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  • Wuthering Heights

    On such bleak and blustery days, a cure for February blues might well be to stride off across the moors. And where more romantic than the setting of Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights?  

    Fay Godwin, Top Withens

    The book is as strange and wild as the landscape but it has captured the hearts of many readers with its tortured, passionate hero and doomed romance.  Striding out on the moors above Haworth lets you feel it.  

    A ruined farm, Top Withens, is thought to be the inspiration for Heathcliff's home. Nobody has lived there since the 1920s.  A plaque on the wall from the Bronte Society notes that the building does not resemble Heathcliff's house in layout but says that Emily Bronte may have had it in mind 'when she wrote of the moorland setting of the heights.'

    The paths above Haworth are well trodden and signposted, even in Japanese.  But don't let that put you off.  Start or end with a visit to the Bronte's parsonage home in the town.  Now a museum, the house is laid out as it would have been when Emily lived there with her sisters Charlotte and Anne. 

    Take the OS map 21 for detailed trails, but a good place to start the walk is at the Penistone Hill Country Park car park on Moorside Lane, a little road between Stanbury and Oxenhope.   Take the track from the car park and follow the signs to Drop Farm and Top Withens. Cross a shallow stream on stepping stones before climbing up to the ruins of Top Withens and the Pennine Way.  

    After Top Withens, take the Bronte Way, following sign to the waterfall, a favourite walk of the Bronte sisters.  Go through the gate to get close. Fast flowing after heavy rains, it can be just a tickle in summer.  Cross over Bronte Bridge and follow the path back to the road, turning right to reach the car park.  

    Back in Haworth, there are plenty of places for a hot cup of tea and an eccles cake. The town is steeply cobbled and charming.

    Distance for the whole thing: about 6 miles.  Can be muddy.  Take good shoes and protective gear for unpredictable changes in weather.

     

     

     

  • Bah Humbug!

    Track down the secrets of Dickens’ London with this Christmas Carol walk: from the Inns of Court where Dickens worked, to the City of London, where Scrooge famously learnt his lessons of kindness and Christmas spirit.

    Bah Humbug!  If you aren't in the festive spirit, then perhaps a walk in the fresh air will blow away the cobwebs and get you back in the mood.  London is rich territory for exploring.  And Charles Dickens, as one of London's greatest writers, wove the streets and people of London into his stories.  

    And what better story to revisit at this time of year than Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

    Explore the alleyways and passages of the City of London with Ebenezer Scrooge in mind.  With a good walk behind you, pull up a stool by a warm fire with a mulled wine or mince pie in hand in one of London's oldest pubs.  

    Anyway, here it is.........the Adventure Walks Christmas Carol Walk

     

    Walk Start: Temple Tube station

    Turn left as you leave Temple station, climb the steps and turn right on Temple Place. Cut into Temple Gardens and come out the other end, on the left hand path.

    Head up the narrow Milford Lane, and follow the way up steeply worn steps to Essex Street.

    At Devereux Court take a right, and pass through the black gates to Temple, the home of Barristers at Law since the fourteenth century.**  To your right is Fountain Court, described in Dickens’ novel Martin Chuzzlewit.  Look for the plaque by the fountain.

    Walk on, past the tudor Middle Temple Hall, where Shakespeare first performed Twelfth Night to Queen Elizabeth I.  Keep going straight on and through the archway.  Turn left into an open courtyard to Temple Church, one of London’s most historic churches, home of the 12th Century Knights Templar.  It is also one of London's few entirely round buildings. 

    Take the narrow passage up the left side of Temple Church, called Inner Temple Lane and walk out through the ancient wooden gateway onto Fleet Street.

    Turn right and walk along Fleet Street until you reach Salisbury Court on your right. Cut down here, looking for the plaque to Samuel Pepys.

    Take the first left into St Bride’s Avenue and take a peep in this beautiful church. Its tiered steeple is said to have inspired a nearby baker to make the first tiered Wedding Cake.

    Follow the path round the front of the church and straight on past The Old Bell Pub. Turn right at the bottom into Bride Lane and follow it round to the main road, past the Bridewell Theatre.

    Cross the main road at the lights to the right and take the small side turning Stonecutter Street. Climb the giant staircase straight ahead and down again, to Apothecary Street and the old Apothecaries’ Hall.

     

    Turn left along Blackfriars Lane. At the junction of little roads, turn right into Carter Lane and meander along for a while enjoying the narrow lanes off to the side. Turn left up Deans Court and out to St Paul’s Cathedral.

    Cross the road to admire the Cathedral close up. Walk alongside the Cathedral, with it on your left. Cross over New Change and turn left, then right, down Watling Street. Take a left into Bow Lane to St Mary Le Bow church famous for its Bow bells: being born in earshot of these bells makes someone a true cockney.

    Turn right on Cheapside and walk all the way to Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. In Dickens’ day, the Lord Mayor ‘gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor should.’

    Carry on past the grand front of the building and cross Lombard Street to the Royal Exchange. Climb up the steps to the pillared portico and head inside. No longer a place where city deals are done, it is now full of luxury shops. The Royal Exchange is where the last of the Christmas Spirits took Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.   Here he hears bankers and traders dismissively chatting about his death.

    Walk straight out of the far side of the Exchange on to Royal Exchange Walk. Turn right and then left onto Cornhill, where Scrooge had his Counting House. Cross the road.

    Walk down here as far as St Michael’s Court on your right. In the story, St Michael’s Church is  the most likely church whose ‘gruff old bell was always peeping slyly down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window’.

    Wiggle your way down the narrow alley, alongside the church, passing the Old Jamaica Wine House, London’s first coffee house, dating back to 1652.

    Look out for Simpsons Tavern in Ball Court, where Scrooge might have enjoyed a ‘melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern’. Turn left along the side of the churchyard to the end and bear left and then right down some steps, through a passageway into Corbet Court which opens into Gracechurch Street.

    Cross over Gracechurch Street into the Victorian splendour of Leadenhall Market, where Bob Cratchit would have run to get his Christmas turkey.

    Head back to Gracechurch Street and turn left to Monument Tube station at the far end before heading home.

     

    ** At weekends the entrances to the Inns of Temple are closed except for one on Tudor Street. To get here, follow the passage around Devereux Court and onto Fleet Street, alongside the George Pub. Then turn right down Fleet Street and eventually turn right on Bouverie Street, then right on Temple Lane, following it round to the Temple gateway on Tudor Street. Cross the car park and head straight towards a building with a large clock and weathervane on top. Take the alleyway to the right to cut through into Elm Court. Walk straight across and through the arch to get to Fountain Court. Explore as you like and pick up the walk from point 3. Although the gates are shut at the weekend it is possible to exit from any of the closed entrances.

    Even better...

    Afterwards take the kids to see the fabulous Jim Broadbent's Christmas Carol at the Noel Coward theatre till the 30th January.....

  • Landscapes in Children's Literature: The Arthur Trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland

    Children's author and poet, Kevin Crossley-Holland  creates intriguingly compelling and atmospheric backdrops to his stories often setting them in places that he knows and loves. The haunting ghost story Storm and the gripping Waterslain Angels  explore the mysterious marshlands near his home on the North Norfolk coast. Here he reveals the secret landscapes of the Welsh Borders that he evocatively re-imagined for his Carnegie Medal winning Arthur Trilogy and tempts us to discover them for ourselves...

    When we reached the top of the hill, my father pointed to the west.

    'Over there,' he said, 'beyond the Vale of Aylesbury and the city of Oxford, beyond the Cotswolds... are the Marches and ancient mountains of Wales. Can you see them?' 

    Of course I couldn't. They were well over a hundred miles away. And yet, in my mind's eye, I could.

    That's how my childhood was. A blend of the present and the past, a mix of the actual and the imaginary.

    When I wrote my Arthur Trilogy, I soon realised that my hero was in a state of in-between: in between childhood and adulthood, in between an oral and literary culture, in between centuries, in between the actuality of day-to-day life and the stories of King Arthur in his seeing stone, and sometimes at odds with a strongly structured society in which he is growing up because of his more egalitarian instincts and reflective self.

    That was when I decided that The Seeing Stone must be set in a crossing-place, and one that reflected the Celtic origins of the Arthurian legends.

    So my wife Linda and I set off for the borders of England and Wales and began to explore. You know the way in which you don't quite know what you're looking for until you find it? It was like that with our discovery of the fortified medieval manor house at Stokesay in Shropshire.

    I made repeated visits to it, I looked at it, and heard it; I smelt it and ran my fingers along its rough walls; yes, I got to know every nook and cranny, and Linda and I explored the secret landscape surrounding it. And so the day came, during a snowstorm in Minnesota, when I began to re-invent it as my Caldicot. 

    For three days, I drew and coloured a detailed field-map – complete with the cottages and crofts on Sir John de Caldicot's manor, the archery butts and hives and the pigsty, the orchard and the well and the windmill and the copper beech, all of them to feature in The Seeing Stone and its successor, At the Crossing-Places and King of the Middle March.

     The Arthur trilogy ranges widely through the Middle March. Arthur de Caldicot buys a horse at Quabbs; he visits Clunbury and Clun; he meets scribes at Wenlock Priory.

    And on the last night of the twelfth centuary, he stands on top of Tumber Hill beside a huge bonfire, its heart brighter and darker than anything he has ever seen, and looks out and about:

    Away north, I could see fires burning at Wart Hill and Woolston and Black Knoll and Prior's Holt. To the south I saw fires at Brandhill and Downton-on-the-Rock, Leintwardine Manor and far Stormer; and away to the south-west, there was a ninth fire, so far off that it kept blinking, white and cold and uncertain of itself, like a fallen star. My father said he thought this fire was at Stanage, or else Stow Hill.

    Nine fires and our own fire, roaring and crackling. But away west in front of us, the was nothing but a mask of darkness – Pike Forest and the wilderness of Wales.'

     Soon after writing these words, I had an idea. I could base the manors and castles visited by Arthur de Caldicot on actual medieval sites and ruins. Holt and Verdon and Gortanore and Catmole...

    I've been wondering: can you identify these places and then visit them for yourselves? So that you too, like Arthur de Caldicot, and like this author, have one foot in the present and one in the past, one in the actual and most beautiful Welsh Marches, and one in the imaginary world of my trilogy. 

    Kevin Crossley-Holland 

     

    A good place to start to look for the fictionalised places Kevin set his Arthur Trilogy would be to walk a section of Offa's Dyke Path.  This 177 mile (285 Km) long walking trail is named after, and often follows, the spectacular Dyke King Offa ordered to be constructed in the 8th century, probably to divide his Kingdom of Mercia from rival kingdoms in what is now Wales

    The Trail, which was opened in the summer of 1971, links Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow on the banks of the Severn estuary with the coastal town of Prestatyn on the shores of the Irish sea. It passes through no less than eight different counties and crosses the border between England and Wales over 20 times. The Trail explores the tranquil Marches (as the border region is known) and passes through the Brecon Beacons National Park on the spectacular Hatterrall Ridge. In addition it links no less than three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the Wye Valley, the Shropshire Hills and the Clwydian Range / Dee Valley.

      www.nationaltrail.co.uk/offas-dyke-path/information

  • Great Expectations in the Wild Marshes of Kent

    Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea... the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.  

    Chapter One, Great Expectations

    The bleakly romantic landscape of the Hoo Peninsula was very familiar to Charles Dickens.  As a young boy, he lived in Chatham until his family moved to London when he was aged 11.  With his later writing success, he bought a fine country house at Gad' Hill Place in nearby Higham.  The story is that he would often admire Gad's Hill when he was out walking with his father  as a boy.  He father said that if he worked hard in life, he might one day be able to own it.  And Charles Dickens did just that.  

    Dickens loved walking: he walked most days, whenever he could, usually 12 miles a day at a fast pace, in all weathers.  He once walked from London to Gad's Hill overnight; he was often seen striding through the Kent countryside or the streets of London and he wrote a book about his night walks in the city.  On holidays, he would sometimes take his family of ten children on picnics to Cooling and the marshes.  They would have known St James' Church with its 13 forlorn gravestones.  The little lozenge shaped graves of the young children of two 18th century families was the inspiration for the setting of the opening scene of Great Expectations, where Pip comes face to face with the convict Magwitch.

    The little church is on the edge of the marshes, the edge of nowhere.  The landscape is Magwitch's spiritual haunt.  The fierce convict would have escaped from one of the great hulk prison ships, moored along the Thames, just off the Kent marshes.  To ease overcrowding in London's prisons, Parliament decreed in 1776 that old merchant ships and Navy vessels should be turned into floating prisons. The first hulks were moored off the deserted marshes at Woolwich, and before long hulk after hulk lined the river, the ships hanging with rotten rigging.  Prisoners were put to work dredging the river and digging canals.  Conditions were horrendous.  Convicts were chained at the waist and ankles and were often flogged or thrown into a 'black hole' as punishment.  Many of them were awaiting news of their fate: to be sent to the colonies in Australia or the Americas.  Magwitch was one such convict.   Pip's encounter with him in the graveyard is one of the most terrifying dramatic moments in literature:

    “Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!” 

    Once you've visited the church, set off for a walk across the marshes.  There are many footpaths in the Hoo Penninsula.  One of best places to walk is at Cliffe Pools for birdwatching on the mud flats; or the Northward Hill Nature Reserve, just a short way from the Pip's graveyard, with long views across to Essex and London.  The bleakness of the landscape with its rolling mists from the Thames is strangely moving.  But it is not all grey and grim. When the sun shines, the flat, open land creates big skies and strong light.   The Saxon Shore Way cuts through the marshland from Cliffe to Cooling and onwards east. 

     

     

  • Amanda Swift: Guest Blog

    This week children's author Amanda Swift writes a guest blog in our Landscapes in Children's Literature series, this time with the urban landscape of Crystal Palace.  I grew up in South London, so I remember the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace very well.  It's a fabulous place to explore with kids.   

    Over to you Amanda.

    Amanda Swift

     

    I’ve lived in South-East London for the last twenty-five years and one of my novels for 9 – 12 year olds, BIG BONES, is set in one of its suburbs, Crystal Palace. 

     

    I like to set my books in places that are both ordinary and special. Crystal Palace is a residential area from which many people commute into the centre of London. It has houses, schools, shops, pubs and cafes, just like lots of other places. But it also has the ruins of a vast, Victorian plate-glass and cast-iron palace that burnt down in 1936.

    I know the area well because I used to go there with my children when they were young.  It has a big park with lots of great things to do.  Best of all are the huge model dinosaurs which are really scary when you’re only as big as their toenails.  As well as the ruins of the crystal palace, there is a farm, a sports centre, a concert bowl, a lake, a maze, a museum and a television transmitter.  Sometimes there are toy soldier exhibitions and Napoleonic soldier re-enactments. My sons have had a go at fencing and diving in Crystal Palace’s National Sports Centre and they have watched top professional teams play football nearby at Crystal Palace Football Club. 

                          

     In BIG BONES the heroine, Charlie, lives in Crystal Palace.  She has a German penfriend called Frank and she writes to him about where she lives: the palace ruins, the dinosaurs, the football team and so on.  But she doesn’t tell him the truth about herself.  He finds that out when he visits Crystal Palace. 

     I like setting my books in real places because it makes the stories feel grounded and believable.  Then I can fly with the bits I make up and hopefully take my readers with me on the journey.

    To find out more about Amanda, take a look at her website.  

    Amanda with her sons 2015

     

    Amanda Swift started out as an actress and got into writing through doing stand-up comedy.  She wrote first for TV (including a couple of episodes of My Parents are Aliens) and radio (including dramatisations of Jacqueline Wilson's The Story of Tracy Beaker and The Dare Game).  I've also written animation episodes for Horrid Henry, Little Princess and Guess with Jess.  The first children's books she wrote were for 9 - 12 year olds: The Boys' Club, Big Bones and Anna/Bella.  Then she started to write with Jennifer Gray and so far we have written 8 books for 5 - 8 year olds: 6 Guinea Pigs Online and 2 Puppies Online.

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