I am a bibliophile, a logophile, and I suffer from a severe case of Tsundoku (obsessively collecting books I never read). I am also a Pluviophile (someone who finds joy and peace of mind on rainy days), so the moody atmosphere of England's frequent showers, made me want to relax and curl up with a good book. I could have spent months in London signing up for walking tours, visiting well known literary pubs, and taking day trips to inspirational spots frequented by great authors like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Oscar Wilde. Unfortunately, we only had one week, so I wanted to focus on my personal interest in children's literature.
I am a dedicated book worm, but my Kindle Library is not exactly High-Brow. In fact, my literary tastes have always swayed more towards genres better suited for younger audiences. I collect editions of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, I looked for the door to Narnia in my own home several times, and I am just as much of a Potterhead as my 11-year-old son. My recent trip to England solidified and intensified my dedication to English children's literature. The places that inspired these authors are undeniably still full of magic and wonder. With a powerful imagination, you can put yourself in the scenes of these great books, or at the very least, understand why they wrote in the poetic way that they did. Below, I list some of the places we visited on our quest to relive some of our childhood joy.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll lived in Oxford and was influenced by a little girl named Alice Pleasance Hargreaves. She asked him to tell her a story on a boating trip near the campus and his story flourished from there. To follow the same inspirational journey take a row boat from Folly Bridge in Oxford to the village of Godstow.
The Chronicles of Narnia
While in Oxford you can visit the Kilns in Risinghurst which is where CS Lewis wrote his Narnia series. During the WWII bombing raids, many children escaped London for the English countryside. Lewis took in some of these children and began telling them stories. You may not find the wardrobe leading to Narnia, but you will find many beautiful historic homes and gardens to tour.
JM Barrie's first mention of Peter Pan was in his novel entitled "The Little White Bird". After his successful play, the book was changed to its new title "Peter Pan in Kensington Garden". The history of Peter Pan, the creation of its characters, and JM Barrie himself have morbid and disturbing back stories, but hints of the beautiful tale of Neverland can be seen with a walk through Kensington Gardens in the heart of London.
There are many Sherlock Holmes walking tours of London and each one has its own unique focus. You could take an educational tour focusing on Arthur Conan Doyle. You could be a detective and solve a mystery like Sherlock Holmes himself, or you could take a film inspired walking tour. I sincerely hoped to run into Benedict Cumberbatch, but unfortunately, luck was not on my side that day. Instead, we passed through some of the scene locations for the TV Series such as Borough Market pictured above. This market is also the meeting point for the Harry Potter Muggles tour so I suggest making time for lunch at this spot.
We wanted to make sure we were getting the full behind the scenes view of every Potter place possible in London, so we took the Muggles Walking Tour. It was an easy two and half hour stroll through film locations and inspirational writing spots for JK Rowling. The highlight for me was stopping by Watkins Bookshop, the place where Rowling bought many of her research materials for the series. It is located on the street she used as inspiration for Diagon Alley! As a bonus, you can also go to the Warner Brothers Studios to see the actual film sets. You will have to travel about an hour north of London and make reservations in advance.
These heart warming books were inspired by the thousands of Jewish refugee children who came to the United Kingdom after WWII. The stories are wonderfully relevant today and worth a quick reread before you get to London. While you are in the city you can go to the Reading train station where author Michael Bond was inspired by tales of hope, communication, and openness.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Beatrix Potter's birthplace and home in Northern England is simply stunning. Located in Windermere, the Lake District of England, you can go Beatrix Potter World with your young family and learn about the history of this amazing author. While there, be sure to eat at the Flying Pig just across the street for some amazing food in a cozy pub atmosphere.
The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett lived in Great Maytham Hall, Rolvenden in the countryside of Kent. A short day trip to this picturesque area will make you understand why the author felt "flower drunk" when she wrote this gorgeous story..
Winnie the Pooh
The Hundred Acre Wood is only a short one hour drive south of London to Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Follow in the footsteps of A.A. Milne's character Christopher Robin and plan a few hours to wander and get lost in the English countryside. While there, take a short drive with the kids over to Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, for jousting, shield painting, and archery demonstrations.