On an ordinary street in Dumfries, Scotland, beside the River Nith, lies an extraordinary house. Moat Brae, which was built in 1823, is a quite beautiful building, with its striking Georgian architecture. But that’s not what makes this place special. Indeed, until a decade ago the house was threatened with demolition. But then there was an outcry from those who hold literature dear…
The garden of Moat Brae, you see, is Neverland.
The author JM Barrie lived in Dumfries for part of his childhood, and Moat Brae was the home of two school friends. Together, they spent countless hours playing in the garden, and later, once Barrie had published Peter and Wendy, he wrote: ‘For our escapades in a certain Dumfries garden, which is enchanted land to me, was certainly the genesis of that nefarious work.’
Now, the Scotsman reports, Moat Brae is being transformed into the National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling, devoted to ‘creating a world where storytelling is integral to growing up’. The house features exhibition space, areas for reading and, most importantly, plenty of places to play, including a Neverland Discovery Garden complete with pirate ship, treehouse and mermaids’ lagoon.
This wonderful initiative is just one of many to preserve places that are important to our literary heritage. ‘Literary tourism’ is on the rise; according to a VisitEngland survey in 2017, more than half of British people would like to visit a literary location while on holiday.
What is the draw of a place that relates to literature? Why visit Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Beatrix Potter’s Lake District farm, Charles Dickens’ home in Rochester, the Edinburgh café where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, the Eagle & Child pub in Oxford where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met to discuss writing?
It comes down to inspiration, I think. These are the places that inspired a writer to write. We hope that by visiting we too may feel inspired, and that we may feel closer to the writer whom we admire.
Take a walk from Dove Cottage in Grasmere, the Lake District, in the spring and you may see the field of flowers that inspired William Wordsworth:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Stand by Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk at the parsonage at Haworth or climb the moors that inspired Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and you are involved in the Brontë novels like never before; it feels, in some small way, as if you know the authors. Perhaps you will be inspired to read their novels again. Perhaps you will be inspired to dream, as did the writers.
Are you a literary tourist? Are there any literary locations in the world you would particularly like to visit? I would love to hear your thoughts.