We already know that York is famous for its Viking and Roman roots, but did you know that this...
Devon, with its historic cities and breath-taking natural landscapes, has inspired the great and the good of the literary canon for centuries.
Whether they were born here or simply holidayed here, these giants of British literature – from Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie and Michal Morpurgo – were all touched by the magic of this wonderful county.
There are scores of author associations to discover, and we’ve brought some of our favourites links with the places from between the pages.
Broodingly beautiful Dartmoor inspired celebrated author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write one of his most famous Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Whilst researching the book, Conan Doyle stayed in Princetown, which directly features in the novel. It’s believed that a local legend on the moors directly influenced the tale: the story goes that a local squire named Richard Cabell, of Buckfastleigh, had a reputation for villainy, and that, when he died in the late 17th century, a pack of fire-breathing black dogs were seen running across the moors, howling as they went.
Cabell’s home, Brook Manor near Buckfastleigh, is widely believed to be the location of Baskerville Hall, perhaps taking its fictional name from a corruption of the nearby town’s own.
Furthermore, the eerie beauty of what is almost certainly Bellever Tor is also described in the book:
“Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a grey, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream.”
Though Beatrix Potter is known for her association with the Lake District, in 1905 she spent a holiday in Lyme Regis, along with her pet mouse Hunca Munca and Mrs. Tiggy-winkle the hedgehog.
Whilst enjoying the sunny weather there, Potter created a sketch of one of the town’s pretty and famously steep streets; this would later go on to become one of the illustrations depicting the fictional town of Stymouth in The Tale of Little Pig Robinson. This story itself was actually first conceived whilst the author was staying in Ilfracombe some years before, so Devon is truly at the heart of the story’s creation. The tale recounts the adventures of a plucky, little pig who must escape from the clutches of a ship’s crew before they make him into dinner.
One of the South West’s most celebrated daughters, famous around the globe for her crime novels, Dame Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890.
Dame Agatha actually used Devon locations in fifteen of her books, including Churston Station and the pretty Elberry Cove, both of which appear in The ABC Murders. The prehistoric cave, Kents Cavern in Torquay, is also thought to have inspired Hempsley Cavern in The Man in the Brown Suit.
The author later bought Greenway, a stunning house and estate that looks over the River Dart, which is now managed by the National Trust.
A bust of Christie stands near the harbourside in Torquay, in celebration of the remarkable career of the town’s most famous resident.
Jane Austen’s very first novel, Sense and Sensibility, is set in fictional Barton, which is, in reality, the Devon village of Upton Pyne.
Research into the novel has led to the belief that Woodrow Barton farmhouse is the likeliest location for the Dashwood family’s home, called, in the story, Barton Cottage. Pynes, a beautiful, Grade II-listed stately home nearby, is also thought to have been the inspiration for Austen’s Barton Park.
In the novel, the marriage of Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars took place in Upton Pyne’s quaint church.
Fancy channelling some Austen romance in your very own historic residence nearby? Check out our beautiful Barton Castle property.
The famous Romantic Poet, S.T. Coleridge was born in 1772 at the Devon vicarage of Ottery St Mary, where his father served as reverend. He spent his early life here and often wandered along the banks of the nearby River Otter.
His poem, In Frost at Midnight, gives tribute to his childhood home: ‘my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower, / Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang / From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day, / So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me / With a wild pleasure’. A plaque honouring Coleridge can be found on the churchyard wall.
Dickens had a deep love for Devon, especially the area around Exeter, which he once described as “the most beautiful [city] in this most beautiful of English counties.”
His parents lived in a property called Mile End Cottage in Alphington for several years. He wrote the opening chapters of Nicholas Nickleby there, and a plaque to celebrate this can nowadays be found on the wall of the house.
Morpurgo’s epic story, War Horse, is set in the rural town of Iddesleigh on Dartmoor. It was at a local pub, the Duke of York, that Morpurgo supposedly listened to the tales of WWI veterans, who revealed that local horses were rounded up for the war effort and that only one was to miraculously survive and return to the town, all of which planted the seed for the story that’s known and loved worldwide today.
Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor was written in 1869, and took the Victorian literary world by storm, with its tale of feuding families, passionate love and bloodthirsty murder, forever earning the beautiful part of Devon in which it is set the name ‘Lorna Doone Country’. At the heart of the ‘Doone Valley’ or Badgworthy Valley, amid the moors, lies the small hamlet of Malmsmead.
Various locations in the hamlet are linked to the novel, including Oare Church, where the author, R. D. Blackmore’s grandfather was once rector, and where an iconic murder attempt dramatically unfolds in the novel.
To discover more about the landscape that has become so synonymous with the beautiful heroine of Blackmore’s book, take a wander along the South West Coast Path’s Lorna Doone Walk route.
Whilst it’s true that Dorset is synonymous with the fictional county of Wessex that featured across his novels, several of his Wessex locations also coincide with the geography of Devon. Four of his novels, Jude the Obscure, The Trumpet Major, A Pair of Blue Eyes and The Woodlanders, feature the city of Exeter, which Hardy renames Exonbury.
Hardy is also connected to Devon in several other ways. His first wife, Emma, was from Plymouth and it was whilst he was passing through the city’s railway station on New Year’s Eve 1873 that he spotted a billboard advertisement for the first instalment of Far From the Madding Crowd in the Cornhill Magazine – a copy of which he bought, walking to Plymouth Hoe in order to read it.
After soaking up your inspirational surroundings, why not curl up with a good book in one of our Devon cottages?
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