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The literary Cotswolds
Petticoats and parasols in elegant cities, hobbits gathered around the fire in candlelit inns and whimsical mad hatter tea parties; the Cotswolds has brought to life some of the UK’s best-loved stories over the centuries. Many notable writers and poets have found inspiration in its honey-coloured stone, rolling pastures and wooded Wolds and now with the addition of its annual literature festivals, the region continues to inspire all who visit.
We have created the ultimate guide to the literary heritage of the Cotswolds. Follow in the footsteps of your favourite authors and see the places that influenced their work, plan a visit to one of the renowned literary festivals across the region and enjoy some of our favourite Cotswolds bookshops.
Writers inspired by the Cotswolds
Jane Austen is thought to have drawn inspiration from the idyllic Cotswolds village of Adlestrop, one of the ancestral homes of her cousins, the Leigh family. Having stayed there several times, it’s probable that Adlestrop Park and the Parsonage House influenced the fictional places in her books such as Thornton Lacey in ‘Mansfield Park’, as well as the Leigh’s colourful lives inspiring many of Austen’s plot lines.
The Georgian city of Bath is also closely associated with Austen, featuring in two of her novels – ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’; she lived here with her family from 1801 to 1806. Today, you can explore the locations that Austen used in her novels with a free audio walking tour from VisitBath, ‘In the Footsteps of Jane Austen’. You can also visit the Jane Austen Centre to discover what life was like in Regency times, meet costumed ‘character’ guides and delight in a champagne afternoon tea in the Regency Tea Room.
Lewis Carroll spent significant time in Stow-on-the-Wold where his friend Reverend Edward Litton was the rector of a church. The heroine of one of Carroll’s most whimsical works, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ was inspired by Litton’s young daughter. Why not take a walk where Carroll and his friend once strolled and bring to life the landscape of lush pastures peppered with farms and buttercup meadows that feature in the opening moments of the novel? To complete your wonderland experience, stop off at one of the many tearooms to enjoy your own tea party (though you’ll have to bring your own mad hatter).
Inspired by his childhood in the picturesque Cotswold village of Slad, Laurie Lee wrote ‘Cider with Rosie’, one of the UK’s most popular books. This evocative coming-of-age story chronicles the rural idyll of village life in the Cotswolds after WW1. Today you can follow the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way, a six-mile circular walk through the Slad Valley, discovering special posts adorned with poetry in memory of his work. You can also visit the local church where he is buried and marvel at his dedicated stained-glass window, before stopping for a pint and seasonal fare in the Woolpack Inn, Lee’s local.
J.M.Barrie, author of the much-loved story ‘Peter Pan’, spent a considerable amount of time writing this book during his summers in the impressive Stanway House in the north Cotswolds. If you take a scenic trek along the Cotswold Way, you can pass by the estate’s gatehouse, tithe barn and cricket pavilion where Barrie founded an amateur cricket team, enlisting notable writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, A. A. Milne, Jerome K. Jerome and P.G. Wodehouse to play for him.
The elegant Cotswolds city of Gloucester is the inspiration behind one of Beatrix Potter’s best-loved tales, ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’. Described as Potter’s ‘favourite book’, it is brimming with illustrations of buildings in Gloucester which you can still see today, and you can also visit the original House of the Tailor of Gloucester where he supposedly lived, now a gift shop and museum.
The renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien was a frequent visitor to the Cotswolds, and it is said that some of the fantasy locations in ‘Lord of the Rings’ were based on sites in the town of Moreton-in-Marsh and its surroundings. The town itself is thought to be ‘Bree’ and The Bell Inn is the inspiration for ‘The Prancing Pony’, Middle Earth’s most famous pub. It is also believed that the Four Shire Stone, a nine-foot-high pillar, was the vision for Tolkien’s ‘Three-Farthing Stone’, while The Rollright Stones inspired ‘Barrow-Downs’ and Broadway Tower was the influence behind ‘Amon Hen’, all within a few miles of Moreton.
T.S. Eliot felt at home in the Cotswolds and often visited his friend Emily Hale in Chipping Campden. Together, they would enjoy long rambles through the Cotswolds countryside, one of which is described in his poem ‘The Country Walk’. It highlights his fear of cows, arisen in part from his having been chased by a bull into some blackberry bushes! Another of these strolls motivated his famous poem ‘Burnt Norton’, the first of a set of four poems in ‘Four Quartets’. It was inspired by his and Emily’s visit to the neglected gardens of Norton House, a 17th century manor house near Aston Subedge which was abandoned after the owner Sir William Keyte went mad and set fire to it.
Literature festivals in the Cotswolds
Around 500 speakers and authors from all over the world flock to Oxford’s city centre to give talks in historic university buildings including the Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre and Worcester College. This elegant and atmospheric literary festival in the Cotswolds discusses literary, political, historical, environmental and culinary affairs - to name just a few, and visitors can also book to join guided literary walks, lunches and dinner parties with prominent authors.
Celebrating literature in all its forms, the ChipLitFest in Chipping Norton offers four days of fun, lively and thought-provoking events, with some of Britain’s best-loved comedic minds and award-winning authors offering insightful talks and engaging workshops for literature lovers. Headline names have previously included Joanna Trollope, Liza Tarbuck, Reggie Yates, Robert Preston, Terry Waite and Jeremy Vine.
Those with a love of books, writing and reading are sure to appreciate the packed eight-day programme of literary events in this gorgeous part of the Cotswolds. Rejoice in the joy of books in Stratford-upon-Avon with celebrity author events and workshops, mixed with the thrill of debate and plenty of humour thrown in for good measure. Previous talent has included Mary Berry, Andrew Marr, Paddy Ashdown, Tracy Chevalier, Richard Holmes, Terry Waite and Nicholas Crane.
Visitors to the Chipping Campden Literature Festival can expect an abundance of literary goodness in the form of inspiring interviews, talks and workshops from some of the best-beloved literary legends. Get creative at the poetry-writing and letter-press workshops and rub shoulders with some of your favourite authors: a Cotswolds literary event not to be missed.
Set within venues across South Gloucestershire, this week-long literary event in the Cotswolds offers a full programme of talks from the likes of Will Self and Sathnam Sanghera, to local best-selling author Susan Lewis.
Celebrating one of the UK’s greatest authors, Jane Austen fans unite annually in the beautiful Georgian city of Bath – the inspiration behind some of her most famous novels. During the course of ten days, there are over 80 events including the world-famous Grand Regency Costumed Promenade in which over 500 people take part and the Regency Costumed Masked Ball in the historic Roman Baths and Pump Rooms.
A literary lover’s dream, the Cheltenham Literature Festival is one of the largest and longest-running literary festivals in the world. Established in 1949, this 10-day celebration welcomes over 600 of the world’s finest writers, actors, politicians, poets and leading opinion formers to take part in a programme of debates, interviews, readings and workshops for all ages within the enchanting Montpellier Gardens and surrounding venues. Expect superstar names such as David Attenborough, Gary Barlow, Darcey Bussell, Ruby Wax, Sally Field, Ruth Jones, and literary greats - Jacqueline Wilson, Philip Pullman and Anthony Horowitz.
Located within the magnificent walls of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this renowned British literature festival plays host to a plethora of acclaimed speakers from around the world such as Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, Dr Maki Mandela and Alfred Brendel, one of the greatest pianists of all time. Promising a programme of talks and events covering everything from literature and fashion, to food, film and music, this four-day festival is an enriching and unique experience that is sure to tantalise your literary taste buds.
The Stroud Book Festival is a gloriously entertaining Cotswolds literary festival which draws some of the finest novelists, non-fiction writers, poets, children’s authors and storytellers from Gloucestershire and beyond. Expect the likes of Mary Portas, Patrick Gale, Christie Watson and Sam Guglani presenting their literary magic, while acclaimed chefs Prue Leith and Oz Clarke provide a fantastic foodie finale.
Our favourite bookshops in the Cotswolds
Octavia’s Bookshop, Black Jack Street, Cirencester: Introduce your child to a world of papery heaven at this bookshop dedicated to younger readers.
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshops, Tetbury and Nailsworth: These two independently run bookshops boast a diverse selection of genres and host special literary events throughout the year.
Jaffé and Neale, Middle Row, Chipping Norton: This award-winning emporium offers a wide range of titles over two floors, as well as a delicious café serving homemade Aga-baked cake.
The Stroud Bookshop, High Street, Stroud: This cosy Cotswolds bookshop has been providing a cornucopia of higgledy-piggledy piles of novels ready for you to burrow into for over 25 years.
Peter Lyon’s Books, Imperial Square, Cheltenham: Discover all your childhood favourites in this literature idyll where you can immerse yourself in everything from paperbacks to first-editions and even rare, signed books.
Cornell Books, High Street, Tewkesbury: With over 30,000 antiquarian and second-hand books to choose from, you can easily while away an afternoon in this snug medieval sanctuary.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds
If you have been inspired to follow in the literary footsteps of some of the nation’s most revered authors or if you fancy attending one of the region’s exceptional literary festivals, be sure to check out our collection of holiday cottages in the Cotswolds. With many offering beautiful gardens in the summer and roaring fires in the colder months, there’s nowhere better to sink into a comfortable chair and lose yourself in a good book.