaps there’s something spooky in Lamb House’s ancient beams.
Finally Lamb House was let by Rumer Godden, most famous perhaps for writing ‘Black Narssicus’, who settled in Rye after spending most of her life in India. East Sussex’s tranquil atmosphere was still conducive to creativity: towards the end of a prolific life – she published more than 60 books – she wrote ‘In this House of Brede’, following cloistered Benedictine nuns in nearby Brede Abbey, a classic work of Catholic fiction.
In recognition of its literary heritage, Lamb House is now looked after by the National Trust: it’s one of their smaller properties but something of a gem. Check ahead – it’s not always open – and don’t overlook the garden, which is larger than you’d expect and an oasis of peace.
If your tastes run to a grander writer’s residence, Knelle Dower is also close to Sissinghurst Castle, Vita Sackville-West’s lavish home and gardens. You don’t get much grander than this and in spring and summer the grounds are spectacular.
Accommodation in Knelle Dower is unusual – and unusually good. The main house dates back to the 14th century and is gloriously atmospheric, but though this is where you’re served breakfast it’s not where you sleep. Accommodation is in a super-stylish barn conversion set in the grounds, a symphony of soaring beams and designer comforts with its own private terrace for evening drinks.
Torquay was very much the home of Agatha Christie. She was born there, in 1890, to a wealthy and respectable family, and it’s where she had a “very happy” childhood and was educated first at home and then at Miss Guyer’s School for Girls in Torquay before being sent off to Paris to finish her education. She married a soldier and spent much of the First World War working in Torquay’s Red Cross Hospital, where she picked up some useful information about poisons and treated a lot of Belgian soldiers, one of which must have inspired one of her signature detectives, Hercule Poirot. He was the central character in her first book, ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, that launched her career. Though she was to spend much of her adult life living in London and travelling extensively around the world, in 1938 she acquired the Greenway Estate, on the River Dart just outside Torquay, as a summer residence. She made full use of Greenway, regularly winning prizes at horticultural shows, and used the house as a setting for many of her novel, including ‘Dead Man’s Folly’ where the house’s boathouse on the Dart provides a pivotal scene.
By her death in 1976 Agatha Christie was the best-selling novelist in history. Greenway is now run by the National Trust as a museum in her honour and is beautifully preserved, with a 1950’s interior and several of Agatha Christie’s eclectic collections. Greenway’s just outside Torquay, but Agatha Christie’s atmosphere gently pervades the whole of the quintessentially genteel town with a thrilling undercurrent.
Of Torquay’s more recent cultural icon, hotelier Basil Fawlty, you’ll see no trace. As Miss Marple would tell you he was, after all, fictional. Nor does Basil Fawlty get any look in at The 25 Boutique B&B, the latest addition to Torquay’s accommodation options. Repeatedly voted by Tripadvisor as the world’s best B&B, The 25 combines design flair with a passion for hospitality to provide an uplifting, relaxing and luxurious experience.
Edinburgh takes its heritage seriously – and especially its legacy of great writers and poets. There’s even a Literary Pub Tour, where a couple of actors take you to their favourite city-centre pubs in the city and use lively dialogue to dramatically link each to the city’s great writers and historical events.
On a more sober note Edinburgh’s loyalty to its writers starts at the railway station, named Waverley after Sir Walter Scott’s 19th century novel – and this is underscored by a Gothic memorial tower that dominates the street outside. Sir Walter Scott is also honoured in The Writer’s Museum, along with Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson, a free-to-enter haven hidden away in Makars’ Court on the Royal Mile. This includes portraits, works, and personal objects as well as the printing press used for the original Waverley novels. Between them these authors produced ‘Treasure Island’, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, and (though this is less forgivable) the dreadful dirge that is Auld Lang Syne.
Younger readers flock to The Elephant House, a cafe that has become popular thanks to one very famous visitor. This is where JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book, something that is commemorated in the cafe’s Potter-themed bathroom. The yellow toilet walls are covered in Potter graffiti. This must upset Ian Rankin, who also frequented this cafe and often references it in his police procedurals but gets barely a mention. A few minutes away from The Elephant House you’ll find Greyfriars Kirkyard, where you’ll find JK Rowling lifted many of her characters’ more colourful names from inscriptions on the graves: see how many you can find.
Bring your literary tour of Edinburgh to a close at Armchair Books, a wonderful second-hand bookshop with Oriental rugs on the floor, walls lined with books, and plenty of spaces to sit down for a casual read. If that’s too busy you’re already in the book district: move on to Peter Bell Books next door or Edinburgh Books around the corner.
When it comes to choosing an Edinburgh base for accommodation there’s really no choice. 23 Mayfield is a sophisticated B&B in the heart of Edinburgh, in a quiet central area within walking distance of the historic district. It’s within easy reach of the railway station but for drivers it also has that all-important private off-street parking.
The winter months are the perfect season to mix a bit of reading with a bit of culture, move your sightseeing indoors and settle into fire-lit comfort. Winter is the season for a literary tour of the UK, and Wolsey Lodges B&B’s make this a warm and comforting experience.