Maybe you loved "The Golden Compass" as a child. Or perhaps you adored the works of Austen and the Brontes while you were studying literature in university. It's possible you were unable to put down "Brideshead Revisited" or the "Chronicles of Narnia." Whether you found "Atonement" on the New York Times bestseller list or you've been an avid Harry Potter fan since the release of the very first book, a deep-seated love of the United Kingdom often begins on the page.
But that love doesn't need to end there. Why not take a tour of some of the great estates that served as backdrops to film versions of those stories — and have the trip of a lifetime while you're at it?
A quick jaunt from London, the University of Oxford is a great starting point for a literature-inspired tour of Britain. The Hall in Christ Church College at Oxford served as the inspiration for the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle in "Harry Potter." Though much of the actual filming took place on sound stages, the hall is undeniably recognizable, and it sets you up to see the rest of Oxford. Used as the setting for a number of other classic adaptations including Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited," Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," and Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass," Oxford is a perfect first stop on your literary tour.
Three hours north of Oxford, the district of Derbyshire is home to several worthwhile tours. The first, Chatsworth House, is one of the UK's best-loved and most famous country houses. It served as the setting for Pemberley, home of the famous Mr. Darcy, in the 2005 film adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice." It was also featured in the lesser-known book-based film "The Duchess." More than 300,000 people a year visit Chatsworth, which has existed in various forms since the 15th century. With 126 rooms and an incredibly well-tended 1,000 acre-plus park and gardens, Chatsworth's splendor and beauty are undeniable.
Nearby is Lyme Park, which many feel is the true Pemberley, as it served that function in the 1995 BBC TV "Pride and Prejudice" adaptation. Boasting a proud heritage of its own, it passed to the Leghs of Lyme in 1388 and remained in that family until 1946, when Lyme Park became the property of the National Trust, which oversees historic sites in Britain. The house, garden and park are open to the public, and the entrance fee gives you a host of amenities — as if touring the gorgeous house and grounds hoping to stumble upon Colin Firth aren't enough.
Also in Derbyshire, the stately Haddon Hall is most notable for its repeated use as Thornfield Hall, the principal setting in "Jane Eyre." Used most recently in the 2011 film adaptation of the novel, it was also Thornfield in the 1996 version and two others. Haddon Hall was featured in 2005's "Pride and Prejudice" and a BBC adaptation of "The Silver Chair" (one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia series). Back in 1986, it also served as Prince Humperdinck's castle in the much-loved family classic, "The Princess Bride."
Moving away from Derbyshire, you have two options. The first, if you're short on time, is a stop at Stokesay Court, the stand-in for the fictional Tallis family home featured in the adaptation of Ian McEwan's "Atonement." The newest building on the tour (it was completed in 1889 and was one of the first homes in the UK built with electric lighting), it is a privately owned home and therefore is not always open to the public. The house does open up for tours most Tuesdays through October; check the website in advance to book a spot in a tour, where you'll see some of the décor and artefacts used in "Atonement." Even if you don't stop by on a Tuesday, the house's beauty may make it worth a quick detour just to see the exterior.
The second option leads north. Though its sprawling story covers a variety of locations from Oxford to Morocco to Central America, much of the epic "Brideshead Revisited" occurs at the fictional Brideshead Estate. In both the TV version and the more recent film version, the striking Castle Howard represents Brideshead Estate. Built between 1699 and 1712, the estate, covering more than 13,000 acres, was so vast it was even served by its own railway station for a time.
Finally, no tour of the great literary estates of Britain would be complete without a visit to the most recognizable castle of them all: Hogwarts. Though known in real life as Alnwick Castle, most people would be familiar with this incredible northern English castle through its role in the Harry Potter films. Serving as the exterior of the famed school for wizards, Alnwick Castle is still inhabited by the current Duke of Northumberland, making it the second-largest inhabited castle in the UK after the Queen's Windsor Castle. Beyond the Harry Potter appeal, the castle gives kids a chance to dress up as knights and ladies and learn medieval crafts. Even the non-Potter-minded find it worth a visit, as it is one of the few castles of its size that isn't in ruins today.
You'd be hard pressed to throw a stone in Great Britain without hitting something that has been featured in a film adaptation at some point, so use this guide as a start and let it encourage you to discover other famous (and not-so-famous) gems throughout the British countryside.
by Leigh Bryant