Bookish Travel

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Since I’m just back from our regency travels with Julie Klassen in the English Countryside– which I will write about when I’ve had time to sort it all out– it reminded me of the joy of travel centered around favorite literature. I wrote about a never-to-be-forgotten trip quite some time ago but it’s a jaunt I would encourage you to take, especially since literary travel offers fresh insight into the milieu of the writer.

Such was the case with our most extensive literary travel.  The year was 1995 and my family decided to visit the birthplace of the New England Transcendentalists. Our oldest daughter had just graduated from high school and was already a confirmed bluestocking. Our poor son would have rather been fishing, parasailing or hurling himself down a mountainside but he had learned to put up with us. And our youngest daughter didn’t join our family until she was ten, so she missed this one. But for the four of us who went, we’d all say that it was the trip of a lifetime.

Mother GooseWe began our travel by staying in Copley Plaza in Boston where we haunted the museums with side trips to see the famous points of history. Little did I know then that I would write a book, Freedom’s Pen, which took place on those very streets. We even saw the grave of Mary Goose, widely thought to be the famed Mother Goose.

Orchard HouseLouisa's RoomWe went from Boston to Concord where we stayed in a bed & breakfast that was said to have been Nathaniel Hawthorne’s springhouse at one time. It was directly across the road from the Alcott’s Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott’s father Bronson used to sit on a bench under a tree and hold court with the literati of Concord, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both of them just lived down the road. The philosophy of the New England transcendentalists grew out of these meetings.

Walden PondWe went to Walden Pond on a drizzly morning and were able to walk the whole way around barely seeing another human—a miracle if you know the modern Walden Pond. We walked up to Sleepy Hollow cemetery and visited the gravesites of all these famous writers. I found the grave of Margaret Sidney as well. She wrote The Five Little Peppers—another book from childhood I loved. We went to the Old North Bridge where the “shot heard round the world” was fired. Nearby stood The Old Manse, which had been home to Ralph Waldo Emerson and then the newlywed Nathaniel Hawthornes. The herb garden there at the Old Manse had been planted by Henry David Thoreau as a wedding gift for the Hawthornes.Old Manse

As we walked the town and began to understand the interwoven lives of these beloved writers I understood in a very tangible way the importance of a writer’s community. I came home more determined than ever to stay connected to my fellow writers—that’s where creativity blossoms.

After we left Concord, we stayed for a time at Williamstown so we could take in the theater and attend a Tanglewood concert (with Yo Yo Ma, no less). We took many a day trip—to the studios of Daniel Chester French and Norman Rockwell. And another literary side trip to the Stockbridge Library where I got to go down into the basement and actually hold Hitty in my hand (from the book, Hitty her First Hundred Years by Rachel Fields). That was before they began thinking of archival protection for the adventurous Hitty. Now I’m sure she is hermetically sealed or something like.

Emily DickinsonOur last leg of our travel was out to Amherst where we stayed in a guesthouse on campus just a few doors from Emily Dickinson’s house. At twilight that last night we walked over to her house and sat on the porch to watch the sunset.

It was a trip we will never forget and more than anything we came away with the understanding of the interconnectedness of the community of writers/artists. And to think, this was just one geographical location and one era.

So here’s my question for you: What literary setting would top your travel bucket list?

28 Responses

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  1. What a lovely travelogue you’ve given us, Wendy! You’ve blessed everyone here so much, and now this…we, your audience, are in the deep clover, listening at your feet.
    * I don’t have a bucket list. I have learned that if my putative bucket list does not match a deep appreciation for the life I have, then my head ain’t on straight.

  2. I visited some of those same places as an 8 year old on a low-budget family vacation–for the history, Wendy, not the literature. I remember my father patiently explaining to my child’s literal mind what the “shot heard round the world” meant.
    * I read to our children when we traveled. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” accompanied our camping trip alongside the Mississippi River. After we weathered the book’s storm on the island, God obligingly provided a wild thunderstorm that sent us from our tent to the car in the middle of the night–sleepless with Tom dancing through our heads.
    * Thank you, Wendy, for my little trip down memory lane.

  3. It has long been my dream to go to Greece, Macedonia, Thrace, etc., possibly Crete. A visit to the “holy land” would be interesting as well, but I have always been drawn the the region west of there. I want to see the countryside where Paul went on his missionary journeys. I’d like to see where Lydia of Thyatira supposedly lived and worked.
    I know much of what I want to see no longer exists, or has been commercialized, but if I could be there and find a way to look past all of that … well, it fires the imagination in ways that feel almost dangerously exciting.

    • Damon, I think it would be fascinating to see some of those locales too. A visit to Israel is on my bucket list.

    • Yes, Damon. It’s sad that there is a fear that is always associated with traveling to the Holy Land. I don’t think it will ever be “safe” to go in our lifetimes, but the trips that force us to lean on God the way that we daily should are the best.

    • Lynn Horton says:

      I’ve been there. Followed Paul’s missionary journeys in a sailing ship. Visited the seven cities of Revelation. Canvassed Israel and Jordan on an archaeological survey. And you’d be surprised at how “uncommercialized” some of these places are.

      In a word, GO.

      • Dana McNeely says:

        Sounds wonderful!

      • Wow, Lynn, what a blessing!! I love that you traced those steps that way.

      • Lynn Horton says:

        Damon, however you have to get there, you seriously should try to go. I feel safer in Israel and Jordan (particularly Israel) than I do in any part of Europe right now. Google Morningstar Tours for trips to these countries, as well as along the journeys of Paul. I’ve traveled with them several times, and they are a wonderful provider of Biblically sound tours.

  4. Wendy, reading of your long ago trip makes me want to take our boys there. So much literary history!!!
    *I would love to see the locales of Pride and Prejudice. The other place on my bucket list is Prince Edward Island. I was enchanted from the first time I read the Anne of Green Gables series.

  5. So many places come to mind. But I would love a trip to England to see all things Jane Austen related (I’ll take Downton Abbey, too), and of course, my girls would want to head straight over to anything Harry Potter related. 🙂 I suppose my favorite place is Disney World … I love going through the Walt Disney museum and listening to his story again and again. Someone can have nothing and everything.

  6. Lynn Horton says:

    Ranchman and I are fortunate to live our bucket list—after many decades of working 24/7/365. But my favorite literary location is the Bible lands of Israel/Jordan/Turkey/Greece, hands down. A thorough journey there, canvassing archaeological sites and sites of religious (not just Christian) importance, is a life-changer. The six trips I’ve made inspire me. And if CBA ever awakens to readers’ dramatic interest in international suspense (beyond Rosenberg), I’m ready and perpetually inspired to write about the region again.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      So, tell me again how we sign up to go on a trip with you, Ms. Horton? 🙂

      • Yes!!! I’m sure it’d be a fabulous adventure!

      • Lynn Horton says:

        Wouldn’t that be a BLAST? If I can ever build the international suspense, I’d LOVE to lead a trip to the Holy Lands. (With the DTS degree, I also have the creds and contacts, and really know the area well enough.) And I’d also love to do an all-female trip there. I have the most exceptional Jewish female CHRISTIAN guide. I’m thinking of doing another archaeological survey there (as an alumni course) in 2019. I can’t wait to return.

  7. Dana McNeely says:

    I would love to copy your trip – follow your itinerary. Not because I’m a sycophant, mind you, but because I’m not much of a travel planner and I do love the writers you mentioned. 🙂

    I’d also love to visit Israel, see Jerusalem and Nazareth where Jesus walked, but also would love to stand on Mt. Carmel. Mt Horeb, not so much. Afraid of wind, earthquakes, and fire. 🙂

  8. Carol Ashby says:

    Since I write Roman Empire, I’d love to visit many Roman sites, but especially Pompeii and the museum in Naples that houses what was found there.

  9. I wish I could time travel back to the Middle Ages in England, or perhaps to the gold rush days of California. But I’d only want to stay in those places for a short time. Dressing like a polite lady wearing a corset, or cooking over fires in the Summer do not appeal to me

  10. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to have traveled 4 times to many points in Navajo country, as well as met many Navajo people who’ve enriched my work. Being there, experiencing the area and culture with all five senses, has significantly improved my work. Well, one hopes.
    Thanks to a challenge from our own Michelle Ule and Laura Frantz, I’ve written 2 rom/coms, both set in and around my home city of Vancouver (from whence I type this…) and the first one is set on a cruise to Alaska (a huge thank you to my parents for that adventure).
    But I would love to return to Greece and write something there…I mean, *set* there.
    Ha! Who am I kidding?
    I wanna write IN Greece!

  11. That sounds like a great trip, Wendy. What precious memories and wealth of literary fun! My top literary trip would be to go back to England and do a Jane Austen tour similar to the one described in Beth Pattillo’s The Dashwood Sisters Tell All. Or maybe I should just go with Julie next time! It looks like you guys had an amazing time and hit many of the Austen highlights I would like to visit.☺

  12. That sounds like amazing fun. What better way to travel? Not to mention you can write off some of the expenses. 😉

  13. David Todd says:

    When I started writing creatively, in my 49th year, and read about those writers of the past who would take a Grand Tour, then write about it, I felt so bad that I would most likely never get to take a Grand Tour. Then, I realized, I did take the Grand Tour, just before I started writing. During our five years living in the Middle East, we got to travel to so many places. The memories are still vivid, even more than 30 years since some of the events. They now find their way into my writing.
    .
    But, to answer your question about literary travels, I would love to see the Thomas Carlyle sites in England and Scotland. To visit 5 Cheney Row in Chelsea and see the room he wrote in. To visit Ecclefechan, where he grew up. To go to Edinburgh and see where he attended university, then made his first home with Jane. And, of course, to spend a night at Craigenputtoch, where they lived those years in virtual exile, and he penned so many of his great essays and his master work, Sartor Resartus. To travel there would be enough to get me to renew my now-expired passport.

  14. What a lovely post! So look forward to hearing about your most recent trip, Wendy…but ’twas delightful to read about this one. I’m a bit Louisa May Alcott fan, so I loved reading about those story-infused corners of New England yo got to visit.
    I feel I’ve already had my literary bucket list trip with getting to visit England twice, once in college (for a semester!) and once just last November on a belated honeymoon with my husband. Visiting the places of Shakespeare, Lewis and Tolkien, Dickens and Austen, as well as the sites of so many stories I love so well…Paddington, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan…it still thrills my heart to think of. But I wouldn’t mind still going back yet another time someday!
    And like Jennifer, I’ve also valued trips to the Navajo reservation in writing my stories. A sense of place, as I think you’ve written about here before, Wendy, seems to be key for me in writing…maybe because it’s also key in so many books I love to read. I wonder why that is Because we feel something of a “home” connection that builds through reading those stories?

  15. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Oxford, then The Lake District and Scotland. (Oh, to eavesdrop on The Inklings. Would have to impersonate a barmaid at the pub, I guess.) Israel ~ of course and I guess it fits your questions because the Bible is literature.

    Your trip sounds wonderful Soaking in a place seems to come second nature to you. thanks for waking our wanderlust. 🙂

  16. Your post about your family trip was wonderful, and I thought that would such a amazing itinerary for me to choose, but as I read the comments all the other places people mentioned seemed the perfect choice. I am unable to pick because I have an insatiable desire to learn, travel, and experience new things.

    Thank you Wendy and all for taking me on a delightful ride.