The tourist organisation VisitEngland has declared 2017 to be the Year of Literary Heroes, in recognition of several milestone anniversaries within the literary world.
You might have a penchant for Potter or a taste for the poems of Tennyson, feel an affinity with Austen or a liking for lashings of lemonade.
Across England there are new walking trails for visitors to engage with the landscape of an author, allowing us to discover more about a location and how it influenced the pages of a book.
So pack your motorhome with a novel or two, throw in a pair of walking boots and enjoy a literary summer.
Move over Mr Darcy
Commemorating 200 years since the death of Jane Austen, the Sitting With Jane public art trail will be made up of 24 uniquely designed BookBenches, each painted by a professional artist inspired by some aspect of Jane Austen’s life.
The benches will be on display around Basingstoke town centre – where Jane used to shop and dance – and the surrounding area, including Steventon, the tiny village about four miles from Basingstoke where Jane Austen was born and brought up.
The trail will take visitors from her birthplace to her final resting place at Winchester Cathedral – and plenty of places of interest in between.
The idea is to open people’s eyes to where Jane Austen came from, celebrate her life here and allow people to learn more about the places, people and landscapes that influenced her work.
There will be a printed trail map and a special, free-to-download app which will guide you to each BookBench. Access to all BookBenches is free and will be live between 17 June and 31 August, after which the artworks will be auctioned for charity.
Sound like your cup of tea? Then where to say? We’d recommend using The Three Horseshoes, a Practical Motorhome Nightstop within four miles of Jane Austen’s House (and museum) at Chawton. Motorhomes are welcome for a free stopover when eating in the pub.
The Writers’ Way
With a deliberate link to Jane, while in Hampshire you can also walk the brand-new (launched in March 2017) Writers’ Way, a 13-mile trail linking the market town of Alton to surrounding villages through some of the county’s glorious countryside.
The route uses a mixture of paths and rural lanes and, in places, age-old sunken tracks through open farmland and woodland. Several famous authors were closely connected to the countryside here, giving rise to the name of the new trail.
Besides Jane Austen, who lived at Chawton, pioneering 18th-century ecologist and writer Gilbert White lived in Selborne. His detailed wildlife observations and fascination with nature – conveyed in his hugely influential book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne – transformed the way we think about the natural world today.
William Cobbett was born in nearby Farnham to a farming family. Self-educated, he campaigned for better living conditions for rural families. As research he undertook long rides on horseback through the countryside. He describes much of the area in his book Rural Rides.
The Writers’ Way is a linear route so walkers and cyclists can return to their start point using the Watercress Line Steam Railway.
As with the Sitting With Jane trail, you can stay at The Three Horseshoes (see above). Or, for longer stays, Folly Farm Caravan Park near Winchester.
A wizard of a tour
There’s only one living author within this collection of literary trails, and it is JK Rowling – and we turn to her most famous character rather than a recommendation to camp out on her doorstep.
Why? Because June 2017 will mark 20 years since the release of JK Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Inspiring a global phenomenon, the book – or, more so the film of the book – put many of England’s landmarks on the map as Potter pilgrimage sites.
Visit Oxford and you can enjoy a guided Harry Potter walking tour, taking in film locations or places used as inspiration in the Harry Potter films. Indeed, you have a double dose of literary greatness, as the tour also includes places linked to Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll. The tour runs on Friday and Saturday afternoons all year.
There are several campsites within the vicinity of Oxford, including a Camping and Caravanning Club Site on the outskirts of the city with a park and ride bus service within walking distance.
Though, for some rural serenity in a village location, you could stay at Lincoln Farm Park, which features in Practical Motorhome‘s Top 100 Sites Guide 2017, with good bus connections into Oxford city centre.
Later in the year, a new exhibition at the British Library, dedicated to the magic of Harry Potter (20 October 2017 to 28 February 2018) will be the first of its kind to celebrate a single series of books by a living author.
It will include previously unseen materials from author JK Rowling and the book’s publisher Bloomsbury, as well as magical treasures from the British Library’s own collection of wizarding books.
We didn’t mean to. Honest.
Author of the much-loved Swallows and Amazons children’s book series, Arthur Ransome, died 50 years ago on 3 June.
He spent his last 30 years in Suffolk, where he bought his Nancy Blackett sailing boat, said to have inspired the seventh book in the series, We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea.
It’s also 80 years in 2017 since the novel was first published and there’s a dedicated walk taking place during this year’s Suffolk Walking Festival.
Starting from the beautiful and historic Pin Mill, the setting for Ransome’s famous book, on the shores of the River Orwell, the walk follows the footsteps across the fields to the River Stour.
You’ll then walk the shoreline to the top of the peninsula at Shotley, with a stop at the marina for lunch, before returning to Pin Mill. The 12-mile walk, titled to mirror the novel, takes place on 23 May but pre-booking is necessary.
If you can’t make that date, no matter. For the finishing touches to a self-guided Arthur Ransome Trail between Pin Mill and Shotley are currently being put in place. Signposts and a trail leaflet will keep you on the right track, while eight magnificent information panels will keep you informed about Ransome’s life in Suffolk at strategic points along the way.
Where to pitch your ’van? Run Cottage Touring Park, another Top 100 Sites Guide 2017 recommendation, is within the vicinity for a very peaceful countryside retreat.
A novel way to learn about pottery
The Potteries is famous for, well, pottery – the area around Stoke-on-Trent synonymous with some of the most renowned ceramics companies in the world including Wedgwood, Middleport, Emma Bridgewater, Burleigh and Royal Doulton.
What’s perhaps less well known is the close ties with author Arnold Bennett, whose birth is celebrated in 2017, 150 years on.
Born in Hanley, one of the six towns that make up Stoke, Bennett never lost sight of his native Potteries, which inspired acclaimed novels such as Anna of the Five Towns during his prolific writing career. He is recognised for describing and depicting the region, and the social and industrial provincial life of the local people.
There are numerous events and exhibitions to mark the 150th anniversary, but to really discover the local scenes connected with Bennett’s work, you can follow the self-guided Arnold Bennett’s Bursley Trail in Burslem. You can easily recognise places and buildings he mentions in his Five Towns novels, identified by maroon-coloured plaques.
Burslem is also home to Middleport Pottery, one of the event venues for the anniversary and also the location for BBC TV’s Great British Pottery Throw Down.
Naturally, the centre of Stoke-on-Trent is not the easiest place to reach with a large motorhome, hence we recommend a stay at the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Blackshaw Moor site near Leek.
You’ll be staying on the edge of the Peak District, but there’s a bus stop less than 300 yards from the site entrance with services that will take you to Stoke.
‘Tis better to have loved…
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, one of the nation’s most illustrious poets, was born and brought up in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Its gentle, rolling landscape provided inspiration for some of his early work, but is also ideal territory for gentle walks.
Hence, to mark 125 years since the poet’s death, a new Tennyson Trail has been created and you can follow in his footsteps, strolling through the countryside that inspired him.
Head to Somersby, the birthplace of Tennyson and where the poet spent the first 28 years of his life, linger in picturesque Tetford, where the 16th-century White Hart Inn served as the poet’s local or visit Louth, a charming market town where, amid the Georgian buildings, Tennyson was a pupil at school.
If you’d prefer a guided walk, there are some Tennyson-themed hikes during this year’s Wolds Walking Festival. These are In Tennyson’s Footsteps on 28 May, Children’s Tennyson Trail on 31 May and Tennyson Country on 4 June. Get full details here – you’re looking for walks 54, 55, 75 and 102.
Yondar Camping and Caravan Site, on the outskirts of Louth, makes an ideal base for exploring the Wolds and the Tennyson Trail.
Lashings of lemonade
Cue nostalgia with celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of The Famous Five, Enid Blyton’s best-loved book series.
The books about Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog brought rural southern England and its coastline to life through the wild, outdoor adventures of the quintet.
Enid Blyton was a regular visitor to Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and the area inspired locations in many of the books, including the ruins of Corfe Castle and Brownsea Island.
But, to celebrate, throughout 2017 families can enjoy garden walks at all four of the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens: Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Hyde Hall in Essex and Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire.
The Five go on a Garden Adventure anniversary activities will bring to life the much-loved values of The Famous Five, including friendship, adventure and the outdoors.
Each RHS garden will offer families events and activities including themed adventure trails and garden displays, craft workshops and storytelling. At Hyde Hall, near Chelmsford, there will also be den-building, orienteering and bushcraft activities.
All four gardens will also be holding a picnic party on 11 August to mark Enid Blyton’s 120th birthday.
To visit Corfe Castle (a National Trust property) you can stay at the Camping and Caravanning Club Site, within a five-minute walk. Or Practical Motorhome‘s Top 100 Sites Guide 2017 overall winner, South Lytchett Manor, is a 20-minute drive.
For visiting the RHS garden Hyde Hall near Chelmsford in Essex, Mill House Caravan Park is six miles away – but, so you know, it has no shower or toilet facilities.
Still want more?
Other permanent literary trails include:
Visit Oxford and you can enjoy a guided Harry Potter walking tour