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Follow in the footsteps of England's legends and literary giants

  • Follow the same paths through Sherwood Forest where legend says Robin Hood once walked.

    Pathways to the past

    Legends real and otherwise have informed Western culture for centuries. In England, you can follow in their footsteps, as on this path in Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood lived large. Byron, D. H. Lawrence, Austen, Keats and Woolf are just the beginning of other literary greats and legends to discover. Visit Nottinghamshire, Visit Hampshire and Visit England all offer literary routes through cities and countrysides where the footsteps of those who came before still echo.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Follow Ezekial Bone, aka Robin Hood, through Nottingham on a tour filled with truth, poetry and tall tales.

    21st-century Robin Hood

    Ezekiel Bone (not his real name) leads tours as Robin Hood, a character playing a character to great effect. Robin Hood appears in song and written word across centuries, changing as times changed. He appeared, Bone says, when the oppressed most needed a hero. A passionate historian, Bone weaves truth and fantasy throughout his walking tour of Nottingham.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • There are statues of Robin Hood throughout the Nottingham region, like this one at Nottingham Castle.

    Robin Hood may have looked like this...or not

    First referenced in a 13th- or 14th-century ballad, Robin Hood didn't always wear green, shoot a longbow or rob from the rich to give to the poor; these were later additions to the tale. When fully restored Nottingham Castle reopens in 2020, new exhibits will bring his stories to life.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Between 800 and 1000 years old, this veritable English oak has plenty of room inside for a small band of merry thieves.

    Ancient oak, secret past

    Sherwood Forest is the area most associated with Robin Hood and his merry men, the place where they outwitted the tyrannical Sheriff of Nottingham and King John. This magnificent ancient English oak is said to have been the band's hideout. The venerable oaks are also believed to be Tolkien's inspiration for Ents – look and you'll see the gnarled faces everywhere.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Today, sheep stand witness to the ruins of a castle that once housed a powerful and unscrupulous king.

    Ruins of a rotten king's castle

    King John lives in infamy in Robin Hood legends, but was equally notorious in real life as the unscrupulous brother of Richard the Lionheart. The remains of King John's castle stand desolate in a sheep field. If you tour the East Midlands county of Nottinghamshire with Andy Gaunt of Cultural Heritage Tours, he might take you there after a stroll in Sherwood Forest. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Newstead Abbey was a grant to the Byron family from Henry VIII in 1540

    Lord Byron's ancestral home

    Founded in 1170, Newstead Abbey was in the Byron family for nearly 300 years. Flamboyant and extravagant, the poet lived there only a short time, selling it in 1818. He died in Greece at age 36 and is buried in the family crypt at Hucknall, but his beloved Newfoundland, Boatswain, lies at Newstead, a monument to him inscribed with Byron's poignant "Epitaph to a Dog." 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Leave time on your Nottinghamshire tour for meandering through the gardens of Newstead Abbey.

    Gardens fit for a poet

    Now owned by Nottingham City Council, Newstead Abbey welcomes visitors to explore the home's striking interior architecture, as well as an extensive collection of art and artifacts of the Byron family and others. Leave time to wander the estate's 300 acres of parkland, lakes, waterfalls and stunning gardens. Perfectly manicured walkways connect the gardens and water features.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • This bust of D. H. Lawrence is among several, including one of Byron, along a garden path at Newstead Abbey.

    D. H. Lawrence and Nottingham

    D.H. Lawrence was born in Nottinghamshire and attended the University of Nottingham. When racy Lady Chatterly's Lover was published in 1928, the university wanted no association with him. Today, a statue of Lawrence stands at the university, a gift from his family. The bust pictured here sits on a pedestal along a garden wall at Newstead Abbey, near a similar bust of Byron.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Kings, queens and, yes, literary legends have walked beneath this ancient archway in historic Winchester.

    Historic Winchester

    Winchester dates to Roman times, but its present form evolved in the late ninth century under Alfred the Great. Winchester's most famous literary resident was Jane Austen. However,  poet John Keats, who died at just 25, penned several important works during his short stay there in 1819, including "To Autumn," the poem many critics consider the most perfect short poem in the English language.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • A replica of King Arthur's Round Table dominates one end of Winchester's Great Hall.

    Round Table, Great Hall

    The story of King Arthur and his Round Table is among the most potent legends of all time. A massive round table, likely crafted in the 13th century, has hung in Winchester's Great Hall for more than 500 years, a reminder of the idealism, and paradise lost, in the legend. Henry VIII added a Tudor rose and his likeness to the table, but the names of Arthur's 24 knights remain.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • This soaring cathedral has drawn people to it for centuries--to pray, to wed, to stand in it and be humbled and to be buried.

    Winchester Cathedral

    It's hard to imagine anyone standing in this soaring Gothic masterpiece and thinking it should star in a pop song as The New Vaudeville Band did. Winchester Cathedral is powerful and humbling on its own. However, take one of the docent-led tours for insights into its history, architecture, art and some of the people through the ages who walked its ancient floors – or swam under them. After, have tea at the abbey cafe.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Jane Austen's fans still leave her notes and flowers in Winchester Cathedral.

    Notes and flowers

    Jane Austen died in Winchester in 1817. She's buried in the cathedral, in part due to her father's status as a rector. The inscription on her gravestone in the North Aisle offers no mention of her talent. Two additional memorials – a plaque and stained glass window – barely allude to her writing. Yet those who leave her sweet notes and flowers daily know her only through her books.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Hampshire celebrates its famous author in some quirky ways.

    Jane Austen calling...

    Hampshire celebrates Jane Austen in many ways, but this may be the quirkiest. Take a tour with Phil Howe of Hidden Britain Tours, a human encyclopedia of Austen info, and you'll see it all: the countryside she grew up in, her father's church, where she danced, the standard Austen sites. If you've watched any movies related to Jane, he'll tell you what they got right...and wrong. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Among the displays at Jane Austen's House Museum are her room and bed, pieces of jewelry and a writing table on which she worked.

    Bed for two

    All Hampshire Jane Austen tours include this small house-turned-museum in Chawton where she lived her final years and where she likely revised Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, as well as wrote Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Jane and her sister Cassandra shared this tiny bed and room for eight years. In the village, try to spot the creative variations of roof thatching. 

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Behind the little church at Chawton House are the graves of Jane Austen's mother and sister.

    Graves at Chawton House

    Jane's brother Edward, adopted by an heirless family, inherited Chawton House. He provided the village home where Jane, her mother and sister lived. The estate's serene gardens draw nature lovers and Austen fans, who follow markers bearing her quotes. Also here are the graves of Jane's mother and sister, both named Cassandra. Roam the grounds, then pause for tea at the manor house.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Over the centuries parishioners and others scratched symbols into the doorways of Hampshire's historic churches.

    Medieval graffiti

    One discovery with Hidden Britain Tours is that graffiti scratched in church doorways not only had meaning, but also was sanctioned by priests. This symbol at All Saints Church in Dummer, where Jane Austen's friends (the Terry family) lived, is a hex foil, perhaps drawn by a woman with her medieval shears. Touch it to ward off bad luck or a curse, they say. So far, it's working.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Bombay Sapphire's greenhouses are a gin lover's paradise of intriguing aromas and flavors.

    Laverstoke Mill: the literary connection

    Today, the mill, near Steventon where the Austens lived, is home to Bombay Sapphire Distillery. But in the 18th century, it was Henry Portal's paper mill. His grandsons were often dancing partners of the Austen girls. Jane even mentioned Benjamin Portal's eyes in a letter. If love of gin and Jane Austen aren't reason enough to visit, there's this: Watership Down was set just over the hill.  

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • A stunning collection of glasses are part of the tour at Bombay Sapphire Distillery.

    A cool collection

    Bombay Sapphire Distillery is a model of industrial sustainability. The company returned the ancient mill site, within a conservation area, to its natural ecology – wildlife and all – while preserving its heritage. The self-guided audio tour includes stops at the riverside greenhouses and a room for testing your sense of smell. The collection of glasses is a visual extravaganza.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Bombay Sapphire's bartenders serve up creative cocktails at the end of the tour.

    Creative cocktails await at tour's end

    A free drink at the distillery's Mill Bar is included in tour prices.  Be daring: try one of the specialty cocktails. Naturally, this is merely research in your quest to discover Hampshire's literary heritage. To that end, the gift shop has a nice selection of books on spirits, including one about Bombay Sapphire with interesting info on gin botanicals and recipes for some of the house cocktails.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Virginia Woolf lived on Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury, where this building now stands at the far end of the square.

    In search of Virginia Woolf

    Before or after exploring Nottinghamshire and Hampshire, take time to discover even a fraction of London's deep literary roots. Bloomsbury, where Virginia Woolf and friends lived and wrote, is one place to start. Woolf's home at No. 52 stood at the far end of Tavistock Square, but was destroyed in the London Blitz. Look for a bust of Woolf tucked into a leafy corner of the square.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Virginia Woolf's handwritten pages are enshrined on this wall at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Bloomsbury Street.

    Vertical novel

    This eye-catching decor rises behind the front desk at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Bloomsbury Street. At first glance, it looks like squares of decoupage. On closer look, each square contains a copy of one handwritten page of Virginia Woolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway. Bloomsbury is an excellent base for book and art lovers with its multiple worthy bookstores and the British Museum.

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

  • Was this bust of Ramses II the inspiration for one of Shelley's most famous poems? Maybe.

    Ramses, Shelley and Breaking Bad

    This portion of a colossal statue of Ramses II in the British Museum may or may not have inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley's potent "Ozymandias," a cautionary poem about the dangers of power and hubris. Read Shelley's words under Ramses's gaze and you decide. The poem's message still resonates. "Ozymandias" was the apt title of an episode in the final season of Breaking Bad

    Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis

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