Five literary landmarks of the countryside

 The countryside of Britain has been inspiring writers for centuries, with its tumbling valleys, sparkling lakes, golden beaches and shadowy forests. Tiffany Francis explores a collection of landmarks in the hidden corners of Britain, stirring the creative minds of poets and writers throughout history.

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1. Godrevy Lighthouse, West Cornwall 

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Sitting defiantly in the bay of St Ives, this happy, white lighthouse was known to be the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s classic modernist novel, To the Lighthouse. As a child, Woolf spent many glorious summers in a St Ives guesthouse with sea views before her life took a darker path into adulthood. Like James in the novel, her brother Adrian was forbidden to visit the lighthouse, which still stands today warning ships of the perilous Stones reef.  

“She felt…how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.”

 (Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse)

It is best seen from Godrevy beach, which is owned by the National Trust, and boasts a jolly colony of seals, a quaint tearoom and excellent surfing waves. 

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2. Jamaica Inn, North Cornwall

 Castaway upon a lonesome stretch of Bodmin Moor, this 18th century coaching house has been named one of the most haunted places in Britain, and was the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel of the same name. The young authoress had been riding on the moors, and became lost in a sudden surge of thick fog. Seeking refuge at the inn, she heard tales of ancient smugglers and ghost stories, prompting her to write a story full of murderous rogues and treasure-seekers. 

 “There was a silence on the tors that belonged to another age; an age that is past and vanished as though it had never been, an age when man did not exist, but pagan footsteps trod upon the hills. And there was a stillness in the air, and a stranger, older peace, that was not the peace of God.”

 (Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn)

Today, the inn is still open as a hotel and restaurant, surrounded by the beautiful but ominous landscape of the moors.

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3. The Brontë Stone Chair, West Yorkshire

The Brontë sisters are infamous for their supposedly desolate lifestyles, growing up in a remote parsonage with few people to interact with. Yet, as sisters they had fulfilling childhoods playing together against the backdrop of the stunning, raw and hostile Yorkshire moors, speckled with greenery and rich in wildlife. The Stone Chair is a large, rock-shaped seat, said to be a favourite spot for the sisters to tell each other fragments of their wild, romantic and tragic tales.

“With the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly…that was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness: mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above.”

(Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights)

The Brontë’s childhood home, Haworth House, is run by the Brontë Society and lies in the remote village of Haworth, 30 miles from Leeds.

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4. Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Constructed magnificently and mysteriously some thousands of years ago, Stonehenge has been an inspiration for art, literature and religion for centuries. For Thomas Hardy, he used it as the final resting place, bathed in the glowing rays of morning sunlight, for his tragic and beloved English heroine, Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Hardy’s adoration for Wessex and the south of England oozes from his novels, but for Tess, the wisdom and stability of this ancient structure provides her with one final sanctuary, before she leaves for the cruel realities of the modern world.

“’It is Stonehenge…Older than the centuries; older than the d’Urbervilles!’…
The uniform concavity of black cloud was lifting bodily like the lid of a pot, letting in at the earth’s edge the coming day, against which the towering monoliths and trilithons began to be blackly defined.”

(Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles)

Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site, and visitors can view it from a short distance in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.

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5. Tintern Abbey, Wales

Situated along the banks of the River Wye, the crumbling beauty of this 12th century abbey has touched artists, poets and architects alike. Perhaps one of Wordsworth’s most famous and serene poems, Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, rejoices in his return to the abbey after five years absence, describing the healing and tranquilising powers of the surrounding landscape.  For Wordsworth and the Romantic poets of the 18th century, the peaceful beauty of the countryside provided an escape from industrial Britain, and the violence of the French Revolution.

“Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
Which on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.”

(William Wordsworth, Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey)

Tintern Abbey is open to the public between March – October. 

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