To celebrate Book Lovers’ Day we drew up up some of the best literary spots
There really is nothing quite like sitting in your favourite armchair with a cup of tea and immersing yourself in the world of an amazing book, it’s what book lovers live for.
But sometimes it’s almost as good to try to visit the locations of your favourite book to see exactly what inspired it. Because it’s Book Lovers’ Day, and we do love reading, we have compiled some of the best places to visit from the canon of classics.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes is the star of four novels and more than fifty short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Famously, Holmes lived at 221B, Baker Street, which is now a tourist trap of a museum in Marylebone. Jean Conan Doyle, Doyle’s second daughter, was unenthusiastic about the idea of the museum. She thought that it would reinforce the idea that Holmes was a real person rather than a fictional creation.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is often thought of as being the best Holmes novel. It’s the one that sees him reveal that his death at the end of the Final Problem, locked in mortal combat with Moriarty, was all smoke and mirrors. Baskervilles is largely set on the great, and spooky, uncultivated hills of Dartmoor.
It’s one of the best places in England for a hike through the wilderness. And it’s often not too difficult, but when the weather rolls in it can be dangerous (like any other hike). The hills roll gently, most topped with granite tors, while tributaries meet and grow and turn into the Rivers Dart, Erme and Avon.
The mire that surrounds Fox Tor, one of the minor moors, is said to be Doyle’s main location in Baskervilles; Grimpen Mire. The peat bog turns to swamp after rain and it will always be a menacing place, even without murder and tales of giant, supernatural hounds.
For more moors-inspired literature, take yourself off to the North York Moors to see the setting of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. In nearby Haworth, you can visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which is dedicated to the work of all three sisters and is housed in their old home.
The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
With all the magical locations in Harry Potter, it’s not the easiest for a muggle to visit them in person. How do you manage to get to Hogwarts when you can’t even get on the train?
But you can see Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross station, and it’s an absolute nightmare. Hundreds of aimlessly gawping tourists milling about by the supposed entrance, complete with a mock-up of Harry’s luggage trolley going through the barrier for pictures. The commuters passing by must wish they could apparate to work.
Many muggle-world locations were used for the films. For example, Durham Cathedral cloisters played Hogwarts’ quad, Duke Humfrey’s Library in Oxford was its library (obviously), and Leadenhall Market in London doubled for Diagon Alley.
Of course, if you want an truly immersive experience there’s always The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Los Angeles, and The Making of Harry Potter in London.
To explore more of JK Rowling’s worlds head to any small town in the West Country in England, where The Casual Vacancy is set, and Denmark Street in London, which is the site of Cormoran Strike’s office.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway is one of the world’s literary giants and Cuba was the setting for what many think is his greatest work: The Old Man and the Sea. In the years that he spent during his second stint living on the beautiful Caribbean island he suffered from terrible writer’s block, and eventually decamped to the Bahamas. Recovering from depression, he turned around the story of Santiago and the marlin in a year – and it won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The town that Santiago sets sail from is a small fishing village near the capital Havana – which hasn’t changed much since Hemingway lived there. The streets are full of vintage cabriolets, rum, mojitos and daiquiris (Hemingway’s favourite) flow freely, and people dance in the balmy streets. Hemingway’s old house has been turned into a museum that’s just a taxi ride away from the centre, complete with his own fishing boat in a dry dock.
But to find the village the Old Man and the Sea was based on may be difficult. Instead, the tiny town of Trinidad on the southern coast may serve as a surrogate. It’s full of ancient Portuguese architecture, a long strand of soft sand lapped by clear blue water and, most importantly, there’s the fisherman and their boats.
Segovia in Spain is the setting of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway’s story of the Spanish Civil War.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has its setting in perhaps one of the most romantic spots in the world. The Italian captain Antonio Corelli and the headstrong islander Pelagia fall deeply in love with each other on the Ionian island of Cephalonia during the Second World War.
Unfortunately, the course of true love never does run smooth, what with Pelagia being engaged to a member of the Greek resistance to Corelli’s occupying forces.
Cephalonia is full of hidden beaches and cliffs, and while the main town of Argostoli doesn’t have the famed whitewashed buildings of Santorini in the Cyclades, it is a terribly charming place. What better destination could there be to enjoy the relaxed Greek lifestyle with heaps of salad drenched in olive oil?
If you fancy some Greek island-hopping, Homer’s Odyssey tells of Odysseus’s attempts to reach home from the Trojan War (the site of which you can visit in Hisarlik, Turkey).
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Orwell is most famous for 1984 and Animal Farm, but people who love his writing often say that Down and Out is their favourite book. It details Orwell’s life of destitution in Paris and tramping around London, sleeping on the streets and in hostels for the homeless.
It’s thought that parts of the memoir are fictional, and Orwell even admits in the prologue that it was exaggerated. But one thing is for certain – every right-winger who misquotes 1984 should read this for a better understanding of Orwell and his socialism.
The hotel which Orwell worked in is described as being near the Place de la Concorde; the largest square in Paris. This lies at the end of the Champs-Élysées and is surrounded by opulent architecture, as well as being the site of the executions of King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre. It’s worth a visit even if you’re not hunting for literary history.
In London, the best place for Orwell to lay his head on the pavement was under the bridges of the Embankment. This is the path along the north bank of the Thames. Then, as now, it was full of restaurants and bars, made for a delightful walk with stunning views and is ten minutes walk from Trafalgar Square.
We already have one Spanish Civil War tale above, so let’s ignore Homage to Catalonia and go for the Road to Wigan Pier. Wigan is full of huge parks and museums dedicated to its industrial heritage.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Hardboiled crime stories were always full of cliché since they became popular in the 1920s; so much so that they gave rise to the term pulp fiction. But as with all genre work, it’s possible for one talented individual to take the form and raise it to art. Enter Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep.
Philip Marlowe is the heavy-smoking, hard-drinking private investigator weaving a path through the corruption on both sides of the law in Los Angeles (I did mention the clichés). He takes a gig to investigate a blackmailing and ends up in a confusing world, over which he has no control over and that is full of gunshots, squealing tires, kidnappings, sex, and a femme fatale.
It’s set in the sleazy world of thirties Los Angeles. Many of the locations have disappeared under concrete – although it is unlikely that the sleaze has. It is a novel where everything was based on real places. It is almost possible to trace a map of thirties LA from it.
For example, Marlowe tracks a pornographer, posing as a run-of-the-mill book lender, from his shop on Highland Avenue, just off Hollywood Boulevard to Orchid Avenue and up into Hollywood Heights. If you were to track Marlowe on a visit to LA, you would glimpse almost everything there is to see.
Chandler’s books are mostly set in LA, but if you want to see the scuzzy underbelly of Edinburgh, you could do much worse than trace the footsteps of Ian Rankin’s detective Rebus. If Rankin makes a mistake in describing the bars and cafes of the Scottish capital, the owners have been known to add the details themselves.
Additional reporting by David Szmidt