From Cornwall to Braemar, Du Maurier to Wesley, literary Britain is on the map

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The Independent Online

There is not, as yet, a sign outside Brixton bus garage in south London announcing "Welcome to Magnus Mills Country". But judging from the way that Britain's literary connections are milked by the tourism industry, it cannot be long before the Booker-shortlisted author of Restraint of Beasts is commemorated aboard the 159 bus he used to drive.

There is not, as yet, a sign outside Brixton bus garage in south London announcing "Welcome to Magnus Mills Country". But judging from the way that Britain's literary connections are milked by the tourism industry, it cannot be long before the Booker-shortlisted author of Restraint of Beasts is commemorated aboard the 159 bus he used to drive.

From Cornwall - Daphne du Maurier and Mary Wesley country - to Braemar in the Scottish Highlands, where Robert Louis Stevenson devised Treasure Island, literary tourism is big business in Britain.

"Without a doubt, Shakespeare has been our best salesperson for the past 400 years," said Alex Holmes, of South Warwickshire Tourism. The Bard's legacy attracts, on average, six people every minute of every day. Tourism earns £135m annually for Stratford-upon-Avon, and supports 7,500 jobs. The importance of literary tourism to the West Yorkshire village of Haworth is evident from a wooden signpost at the Brontë Bridge. It points the way across the "bluff, bold swells of heath" to Top Withens - in both English and Japanese. The gaunt Georgian Brontë parsonage is a shrine to Anne, Emily and Charlotte.

The tourists that Britain's literary heritage attract are, in the highly competitive global tourism market, immensely valuable. Not only do they tend to be well read, well-to-do and well behaved, they also spread their benevolence widely.

The British Tourist Authority has produced a "Literary Britain" map featuring 82 of the nation's most celebrated writers. It directs visitors to less popular parts of the country such as three West Midlands locations: Walsall (Jerome K Jerome), Birmingham (JRR Tolkein) and Coventry (George Eliot).

Britain's good fortune is to have produced a body of outstanding literature in the language many visitors, particularly dollar-heavy Americans, happen to speak. But the appeal goes well beyond the English-speaking world. "Rosamund Pilcher is extremely strong in Germany," said Simon Bradley, head of operations for South West Tourism. He credits the author of The Shell Seekers, set around St Ives, with "driving so much traffic into Cornwall that it's unbelievable".

So valuable is literary tourism that parts of Britain are fighting over the heritage of individual writers.

Somerset is making a bid to win some of the Wordsworth legacy from the Lake District, while in Wales a low-level skirmish is taking place over Dylan Thomas. The people of Laugharne, where he lived in "a seashaken house on a breakneck of rocks", feel aggrieved that his birthplace, Swansea, is making too much of the writer's connections. "Swansea has pushed Thomas to the limit," said Tom Watts, proprietor of Brown's Hotel, one of the author's locals.

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