Category Archives: UNITED KINGDOM

You May Already Be a Literary Travel Writer!

News Editor

If you’ve ever visited a place with literary associations and written about it — and, of course, taken pictures — this fabulous online resource wants you as one of its fabulous resources. Literary Locales is a directory that has already compiled more than 1,350 links to places associated with the lives and/or work of well-known authors. Here’s the invitation:

If you think that a deserving writer has been overlooked or treated inadequately, fetch your camera and set matters to right. We are constantly open to new additions. This site abounds with examples upon which you can model your own page. Or you can submit gifs or jpegs to us and we will construct a page for you.

You can’t ask for fairer than that! Literary Locales is sponsored by San Jose State University; specifically, by the Department of English & Comparative Literature. Its participatory nature guarantees a wide range of interests. Want to see Danielle Steel’s mansion in San Francisco? Or the village of Umuofia from Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart? Present and accounted for. Dante’s birthplace in Florence, Italy? Check. The Greenwich Village apartment of John Dos Passos? It’s here. The birthplace of Gustave Flaubert or Helen Keller? No problem. Louveciennes, where Anais Nin hung out; Trieste, as experienced by Rilke; the Corfu of Gerald Durrell; Edgar Allen Poe’s cottage; Robinson Crusoe’s island. The world is just one big theme park of places inhabited or depicted by writers.

“Ah love, let us be true to one another…” Yes, that’s Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”, and here’s a nice website all about Dover Beach. Remember The Prophet? Here’s Bsharri, the part of Lebanon where Kahlil Gibran lived. It’s official: when it comes to plotting serious literary travel adventures, this site is the go-to guy.

Of course, Durham Cathedral (see picture) is represented. Travel writer Bill Bryson, being the Chancellor of nearby Durham University and President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, has a particular fondness for the old pile. Its most salient literary feature is the tomb of the historian known as the Venerable Bede. He died in 735 and no, there isn’t a numeral missing from that year. One of the folks interred there is Cyril Argentine Alington, headmaster of Eton College and author of more than 50 books. Sir Walter Scott said of the edifice, “This view is unsurpassed in England”

Grand old Durham Cathedral has made the news, we learn from Mark Tallentire, staff writer for The Northern Echo, by quickly acquiring more Facebook fans than any other cathedral in England. The people who made it so are justifiably proud, but there is one little thing… This piece doesn’t mention that cathedral’s current vogue just might be due to its presence in the Harry Potter movies, in the guise of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

A bit of bad news in the literary tourism realm is the threat to the Muromtsev Dacha, part of the Tsaritsyno park complex in Moscow. This big old house was taken over by the national government when Russia had a revolution, but four years ago ownership was transferred to the city, and what’s been happening since then is not pretty. Ksenia Galouchko reveals what and why in The Moscow Times.

The building is threatened with demolition, which is no good for the six families in residence, some of whom have been there for decades. That’s bad enough, but there are literary associations with Ivan Bunin, a Nobel Prize winning writer, and with the poet Venedikt Yerofeyev who hung out there a lot in the ’70s and ’80s. Some of his notes are available for viewing. A cultural heritage organization has installed a memorial plaque honoring Yerofeyev and suggested turning the place into a museum, but that hasn’t seemed to help.

Here’s what we hope: that the Muromtsev Dacha will be preserved, and show up in the pages of Literary Locales, along with all the other places frequented by the literary greats.

Durham, aka Hogwarts photo courtesy of Glen Bowman , used under this Creative Commons license

Distilleries and Nature Coexist on the Isle of Islay

lagavulin distBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

It started out with a click on this page: “Islay on Old Ordnance Survey Maps” A fellow named Armin Grewe was poking around in old National Library of Scotland maps, and here he devotes an entry to expounding on their wonders. This is a treasure: a blog about a place, a collection of information and illustrations so thorough, so particular, you could not pay somebody enough to do a project like this if they didn’t love it from the bottom of their heart. IslayBlog has a FAQ, and archives going back to 2006. Up front, there’s an invitation to pick a page at random. In this case, what came up was a photo of a building that is so beautiful, and so beautifully situated, it could make you want to drop everything and move in right now. The chronicler says:

This is a blog about the Isle of Islay, an island in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It is run by Armin Grewe, a regular visitor to the Island. I don’t live on Islay (yet?), but that doesn’t stop me blogging about Islay. I will blog about anything Islay related I can think of: pictures, news, links, whisky, bird watching, wildlife, you name it.

It’s all too easy to imagine becoming addicted to IslayBlog, in the same way that people are said to be addicted to Second Life or other imaginary worlds. Islay (pronounced eye-la) can be my make-believe home any day of the week.

One of the drawings on the map page is of the Laphroaig Distillery property, back when only the core buildings existed, but none of the newer warehouses. This is the kind of detail that whiskey tourists thrive on. The entire island, in fact, is simply teeming with distilleries. Well, there are eight, anyway. Wandering betwixt them, our host Kevin Dolgin meditated upon the long-dead genius who first thought up the notion of distilling ale to get a more concentrated version. “He undoubtedly realized immediately that this was just the stuff to make the Scottish climate bearable,” was Kevin’s conclusion.

Naturally, our intrepid travel writer sampled a whiskey or two. As always, the mission was altruistic. Like George Carlin, who described his job as thinking up goofy stuff to report back to us because we’re too busy to do it ourselves, a travel writer has a responsibility to his or her constituency, a solemn obligation to act as a proxy for us, and to experience things on our behalf, because even if we are travelers ourselves, nobody can ever possibly get to all the places and do all the things. Kevin says it this way: “Of course, all of this was imbibed with the sole purpose of carrying out research for you, my readers.” And we appreciate it.

This is a little bit off-topic, because the Glenmorangie distillery is in Scotland, not Islay, but it’s fascinating all the same. Aron Ritter has issued a report on the unequivocal acceptance of certain types of Glenmorangie whiskey as kosher, which is good news. The really interesting part is the rabbinical debate over whether other Glenmorangie products can also be certified.

In The Times, Peter Stiff and Emily Ford examine the record of the Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddie) distillery, which is on Islay, in their series on businesses that reduce, reuse, and recycle. Their account of how the company became “accidentally green” is enlightening.

Of course, there is more to Islay than whiskey. For instance, the island recently hosted the Bowmore Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships. There are conferences, and festivals, such as the Cantilena Festival which features serious classical music. Antonia Malchik has written a fascinating piece that brings in history, politics, nature, and other subjects of enduring interest. It’s called “Mythic history and a bit of the wild side on Scotland’s Isle of Islay,” and we like it.

photo courtesy of basquiat , used under this Creative Commons license

Naughty Mayfair, in London, England


News Editor

Not long ago, we noted the popularity of London as one of Student Universe’s Top Ten Party Destinations. Taking a closer look, we find that the great British capitol has always been a place where young and old could find something disreputable to pass the time, especially if they were wealthy and titled. In “Mayfair’s dark secrets laid bare,” Jasper Gerard unearths some facts and rumors about a venerable building called Albany. He says:

So savagely do Albany grandees protect their privacy that even snappers photographing the place have found themselves at the wrong end of a porter’s boot… One resident, a Mr. Gundry, was so aggressive he horsewhipped someone in Hyde Park for brushing against his shoulder a year earlier.

That revenge for bruised honor occurred, of course, quite some time in the past. But that’s the point. This structure seems to have a cumulative history of anarchic behavior well cloaked behind a veil of respectability. Remember the Chelsea Hotel in New York, when all the rock stars stayed there? Albany was, in its glory days, kind of like that — only with servants who would carry an inebriated resident to bed and tuck him in. Hookers came and went freely and,  according to a certain painter who called Albany home for a couple of years, they still do. Tradition and discretion don’t come cheap; it costs about £1,500 or about $2,500 USD per week to live there.

The reason why all this came to Gerard’s attention is an art show that includes 40 paintings by Keith Coventry. The whole series is called “Echoes of Albany” and the pictures bring back the days of chippies, tarts, absinthe, serious recreational drugs, women who wore tuxedos and courted other women, and much, much more. If you’re in the neighborhood of Burlington Gardens, the exhibit runs through August 15 at the Haunch of Venison gallery.

Gerard, incidentally, has had an interesting and varied journalistic career. It’s easy to be sidetracked into something like, for instance, his interview with novelist Ian McEwan. But no. This is about the famous old mansion where three of England’s prime ministers have lived, along with a number of titled aristocrats and upper-echelon stage actors such as Terence Stamp. Antony Armstrong-Jones, the photographer who was married to Queen Elizabeth’s sister Margaret, once lived there. So did art historian Sir Kenneth Clark. The poet Lord Byron was once a resident, as were novelists Aldous Huxley and Graham Greene, playwright Terence Rattigan, and esteemed travel writer Bruce Chatwin.mayfair mural

Speaking of London nightlife, there’s trouble in paradise as burlesque dancers take to the streets to protest unfair laws that impede their ability to make a living and entertain the rest of us. And check out this site for a handy guide to “student nights” in London clubs.

And in the daytime, be sure to observe the statues. Yes, the sculptures in public places which, as we know, are of abiding interest to Kevin Dolgin as he makes his way through the cities of the world. In London, he found plenty to write about, in “Forgotten Heroes: London, England” which of course is one of the pieces in The Third Tower Up From the Road.

Albany photo courtesy of Wolfiewolf , used under this Creative Commons license. Mayfair mural photo courtesy of danielle_blue , used under this Creative Commons license

Great British Butterfly Hunt

black swallowtail

News Editor

“The butterfly only visible at 1500 ft.” Now, there’s a headline to make a person sit up and say, “Huh?” This butterfly can only be seen from a spy satellite? A balloon? A plane? What goes up so high, anyway? But that isn’t what Michael McCarthy means. He means, you have to climb up a mountain to spot this creature. As he tells us in The Independent,

The mountain ringlet is our one true montane or Alpine butterfly, for it is restricted to mountainsides in the Lake District and in the Scottish Highlands…We were fortunate in that we had a series of precise grid references where mountain ringlets had been seen in the past, and we based our search on them.

Mountain ringlets are hard to find, because they pretty much blend in with the foliage, especially if the weather is overcast. No sun, no mountain ringlets. During their climb, McCarthy and his companions saw other kinds of butterflies, and some very nice birds.

Finally, there was one mountain ringlet, and then others. The butterfly’s brown wings are decorated with orange spots, so when the wings are in motion, there’s a blurring effect. McCarthy describes it as “a little whirring ball of black with an orange halo around it.” The team returned with the impression that these particular butterflies are doing pretty well, and are not in danger.

Not surprisingly, it’s all part of a larger mission: The Independent‘s Great British Butterfly Hunt. As a very specialized type of travel writer, McCarthy set out to track all the species of butterfly in Britain, of which there are 58, and clap eyes on each and every one of them, in the space of one summer. He’s been keeping readers posted with regular reports, like this one on the swallowtail, which is one of Britain’s rarest butterflies.

It was a similar butterfly, by strange coincidence, that set Kevin on the travel writing path. In “The Corsican Swallowtail: Corsica, France,” he says:

This was my first attempt at travel writing. It was originally published in Hobart magazine. Ever since writing it, I have kept an eye out for the Corsican Swallowtail whenever I’m in Corsica, but I have yet to see one (I think).

The picture on this page is of a Black Swallowtail. We’d love to see a picture of a Corsican Swallowtail. Any volunteers?

photo courtesy of tlindenbaum , used under this Creative Commons license

Literary Travel Popular as Ever

News Editor

Literary travel might be one of those concepts that means different things to different people. Many travelers go places to pay homage to their literary idols and draw inspiration from walking in their literal footsteps.

In the Irish Times, Prof. Noel Mulcahy talks about the effect on an Irish city of the memoir written by a recently deceased author:

Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes provided a documented account of 1940s Limerick society, its behaviours and values. It spawned a new tourist product for the city. It offers a focus for literary research way past the foreseeable future.

Noel Mulcahy, incidentally, is a Professor of Industrial Strategy who holds management and technical training courses. He’s into stuff like the role of mathematics in engineering education.

Literary admiration also lures visitors to Madrid, to chase the ghost of the great travel writer Corpus Barga. At Wonders and Marvels, we learn from Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon that even Virginia Woolf was not immune to the fascination of literary travel. She made a pilgrimage to Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters, and wrote about it for The Guardian back in 1904. This present-day piece mentions some other world-class writers who traveled to partake of the atmosphere frequented by their own literary idols.

In Massachusetts, tourists are drawn to the homes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and (a guy with only two names, for a change) Rudyard Kipling. And that’s not even the whole list. Several other prominent writers, and painters too, frequented the North Shore area of that fine state, as explicated by Jim McAllister of The Salem News.

Speaking of Longfellow, tourists flock to Nova Scotia in French Canada, because Evangeline, an entirely fictional person and the heroine of his poem, lived there. In New Brunswick, there’s a hybrid theme park and historical reconstruction called Le Pays de la Sagouine, founded by novelist Antonine Maillet, who was so enthralled by her cultural heritage that she wrote 40 novels to commemorate the Acadian lifestyle.

Veteran journalist Stephen Mansfield mixed literature and travel in another way. As a youth, he slaked his appetite for foreign shores by becoming an English teacher (and rock musician) in Spain. There’s a great interview with Mansfield, conducted by Ulara Nakagawa, in The Japan Times.

Please suggest original conjunctions of place and literature!

Limerick photo courtesy of gabig 58, used under this Creative Commons license

Venice Earns Dubious Distinction

pigeons 2By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today we consider some of the cootie capitals of the world with Stephanie Chen, a writer/producer at CNN who specializes in writing about business, crime, and travel — not surprising, since she formerly worked for The Wall Street Journal and The Miami Herald. More recently, Chen took on the task of following up on a press release which announced the results of their poll concerning the most un-hygienic tourist spots around the globe. Chen concludes:

Though it is unlikely to get sick from visiting one of these places, health experts say germs are always a gamble. The more people who touch and visit a spot, the more germs there are in the mix, they say. Their traveling advice? Travelers should load up on hand sanitizers and wash their hands often on their trips.

Also, they should wash their mouths out with soap, if they’ve kissed the famous Blarney Stone of Ireland. Legend or no legend, smooching this rock seems like a risky venture, but 400,000 people a year do it anyway, Chen reports. While hanging upside down, incidentally. Less strenuous for the participating visitor is the Wall of Gum in Seattle, site of an accumulation of used chewing gum that has reached science-fictional proportions. The layer of pre-masticated gum is, we are told, several inches thick. Chen’s online article includes a link to some video footage which includes close-ups of various sections of this wall, which look like abstract art if you don’t think about it too hard.

Another germy lip-magnet is the tomb of infamous writer Oscar Wilde, who currently resides in the Père Lachaise Cemetery of Paris. The stone edifice is kissed by many, many people who should know better. A friend from New Jersey told me once of a custom observed in the neighborhood where he grew up. If you dropped a cookie or an apple or any other foodstuff on the ground, the correct procedure was to pick it up and “kiss it to God,” after which it would be safe to eat. Apparently some kind of related superstition operates in the minds of these pilgrims.

The immediate environment of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA is also under indictment for harboring a multitude of germs, since tourists are fond of pressing their hands into the handprints of famous stars. Which are on the ground. But hey, the forecourt of the theater is mopped every day by the staff.

pigeons3Then there’s the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, Italy, where you can get up close and personal with more pigeons than you ever imagined possible. The “living room of Europe” is visited by 2 million people in the average year, and by thousands of pigeons who don’t wear diapers, if you take my meaning. The Piazza also contains lots of outdoor cafes, where the conjunction of food and salmonella bacteria makes some travelers more than a little nervous. A single pigeon produces approximately 26 pounds of you-know-what every year, which is not only bad for people, but corrosive to the historical monuments that also populate the enormous square. The city has taken measures, like banning the vendors who sell pigeon-feed grain to tourists, and forbidding the locals to throw rice at the bride and groom after weddings.

Elisabeth Rosenthal reports in The New York Times that pigeons are not the only problem in Italy’s ancient municipality. The Italians are the world’s leading drinkers of bottled water, and most of them leave their empty containers in the trash cans of the Piazza San Marco. Rosenthal explains that, because of the roadless nature of the Venetian urban area, trash is collected by men in wheelbarrows, at a cost of “$335 per ton compared with $84 per ton on the mainland.” Local officialdom has recently undertaken a public relations crusade to convince people to drink tap water, which originates from the same wells as one of the most popular brands of bottled water, and the city offers plenty of public water spouts where the traveler can refill an emptied bottle of designer water, and make it last all day.

Now, if only the pigeons could be trained to carry empty plastic bottles to the landfill…

feeding pigeons photo courtesy of j.reed , used under this Creative Commons license; sign photo courtesy of Mike_fleming , used under this Creative Commons license

Travel Writing Turned Inside Out in Ireland


News Editor

What we have here is the very opposite of travel writing. It’s host writing. It looks at our favorite subject not as a traveler might, but from the point of view of the inhabitants of a place. In this excellent Dublin Independent piece, Martina Devlin makes comparisons of the cost, and looks at the difference between the tourist experience in France (good) and Ireland (not so good). She explores the three main factors that are responsible: price, service, and quality. Okay, that’s about what you’d expect from any writer with both an aesthetic sense and a grasp of realpolitik. And then she goes brilliant:

What we do have to offer — our unique selling point — is our reputation as the Land of Saints and Scholars; our literary tradition. We can attract tourists by offering well-organised, weather resistant events: one extension of the “smart economy” we should not ignore… If we are to live to tell the tale of this once-in-a-century recession, we need to access those survival-of-the-fittest genes hardwired into our DNA.

In the matter of price, Devlin contends that the Irish don’t have a chance, because of the twin pillars of socialism, namely, high minimum wage and high income tax. As to the causes, agree with her or not — but the evidence is undeniable: it’s no longer an Ireland where visitors “will be content simply to admire the scenery.”

Devlin even provides specific suggestions, by giving examples of what has been successfully done in the literary tourism field. The recent West Cork Literary Festival, for instance, offered a class on travel writing, and encouraged professional travel agents to sign up. It’s that niche marketing concept. For novel-writing classes, about a third of the participants came from outside Ireland, and she believes this trend can be capitalized on to the very great benefit of the local economy. Ireland did just fine in its recent renaissance, and if there’s any country that can make a comeback, this is the one to do it.

Martina Devlin has published four novels and two nonfiction books. Her website offers great advice for writers. This opinion is not necessarily endorsed by Kevin Dolgin or anyone else around here, but the writer of this blog says it loud: Devlin is hot, hot, hot.

Last year, TripAdvisor compiled a list of the top ten literary travel destinations and #4 is Dublin, so things are heading in the right direction. Dublin has Yeats and Joyce, of course. For Harry Potter fans, this Skyscanner page offers a list of 13 possible destinations. Ireland is included on the basis of winning the 1994 Quidditch World Cup, and also on general principles, for being the stomping ground of Imps, Porlocks and Kelpies.

Ireland needs a literary-tourist-magnet on the scale of Menabilly, which is in the British county of Cornwall. That estate was the prototype of the fictitious Manderley in Daphne DuMaurier’s immortal best-seller Rebecca. Apparently, the author fell in love with a house, and wrote a bestseller featuring the house as a character, and made enough money to lease the house and move in. What a great story!

The person who knows the most about it is Justine Picardie, who has just published a book about DuMaurier, and who tells many entertaining details in The Times. Her description of that whole area makes a person want to go there right now. Not to Menabilly itself, of course. It’s not open to the public. But there is a yearly gathering in the nearest town, for devotees of the novel and the house. This article also gives careful directions for the optimal self-guided walking tour of the local countryside.

One reader we asked says that in Ireland, she’d like to see places associated with Maud Gonne. Or Bobby Sands. We’d like to hear more ideas. In Ireland, or any part of the United Kingdom, whose house or neighborhood would you like to have a peek at?

Cornwall coast photo courtesy of Kai Hendry , used under this Creative Commons license