Tag Archives: Scotland

Literary Travel in the United Kingdom

gordale scarBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Who should know literary tourism better than the author of 17 novels, plus a slew of biographies and screenplays and critiques, and now, a memoir called The Pattern in the Carpet? Margaret Drabble recently put together a splendid list of literary tourism destinations for the Guardian, introducing it with a remark about best-selling author Dan Brown that could be interpreted as dismissive or worse. And some sincere words about writers of yore, and their favored surroundings:

I am one of many who read the landscape through those who wrote about it and the words of our great landscape writers – Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Hardy, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath – sound in my ears as I walk and wander.

Some of Drabble’s picks are predictable, but that’s not to imply they are banal. There is, after all, a reason why the classics are the classics, and that goes for places, as well as books. The lighthouse in Cornwall that meant so much to Virginia Woolf, for instance. Stonehenge — not only for its own sake, but because it inspired Thomas Hardy and William Wordsworth, both highly esteemed literary figures whose reputations are unlikely to fade. Tintern Abbey and Tintagel; the Lake District; and Haworth, home of the Brontes, whose environs she describes as “numinous.”

The list also encompasses many low-profile locales, like Burslem, which figured in the novels of Arnold Bennett. In Burslem, one can still find “picturesque pot banks,” whatever those might be. Drabble names Goredale Scar, pictured on this page, and Malham, an important place in one of her own novels. Poet Thomas Gray is also associated with this lovely section of the world. Remember “An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard”? Not the catchiest title, but a number of his phrases became immortal, especially “far from the madding crowd” which Hardy borrowed as title for one of his novels. And Gray knew from graveyards: among the twelve children his mother bore, he was the only one who made it past infancy.

Then there’s Aldeburgh, which has associations with George Crabbe and Benjamin Britten. Nowadays, it’s the site of a renowned literature and music festival. And do not neglect the Quantocks, a place of transcendent value to Coleridge and Wordsworth, and others who knew transcendence when they saw it.

Andrew Lycett highlights some features of the Wales of Dylan Thomas in The Times. This is a pretty fascinating look at the “curious love-hate relationship with the Welsh countryside” experienced by the poet. He talks about visiting the boathouse in Laugharne where the Thomas once lived, and defines the different significance that three different parts of Wales had for him, and reveals what happened at Worm’s Head. The Times also sponsors other literary walks, such as “Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall,” “Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh,” and “William Blake’s London.” But here’s a question. How many writers are not somehow associated with London? Even Karl Marx wrote some pretty famous stuff there.

If you go up to Scotland, you can hang out in places previously frequented by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Jimmy Lowe shared in the Glasgow Daily Times an account of doing just that, and much more besides, when he and his wife toured the United Kingdom with literature on their minds. And should you ever consider buying a house in Britain, you can hire a certified house historian to ferret out any literary associations if might have. At Mail Online, Gwenda Brophy — another of those writers enamored of London — tells marvelous stories about historic homes, quoting specialist Melanie Backe-Hansen, who says:

Certain places are a magnet for writers. Carlyle Mansions, on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, is referred to as the writers’ block as it’s been home to well-known figures such as Ian Fleming and T. S. Eliot.

Wander around England long enough, and you’ll see places that bear the stamp of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, George Eliot, Vita Sackville-West, John Bunyan, Bram Stoker, J. K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, A.A. Milne, etc., etc., etc. And that’s just novelists and poets. We haven’t even started on the painters yet.

photo courtesy of gaspa, used under this Creative Commons license

The Most Beautiful Place on the Planet

News Editor

“Lost Among the Gods: A family tempts fate on an ancient footpath near Delphi” – what an intriguing title. This story comes from Marcus Gee, via The Globe and Mail. Gee, who has been with his paper since 1991, has written extensively on foreign affairs and Asian business, and also contributes columns and articles such as this one about a Grecian holiday, which says:

It is quite simply the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. The site of the Delphic sanctuary clings to the southern flanks of Parnassus. Limestone cliffs rise above it, glowing gold when the sun goes down. Below, a deep valley filled with olive trees sweeps down to the Gulf of Corinth, sparkling in the sun.

The mom and dad and three kids set out on a lovely hike, and amuse themselves by speculating on which actors should play which roles, if they were making a movie of a Greek myth. Well, we don’t want to give away the whole store, but there does come a time when the mom and dad are wondering if it would be a good idea to email somebody in North America to call the Delphi police.

The most beautiful place, according to Matthew Zaleski, a 19-year-old who has made a feature film, is in Australia, “that portion of the country located on the Gold Coast about 500 miles north of Sydney…” This article, by Cindy Leise, is really about how Zaleski got his movie project underway and accomplished. At a blog called The Line Stepper, Chris Sisson visits Boracay in the Philippines and says it is “the most beautiful place we have been to so far,” followed by an extensive description of exactly why. Mary McKinney names Grand Teton National Park – to the point where all four of her daughters married there. But really, the most beautiful place is SavuSavu in the Fiji Islands, in the eyes of Jacqui at Blooming in Japan.

Easel painter Jim Tait Lerwick, a.k.a. The Artistic Curmudgeon, believes that a place called Brugarth, which doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, but is in the Shetland Islands, is the one. At GlobeStompers, Jared, formerly a fashion sales executive, now travels without a deadline and thinks perhaps the Amalfi Coast, a part of Southwest Italy, could qualify for the title. And Mrs. B., at Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom, goes for St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands.

Michael Forbes believes the most beautiful place on earth is his property near in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, located in the middle of where Donald Trump wants to build a golf course. This is a real interesting story.

Need we reiterate the opinion of Kevin Dolgin? Yes, we need. And he’s a bit sly about it, stating first only that Corsica is “the most beautiful island in the Mediterranean.” While he admits that “there may be other places that rival Corsica in terms of natural beauty,” we suspect he perhaps doubts it. And sure enough, a little while later, he comes out with the truth: “Corsica is, indeed, the most beautiful place in the world.”

Or not. There is certainly room for other opinions, right here at our handy Comment facility.

Delphi photo courtesy of Mendhak, used under this Creative Commons license

Edinburgh, Scotland: Best Reason to Go

Edinburgh Castle

News Editor

Theodore Koumelis has been keeping up with some statistics. In Travel Daily News, he tells us that each year, Great Britain welcomes to her shores 765,000 people. They visit film locations, hunt down the spot where their favorite music video was filmed, absorb the ambiance of a famous writer’s home, or find the scenic inspiration for some novel they’ve read. Koumelis is the founder and managing editor of TravelDailyNews International, which aspires to be always the most informative source in international tourism. In “2009 could be the year of literary tourism” he gives examples of what literary tourists are looking for:

The year witnesses the National Trust opening of Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway in Devon, where she lived as Mrs Malowan from 1936 to 1959…..A new film written and directed by The Piano’s Jane Campion, Bright Star, explores the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, cut short by Keats’ untimely death at 25.

edinburgh window

Koumelis mentions Edinburgh, Scotland, but does not mention what we see as the primary reason to go there (aside from ancestor-hunting, of course.) Edinburgh is where Ian Rankin’s detective stories are set. In the United Kingdom, one out of every ten crime books sold is written by Rankin. Not that numbers in themselves mean much, but these are really, really good detective stories with outstandingly well-drawn characters. There are also descriptions of Scotland that, for some perverse reason, some of us find alluring. (That picture at the top is Edinburgh Castle.)

In other Scottish literary travel news, Kaiya Marjoribanks reports in the Stirling Observer that next year, 2010, will be momentous in Trossachs. This is the area featured in the well-known poem “The Lady of the Lake,” by Sir Walter Scott. The lake in question is Loch Katrine. “Romantic tourism” is another name for the impulse that draws visitors to such places. It’s all about sharing cultural heritage, and we’re all for it.

Edinburgh photo courtesy of Jordan S Hatcher , used under this Creative Commons license; Edinburgh Window photo courtesy of Leithcote , used under this Creative Commons license