From St Ives to Aldeburgh, the Lakes to Stonehenge, Margaret Drabble describes her favourite places to go walking in the footsteps of great writers
Where to wander … Grasmere in the Lake District.
Margaret Drabble is the author of 17 novels, which have won numerous prizes including the John Llewellyn Rhys and James Tait Black awards. Her most recent novel, The Sea Lady, was published in 2006. She has also written screenplays, critical studies, biographies and this year a memoir, The Pattern in the Carpet.
“Literary tourism is not new, although some of the places we visit have been added recently to the list. I was told a month or two ago by Barbara Follett, minister (amongst other things) for tourism, that Dan Brown was bringing literary pilgrims from the United States to Britain. Not having read Dan Brown, I cannot say why. My travels are more traditional. 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.
“Walking in the footsteps of great writers, and seeing landscapes and buildings through their eyes is one of the most enjoyable and sustaining of pleasures. Years ago, on a lecture tour in Mississippi, I insisted on seeing the land of Huckleberry Finn and William Faulkner. It was a powerful experience, never to be forgotten. But Britain remains my native landscape, and my top 10 are only a sample of the places I like best.”
Stonehenge has inspired innumerable writers, and although it is one of the best known prehistoric sites in the world it is impossible to pass it without a sense of awe. It has a melancholy grandeur that passing traffic cannot diminish. Hardy and Wordsworth were moved by it, and so am I.
The Potteries still have some of the picturesque pot banks Arnold Bennett made famous in his Five Towns novels. It’s a weird post-industrial landscape now, with a haunting poetic dereliction. The draper’s shop from The Old Wives Tale is still there on the street corner in Burslem, and was for sale last time I saw it (in June this year).
3. Goredale Scar
Goredale Scar near Malham in North Yorkshire is a classic beauty spot, and none the less beautiful for that. It is at both sublime and romantic, and was celebrated by the poet Thomas Gray, and by me in my novel The Waterfall.
4. Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey, in the Wye Valley, is the subject of one of Wordsworth’s greatest poems, in which he describes the restorative power of nature. It was also a favourite destination for the “picturesque traveller” doing the Welsh tour.
Tintagel in Cornwall is a dramatic mythical Arthurian site, and its castle and crags inspired both Tennyson and Hardy. It’s both medieval and Victorian, like the Arthurian legend itself.
Aldeburgh, now the home of a literary festival, is perhaps better known for its painters and composers, but one of our finest landscape poets, George Crabbe, evoked the harsh beauty of its seashore, and his story inspired Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes.
7. Godrevy Lighthouse
This St Ives landmark is the eponymous lighthouse of Virginia Woolf’s greatest novel, and an enduring symbol of artistic hope and endeavour. St Ives is full of memories of Woolf, and of all the summer seaside holidays of all children, of all time.
8. The Quantocks
The Quantock hills in Somerset are where Wordsworth and Coleridge walked when they were composing the Lyrical Ballads, and you can still see the thorn tree and the little pond of Wordsworth’s poem, The Thorn. This is one of my favourite walks, and I recite their lines to myself as I go.
9. The Lake District
The Lake District is so closely bound to the lives of so many poets and writers that it is hard to choose a particular landscape from its many famous places, but of them all, perhaps Grasmere, Dove Cottage and the daffodils have the most powerful memories and associations.
I tend to prefer outdoor landscapes to writers’ houses, but make an exception for the Brontë Parsonage at Haworth, a house in which life was experienced with extraordinary intensity. This place and its churchyard and its surrounding moorland are numinous.