Literary Breaks in Yorkshire
When it comes to literature, Yorkshire has numerous claims to fame. From being the place where Agatha Christie was found after disappearing in 1926, to hosting modern literature festivals and events, there is plenty here to entertain the most ardent book enthusiasts.
Literary breaks in Yorkshire offer a perfect opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic historic and modern links to favourite authors.
Every year, a series of events runs across venues in Harrogate, under the banner of Harrogate International Festivals. As well as live music and educational talks, there are two major literature programmes: The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in July and the Raworths Literature Festival in the autumn. They attract top names to their bills, with recent guests including Vince Cable, Jeremy Bowen, Olivia Colman, Bill Oddy, Edith Bowman, Noddy Holder and Emma Bridgewater. Each festival lasts four days, and boasts a packed programme of talks and workshops.
The crime writing festival even takes place in the Old Swan Hotel, where Agatha Christie was famously found ten days after she went missing in 1926. It is the largest crime writing event in Europe and regular visitors particularly like the community feel: writers and fans are often to be found mingling in the bar between events, while the sponsors keep the Old Peculier Ale flowing.
Established a decade ago, York Literature Festival has been growing in stature and attracts top names from across the literary spectrum. Recent guests have included Michael Portillo, Arthur Smith, Sue Perkins, Joanne Harris, Mark Gatiss, Ann Widdecombe and Michael Palin. This spring festival also features interactive events for children, and opportunities for those who fancy writing their own book to try their hand through workshops held during the two-week festival.
With a history of more than 40 years, Ilkley Literature Festival is among the most established in the area. During that time, it has welcomed writers including Ted Hughes, Nick Clegg, Melvyn Bragg, Sir Tony Robinson, W H Auden, Maya Angelou and Jeremy Paxman. Taking place each autumn, Ilkley even has its own fringe festival, which sees a series of free and informal events taking place in the community.
If you’re happy to go it alone rather than attend events, there are plenty of opportunities to get to the heart of the region’s most famous authors – and uncover lesser-known links to their work.
More famous for his connections with Oxford, Lewis Carroll spent some years in Ripon, where his father was a canon at Ripon Cathedral. Historians have uncovered evidence of what they believe inspired some of his most famous works around the building, including carvings of rabbits and a tiny girl who bears a striking resemblance to the title character of his best-known novel, Alice in Wonderland.
Beneath Ripon’s historic streets lies a maze of caves, which were once accessible via subsidence holes. Could they have been behind Alice’s fall deep into the earth through a rabbit hole?
Literary breaks in Yorkshire often include a visit to Ripon to investigate its links to Lewis Carroll. Whilst you’re there, make sure you spend time in the Spa Gardens, where a series of carvings have been installed depicting characters from Alice in Wonderland.
J K Rowling
Although not from Yorkshire, J K Rowling has significant links to the area. For a start, York’s most famous street, The Shambles, is said to have inspired the set for Diagon Alley when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was made into a film. York Railway Station doubled up for Kings Cross, and the nearby North York Moors Railway was the setting for scenes filmed around the Hogwarts Express.
More recently, J K Rowling appeared on stage at the Royal Hall in Harrogate during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in 2014, promoting her crime books written under pen name Robert Galbraith. If you’ve read them, you’ll know they pay frequent visits to Masham, home town of lead character Robin Ellacott, and Harrogate itself. Go and see St Mary’s Church in Masham, where Robin is to marry her fiancé, and Bettys in Harrogate, where she and her mum meet up for a cup of tea in between dress shopping and solving crimes.
The Bronte Sisters
There is perhaps nothing more iconic when it comes to Yorkshire literature than the views of the moors which inspired the three Bronte sisters. They are particularly known as the setting for Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff and Cathy’s epic romance takes place across the striking landscape.
Emily, Charlotte and Anne lived in the parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire, and wrote their famous works in its rooms. It is now a museum dedicated to their memory and filled with artefacts from their lives. Haworth itself is a charming place to visit, too, with ancient buildings and plenty of shops and tea rooms to explore. Arrive by steam train courtesy of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway for the authentic 19th century experience.
Yorkshire has provided inspiration for many authors over the years, from Francis Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden (Mary spent time in Yorkshire to improve her health) to Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, set in York’s cobbled streets. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was set in the shadows of Whitby Abbey on Yorkshire’s rugged East Coast and a little further south in Hull two of literature’s most renowned poets, Andrew Marvell and Philip Larkin, wrote their famous works. Head over to West Yorkshire and discover where one of literature’s most poignant relationships, that of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia, played out. Just down the road in Leeds, JRR Tolkein gained inspiration for both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings from the city and surrounding area following his time as a student at Leeds University.
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