With the world in lockdown, I thought I would write something a little different. I am hoping this post will inspire you to take seek out some UK weekend adventures when all this passes, and we are free to venture past our own front door. I also hope to steer you in the direction of some fabulous books, because in the words of Mason Cooley “Reading gives us someplace to go, when we have to stay where we are.”
We’ve all heard of wine pairings to accompany your food, so why not the perfect book to bury your nose in during your travels.
One of the most thrilling parts of travel in my mind is the opportunity to get lost in a good book. Life is so busy and despite my worthiest efforts to read every night, sometimes, I just need my bed. However, with all this working from home malarkey, I have to say I am finding more time to read which is a lovely thing. But, in the confines of normality I approach every travel experience as an opportunity to raid the Kindle store, delve into my paperback stocks and consult my personal librarian; otherwise known as my mum.
I am a firm believer that some books better suit certain types of travel or experience. If you are staring down the barrel of a long-haul flight then I’m game for settling down with a good series. Alternatively, a cosy weekend holed up in a country pub definitely calls for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery.
With that in mind, I thought I would share a few of my favourite titles with you. Books which I feel are perfect for a weekend tucked away at an English country pub; I’ll also throw in a few choice recommendations for fabulously snug country pubs.
A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson & The Devonshire Arms
After being a devout kindle reader for many years it was this book that brought me back to the joy of reading a real-life paperback. Something about the feel of a real book in your hand is, I think, rather lovely.
A Death at Fountains Abbey is the third instalment from Antonia Hodgson. However, not having read the previous two it didn’t matter or have any disastrous effect on the plot or my understanding. My only caveat to that would be I might have liked a deeper understanding of the protagonist’s backstory. However, understanding and storyline hinge on this knowledge.
The story is set in 1728; John Aislabie is the victim of a malicious campaign to terrorise him and his family. Amidst the murderous threats, Thomas Hawkins and his ward Sam Fleet join the fray. Thomas is led into a lethal game of revenge in a fast-paced page-turner which definitely had me hooked and holding my breath from chapter sixteen.
But where to stay if this delightful thriller is in your bag? I would recommend The Devonshire Arms in Wharfdale. With luxury rooms, spa facilities, exquisitely cooked food and locally sourced produce, this country hotel on the Bolton Abbey Estate has a lot to offer.
The location of the hotel means that it is perfectly placed to offer a range of country pursuits. Activities include a 10-day luxury walking break following The Dales Way to tracing the path of the Tour De Yorkshire. Alternatively, if you want to take things a little easier you can relax on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway.
The Devonshire Arms is only a thirty-minute drive from Fountains Abbey where the story is set. I took a wander around the abbey and the gorgeous water gardens at Studley Royal this Christmas. My little jaunt gave me a whole new perspective on the story. It was particularly thrilling to envisage the characters holding whispered conversations in the dark shadowed corners of the ruins. I found myself seeking out narrow paths in the woods trying to find a secluded glade where private conversations might be overheard. In fact, I was absolutely lost in my surroundings and imagination.
The Muse by Jessie Burton & The Methuen Arms
Jessie Burton produces beautiful books. We all know the saying don’t judge a book by its cover. But when it comes Jessie Burton novels the façade is as beautifully intricate and well crafted as the writing. A visual delight for your bookshelves.
The Muse is the second offering from Jessie Burton. The story centres on the hidden tale and history of a painting by the Spanish artist Isaac Robles. Isaacs’ work and mysterious death have left the art world mystified for decades. The narrative is split between 1967 where a young typist, Odelle Bastien, who has struggled to find her place and purpose since moving to London from Trinidad has been recruited by the mysterious and enigmatic Marjorie Quick.
The parallel narrative is set in 1936 in a substantial manor house in rural Spain where the truth of the painting is concealed. Olive Schloss, the daughter of famed art dealer harbours secrets, ambition and consummate artist talent. Olive befriends the family housekeeper, Teresa and her revolutionary brother Isaac. As tensions build and the country on the brink of civil war the relationship and secrets between Olive, Teresa and Isaac come to a heart-wrenching climax.
This story entranced me and truly felt as though I was a fly on the wall of this grand Spanish house. My hotel choice for this novel isn’t quite a palatial Spanish manor but a beautiful Georgian coaching inn, The Methuen Arms, Corsham. Don’t be fooled by the cosy country exterior as inside you are in for a luxurious treat. The hotel has 16 luxurious and recently renovated rooms. There is even accommodation for mans best furry friend. One of the main attractions in my view of the Methuen Arms is the food. Home grown and locally sourced produce which is creatively cooked and well presented, it’s hard to go wrong. My top recommendation is the breakfast omelette, with all the added extras. Brunch perfection.
The hotel is situated in Corsham in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside but only a stone’s throw from the Roman city of Bath. With undulating hills and sun-bathed sandstone, it’s not a million miles from rural Spain.
Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver & The Blakeney Hotel
Yes, it’s another manor house thriller, except Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is much more subtle than a classic thriller. The story is as much about the protagonist, Maud as it is about the wild and eerie fens where the house ‘Wake’s End’ is located.
After Maud’s mother dies in childbirth, she is left to the care of her father, Edmund, a strict and tyrannical disciplinarian.
The story tracks the isolation of Maud and the unravelling of her father. Maud gains an insight into his rapidly deteriorating mind through stolen moments with his diary. Edmund is stalked by scratching noises. Unseen eyes in the darkness and a religious and significant depiction of hell that draws the iridescent stench of the fen into every orifice of his being. Michelle Paver beautifully blurs the boundaries between reality and the ghostly. This story leaves you hung somewhere adrift with little pieces of the narrative returning to you every so often. I found myself turning those little pieces over and over. The sign of a good story in my view is one that doesn’t leave you after you finish the final page
I took my hotel inspiration here from The Blakeney Hotel. The hotel sits on the edge of the salt marshes and estuary of the North Norfolk coast. The hotel is comfortably and stylishly decorated, very Farrow and Ball chic. Situated right on the coastal path, the views are wild and expansive. On a squally day, you can well imagine you are looking out of the study windows at Wake’s End. The hotel has 60 rooms catering to couples, families and solo travellers. Many of the rooms have picturesque views over the estuary and salt marshes. One very welcome addition to the hotel’s facilities is a spa and swimming pool. I can thoroughly recommend positioning yourself on the sun terrace post-swim, book in hand and a cold beverage nearby. The afternoon tea is also a real treat.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver & The Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk
I first read this little ghostly delight on a late train from Edinburgh to London. The carriage was empty, rain lashed the windows, individual torrents tracing their own path as we sped through the black. Honestly, it was ghost story perfection. It’s a story I’ve come back to many times. Each reading grips me within the first, few pages, my consciousness held captive till the last page.
The Arctic, an expansive tundra full of secrets and possibility. When twenty-eight-year-old Jack gets the chance to embark on an Arctic expedition, he has nothing to lose. A motley crew of five men and eight huskies head north from Norway. As they cross the vast expanse of sea, they reach the bay where they will devote the next twelve months. The land of the midnight sun is enchanting and dangerous. Light fades and darkness reclaims the land. Restlessness, unease and a sense of foreboding grow whilst the escape route of the sea freezes over, something is out in the dark and the crew are not alone. Even revisiting the first pages of this gorgeous thriller gives me goosebumps. Michelle Paver successfully manages to hook you instantaneously all the while reeling you in page by page as the tension builds.
Failing a long winter train journey or a trip to Norway, I would recommend the Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk to hunker down in and bury yourself in Dark Matter. I have chosen the Rose and Crown as a bedfellow for Dark Matter as I remember so clearly driving up to the hotel in the dark and the rain through twisty, turning, lanes. Trees creeping over stone walls and vast expanses of nothing. It’s quite the dramatic drive in the dark. Something about the feel of the place links quite nicely to the book.
Set on the edge of the North Pennines the Rose and Crown is a coaching inn not far from Barnard Castle. The Inn is a family-owned and runs a business with a real focus on being eco- friendly, sustainable and sourcing locally for supplies. The Rose and Crown’s remote location makes it an excellent spot for hiking, biking, sailing, fishing. Classic car hire is even an option for pootling down those country lanes and taking in the view.
Choosing to stay at the Rose and Crown presents you with a range of room options. You can opt for rooms in the Main Inn, The Courtyard or the Monk’s Cottage. All the rooms are well styled with a contemporary take on rustic country charm. With Molton Brown toiletries and good linen, you are guaranteed a relaxing stay and a good nights’ sleep. I also reckon the incredible food, and modern takes on the classics will have you staggering into a food coma.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield & The Old Bell, Malmesbury
My mum is a literary hero and my go-to girl when it comes to reading material. Every Christmas she carefully picks out something she thinks I’ll love. Christmas 2007 was no exception when I tore the wrapping from The Thirteenth Tale.
The story is a rich tapestry of mystery set again a backdrop of Vida Winter’s literary imaginings. Now at the end of her life, Vida wants to expose the truth of her extraordinary life. After hiring a biographer with her own shadowed past the story takes on a gothic peculiarity where the reader is introduced to the Angelfield family, their governess and the devastating fire that altered everything.
The threads of the story flow seamlessly, characters lives intersect and the dialogue cuts from the past to the present. It is a masterclass in evocative storytelling. Now with the setting of a once spectacular house, I would recommend the Old Bell, Malmesbury for a spring week away.
The Old Bell is England’s oldest hotel. Set in the quaint Wiltshire market town of Malmesbury you cannot miss its historic wisteria clad façade on the main thoroughfare. The hotel is a luxurious escape with modern, stylish rooms, well-appointed bar area and exceptional Sunday roasts. The roaring log fire in the sitting room is the ideal place to cosy up with The Thirteenth Tale. Also if you fancy a weekend break with your four-legged friend then the Old Bell is dog friendly.
With a 12th Century Abbey next door to the hotel and the world-famous Abbey House Gardens, this place is laced with history and mystery. A faultless match for ‘The Thirteenth Tale.’ Looking around the hotel there are snippets of times long since passed. The hooded stone fireplace in the brasserie dates to 1220 definitely makes me think of the centuries of stories that have been told around its hearth.
Stay safe, keep well.
Happy reading & happy travels