If you think the Cotswolds look familiar, you’re probably right. This region of rolling hills and pastureland—England’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty—has served as Hollywood and the BBC’s stand-in for scenic British countryside for decades. From the vibrant gardens where Darcy infuriated Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice to the castles where Hermione Granger et al dodged spells in the Harry Potter movies, the Cotswolds has played as many on-screen roles as Dame Maggie Smith (who, by the by, appeared here in Downton Abbey as well as the aforementioned Potter films).
If the Cotswolds are the go-to for contemporary storytellers, that’s only fitting. The region has inspired literary luminaries dating back to Shakespeare (who was rumored to have taught English here before arriving in London). Here are a few of the region’s compelling literary connections.
The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass spent significant time around Stow-on-the-Wold, where his friend Reverend Edward Litton was the rector of a church. In fact, it was Litton’s daughter who served as inspiration for his most famous creation—the character of Alice. Walking where Carroll and his friend strolled—through a bucolic landscape of green pastures, farms, and copses of hawksbeard and buttercups—it’s easy to picture the opening moments of the novel, when Alice lazes beside a river bank, contemplating stringing daisies together into a long chain. Stopping into the antique-filled village of Stow-on-the-Wold you can even pop into a tearoom for your own tea party (though you’ll have to bring your own mad hatter).
Though Sense and Sensibility is famously associated with the more southern region of Devon, Jane Austen lived for years in the Cotswolds-adjacent town of Bath and set two of her novels—Persuasion and Northanger Abbey—among the region’s wolds and estates. Predictably, then, on-screen adaptations of her works have often relied on the Cotswolds to evoke the spirit of her stories. Fans of the British version of Emma will recognize Sudeley Castle, one of England’s most enchanting estates. Set against the quiet dignity of the Cotswold hills, its golden stone parapets, antique-filled halls, and manicured gardens call to mind the impossibly polite drawing rooms of Austen’s time. Of course, its history stretches back much further than that: the castle’s spectacular Queens Garden was named for the four queens who adored it: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey, and Elizabeth I.
The creator of Peter Pan famously conceived his iconic character while entertaining his neighbor’s children in London’s Kensington Gardens. However, Barrie spent a considerable amount of time writing about Pan while staying in the Cotswolds. A regular guest at Stanway House, Barrie even founded a local cricket team there, enlisting notable writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, A. A. Milne, and P.G. Wodehouse to play for him. Today, travelers strolling along the Cotswolds Way can walk right up to the estate’s magnificent gatehouse, tithe barn, and thatched cricket pavilion, where some of England’s greatest minds once contemplated batting and bowling.
One of the great 20th-century authors, Graham Greene wrote classics like Our Man in Havana, The Power and the Glory, and countless others set in exotic locations around the world. But it was in Chipping Campden that his career began to flower. After his first novel was well received (but little read), Greene quit his job as a newspaper editor to concentrate full-time on his writing. Living in a cottage called Little Orchard in Hoo Lane, he completed his first hit—the book Stamboul Train. Visitors in the area today may explore Greene’s former stomping grounds while hiking near the Worcestershire Hills, where an 18th-century tower offers stunning views of 13 counties. Continuing on foot, you may pass easily into Chipping Campden, a delightful warren of 14th-century stone buildings with a covered market, almshouses, and a silversmith.
Born in Yate, in the south-west of the Cotswolds, J.K. Rowling went on to become one of the most successful children’s book writers in history. How popular is she? Consider this: the first Harry Potter book alone has sold more than all of John Grisham’s, Anne Rice’s, or Tom Clancey’s novels combined. But while super fans might argue over whether Dumbledore speaks Parseltongue or Ginny Weasley’s quidditch stats, few realize that the author has peppered her books with references to the Cotswolds. For example: Potter’s uncouth aunt and uncle are named for the nearby city of Dursley (which Rowling claims should not be considered a review of the town).