We are leaving next week for our first overseas adventure to Great Britain. We will be staying in London, Edinburgh, and the Cotswolds and exploring from each. The history, the culture, and the scenery are so rich! Many of the images in my mind of Britain are based on literature. The destinations and experiences that I am most anticipating all revolve around literature (with one exception – see footnote *).
My earliest exposure to Great Britain came from Richard Scarry and Winnie the Pooh. As a child, I would flip through “Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World.” For some reason, the double decker bus and the beefeater in front of the castle have imprinted on my brain stronger than any of the others. Even though this author was American, he peaked my intersest in London. My grandmother would read to me from the faded yellow, old, hardcover, black and white version of Winnie the Pooh. The 100 Acre Wood seemed like such a wonderful place. I can’t wait to visit Ashdown Forest, Milne’s inspiration for the Wood, and play Poohsticks!
The London of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may no longer exist, but I will still be able to relive the stories as I walk through the same streets as Pip, Bob Cratchet, and Sherlock Holmes. In Oxfordshire we can visit the settings of the “Wind and the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame: the Thames River and Fawley Court (a.k.a. Toad Hall).
Since my early teens, my favorite genre of literature has been fantasy. Great Britain is unparalleled in its contribution to fantasy literature. The trio of C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rawling, and J.R.R. Tolkien are in my opinion the best fantasy authors, with Tolkien being my favorite. The mythical lands where these authors lead us are in my mind vivid and real. Taking a C.S. Lewis tour in Cambridge, ordering from the pub where the Inklings met, and visiting his home, The Kilns, are a must (Is there a wardrobe in the attic?!). When we leave the London train station for Rawling’s hometown of Edinburgh, I will certainly look for Platform 9 3/4 and imagine we are riding the Hogwart’s Express.
Our last stop will be the Cotswolds, where J.R.R. Tolkien walked trails through the towns and countryside, and where The Shire, the home of hobbits, was based. There is a self-lead Tolkien trail that leads you along some of his favorite hikes. The rolling hills, the villages unchanged for centuries, and the thatched roof houses await. With early morning dew still on the grass or even in the rain, I will follow his footsteps and imagine Bilbo and Gandalf blowing smoke rings into the sky. I will make sure to visit the St. Andrew’s Church in Stow on Wold which was the inspiration for the Gates to Moria and speak “mellon.”
Great Britain has a rich history predating the Romans and the founding of Londinium. It has beautiful landscapes and vibrant culture. These will all be appreciated, but to me, Great Britain’s literature has the strongest pull. When we return, I hope to share photos of each of these places.
* We are huge Monty Python fans and plan to approach the Doune Castle in Scotland clip-clopping with coconut shells.