Earlier this year I took a little holiday back to my English homeland and went on a road trip with a friend. Due to crazy work schedules, jam-packed lives, and my parents springing a family weekend trip on me, our plans prior to the trip got about as far as deciding to hire a car and head to Cornwall. And so began a road trip that ended up being a little literary tour around the South West of England. So, if you’re ever wondering where to go outside of London for some culture ‘n’ that, take a read.
Who left those stones there?
Ok so this one isn’t literary but it is historical/cultural! Our trip started bright and early one Monday morning, trading the busy London streets for the rolling (rainy) countryside surrounding the A303 as we headed towards England’s south west coast. What neither of us realised was that we were about to drive passed one of England’s oldest landmarks (apparently we’re not very good at map reading). Suddenly my friend pointed out the odd shaped stones in the distance and it took us both a moment to twig it was Stonehenge! So naturally, we stopped and took a wander.
Honestly, from the road these stones don’t look that amazing, but up close and with a bit of historical context added to the mix from the exhibition and audio guide, they’re pretty darn impressive.
A town twinned with fantasy
Unless you happen to be an avid Discworld fan like my holiday pal and I, you might not have heard of the town of Wincanton. It’s a quaint English market town somewhere in Somerset with a few little cafes and shops. For many, its a pretty insignificant place on the map. However what makes it special to book nerds like me is its rather unusual twinning with a fictional fantasy city. You see, Wincanton is twinned with one of the most notorious cities of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – Ankh-Morpork.
As TP fans, obviously we made sure to stop here and discovered that not only is Wincanton home to the Discworld Emporium (the only official merchandise store/Discworld pilgrimage site) but it also happens to have a few Discworld street names lurking in one of the housing estates if you look hard enough.
Misty cream teas on Dartmoor
After a night in Exeter we continued on our journey to Cornwall by driving through the notoriously misty Dartmoor National Park. Situated in south Devon, Dartmoor’s foggy hilltops have inspired many a tale – most famously the escapades of a certain deerstalker-wearing private detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles is set on Dartmoor, and the old Duchy Hotel, where Conan Doyle was a guest and supposedly inspired to write his story, is now the main Dartmoor visitor centre.
The moor itself, spans an impressive 954km² of grassland, hilltops and diverse landmarks. So, if you’re not caught out by the cold, misty rain like we were, you can go hill walking, ride through the moor on horseback or enjoy a spot of whitewater kayaking before retiring to your hotel to keep writing your novel.
We managed to pick the one day with terrible weather to visit, so we took shelter in the visitor centre before enjoying the most delicious cream tea in a little nearby café.
A legendary King on a clifftop
Any fan of historical tales of Knights and magical swords will be more than familiar with The Legend of King Arthur. Me? I did an entire module at university about the ancient and modern interpretations of the legend so I’m a bit of an Arthur Nerd. So while planning what to do with our second day in Cornwall we realised our road trip could take us to the ruins of Tintagel Castle – the place that claims to be where it all began, with the conception of this legendary King.
These rugged cliffs don’t just house a castle ruins, they look out over the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean and give some spectacular views. We decided to climb the steep old stone steps to the castle and take a wander. And our reward once we got to the top? Discovering a statue of the legend himself. So of course we posed for a selfie with it!
The story goes that the people at English Heritage thought it would be cool to have a statue up there so they commissioned it and had it helicoptered in. Rather than being an artist’s impression of King Arthur, it’s actually modelled on one of the gift shop staff, a 6ft tall bloke called Dave. How do we know this? We asked the guy at the ticket booth.
Roaming through Regency in Bath
On the final day of our trip we woke up in Bath. Bath is a town known for its hot springs and architecture, but it was also briefly the home of 18th century novelist Jane Austen.
It’s widely accepted that Jane’s time in Bath heavily influenced the novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. By this point in our road trip we were aiming for a final literary adventure to complete our set, so, naturally, when we discovered there was a Jane Austen Centre we knew exactly where we were headed! We took a very quick and slightly damp stroll through the city, admiring Georgian houses and the impressive Bath Abbey on our way to 41 Gay Street, the home of the Jane Austen Centre. Once there, we joined a short tour through the house guided by various characters from her novels who told us about Jane, her family, and the society she was a part of. Finally, like all good English literature fans, we took the opportunity to dress up in period costume and pose with Mr Darcy!