An awfully big adventure

Reliving a childhood dream can't come better than buying the house where JM Barrie created Peter Pan, says Penny Jackson
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The Independent Online

Early in the last century, author JM Barrie would spend the summers at his country house in Farnham, Surrey. It was there among the woods and grounds that he was inspired to create some of the most memorable scenes for his famous Peter Pan story.

Early in the last century, author JM Barrie would spend the summers at his country house in Farnham, Surrey. It was there among the woods and grounds that he was inspired to create some of the most memorable scenes for his famous Peter Pan story.

In August 1901 Barrie invited the Llewelyn Davies family, with their four small boys whom he had befriended in London, to stay nearby.

Rain or shine, Barrie dreamt up new adventures for the boys every day. Instead of being limited to story-telling in Kensington Gardens, he and the older boys were able to live the tales of fairies, pirates and Red Indians. The seeds of Never Never land and the Lost Boys were sown.

When a house was built on a part of the grounds more than 20 years later it was suitably named Wendy's Wood. Still secluded and backing on to a wood and forest, its current owners like to imagine the inspiration Barrie drew from the surroundings.

Brian Willsher, who moved to the house seven years ago with his wife and two children, says that a few landmarks are thought to have played a specific role in Peter Pan. "My daughter's room has a balcony that looks out over very old rhododendrons which apparently gave Barrie the idea of portraying the caves of the Lost Boys as knotted with tree-roots."

Also just across the road in the forest is the Black Lake, "where Captain Hook and the crocodile came into being".

The author and the children imagined it as a South Sea lagoon, where they lived out their play exploits, many of which were photographed by Barrie and recorded in a book.

"When we took our children to see Peter Pan they loved being able to relate the stage sets to what they were familiar with at home," Willsher says.

Barrie adopted the Llewelyn Davies children after their parents died and educated them at his expense from the money he made from the publication of Peter Pan in 1912.

His wife Mary also composed a book called The Happy Garden, which includes photographs of the gardens where Wendy's Wood was to be built around 1924.

The Willshers had no idea of the literary connection when they first saw the house, and it was only on purchase that they were shown by the vendors a large binder charting its history. They were in search of tranquillity and a large parcel of land and would, said Brian Willsher, have steered clear of anywhere that might have attracted numbers of people.

The house itself was designed by renowned local architect GF Turner and has attractive tile-hung gables under a tiled roof. It is well proportioned with a great deal of character and a majority of rooms facing south-west.

The first floor has four bedrooms and two bathrooms with a further two bedrooms on the second floor.

"When we took it over it was habitable but rundown," says Brian Willsher. "We all but gutted it inside but of course kept the original features such as the windows."

They now want a home that better suits the needs of their teenage children.

It is being sold for £1.2m, and is sited on 1.34 acres, with a wide range of mature shrubs and trees adjoining Alice Holt Forest. An expansive terrace leads to the main area of lawn beyond which is a bordered alfresco dining area.

"It feels secluded but we are only two miles from Farnham Station," says Willsher. "My wife didn't want to be too isolated, although I am rather more reclusive and am very happy on the days when I never have to go out at all."

On the south coast of Cornwall, another literary classic for children is thought to have been inspired by the natural surroundings. The wooded banks of the Fowey Estuary, one of the prettiest, are said to have given a creative spur to Kenneth Grahame for Wind in the Willows, and in particular the wild wood.

On the banks at the water's edge in the tiny hamlet of Cliff, Bellringers Cottage is for sale at a guide price in excess of £600,000.

It stands next to an ancient ford crossing the river in nearly two-thirds of an acre of garden, which run along the water's edge.

The three-bedroom stone and slate cottage has magnificent views of the estuary from the terraces , as well as from the wide ground and first floor windows. Its 260ft of river frontage includes the shared use of a small quay.

The protected waters of the estuary are ideal for dinghy sailing and other boating activities, and there are moorings opposite Bellringers Cottage and downstream towards the sea. Lostwithiel is about three miles away.

FPDSavills are the agents for both properties.

Wendy's Wood: 01252 729000

Bellringers Cottage: 01392 253344

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