Welcome to a Literary Guide to Wiltshire. To know a place for the first time is to read into its landscape the story of its past. To grasp the topography of a place, we need to trace the journeys of its rivers and run our fingers across the contour lines of its hills. To identify the elements that make up its natural habitat, we must follow in the footsteps of the first naturalists and antiquarians. And to observe the growth of its communities we must listen to the echoes of the personal effects of the population that came before us.
Primarily we must thumb through the pages of its literary landscape and let the past tell us what the future may hold. And into this, we weave the observed comings and goings of the communities that ultimately embroider this landscape into a seamless tapestry.
Having lived in Cumbria nearly all my life, I knew that landscape intimately, and not just in a navigational sense. Amidst a place we truly know, we walk with a calmness and surefootedness absent in unfamiliar places. The landscape opens up before us. We know what is around the next bend.
My family and I moved to Wiltshire in November 2022. I had never set foot in Wiltshire before, nor knew of its ancient past, its wide-open skies or its warm-hearted people. Devizes was our new home, three-hundred and fifty miles south from the Lake District, Hadrian’s Wall and the North Pennines.
The Lakes are as rich in literary association as in natural beauty. Thomas Gray was the first traveller to instil in Lakeland an identity of its own. He wrote about the landscape with the traveller in mind, creating a multi-million pound industry in the process. His letters to his friend Thomas Warton, collated and published posthumously in 1775, fired the imaginations of the first tourists.
Gray’s Guide was the precursor of William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (1810), Alfred Wainwright’s A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells (1955-1966) and, a favourite of mine, Grevel Lindop’s A Literary Guide to the Lake District (1994). Recognised as a classic when first published (The Literary Guide won the Lakeland Book of the Year that year) Lindop’s prescribed journey through literary Lakeland, reminiscent of the grand tours of the 18th Century, was invaluable for anyone with an interest in the writers, poets and novelists who have been inspired by the Lakeland landscape.
With this last book in mind, I walked into the independent Devizes Books, established in 1981 and situated in an elegant Georgian listed building on Sidmouth Street. The Wiltshire books section had plenty of choice on guides to individual sites; Avebury, Stonehenge, the Kennet and Avon canal, but nothing specifically relating to Wiltshire and its literature. I asked the assistant who lamented that ‘Wiltshire is a forgotten county when it comes to literary guides’ and in those few words, the idea of this website took hold.
Your Literary Guide to Wiltshire
There is at hand, an unlimited resource for referencing the literary landscape of Wiltshire. It is the people who already love Wiltshire and its literary associations. If you have any recommendations for this Literary Guide to Wiltshire please get in touch via email or below, it would be wonderful to hear from you.
Dave Brooks – Devizes, Wiltshire – February 2023