From Westeros to Hogwarts, there are many fictional worlds I have spent hours exploring in my head. These places would be the top of my holiday list – if they actually existed.
I think it’s incredible how authors can conjure up whole new worlds just by putting pen to paper, but this also works the other way around. Many authors were inspired to write by places they visited, lived in or read about.
A good book can transport us to far-flung destinations, but sometimes the foundations for these imagined cities are a little closer to home.
If you’ve ever fantasised about experiencing the world of your favourite fictional characters, look no further than these incredible spots around the globe that have inspired some of the world’s greatest literature.
Top Withens, West Yorkshire, England
Inspired: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Originally known as ‘Top of th’Withens’, Top Withens was probably built in the second half of the 16th century by George Bentley (or his relatives). At the time of the Brontës, it was inhabited by Jonas Sunderland and his wife Ann Crabtree (from 1811).
The now-ruined farmhouse bears no real resemblance to the Earnshaw family home described in Wuthering Heights but a lifelong friend of Charlotte Brontë, Ellen Nussey, claimed Top Withens was the model for the farmhouse. The information was passed on to the artist commissioned to illustrate the Brontë novels in 1872 and the moorland ruin has a plaque affixed to the decaying walls noting that the farmhouse is associated with the novel.
The location, however, does match the isolated and windswept site described by Emily Brontë. Top Withens is located about 5km south-west of Haworth, both the ruin and the surrounding countryside are popular destinations with bibliophiles and keen walkers alike.
It’s a fairly easy walk to the farmhouse, although beware some steep steps.
Mark Twain Cave, Hannibal, Missouri, US
Inspired: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Though overshadowed by its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is considered by many to be a masterpiece of American literature and was one of the first novels to be written on a typewriter.
McDougal’s Cave, the fictitious exploration ground described in the novel, is based on the very real McDowell’s Cave (now known as Mark Twain Cave). In fact, the whole fictional town of St. Petersburgh was inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, lived from 1839 to 1853 (age four to 17).
The well-known author weaved real-life events into his novels, including the macabre antics of Hannibal physician Joseph Nash McDowell who purchased the cave in the late 1840s to use as a laboratory. Perhaps his most notable experiment involved an attempt to petrify the remains of his deceased daughter.
You can take tours of the cave complex, which is now a National Trust Landmark. The cave stays around 11 degrees year-round, so a jacket and sensible walking shoes are advised.
“The cave was but a labyrinth of crooked aisles that ran into each other and out again and led nowhere. It was said that one might wander days and nights together through its intricate tangle of rifts and chasms and never find the end of the cave.”
– Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Hanging Rock, Victoria, Australia
Inspired: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
When Joan Lindsey put pen to paper to craft Picnic at Hanging Rock one winter’s day in 1966, she was 70 years old. She claimed the novel was based on a dream that involved a summer picnic at a place called Hanging Rock, which Joan knew well from her childhood holidays. It took her just two weeks to weave together this enchanting tale of mystery and history.
Despite being just over an hour from Melbourne, the sight of this foreboding volcanic formation in the heart of the Australian bush can make you feel as though you are in the middle of nowhere. Walking trails weave through unusual rock formations and native flora to arrive at the geological feature; it truly feels as though you could get lost here.
Whitby Abbey, Whitby, England
Inspired: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Despite being set in Transylvania, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula actually comes from the dilapidated seventh century Christian monastery Whitby Abbey. It was there that one of literature’s most famous characters was created.
Bram Stoker visited Whitby in July 1890 and had a week on his own to explore before being joined by his wife and baby son. Each morning he would stroll from the genteel heights of Royal Crescent down into the town. On the way, he took in the kind of views that had been exciting writers, artists and Romantic-minded visitors for the past century.
Whitby’s windswept headland, with sea fog rolling in over the hills, the dramatic abbey ruins, and a church surrounded by swooping bats, easily became the scene of horror and dread.
Visitors flock to Whitby to learn more about the famous character and its creator. There are many tours available to take you through the Dracula story and the connection to the town.
Lake District, Cumbria, England
Inspired: The Tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter spent many childhood holidays exploring the Lake District and she was quite taken with the area. In 1882, her parents met ‘defender of the lakes’ Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and his views on preserving the natural beauty of the lakes had a lasting effect on Beatrix. She became a keen activist and conservationist in adulthood and bought up much land around the Lake District. When she died, she left 4000 acres to the National Trust so her beloved countryside could be preserved for all to enjoy.
After just one visit to the gorgeous Lake District, it’s easy to see how the rough mountains, rolling countryside and shimmering lakes inspired the delightful tales of Peter Rabbit.
The Lake District is worth a visit for its sheer beauty alone but it’s also home to many Beatrix Potter museums, exhibitions and attractions.
Have you read any of these books? Have you visited any of these locations? What fictional world would you love to get lost in?
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