Six Of The Best: Poetic Pilgrimages
As a new memorial to Wilfred Owen opens in France, Simone Kane goes in the footsteps of some of the past century's most famous poets
1. Thomas Hardy, Dorset
In a fitting end for a genius of literary tragedy, only Thomas Hardy's heart is buried at Stinsford Churchyard, in the grave of his first wife, Emma.
To aficionados, the location will be familiar as Mellstock, the setting for his second published novel, Under the Greenwood Tree, or, The Mellstock Quire. Hardy was christened at St Michael's but, against his wishes, his body was cremated and interred in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey. Make this a stop on a tour of Hardy's beloved "Wessex", including Dorchester, where the Dorset County Museum is home to a collection of memorabilia.
2. Vita Sackville-West, Kent
Set in the heart of the only remaining medieval deer park in Kent, imposing Knole House was not only the birthplace of the poet and author Vita Sackville-West but also the setting for Virginia Woolf's Orlando, which was dedicated to her lover, Vita. Sackville-West recalled her happy childhood here in Knole and the Sackvilles. The house is now a National Trust property and visitors can soak up the atmosphere from 13 rooms that remain much as they were in the 18th century. Vita was passed over for the inheritance of Knole, so she bought nearby Sissinghurst Castle and designed its now-famous gardens with her husband.
3. Wilfred Owen, France
Yesterday saw the inauguration of a striking contemporary memorial to Wilfred Owen, the First World War poet, at Ors. At the request of locals – who wished to commemorate the place where Lieutenant Owen spent his last night on 3 November 1918 – La Maison Forestière has been transformed by the British artist Simon Patterson. He has breathed life into the disused building, creating a house that is at once a sculpture and an audio piece. Under a roof that now represents an open book, the internal space is filled with animated projections of Owen's texts, and the cellar where he wrote his last letter home has been preserved.
4. Dylan Thomas, Camarthenshire
The Welsh poet spent the final four years of his life at the Boathouse at Laugharne. The natural surroundings inspired him and it was here that he produced some of his greatest work. Set on a clifftop overlooking the Taf Estuary, its location on the edge of the small town of Laugharne provided Thomas with the detail he needed to imagine the fictitious setting of Llareggub for Under Milk Wood. Today it's a heritage centre. Fans can tour the Boathouse and Writing Shed which have been preserved much as they were, apart from the conversion of a few original rooms to create a reception, bookshop and tearoom.
5. Ted Hughes, Yorkshire
Budding writers can gain inspiration by staying in Mytholmroyd at the birthplace of the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. It was converted a few years ago to offer a combination of holiday cottage, writer's retreat and homage to one of our literary greats. The house, however, has not been frozen in time like many memorials – it is thoroughly modernised, with just a few nods to the 1930s, the era of Hughes's childhood. It is curated by the Elmet Trust which promotes the local Hughes connection. The poet's childhood friend, Donald Crossley, and Hughes's brother, Gerald, have pinpointed the locations of many references in his early poems.
Details: Explore the local landscape that inspired the poet at the Ted Hughes Festival (21 to 23 Oct; theelmettrust.co.uk) or rent "Ted's House" (ref 212144) through yorkshire-cottages.info
6. Sylvia Plath, London
How could you seek out Ted Hughes's past without a visit to the one-time home of his tragic lover and wife, Sylvia Plath, who lived at 3 Chalcot Square, Primrose Hill, north London, for much of her adult life? Commemorated as part of the London Blue Plaque scheme, the house is not open to the public but the square's gardens – which Plath overlooked as she wrote – are. It's the perfect place to dip into her most famous work, The Bell Jar.
Details: London's Blue Plaque scheme is run by English Heritage (english-heritage.org.uk). Nationwide blue plaques schemes are found on the relevant tourism bodies' websites.
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