Frank Barrett talks about his literary travels around Britain
A travel editor for 30 years, there is not much Frank Barrett doesn’t know about travelling around Britain. Now he’s combined this wealth of experience with his love for the country’s literary heritage and written Treasure Island: A Book Lover’s Tour of Britain in which he recounts his journeys in search of the spots that have inspired the classics.
He took some time to answer our questions and share his wealth of knowledge with Discover Britain.
What advice would you give a traveller setting off on a pilgrimage to their favorite author’s manor?
Do your research. Most writers have had strange and exciting lives – you will get much more out of a visit, say, to Thomas Hardy’s birthplace cottage near Dorchester if you’ve read about his life. Often the biographies about the writer are more interesting than the writer’s books!
What’s the biggest peril a traveller faces when touring Britain’s literary heritage?
Death by chocolate cake: most literary properties – especially those managed by the National Trust – have fabulous cafes and restaurants where it’s easy to go mad on the pastries…
Which writer best evokes Britishness for you and why?
Dickens is the Big Beast of British letters (Shakespeare clearly eclipses him in terms of output but there is so little about the man to get your teeth into – while Dickens is known in the most intimate detail). When the Gads Hill Museum gets going it could be a world beater.
St Ives is well-known for its glut of artists. Is there such a thing as a literary enclave in Britain. If so where and why the appeal?
The Bloomsbury Group gathered in Sussex at Charleston and Woolf’s home Monk’s Hill; Wordsworth attracted a following to Cumbria; while Coleridge exerted a similar appeal during his time in Somerset. My tip would be to head to Dymock in Herefordshire, where poets including Robert Frost, Edward Thomas and Rupert Brooke gathered – it’s been relatively untouched by tourism.
Which author’s home throws the most light on their work?
Sir Walter Scott was the first writer really to make a fortune and a worldwide reputation from his writing. His books seem a bit wordy, dry and often a bit daft today but you have to admire the house he built at Abbotsford – it’s the sort of place that film stars were to build in Hollywood a century later: a sort of temple to his greatness. Wild, wacky and wonderful.
Which provides the best overall experience for a visitor?
Agatha Christie’s home Greenway near Dartmouth in Devon is hard to beat for a day out. I’m not that keen on her books but she clearly knew how to enjoy herself.
And which is the most unusual?
T E Lawrence – ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – came to notice thanks largely to David Lean’s epic 60s movie which starred Peter O’Toole as Lawrence. His home in Clouds Hill, Dorset is bizarre and wonderful – a true one-off.
What places would you say have been most affected by their famous literary inhabitants?
Some writers have altered forever the way we see the places they wrote about: Hardy’s Wessex, for example, or Jane Austen’s Bath. But none more so than the Brontes and the Yorkshire Moors whose books have created an international tourist phenomenon.
And which writer is most synonymous with the British landscape in which they wrote?
Literature brings a lot of people to the Lake District thanks to Wordsworth, Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and John Cunliffe’s Postman Pat – but the big draw continues to be Beatrix Potter, visitors come in their droves in search of Peter Rabbit.
In 30 years as a travel writer, what British tourist spot do you keep going back to?
The Victorian diary of Rev Francis Kilvert – its discovery 70 years ago and its subsequent publication – is a publishing phenomenon. As a work of literature it is extraordinary: someone from 150 years ago sharing his daily life with acute observation and dry wit. Travel to Hay on Wye with his diary in your pocket and it will be an unforgettable adventure.