A Book Lover’s Guide to a British Staycation

After a long year of lockdowns, dark nights, and isolation, I’m sure many of us were looking forward to booking a summer holiday abroad and enjoying some well-deserved escapism. But given the uncertainty of COVID restrictions and safety, most of us had to put our dreams of a sunny Spanish holiday on hold again.

Although summer is coming to an end, bookworms shouldn’t write off their getaway plans altogether, because the UK has some of the best holiday hotspots in the world for us to explore. From wandering through Wordsworth’s daffodil garden to sightseeing in Shakespeare’s Stratford, when it comes to a book-themed break, there truly is no place like home.

If you’re looking for a location holiday with a literary twist, here’s The Book Shelf’s guide to a British staycation, and our top five destinations every book lover should visit, perfect for an end-of-summer treat or a spontaneous autumn getaway.

1) Haworth

Known for its cobbled streets, rolling moors, and brooding charm, the Pennine village of Haworth is a mecca for fans of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë. Home to the most famous literary sisters of all time, the Brontë Parsonage is a must-see time capsule that gives visitors a glimpse into the siblings’ lives. Here, book lovers can gaze upon the beautifully preserved dining table where Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were all drafted.

Outside the town centre, you can follow the Brontë Way across the moors to explore sites of literary inspiration, such as the ruins of Top Withens — the real-life model of Wuthering Heights’ Earnshaw house. When you’re ready to refuel, stop at Ye Olde Brontë Tea Room for a cuppa or browse Haworth’s traditional sweet shop for a tasty vintage treat.

Before leaving, don’t forget to check out the village’s steam railway for another nugget of literary history — it’s where the 1970 film adaptation of Edith Nesbit’s book The Railway Children was filmed!

2) Birmingham

When Brits think about holidaying at home, Birmingham has an unfair reputation as a no-go destination full of ugly buildings and industrial architecture. But the second city has much more to offer than it’s given credit for, especially for bookworms looking to discover the history behind J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world.

Fancy a stroll through the urban oasis that inspired the Shire and the Old Forest? Take a trip to Moseley Bog. Want to visit the campus Tolkien was hospitalised at during WW1? Head to the University of Birmingham and gaze upon Old Joe’s glowing clock face — the real-life inspiration behind the haunting Eye of Sauron.

As a self-proclaimed “Birmingham man”, Tolkien’s links to the city have ensured there are lots of Middle-earth sights to find in Brum. And if you can’t find the time to visit right now, you can always plan ahead and follow the Birmingham Tolkien Trail next summer, to celebrate The Lord of the Rings’ publication anniversary on 29th July!

3) Stratford-upon-Avon

Sticking to the West Midlands, the old-fashioned market town of Stratford-upon-Avon is the perfect hotspot for Shakespeare lovers to flock to. Key attractions include the Bard’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and the world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company. History buffs can also stop at Tudor World, an interactive living museum at the heart of town.

In between visits to different Shakespearean sights, we recommend scouring the bustling town centre to sample Stratford’s independent stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. On sunny days, there’s no better way to spend the afternoon than relaxing on the banks of the River Avon, or soaking up the local spirit by hopping on a boat cruise.

4) The Lake District

Famous for its rolling glens and crystal-clear water, the Lake District has served as romantic inspiration for some of England’s most iconic writers and poets. From William Wordsworth to Beatrix Potter, the Lake District’s literary trail is the perfect trip for book lovers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Immerse yourself in Wordsworth’s legacy by exploring the picturesque village of Grasmere, described by the poet as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. If you want to learn more about Wordsworth’s life, visit his museum and Dove Cottage. Or if you’re feeling inspired, escape the village centre and enjoy some nature journaling by Grasmere Lake or Helm Crag.

Bringing your little ones along for the trip? It’s not all about the poets — the Lake District’s literary roots are also closely intertwined with Beatrix Potter. Take a trip to Bowness-on-Windermere to explore the child-friendly World of Beatrix Potter Attraction and meet beloved characters like Peter Rabbit.

5) Bath

Looking for a regency-style excursion after binging Bridgerton? Head over to Bath and discover the city that inspired some of Jane Austen’s most iconic works. You can book a visit to the Jane Austen Centre to learn more about the author’s life there, or find your own Mr Darcy at the annual Regency Summer Ball.

Sunny afternoons can be spent promenading through town, enjoying a Bath bun at the Regency Tea Rooms, or taking to the waters in the city’s famous Roman baths. For a more obscure Austen experience, follow in Jane’s footsteps by escaping the city for a countryside walk through the Bathwick Fields. From the meadows, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the city that inspired Austen’s literary imagination.

And finally…

Whether you’re a fan of the classics or prefer more modern reads, the UK is blessed with countless other sites of inspiration for book lovers to explore. While these are our top picks for literary themed destinations, honourable mentions worth checking out include: Wales’ own “book town” Hay-on-Wye, the beautiful Welsh views of Dylan Thomas’ Laugharne, and Robert Burns’ idyllic Ayrshire.

And if you’re looking for even more escapism across Britain, check out Caroline Taggart’s The Book Lover’s Bucket List for a tour of literary worlds and famous sites of inspiration.

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