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Austen to the Brontës: English Landscapes & Their Authors

By Dawn Rainbolt
More by Dawn

The Landscapes that Inspired Authors

England may be a relatively small nation on a relatively small island. But it has generated an impressive amount of literature, from Chaucer and Shakespeare through Austen, the Brontes, Keats, Dickens, Tennyson, Rowling, Dahl and so many more.

Many of England’s authors big and small were inspired by the amazing landscapes located in their backyard (or sometimes a bit further afield). Often, these places are still associated with the authors they helped to inspire over the years, with fans and readers making pilgrimages time and again. In many cases, written works have inspired film adaptations, often filmed within the landscapes that once inspired the original works. Read on to match some of England’s greatest writers with its greatest landscapes.

Bath

Though she famously disliked Bath, she lived there with her family for six years. Like it or not, from her first book to her last, Bath plays a seminal role in setting, characterisation and atmosphere in many of Austen’s novels.

While the popular spa town was mentioned in several of her books, it has played a larger role in two of her books. Her final novel, Persuasion, takes inspiration from the cobblestone streets and Georgian facade of Bath. The reader follows heroine Anne Elliot, perhaps Austen’s most mature and independent heroine, through the streets of Bath, holding her head high despite coming face-to-face with Mr Wentworth, whose proposal she turned down some years ago (on bad advice).

In Austen’s first novel, Northanger Abbey, Bath also takes a prominent role, bringing the reader into the famous assembly rooms as well as along its Georgian streets. A parody of the sensationalist gothic novels that were wildly popular at the time (such as Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, which is heavily parodied in Austen’s book), Northanger Abbey is Austen’s shortest of her 6 “main” works, and follows her most innocent heroine, Catherine Moreland.

In both novels, the city of Bath plays a large role. And the amazing thing is that little has changed since Austen’s day, so visitors today can easily imagine themselves wandering the same streets as Anne, Catherine and the others.

Visit Bath, the gateway to the Cotswolds, on our long distance walking path, the Cotswolds Way. You can also visit Bath on the self drive trip through the Cotswolds.

Visit Bath & the Cotswolds

Darcy & Derbyshire

The fictional estate, Pemberley, is supposedly located in Derbyshire, the central region of England known for the Peak District. One of Austen’s famous lines, “what are men compared to rocks and mountains?” evokes her respect for mother nature, positioning nature as a higher entity than all things manmade.

After rejecting Mr Darcy’s first marriage proposal, Elizabeth Bennet agrees to a trip to the Peak District with her aunt and uncle in order to let the beauty of nature distract her from all else – after all, what are men compared to rocks and mountains? (Of course then she runs into Darcy while there, and realises that she may have been wrong about him). Film adaptations have used majestic imagery of this rugged landscape to add an atmospheric element to the film as well as bring the wilds of the Peak District and northern England to life, paired with the stately elegance of Pemberley.

2005 Pride and Prejudice – Chatsworth House

Several places have stood in for perhaps the most famous literary British estate. Chatsworth House in Derbyshire itself is actually named in the original novel as one of the estates Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle visit before arriving at the fictional Darcy estate, and some experts believe it was Chatsworth on which Austen based her descriptions of the famous Pemberley.

Then in 2005, Chatsworth was used for the setting of the film, Pride and Prejudice starring Kiera Knightley. The outside facade of the house was used, as was the grand staircase, the Painted Hall ceiling, the Sculpture Garden, and a new sculpture of the actor who played Mr Darcy has been added to Chatsworth’s collection.

1995 Pride and Prejudice

In the 1995 Pride and Prejudice film starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, two locations become the legendary Pemberley. The exterior shots of the famous house and gardens were filmed at Lyme Park in Cheshire, while the interior shots were filmed in Derbyshire’s Sudbury House. Both places include “Pride and Prejudice” themed tours and exhibits.

In Victorian times, visitors could show up at the door of a grand house and “apply to the housekeeper or head butler” for a tour of the house (they received a good subsidiary income in tips from this!) like Lizzy and her aunt and uncle do to visit Pemberley, believing Mr Darcy away from home. 

Visit Derbyshire and some of the places mentioned in Pride in Prejudice (book or film!) on our Self Drive trip through the Peak District.

Visit the Peak District

The Cotswolds

Jane Austen is also said to have taken inspiration in the quaint Cotswolds villages and countryside estate-filled surroundings for her lesser-known work, Mansfield Park, the story of impoverished Fanny Price who is sent to live and grow up in the great Mansfield Park estate with her wealthy relatives. In particular, the tiny, quiet village of Adlestrop was one such village, as well as a number of other lovely stone villages in the area.

Then as now, the Cotswolds is renowned for its quintessential English beauty from timeless stone villages to romantic castles and follies, and grand estates and gardens. 

Bibury is one of the many Cotswolds villages.

The Brontës & Yorkshire

The Brontës and Yorkshire are – and likely will be for a long time to come – entwined together .

Yorkshire is a rugged, wild and remote place. Tinged with danger and adventure, it is a timeless place with vast landscapes that seem to defy modernisation and manmade structures. Instead, mother nature reigns queen, and those that make their home here bow to the forces of nature, while appreciating the rugged beauty of the heathery hills and vast moors through literature and art as well as hillwalking.

Who Are the Brontës?

While there were originally six siblings, there are three Brontë sisters whose names have been intertwined with British literature and the moors of Yorkshire. In order of age and fame, they are Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Their father was a reverend and put a great value on education, giving his daughters an unusual education for the time and essentially treating them to the same education as if they were boys. This decision to educate his daughters has a prominent effect on the face of British literature – and Yorkshire – as three of his daughters are now cemented into 19th century British fiction, and have made the moors of Northern England famous.

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë is most famous for her seminal work, Jane Eyre – a vaguely gothic novel about a young “plain” governess who goes to work for the wealthy but eccentric gentleman Mr Rochester, and what transpires from there. She did write other texts – The Professor (partly autobiographical), Shirley, and Villette – but it is Jane Eyre that most readers will know.

Though starting with Jane Eyre’s early childhood and progressing through her life chronologically, the part of the story that resonates most with readers is generally Jane’s time at the rural estate, Thornfield Hall. It is here she cares for the ward of Mr Rochester, developing a bond with her employer.

It is here that Charlotte evokes the Yorkshire landscape – the house has an “end of the world” feel, cut off from the rest of civilisation, untamed and wild, trapped somewhere between society norms. Mr Rochester comes and goes from the house, but despite the open landscapes, Jane feels trapped in this lonely, remote and solitary existence surrounded by a sea of open moorland. In one dramatic scene, Jane flees from the house on foot, getting lost on the Yorkshire moors and nearly gives in to exhaustion until she is rescued by a local village reverend.

On our Self Drive trip through the gorgeous Peak District, visit Hathersage town, a favourite of Charlotte’s, as well as towers and estates that are said to have inspired the descriptions of Thornfield Hall, family estate of Mr Rochester.

Visit the Peak District

Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë wrote only one novel, Wuthering Heights, but of any Bronte novel, Emily’s book is probably the most closely inspired by the northern moors on which the family lived. Also semi-gothic, this book tells the tale of Catherine Earnshaw, whose family lives on the moors, and the orphan boy Heathcliff, who is brought to live with them.

It is a tale of obsessive passion and deeply psychological. But the novel would not be the Wuthering Heights beloved by fans today without the wild Yorkshire moors. The forlorn moors match the sentiments in the novel and the dramatic wilds mirror the characterisation of Heathcliff and Catherine and their tumultuous relationship. The title Wuthering Heights, also the name of the Earnshaw’s family home, comes from the sound the wind makes “wuthering” across the moors.

Anne Brontë

Anne Brontë, the least well-known of the three sisters, published two novels, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Agnes Grey is about the precarious role of the governess in the early 19th century, and Tenant of Wildfell Hall, usually considered Anne’s best work, explores the life of a married woman living separately from her husband, a very scandalous scenario at the time.

The presence of Yorkshire is felt in the setting, atmosphere and mood, exploring the feelings of isolation and being cast off by society. The titular Wildfell Hall contains all the gothic trimmings of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre’s Thornfield Hall – it is crumbling, half-abandoned, surrounded by a wild garden and even wilder moors, set away from the rest of the village, just like its occupant, the shamed “Mrs Graham.” Both of Anne’s tales capture the rigidity and difficulty of rural lives at the edge of England in the 1800s.

Exploring Brontë Country

You have several options to choose from to visit Yorkshire. You might like to walk the Coast to Coast trail, encompassing Yorkshire and the Lake District. Prefer seeing the moors from the saddle? Try our Tour of Yorkshire cycling tour or cycle coast to coast from Yorkshire to Cumbria. If cycling isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps you’d prefer our Self Drive through the Yorkshire Dales. If you’d prefer a guide, join a guided tour of the UK’s National Parks, including Yorkshire Dales.

Trips in Yorkshire

The Lake District

Moving away from the rough wilds of Yorkshire, we move into the softer, more picturesque region of the Lake District. (Although don’t let its fairytale vistas fool you ; the Lake District is home to a number of high mountains, including Scafell Pike, the highest in England at 978m, Helvellyn at 950m, and Skiddaw at 931m, as well as many others).

The Lake District is home to about 30 lakes of varying sizes, each overlooked by a number of soaring peaks. Snug villages in idyllic settings hug the lake shores, making the Lake District seem like a fantasy world.

Beatrix Potter is best known for creating the beloved, iconic characters of Peter Rabbit and his family Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, and the farmer Mr McGregor whose garden they attempt to steal from. Living during the restrictive Victorian era, she had always loved plants and animals, caring for several animals at her home.

Later in life, she became an experienced botanical illustrator and sheep farmer (alongside her husband). Encouraged to draw and paint, Potter began illustrating animals for children’s verses, and then that led to creating stories about a rabbit (based on a real rabbit). After publishing her first stories, she moved to Hill Top Farm in her beloved Lake District (still an attraction today) near the village of Sawrey, which featured in many successive stories.

She was heavily involved in the National Trust (willing her 4,000+ acres to them), and often used the proceeds from book sales to buy up land at risk of development, to keep it wild. She married late in life, and with her husband, they kept sheep and trained sheepdogs. She freely admits that she was influenced by a childhood spent in nature, both in England and Scotland, and a belief in supernatural beings like fairies and witches.

Though not named in the way Yorkshire is in Wuthering Heights in Bath or the Peak District are in Jane Austen’s novels, the very essence of the Lake District seeps into Beatrix Potter’s charming tales.

Everything she believed in – the beauty of nature and animals, the goodness gained from rural livelihoods, sustainability and maintaining the wilderness, the importance of conservation and also simply just being able to tell a good story – are interwoven throughout the tales of rabbits and kittens and other small, furry creatures filling the pages of Beatrix Potter’s famous tales.

Beatrix Potter, like the Brontës and Austen, managed to rise above society’s expectations of them, and introduce generations of children to the wonders of nature and the majesty of the Lake District.

Visit Hill Top Farm

Hill Top Farm is a beautifully cared for 17th century farmhouse. Lovingly preserved in the way that it had been during Beatrix Potter’s time, the interior looks like Beatrix just stepped out for a walk through her beloved Lake District – perhaps along the bridleway from Near Sawrey to Hawkshead, enjoying the views of Esthwaite Water and Coniston Falls.

The cottage garden is a lovely mix of vegetable patches, fruit trees, flowers, hedgerows, ivy, and herb gardens. Beatrix Potter purchased this quaint Lakeland cottage in 1905 using the proceeds from the Tale of Peter Rabbit – a character that one can easily imagine hopping about the garden! Potter continued using Hill Top and the Lakelands as inspiration for her further tales.

You can visit the farm and appreciate the landscapes Potter loved so much on our Self Drive through the Lake District. Join a guided tour of the UK’s National Parks, including the Lake District and a visit to Beatrix’s Hill Top Farm.

Wainwright’s Lakelands

It’s hard to talk about the Lakes and not mention Wainwright. So even though he was more of a nature writer than an author of fiction like the others on this list, Wainwright deserves a mention.

A British fellwalker (a ‘fell’ being a word for hill), Wainwright spent more than a decade on the series of books, A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, often referred to as “the definitive guide to the Lake District – even today! In fact, the 214 fells noted in the books are now known as “the Wainwrights” – a sort of challenge to climb them all, in a similar fashion as the Munros in Scotland.

More About the Lake District

Hiking the Coast to Coast path through Yorkshire.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Trail

Wainwright later wrote a highly successful guidebook to the Pennine Way, a long distance trail that traces the mountains at the centre of the country (sometimes nicknamed the “backbone of England). And it was Wainwright who is credited with creating the now-famous 190-mile-long Coast to Coast Way, as an alternative to the Pennine Way. The route takes in both the wild moors of the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors as well as the bucolic beauty of the Lake District.

The guidebooks of Wainwright have had a profound effect on appreciating the great outdoors of Northern England, and putting the Lake District on the map. The Coast to Coast Trail is still one of the most sought-after long distance hikes by outdoor enthusiasts to England – in fact, you can hike (or bike) it with us.

Learn more about what it’s like to walk the the Coast to Coast trail here.

Hike the Coast to Coast   Bike the Coast to Coast

 

The “Lake Poets” 

If neither Beatrix Potter nor Alfred Wainwright have so far managed to convince you of the beauty of the Lakes, perhaps the verses of Romantic poet William Wordsworth and the other “Lake Poets” like Samual Taylor Coleridge like  will do so.

Wordsworth – what better name could a poet ask for! – spent his childhood in the scenic Lake District with his family, including his sister Dorothy, also a poet. He spent some time abroad in France on the brink of the Revolution (even fathering a daughter with his lover at the time), before returning to England and pursuing a career as a poet alongside his new friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge was also to become a well-known poet, and the two of them played a significant role in the English Romantic movement.

This was published in Lyrical Ballads, a collaborative publication with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was here that Tintern Abbey made its appearance, as well as Coleridge’s famous Rime of an Ancient Mariner, a poem that recounts the experiences of a sailor just back from a long and dramatic sea voyage, perhaps inspired by Captain Cook’s recent expeditions.

A trip abroad to Germany invoked a sense of homesickness, and he eventually returned to England, whereupon he undertook a tour of the Lake District of his youth. So enamoured with the natural beauty in front of him (particularly after a harsh grey winter in Germany) that he purchased Dove Cottage in Grasmere. There, he befriended another poet, Robert Southey, and Wordsworth, Southey and Coleridge became known as “The Lake Poets.”

Visit Today

You can still visit Dove Cottage, once home to William and his sister Dorothy, who seemingly drew their poetic inspiration, alongside Southey and Coleridge, from the dramatic and timeless majesty of the Lake District. Visit Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage on this Self Drive trip:

Lake District Self Drive

There is clearly something magical about this corner of England, as so many creative people from Beatrix Potter to William Wordsworth found their muses in the glacial fells, glittering lakes and soaring peaks. Perhaps you’ll find your inner creativity on your next visit to the Lake District!

Join a guided tour of the UK’s National Parks, including the Lake District and three other parks.

National Parks of the UK

View from Dove Cottage Garden in the Lake District (credit Visit Britain)

Interested instead in exploring the wealth of nature in Wales, the place whose beauty inspired the composition of Tintern Abbey, the great romantic poem in such praise of nature’s beauty, was composed on a hillwalking adventure? Check out our Self Drive trip through Wales.

Other Authors

Shakespeare and Stratford

The Bard is famous for his plays, be they comedies, histories, or tragedies. Many of his plays took place in other countries (such as in Italy or Denmark or Scotland), and in the past (like the era of Caesar or King Richard), its undeniable the effect that William Shakespeare had on the English language, English literature, and English culture.

No book-lover’s visit to English is complete without a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. Quite literally, that is the name of one of the buildings on offer, along with Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and Shakespeare’s Birthplace House.

Though not currently on any of our tours, a visit to the charming and bustling town of Stratford pairs well with a Self Drive through the Cotswolds, which ends in the cute village of Bourton-on-the-Water, just 24 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon.

J.R.R. Tolkien

The father of fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien took his inspiration for Middle Earth’s various regions from many different places. A visit to Ireland’s other-worldly Burren National Park likely inspired parts of Middle Earth, and a gurgling cave, the Poll’na Gollum, draws parallels to his famous character, Gollum.

Tolkien also spent time in the Cotswolds escaping from the bustle of London and Oxford. Here, it’s said the quaint Cotswold town of Moretown-in-Marsh may have inspired the village of Bree, visited by the hobbits and “Strider” in book one. The village pub, The Bell Inn, was likely a stand-in for the trilogy’s favourite pub, The Prancing Pony, where Black Riders first attacked the hobbits. Other places in the area are also said to have helped Tolkien’s world building: the folly Broadway Tower becoming the ruins of Amon Hen and the Seat of Seeing (where the Fellowship broke apart), or the Neolithic Rollright Stones standing in for Barrow Downs (where Frodo and the hobbits flee the Black Riders).

T.S. Eliot

The poet T.S. Eliot was a regular visitor to the carefree market town of Chipping Campden, considered the gateway to the Cotswolds and start of the Cotswolds Way. While the Way did not yet exist (suggested in 1970 and inaugurated in 2007), the beauty of the Cotswolds was well known among hillwalkers. Several of Eliot’s poems (including Burnt Norton and The Country Walk) are said to have been inspired by his walks through the Cotswolds.

All Cotswolds Trips

Explore More Inspirational Places

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she is passionate about sharing her love of the UK & Ireland with visitors from across the world.

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