I have, for as long as I can remember, been fascinated by books. As I child, I delighted in picture books and encyclopaedias; as a teenager they helped me through some difficult times. As I grew up, I found kindred spirits and writers who could help me define my own ideas. I have always been able to retreat into solitude of a book. I don’t mean just novels: any subject, any genre. I love science books and poetry books; history books and atlases. As I child I had some collections of fascinating facts, that I would learn and recite at family gatherings, to the eager delight of everyone present, which, I can tell you from experience, looks a lot like bored irritation. I have recently discovered graphic novels, which I snootily eschewed as comic books for years but have recently become fascinated by.
I remember family holidays and visiting the homes of famous writers. I remember seeing the desks, studies and libraries of writers and my fascination with books and with authors increased. Even today, whenever I am travelling, the books of choice are always those associated with the area I’m travelling through. I read Dylan Thomas in Wales; Wordsworth in Cumbria, Emily Bronte in Yorkshire. I’ve always done this; it gives me an idea of place, landscape and how the literature fits into it. And the fascination with writers does seem to be one that fascinates a lot of people. Why this should be, I have no idea. There are some museums dedicated to artists a few to musicians but hundreds of writers’ houses. As well as pubs they visited, hotels they stayed in, churches they were baptised, married or buried in. there seems to be a deep fascination with the written word, perhaps because it is art form in which we can easily access the influence of nature on someone’s thoughts and ideas.
There is clearly a special connection between writers and place. Landscape has a direct influence over writing and, occasionally writing can influence landscape. The Lake District has been altered by tourism since the Romantics saw it as the ideal refuge from the rapid industrialisation of cities. Today, the study of literature and the environment is an important discipline at universities and students are being made aware of environmental impact and change through the study of the literature of the past and the development of the written word. The study of place has become as important as gender or race in the study of literary texts and some theorists even speculate that lessons can be learnt from literature that can be used to improve environmental practices and attitudes today.
A book I used to own and regularly thumb through was called ‘Literary Britain’ (or something similar). It was a guide to all these places. Not a boring list of places associated with obscure writers but a fascinating, illustrated guide to the homes of the writers I loved. It was packaged with beautiful photographs and extracts from their famous works. Recently, I tried to find it online, so put this term into a well-known internet search engine. No results came back. None at all. I was either dreaming it or it has become so rare that it cannot be found anywhere. So it was, over lunch in a very nice café in Haworth, that I mentioned to Mrs P that I would like to travel around some of the places that fascinate me and write some of my thoughts, perhaps reviewing the pubs and hotels we stayed at along the way. She was supportive and even enthusiastic about the idea, mainly because we had recently visited the Parsonage Museum gift shop and she realised that there would be shopping opportunities.
I have used ‘Britain’ purely as a geographical, and in no way a political, designation. I have travelled extensively throughout England and Wales and have done some travelling in Scotland too, so I write mostly about these places. I would dearly love to visit Ireland, particularly Dublin and Sligo. I would like future travels to take in our near neighbours and to discover northern France, Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia. The only thing constraining me to this country is cost. Had I more money, I would love to follow Byron on the grand tour, discover Hemingway in America, drive down the West coast after Steinbeck and discover Dylan Thomas to New York. The world has a vast literary heritage just waiting to be discovered.