Britain’s long, rich literary history is made all the richer by the country’s many magnificent landscapes. In this series, we’ll be taking a look at the countryside that has served as inspiration for some of our most beloved works. To kick things off, we head to Dorset to relive those magical childhood days of adventure.
The books of children’s author Enid Blyton have been translated into more than 90 languages. The seventh best-selling fiction author of all time, she is fondly remembered by generations for her multiple series, which include the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Mallory Towers, Noddy, the Magic Faraway Tree, and many more.
Born in London, Blyton spent her childhood in Kent where she spent hours enjoying nature walks, studying the piano, and playing lacrosse. All three topics would feature later in many of her stories.
But it was not the Kent countryside that provided so much inspiration. Rather it was Dorset. Blyton and her husband frequently holidayed there, and many popular spots from her novels can be connected to real locations along the Jurassic coast. Visitors to the region can relive some of their favourite passages on the Isle of Purbeck.
The train whistled, and chuffed out of the station. The children pressed their noses to the window and watched the dirty houses and the tall chimneys race by. How they hated the town! How lovely it would be to be in the clean country, with flowers growing everywhere, and birds singing in the hedges!
― Enid Blyton, The Enchanted Wood (The Magic Faraway Tree Series)
Purbeck is not technically an island. Rather it is a peninsula bordered by the Atlantic and Poole Harbour. The area’s rolling pastures, historic villages, and old smugglers’ cottages provided a perfect backdrop for Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and Timmy the Dog (a.k.a. the Famous Five) to have all sorts of adventures. Many suspect that Kirrin Castle is actually based upon Corfe Castle. which sits atop Purbeck Ridge and can be seen for miles. Today, tourists flock to the castle and the village of the same name to stock up on Blyton books and other memorabilia, and to visit the charming little tea rooms, gift shops and the model village. Corfe Castle itself has long been in ruins. However, the National Trust operates the site and hosts a number of family events throughout the year.
One fun way to reach Corfe is via steam train. The Swanage Railway takes the 22 minute journey from Swanage to the village. Blyton fans can pretend they are giddy schoolgirls returning for a new year at Mallory Towers, or the Famous Five siblings off to visit cousin George for the summer holidays.
They lay on their heathery beds and listened to all the sounds of the night. They heard the little grunt of a hedgehog going by. They saw the flicker of bats overhead. They smelt the drifting scent of honeysuckle, and the delicious smell of wild thyme crushed under their bodies. A reed-warbler sang a beautiful little song in the reeds below, and then another answered.
― Enid Blyton, The Secret Island
Another National Trust property with Blyton links is nearby Brownsea Island. Devoted readers will recognise it as Whispering Island. Situated in Poole Harbour, Brownsea is home to red squirrels, oystercatchers, kingfishers, and more. Even today, it remains the perfect summer camping spot for Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
Whether you choose to sleep under the stars or stay at a local guesthouse or hotel, you can enjoy many lazy summer days in this part of Dorset. Just be sure to take along an Enid Blyton book or two, some cucumber sandwiches, and some cold ginger beer.
Soon they were all sitting on the rocky ledge, which was still warm, watching the sun go down into the lake. It was the most beautiful evening, with the lake as blue as a cornflower and the sky flecked with rosy clouds. ― Enid Blyton, Five Go Off in a Caravan