Almost as soon as I started reading, I fell in love with England. Books like Frances Hodgkins Burnett’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, Jean Estoril’s Drina series, and Noel Streatfeild’s Shoe books made me an Anglophile at age seven or eight. I dreamed of someday visiting the magical land of afternoon tea and theatre spelled with an re.
That day came in November 2009, when my husband and I traveled to London, Oxford, and Edinburgh. We hit some of the big tourist sites like the Tower of London and Edinburgh Castle, but what meant the most of me were the sites related to the books I loved: taking pictures outside the Edinburgh café where J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book; stumbling across the Oxford pub where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien used to meet; seeing a performance of a pantomime, a uniquely British form of entertainment that’s featured in Ballet Shoes. Oh, literary travel, is there anything better?
When we planned a return visit in late summer 2012, we knew we’d be based out of London again, but we wanted to take a couple of side trips too. As we tossed around ideas for side trips (Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed, was a must), I thought of the British isle of Guernsey. (Guernsey is actually not part of the UK, though some of its functions are handled by the British government, and you can use British currency there.)
Both of us had enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, a historical novel that takes place shortly after the German occupation of the isle during World War II (and now a Netflix Original movie). It felt a little strange, picking a destination—especially a relatively remote one—based on a single book. But if literary travel wasn’t a thing before, we decide it was going to be now.
But once we started researching Guernsey and realized it was doable. We could pick our vacation destination based on a book!
Getting to Guernsey from London was a bit of a fiasco. Our flight departed from the Gatwick airport instead of Heathrow, which meant we had to take the Underground to a train station, where we’d board what was supposed to be an express train to Gatwick. But signal issues on the train line meant most of the trip was stop-and-go, and when we finally arrived at the airport, we ended up sprinting to make our flight.
Our travel woes continued as we tried to navigate our way around the isle using Guernsey’s bus system.
The buses run in a loop, and for a single pound you can ride for as long as you’d like. But the stops aren’t labeled or announced, so we didn’t know when our stop was coming up or where we were once we’d gotten off. And if you miss the bus, you might have to wait a good while for another one to show up. If that happened, their would be nothing but a couple of Guernsey cows lazing in a pasture to entertain you.
Transportation issues aside, we found Guernsey to be utterly charming. We spent quite a bit of time walking around the capital of St. Peter Port. Whether you were looking out toward the water or in toward the town, there wasn’t a bad view to be found.
The streets sloped up steeply from the water. A few hours of walking around left us ready for a good snack.
As we flew into Guernsey, we’d seen gorgeous cliffs, but we never did figure out how to get there. Instead, we wound up at Cobo Beach, on the opposite side of the island from St. Peter Port.
Of course, we had to visit sites that were connected to the book that inspired the trip – that is what literary travel is all about.
We spent an entire morning at the German Occupation Museum, looking at memorabilia and getting a better understanding of the history the book describes. The next day we toured the Little Chapel. Fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society will recognize as the tiny church made entirely out of a mosaic of broken ceramics.
As our plane back to London took off, I had a lump in my throat. As tiny as the isle is, we still hadn’t seen everything we wanted to. With all the places in the world I wanted to see, would I ever have the chance to come back to Guernsey again? I didn’t know.
But I did know that I did not regret experiencing my first foray into literary travel. Having read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society before we traveled meant I felt connected to the place before we arrived. It made our explorations there that much more meaningful. People often say that reading takes you to places you’d never expected, and in this case, that was literally true.
Meaghan Porter is a trained tap dancer, a gymnastics and Gilmore Girls enthusiast, and a managing editor at W Publishing Group. She is also wife to Jared and the source of gravity in the world to three-year-old Abby. You can keep up with Meaghan’s future posts on Page Chaser’s Instagram or Facebook page.
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Have you ever done any literary travel? Check out these books with gorgeous settings, and you might just take your own book vacation.
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber