Britain’s best poetry walks

Walk in the footsteps of some of Britain’s greatest poets and discover the landscapes that inspired their famous works – from Wordsworth's Lake District to Austen's Hampshire.

Sunlit valley and hillwalker; English Lake District, U.K

World Poetry Day is an annual celebration that inspires people worldwide to enjoy, discover and share poems. Here is our guide to the poets that were inspired by the British countryside, plus our pick of the best poetry walks.

Christopher Marlowe, ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his Love’

Christopher Marlowe was a 16th Century English playwright and poet. Born in 1564 in Canterbury, the poet was at the forefront of the English Renaissance and is said to have paved the way for other well-known poets and writers, notably Shakespeare.

Advertisement
Sheep grazing with beams blasting through the cloud cover.
Sheep grazing with beams blasting through the cloud cover.

Inspired by the British landscape, the pastoral poem; ‘The Passionate Shepherd to his Love’ describes a highly idealised countryside spring scene. In the poem, a love-struck shepherd urges his love to come and live in the countryside with him. Published in 1599 when Marlowe lived in urban surroundings, it is likely that other urban dwellers of the era would have fanaticised about a romantic countryside life spent in nature. The undertone of the poem hints at the truth that life in the countryside was in fact far from idyllic.

For more information on Christopher Marlowe, visit the Marlowe Society

Langdon Beck, North Pennines Global Geopark, County Durham

Matthew Arnold ‘Dover Beach’

whitecliffsofdover-494b4e2
The White Cliffs of Dover, sheer chalk cliffs on the coast of East Sussex, viewed from the air/Credit: Getty

The White Cliffs of Dover and coastal landscape inspired poet Matthew Arnold to write the lyrical poem Dover Beach.  A melancholic poem that links the sea to feelings of sadness, Arnold invokes feelings of loneliness.

Listen to Tom O’Bedlam reading ‘Dover Beach’

Thomas Hardy, ‘Wessex Heights’

One of the most influential poets of the Victorian era, Thomas Hardy lived in Dorset for most of his life, first at Higher Brockhampton (in what is now known as Hardy’s Cottage) and later just three miles away at Max Gate. Hardy designed Max Gate himself, constructing his third study with large windows without mullions so that he had clear view of the seasonal changes in the garden.

wiltshirecountryside-569efa8
Chalk landscape view to Lansdowne monument, Cherhill, North Wessex Downs, Wiltshire/Credit: Getty
Much of his writing is inspired by countryside, with the rolling Dorset hills providing inspiration for his popular fiction ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and Wessex for his poem‘Wessex Heights’ in which Hardy reflects on his life and lost loves in the English countryside.

Listen to a reading by actor Richard Burton here

Visit the Thomas Hardy Society for more information

Thomashardybirthplace-8dd8cd7
Birthplace of Thomas Hardy, Dorset, near Dorchester. English poet and novelist 1840-1928/Credit: Getty

Dylan Thomas, ‘Fern Hill’

fernhillfarmdylanthomas-9498c35
Fern Hill Farm, Dylan Thomas’s poetry inspiration and childhood haunt Llangain, Carmarthenshire, Wales/Credit: Alamy

Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, South Wales. Written in 1945, the poem ‘Fern Hill’ describes childhood visits to his aunt Annie’s farm, Fern Hill Farm, in Carmarthenshire where he often spent his school holidays. The poem shares happy memories and the inevitable loss of the innocence of youth. Follow the Dylan Thomas trail and walk in his footsteps

DylanThomas-275c35b
Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914 – 1953), Welsh poet, short-story writer and playwright./Credit: Getty

Listen to Dylan Thomas performing his poem ‘Fern Hill’


Best poetry walks in the UK

Wordsworth walks in the Lake District

The Lake District boasts many connections to William Wordsworth. There are many great ways to explore the landscape that inspired this great novelist and poet. This venerable Wasdale Head Inn, hidden within the valleys and mountains of the Cumbria, is as good a starting point as any. Find out what inspired these great writers with a five-mile walk

Scafell Pike and Wastwater in Wasdale Valley, Lake District, Cumbria ©Getty
Scafell Pike and Wastwater in Wasdale Valley, Lake District, Cumbria ©Getty

The English romantic poet also penned the poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ or ‘Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ in 1798. Inspired by the derelict abbey, which sits on the banks of the River Wye in Monmouthshire, the poem reflects on the power nature has to heal and nurture the human spirit.

Tintern-abbey
The dramatic ruins of Tintern Abbey in Wales (Getty)

Wordsworth work was greatly influenced by the countryside and his autobiographic poem The Prelude in his twenties and worked on it throughout his life. Published in 1850 it recalls his happy childhood at his family home in Cockermouth, Cumbria, now owned by the National Trust and called Wordsworth House.

Over the course of a prolific poetic career, Wordsworth also produced a tourist handbook, A Guide through the District of the Lakes, which provides a geographical background to his poems and biography.

Enjoy an easy walk to Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley

Poet’s Walk, Clevedon, Somerset

View of the Victorian pier at Clevedon in Somerset, UK. As well as providing access for promenaders it is still used as a landing stage in summer for passengers embarking on trips around the coastline and across the Bristol Channel to South Wales
Clevedon Pier stretches out into the Severn Estuary ©Getty

An area said to have inspired Tennyson and Coleridge, Poet’s Walk can be completed in a circular route along the coast and through woodland. The path also takes you over Church Hill and Wains Hill, an Iron Age hill fort. Enjoy far reaching views of Clevedon town and its Grade 1 listed pier, the Severn Estuary and on a clear day, the Welsh coast.

 Poets Paths, Dymock, Gloucestershire

The countryside surrounding Dymock was the stomping ground of a group of romantic poets including Robert Frost, Edward Thomas and Wilfrid Gibson. In 1990 a descendant of Edward Thomas opened two Poets Paths that start at the village and, over eight miles, pass by the poets’ homes. The poets also have connections to May Hill and the Malvern Hills, which are easily reachable via connecting paths.

 Shakespeare’s way, Warwickshire

GettyImages-472100689-2-4c1aa6f
This long distance path links Stratford upon Avon to London ©Getty

This route of bridle paths and country lanes is said to roughly echo the route that Shakespeare may have taken when travelling between his home in Stratford- Upon-Avon and his Globe Theatre in London. In its entirety the trail covers a grand 146 miles. Walkers will pass close to the Rollright Stones and through the Cotswolds, Blenheim Park, the Chiltern Hills and the Thames Valley. Find out more about the Shakespeares Way.

Keats’ Walk, Winchester, Hampshire

Visit the landscape that is said to have inspired the romantic poet John Keats’ Ode to Autumn, which was written during his stay in the city in 1819. Keats’ Walk runs from the city to St Cross, and follows the paths he took on his daily walks, past the cathedral and through the water meadows.

The South Downs, Sussex

South20Downs-01cd32e
The landscape surrounding the South Downs Way has inspired many poets ©Getty

Described in poems by Algernon Swinburne, Hilaire Belloc and Rudyard Kipling, the “green, smooth-swelling, unending” South Downs have been called the “great hills of the south country.” Follow the 100-mile South Downs Way through countryside and along the coast, or explore the history, wildlife and villages that make up the landscape. Explore a short section of this long distance trail with a walk along the Cuckmere River.

The Elwy Valley, Denbigshire, North Wales

Unpublished until after his death, 19th-century poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of the beauty of the Welsh landscape in his poem In the Valley of the Elwy. The AA’s With the Poet to Mynydd y Gaer takes you from Llannefydd village and over one of the Clwyds hills, with views of the Elwy Valley and the Afon Elwy along the way.

 DH Lawrence walk, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire

Portrait of novelist D H Lawrence
Although D H Lawrence is better known for his novels, his first works were poems ©Getty

This six-mile walk around East Midlands countryside covers ground that inspired the poems of D.H Lawrence, who lived in the area. The route runs from Colliers Wood nature reserve through farmland and hills to the ruins of a 14th-century priory. A museum dedicated to the writer is located in nearby Eastwood, where a short D H Lawrence trail takes you through landmarks of his life. Find out more about the walk.

John Clare walks, Helpston, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

There are many popular walks near the village of Helpston that are connected to John Clare and the time he spent living in the area. Explore the Swaddywell walk that takes in his favourite places, such as Oxey Wood where it is said he listened to bird song, or the Heath Hills and Holes walk that passes Southorpe Meadow and Walcot Hall. Find out more about walks in Clare Country.

Jane Austen walk, Hampshire

St Nicholas Church nestled amongst the trees on the Chawton House parkland, Hampshire, UK
Stevenson in Hampshire was Austen’s home for the first 25 years of her life ©Getty
Advertisement

A 4.5mile walk takes you from Chawton, near Alton, to Farringdon, passing points of interest relating to Jane Austen’s life in Hampshire. Starting at Chawton, where she spent her last few years, follow a disused railway line and tree lined paths to the village of Farringdon, which she often visited. There is also a shorter Jane Austen Trail, which takes you from Alton High Street to Chawton. Find out more about the landscapes that inspired Jane Austen’s work.