If you watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, you may have noticed a lot of familiar faces–from Lord Voldemort to Mary Poppins; from Peter Pan to Cruella DeVille. England rightfully celebrates its history of great contributions to children’s literature.
I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics, but I think I’m going to have to wait for Rio.
In the meantime, I can plan my children’s literature tour of England for the next time I cross the pond (and have a couple weeks to spare). I want to share my dream itinerary with you. Maybe I should even call it my dream pilgrimage, because going to England in search of the great children’s authors of olde is like searching for the beginning of it all. These great masters set the tone of children’s literature for decades to come, and we owe them so much. (Standing on the shoulders of giants, and all that. Except in this case, the giants we stand on are written by Roald Dahl, and are called the BFG.) For more information, see A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain by Mark I. West, to which I’m ever so indebted for my addresses!
Without further ado:
1. Visit Paddington Station in London to see a sculpture of Paddington Bear, sitting on his suitcase, wearing a sign around his neck that says, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” (I have a miniature, stuffed version of said bear sitting on my mantlepiece.)
2. Find the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. This is supposed to be a beautiful testament to the many days J.M. Barrie spent outdoors, alone or with the Davies boys, but always with his dog Nana, enjoying the youthfulness of greenery and the park.
3. Travel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Great Maytham Hall outside the village of Rolvden in Kent. The walled garden of the estate is said to have inspired the secret garden of her novel, and she spent much of her time writing there, among the roses.
4. Visit the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery in Buckinghamshire. The museum is filled with exhibits that connect children with science, but there is also plenty of biographical information about the man himself, and some odds and ends from his strange, exciting life.
5. Remember The Wind in the Willows by the wonderful Kenneth Grahame? Well, you can follow Mole and Rat’s journey down the Thames with a Rivercruise. Look for wildlife when the city gives way to trees (which I imagine takes a while). The cruise ends at an Elizabethan Manor that is said to be the model for Toad Hall.
6. Visit Ashdown Forest to find the quiet dream of A.A. Milne, still pristine. Imagine Pooh running through the woods.
7. Visit Beatrix Potter’s gorgeous Hill Top Farm, where she lived most of her life, drawing her collection of rabbits and mice and cats. I am especially eager to visit this place. It looks like heaven. Oh, to be Beatrice! (Her farmhouse is featured below.)
8. Head to Oxford. Take the tours on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein (who were great friends!). Have a drink at the pub where the got together–The Eagle and Child–which is still open today.
9. Stay at the Edward Lear Hotel near Hyde Park. Dream of the Owl and the Pussycat.
10. Visit Christ Church, the sometime college of C.S. Lewis, and see the shop on which the strange establishment in Through the Looking Glass was based!
Dreams of England are fun, of course, and history is a blast to visit. But the best way to get close to the authors who inspire us is, as always, to read their books. That’s where they found us first, and that’s where we will continue to find them, as long as they have a place on our shelves. I have to remind myself of this when I get too anxious to travel. They call readers “armchair travellers.” When that’s the case, who needs plane tickets? Of course, if you’re offering, I would never turn a journey down…
- What else would you include on your literary tour of England? (There’s so much to choose from, I only gave you my top ten!)
- Do you find it inspiring to visit the places that writers lived, worked, or died? If so, why?
- What British writer has influenced you the most, either as a writer, or in life?
Happy trails, wherever you are,