As well as spawning countless myths, legends and fairy tales, many of England’s magical counties have also inspired some amazing novels too. From the forests of East Sussex to the rolling greenery of Hampshire, to the Yorkshire Moors, England’s landscapes have provided rich fodder for some truly timeless tales. Here are some of our favourites…
For generations, children and grown-ups alike have been captivated by the Winnie the Pooh books featuring the tales of a honey-loving bear and his Hundred Acre Wood friends; Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore. But did you know that the setting is based on Ashdown Forest, home of Ashdown Park Hotel? The author, A.A. Milne, had a weekend retreat at nearby Cotchford Farm and it was his son, Christopher Robin ’s adventures in that forest which inspired the stories (including the popular river game of Poohsticks).
Yet A.A. Milne wasn’t the only famous children’s author with connections to Sussex. Eastbourne, the location of The Grand Hotel, was also home to one of the most popular children’s authors of all time — Noel Streatfeild. Known for her classics such as Ballet Shoes, Skating Shoes and Theatre Shoes, Streatfeild loved to read by the side of the cliffs as a young girl. Her memoir, A Vicarage Family, describes her
childhood in this seaside town. Hertfordshire, on the doorstep of Luton Hoo Hotel, is the setting for one of the most popular novels of all time — Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Although Meryton, the market town that the novel is set in, is fictional, many people believe that it is based on either Hertford or Ware. She also took inspiration from her hometown of Hampshire, home of Tylney Hall. Jane and her family lived at her brothers’ estate in Chawton village. It was this small town that provided her with the perfect backdrop for some of her other most well-loved novels such as Emma, Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility.
J.R.R. Tolkien was another author who took inspiration from the quiet grandeur of the English countryside. Although both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings describes a fantasy realm of dragons, elves and orcs, the hobbit homeland of The Shire was based on a place much closer to home. Specifically, a peaceful mill village called Sarehole on the River Cole in Warwickshire, where Tolkien lived for a period as a child.
Hampshire, the home of Tylney Hall Hotel, was the inspiration behind Watership Down by Richard Adams. This epic tale is about rabbits evicted from their warren and having to find a new home. Many people don’t realise that Watership Down is actually a real hill in Hampshire. This lovely spot can be found near to Ecchinswell village and offers remarkable views over the North Wessex Downs.
Further north, the Yorkshire Moors served as a strange, wild muse to the Brontë sisters for many years. From their home in Haworth Parsonage, the three sisters — Charlotte, Emily and Anne — wrote searing novels of passion and loss. Some of the most notable of these are Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Although the lives of the sisters were restricted in many ways,
their imaginations were boundless and the rugged Moors created a perfect canvas for their stories.
These are a few examples of some of the famous novels inspired by England’s landscapes. So the next time you are strolling through the forest at dusk, keep an eye out for a hungry little bear in search of honey or listen out for a hobbit whistling a song contentedly to himself.
Haworth photo credit: Visit Bradford
Sarehole Mill photo credit: Birmingham Museums Trust