LET YOUR IMAGINATION DO THE TALKING AND WANDER BACK INTO THE PAGES OF LITERARY MAGIC...
1 CONISTON, LAKE DISTRICT
For a generation of readers, there are no greater heroes than the Walkers and the Blacketts – better known as Swallows and Amazons. In Arthur Ransome’s first book, the two families meet during a holiday by a Lakeland shore and take to the water to do battle – initially with each other and then with the curmudgeonly Uncle James, who has locked himself away on his houseboat. The initial book paved the way for a further 12 adventures on the high seas around Britain and further afield. The setting for Swallows and Amazons blurs two Lakeland locations together: Windermere and Coniston Water. The former has the misty islands so beloved of the poppet pirates, while the latter has the village, the woodlands and the mountain the children call “Kangchenjunga”. Climbed in Ransome's sequel volume: Swallowdale, the peak is a faintly-disguised version of the Old Man of Coniston, the proud cone which rears up above Coniston Water and the Coppermines Valley.
Bring with you: Corned beef and lemonade – or as the Swallows call it in their pirate-speak, ‘pemmican and grog’.
It might not be buzzing with airships, but the real city of Oxford has more than a little in common with the fictional version which appears in Philip Pullman’s enthralling trilogy, His Dark Materials. Golden-walled colleges, dreaming spires and the twisting waterways of the Isis, Cherwell and Oxford Canal all create a slightly otherworldly feel in the city, but your focal point is Exeter College. This was Pullman’s alma mater, and in the books it becomes Jordan College, where heroine Lyra Belacqua spends her early years causing mischief. The alternate city is mapped out in the companion book, Lyra’s Oxford. Also worth visiting are the Botanical Gardens: the bench at the far end is where Lyra and Will, trapped in two different universes, pledge to sit once a year on Midsummer’s Day to know the other is doing the same. You’ll even find their names carved on it. Heartbreaking.
Bring with you: An alethiometer. Compass-like device which helps pure-hearted people to tell truth from lies.
3 DUNLUCE CASTLE, COUNTY ANTRIM
“The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking for ever and ever on the beach.”
Cair Paravel is the ancient seat of royalty in Narnia, seen in each of CS Lewis’ novels from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to The Last Battle. It is here that Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund battle the forces of the White Witch and are crowned by Aslan, taking their places on the four thrones promised to “two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve”. The likely inspiration was Dunluce Castle, a little way west of the Giant’s Causeway on the stunning Antrim coast, between Portrush and Portballintrae. As a Belfast boy, Lewis knew the Antrim coast well; little wonder that he might have based his mystical seat of royalty on a place which itself looks ready to be awakened by ancient magic. Walk here, and trot out across the bridge to the castle’s sheer-edged headland, and you might just get the same idea.
Bring with you: Turkish delight (as used by the White Witch to bribe Edmund into betraying Aslan).
4 CORFE CASTLE, DORSET
Enid Blyton may have taken a few liberties (like making it an island), but it isn’t hard to compare the majestically rambling ruin of Corfe Castle with Kirrin, the fictional seaside idyll so adored by her Famous Five. In the first book Five on a Treasure Island, siblings Julian, Dick and Anne arrive in Kirrin to spend a week with feisty cousin George (NEVER call her Georgina) and her inquisitive mongrel Timmy, and get caught up in an adventure involving the island and its ruined castle, a shipwreck, and a missing hoard of gold. It paved the way for a further 20 adventures, all of them based in the great outdoors, but Kirrin Bay was always the favourite location, appearing in at least a dozen of the books. The real Corfe Castle was built in the 11th-century by William the Conqueror. Sitting on its own bailey hill, it was built to secure a gap in the Purbeck hills between Wareham and Swanage. Our linear walk starts in Swanage and takes in the spectacular rocky needles of Old Harry Rocks and the natural ridge of Nine Barrow Down, arriving at the castle to return using the vintage Swanage Railway.
Bring with you: Lashings of ginger beer. (Yes, we know they never actually said that, but it was impossible to resist).
5 THE THAMES, BERKSHIRE
Walk the Thames Path pretty much anywhere between Pangbourne and Cookham Dean and you’re on the trail (or perhaps tail) of Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Toad of Toad Hall. This is Wind in the Willows Country, which was the home of author Kenneth Grahame and which inspired (then took a starring role in) the stories he created to soothe his troubled son Alastair, who suffered from severe manic depression. Quarry Wood near Cookham Dean is reckoned to be the Wild Wood, “a fearsome place but for the sanctuary of Badger’s house”. The junction of the Thames and the Kennet and Avon Canal is thought to be the watersmeet shown in EH Shepard’s illustrated map of Toad’s world, and there are no fewer than four contenders for Toad Hall, each of them rising splendidly from the riverbank: Harleyford Manor, Fawley Court, Hardwick House and – perhaps most impressively – Mapledurham House. Wander past these and you may just bump into one of literature’s finest rogues. Walking is, as he might say, the only thing.
Bring with you: Cold ham, potted meat and ginger beer (again!) – eaten on picnics by Mole and Ratty.
WORDS: NICK HALLISSEY
THIS FEATURE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN COUNTRY WALKING MAGAZINE