Holidays in the homes of famous poets
Give your next staycation a literary slant with a holiday at the former home or estate of a famous poet. Jenny Oldaker discovers some historic haunts that offer a uniquely inspiring break…
43 Cloth Fair
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Smithfield, London, EC1 ‘Of course I have to live here,’ declared John Betjeman on visiting Cloth Fair in the 1950s. He subsequently took a lease on the upper floors of number 43 and used the home as his London bolthole for the next 20 years. Today guests can experience the capital through the eyes of the poet with a stay at this Landmark Trust-owned property. It’s an elegant, atmospheric retreat from the city’s bustle, and still looks much as it did when Betjeman lived here – right down to the William Morris Acorn wallpaper in the sitting room.
Fans of his work can delight in the shelves of the library, which are filled with his writings, including works that reflect his famous passion for historic architecture. Cloth Fair has yet more historic pedigree beyond its most famous tenant – it was a rare survivor of the Great Fire of London and neighbouring 41-42 is thought to be the oldest residential house in London, dating back to around 1600.
Price from £809 for four-night weekday stay / £861 for three-night weekend stay (sleeps 2)
Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight Farringford on the Isle of Wight was home to Alfred, Lord Tennyson for much of his life, from his first sighting of the place in 1853 – when the expansive view from the drawing room won the approval of both him and his wife Emily – until his death in 1892. The Tennyson memorial in Freshwater Church states that he passed his happiest days at Farringford and a number of passages in his poetry are thought to relate to aspects of his life at the house and among its beloved grounds.
Today Farringford offers tours, which provide a fascinating glimpse of the poet’s life here, and guests who wish to linger longer can book a stay at one of the self-catering cottages nestled in the grounds. They make a perfect base for exploring the island and for enjoying a sense of the setting that so inspired Tennyson.
Price from £208 for two-night break
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Ambleside, Cumbria Romantic poet William Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount from 1813 until his death in 1850 and visitors can now stay in the bedroom where he slept with his wife Mary. This exclusive new ‘Rydal Experience’ is a joint venture between Rydal Mount and the nearby guesthouse, Rydal Lodge (where guests will enjoy breakfast in the morning). There’s just the one room available to stay in at this much-visited place of historic and literary pilgrimage. But when the day visitors have gone, the overnight guests will have the entire house to themselves, including the drawing room and the library where Wordsworth lay on the well-worn couch ‘in vacant or in pensive mood’.
The scheme was drawn up by Christopher Wordsworth Andrew, the great-great-greatgreat-grandson of the poet. ‘This house is very much a home, and we have been looking at different ways to open it up to visitors,’ he explains. ‘Our recent Christmas and spring fairs saw local artists located around the house… and it was wonderful to see the place so full of life.’ This accommodation offers a truly unique experience and an exceptional way to immerse oneself in the world of one of Britain’s best-known poets.
Price £400, including tour and breakfast
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Cranbrook, Kent In 1930 acclaimed poet Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson discovered and bought the 450-acre estate that encompasses Sissinghurst Castle, and spent the proceeding years transforming the grounds into a spectacular garden. Sackville-West created a private writing space in the Elizabethan Tower – the room is still full of Vita’s belongings today, and provides a vivid impression of the space in which she worked.
Garden lovers and poetry fans alike will be wowed by a stay at Priest’s House, a historic brick property that sits on the edge of the White Garden. Packed with historic detail, this holiday home offers peace and beauty in the shadow of Sackville-West’s writing tower. Best of all, a stay here allows guests to experience her celebrated garden at times when the wider public aren’t admitted. This tranquil haven perfectly showcases the writer’s innate skill as a gardener and an out-of-hours wander allows guests to experience the garden as the poet once did.
Price from £747 for three-night stay (sleeps up to 6)
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Edinburgh, Scotland Robert Louis Stevenson wasn’t just an acclaimed Victorian novelist, he was also a celebrated poet, and fans of the writer can get a feel for his life with a stay at his former home in Edinburgh. Today Stevenson House is the family home for John and Felicitas Macfie, who offer B&B accommodation year-round, enabling guests to soak up the atmosphere of Stevenson’s childhood home.
‘The house is almost exactly as he left it 140 years ago,’ says John. ‘So it doesn’t take any great stretch of the imagination to imagine sitting in the room with RLS, looking out of the dining room window waiting for the leerie to come by to light the street lamps – or hearing him come home in the early hours of the morning after a night exploring the places where Edinburgh is not so respectable.’
This special place has now been John’s home for more than 50 years and he loves sharing the experience of living at Stevenson House, and giving guests an insight into the writer whose presence continues to linger within the home’s illustrious walls.
Price rooms from £135 including breakfast
Abbotsford (Hope Scott Wing)
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Roxburghshire, Scotland Built in the early 19th century, Abbotsford was the creation of Sir Walter Scott, his vision of ‘a sort of romance in Architecture’. This grand Gothic-style residence was the writer’s pride and joy and it remains a compelling monument to Scott’s life. This year is a particularly special time in its history, with celebrations for his 250th anniversary underway.
For those who want to stay on the estate, the Hope Scott Wing was once the home of Sir Walter Scott’s granddaughter, Charlotte Hope Scott, and these days it offers luxury self-catered accommodation for groups of up to 16 people. A comfortable country retreat, this place offers a magical blend of the personal and the historical and guests who stay here can enjoy free admission to Abbotsford itself, plus exclusive after-hours access to Abbotsford’s walled gardens or the chance to book a private guided tour.
Bespoke catering options even include the chance to dine in Scott’s own magnificent dining room overlooking the Tweed, where he hosted other famous writers of the time – an experience like no other for lovers of classic literature.
Price from £2,650 for three-night stay (sleeps up to 16)