Cameron Self of Literary Norfolk gives us his top ten literary locations in Norfolk. Why not go along and enjoy the scenery…
Horning Staithe provides the central location for both of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s adventure stories: Coot Club (1934) and The Big Six (1940). In the books, Dick and Dorothea join forces with Tom Dudgeon – the son of the Horning doctor.
Arthur Conan Doyle came to Norfolk in 1901 on a golfing holiday and dined with the Cabbell family at Cromer Hall. It is likely that Cromer Hall provided the inspiration for Baskerville Hall in his famous Sherlock Holmes story which was published the following year. Conan Doyle also, undoubtedly, drew inspiration from the Norfolk legend of Black Shuck.
The poet William Cowper is buried inside St Nicholas’ Church. There is a magnificent stained glass window to commemorate him. Dereham was also the birthplace of the Victorian novelist and travel writer George Borrow.
Dereham is home to the Mid Norfolk Railway.
In Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, the eponymous hero experiences his first shipwreck on Winterton Beach.
Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty, was born in a timber-framed house close to St Nicholas’ Church in 1820. At the age of 14 she suffered a bad fall which left her disabled and dependent on horse drawn transport. Her famous book was published by Norwich firm Jarrold three months before she died and became an instant success.
The poet John Betjeman claims that seeing the tower of St Peters’ church from his father’s yacht when he was a child inspired his lifelong love of church crawling. The River Bure also features in his delightful poem about the county entitled Norfolk.
The Bure Valley Railway goes past the village.
Jack Higgins was based here while researching his famous second world war novel The Eagle Has Landed, later turned into a blockbuster movie. The church in the fictional village of Studley Constable is based on St Margaret’s at nearby Cley. In the churchyard, the narrator discovers the hidden grave of the German paratrooper Kurt Steiner.
John Skelton was rector here for many years and one of his best-known poems Ware the Hawk was set inside St Mary’s Church. He is also commemorated on the town sign. Another laureate who loved Diss was Sir John Betjeman who wrote A Mind’s Journey to Diss for Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s wife Mary, who was born in the town. The 1974 poem includes the lines, ‘Dear Mary, Yes, it will be bliss, To go with you by train to Diss’.
Forncett St Peter
William Wordsworth came to stay with his sister at Forncett St Peter in south Norfolk in 1790. While there he penned a sonnet about the south Norfolk countryside (pictured), How Sweet Was The Walk. Two hundred years later, Philip Larkin also visited Forncett and was so impressed that he wrote: ‘’I shall remember Forncett for a long time: the roaring trees, the exultant rooks, the flowering graveyard.’
Henry Rider Haggard, whose African adventure stories King Solomon’s Mines and She were hugely popular in their day, was born on a farm on the estate in 1856. Bradenham Hall, close to Swaffham (above), was later leased to the Moxey family and in 1909 a young L.P. Hartley came to stay with their son. Hartley would later transform it into Brandham Hall in his novel The Go-Between.
For more of Norfolk’s literary landmarks see www.literarynorfolk.co.uk