Explore 10 literary locations in the UK and Ireland and discover the anchorages, harbours, islands and coastal towns which inspired writers to put pen to paper

Explore 10 literary locations in the UK and Ireland and discover the anchorages, harbours, islands and coastal towns which inspired writers to put pen to paper

Nothing beats a day lazing around on the boat, a gentle breeze fluttering the pages of your book as you catch up on the latest bestseller or revisit a well-loved classic story.

Rivers and creeks, harbours, islands and the sea have long inspired writers in the British Isles and further afield, and being able to sail to these locations certainly helps lift the story from the page and bring it to life.

Our experts have chosen just a few of their favourite anchorages and harbours which are the settings for some of our most cherished novels.

From the waterways of Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water and the south coast seaside resort where John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s Woman waits for his return, to the magical kingdom of Narnia and the tiny Scottish island where Kidnapped hero David Balfour is shipwrecked; take the time to sail into the pages of your favourite novel and explore the places which provided that spark of literary imagination.

Want to learn more about sailing the British Isles? Get Yachting Monthly’s Sail The British Isles book from Amazon.

Sailing yacht anchored in Soay harbour and ruins of Gavin Maxwell's basking shark fishing station, Soay, Isle of Skye, Hebrides, Scotland

Access Soay Harbour after half flood and anchor west of the pier in 3-4 metres. Credit: Genevieve Leaper/Alamy Stock Photo

Soay, Inner Hebrides

Recommended by Jonty Pearce

A low sandstone island floating under the shadow of Skye’s towering Cuillin range, Soay was once owned by the author Gavin Maxwell, who established a basking shark oil factory there in 1945.

Never successful and operational for only three years, the experience provided Maxwell with material for his first book, the 1952 Harpoon at a Venture.

Perhaps disturbed by his wartime experiences, it seems incongruous that the nature-loving Maxwell opted to attack basking sharks with machine guns, shotguns, and harpoons; the book describes how difficult these placid plankton-feeding giants are to kill.

This violence was perhaps an antidote to the ‘ennui of peacetime’, though at the time basking sharks were classed as net-damaging vermin with a bounty on their heads; they also contained gallons of lucrative liver oil.

Far from today’s ethical nature writing, Harpoon was later followed by the conservation-inspiring Ring of Bright Water written at nearby Sandaig.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

The ruins of the factory still stand on the shoreline by Soay’s excellent harbour anchorage.

The island is separated from Skye by the Sound of Soay; this channel is free of dangers though the permanent westerly set of the tide can create confused seas in strong southwesterly winds.

Keep at least a few cables offing from the Soay shore whether approaching from the northeast or the southwest before turning into the harbour entrance.

Careful tidal height calculations must be made to clear the 1m drying shingle bar, but once across there is good holding in mud, ½ cable northwest of the pier.

Buy Ardnamurchan to Cape Wrath by Clyde Cruising Cub/Edward Mason at Amazon (UK)

Boat at anchor in the pink granite inlet of The Tinker's Hole on south - west Mull YW 05/2012 pub orig

Make sure you plan an alternative anchorage in case Tinker’s Hole is too crowded

Erraid, off Mull

Recommended by Sarah Brown

If it is a literary destination that you are after then head for the west of the Isle of Mull and the island of Erraid, where David Balfour, hero of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped was shipwrecked on the Torran Rocks.

Here, dramatic land and seascapes are exposed to the full force of the Atlantic and it doesn’t take much of a southwesterly to demonstrate what inspired Stevenson.

Numerous rocks and hazards lie offshore and the breaking swell often makes the place seem pretty imposing.

Traigh Gheal, also known as David Balfour’s Bay, at the south of Erraid and Bagh a’ Ghnoic Mhaoileanaich between Mull and Erraid both have dramatic white sandy beaches and in settled weather offer azure blue waters and can be idyllic.

While you are in the area don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Iona Abbey, famous for its theological and spiritual literary offerings.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

From the east pay close attention to the Torran Rocks, marked by the cardinals and usually easily seen due to breaking swell.

There is safe passage inside the Rocks close to the shore as well as a clear passage to the south.

The popular anchorage of Tinker’s Hole on the west side of Erraid provides reasonably good shelter although it can be crowded and subject to swell in some conditions.

Buy Kintyre to Ardnamurchan by Clyde Cruising Club/Edward Mason at Amazon (UK)

Cloughmore Stone, Rostrevor, Co. Down - literary location of the Narnia books

The view from Cloughmore Stone inspired Narnia. Credit: Chris Hill/Tourism Ireand

Rostrevor, Carlingford Lough

Recommended by Norman Kean

The village of Rostrevor sits on the shores of Carlingford Lough, at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne.

This is the place that inspired C.S. Lewis to write The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis was born in Belfast and spent childhood summers in south County Down.

In a letter to his brother he wrote: ‘I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southward, which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge. That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.’

Today there is a Narnia Trail in the village’s Kilbroney Park, entered through a ‘wardrobe door’ and populated with strange and intriguing creatures.

The Mourne Mountains also offer excellent hill walks with spectacular views, and Rostrevor has several acclaimed restaurants.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

Carlingford Lough, 67 miles from Holyhead and 50 miles from Port St Mary, Isle of Man, is entered through strong tidal narrows and has a marked channel leading to the port of Warrenpoint at its head.

The area between the ship channel and Rostrevor is a Marine Conservation Zone where anchoring is prohibited, and the stone pier at the village dries.

The pontoons in the Town Dock at Warrenpoint offer the most convenient berth, and Rostrevor is three miles by road.

Carlingford across the lough has a marina.

Buy East and North Coasts of Ireland Sailing Directions, edition by Norman Kean at Amazon (UK)

Buy Irish Sea Pilot by David Rainsbury at Amazon (UK)

Boats that can take the ground can dry out opposite Dylan Thomas's Writing Shed

Boats that can take the ground can dry out opposite Dylan Thomas’s Writing Shed. Credit: Jonty Pearce

Laugharne, South Wales

Recommended by Jonty Pearce

The town of Laugharne was made famous by its one-time resident Dylan Thomas, who penned Under Milk Wood there using the location as the inspiration for the play’s village, Llareggub (take care to spell it the right way round).

Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse, now a cafe, and his Writing Shed are preserved on the side of the hill overlooking the Laugharne estuary and its broad reach of sand.

Aside from the Dylan Thomas connection, Laugharne was home to the poet Edward Thomas and Richard Hughes, author of High Wind in Jamaica.

Kingsley Amis’s Booker Prizewinning novel The Old Devils was written during a stay in the town, and Margaret Atwood set a short story there.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

Tucked in a corner between the Gower and Tenby, the Tywi, also known as the Towy, and Taf rivers offer sheltered estuary cruising amongst rolling hills and woods.

The two rivers are protected by Carmarthen Bar and bordered by two firing ranges, so military constraints add to tide and weather limitations.

It is best to approach on a rising spring tide an hour or so before HW whilst avoiding strong onshore winds and seas.

Laugharne occupies a bend in the Taf with an ample flat expanse of sand opposite to dry out on; the river does not maintain enough depth for fin-keeled yachts.

Buy Bristol Channel and Severn Cruising guide by Peter Cumberlidge at Amazon (UK)

Literary locations - Daphne DuMaurier was inspired by Frenchman's Creek, which you can sail into

Frenchman’s Creek has about 2.5m at MHW, and is best explored by dinghy. Credit: Patrick Roach

Frenchman’s Creek, South Cornwall

Recommended by Jane Cumberlidge

Any yachtsman who has read Daphne du Maurier must sail to Frenchman’s Creek.

It takes a bit of imagination to blot out all the yachts now moored in the Helford River but the upper reaches are still magical, with thick woodland coming right down to the water’s edge.

The creek itself is recognisable as the secret mooring of La Mouette, the pirate ship of the eponymous Frenchman.

From Helford village you can take a walk to Frenchman’s Creek along beaches and through woodland.

As you drop down towards the creek it’s easy to imagine Lady Dona as she set off to investigate, having spotted William cagily crossing the lawn.

You can visit the beach where she was captured and the stone quay where Lady Dona and Jean-Benoît cooked their fish supper.

As a yachtswoman herself, Du Maurier really captures the feel of the breeze and the joy of being at sea.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

Approaching the Helford River is straightforward. From Pendennis Point it’s four miles to the entrance where the only danger is August Rock, marked by a green buoy.

In westerlies there are anchorages off Durgan, keeping clear of the eelgrass beds, or on the south side near the Voose.

There are visitors’ buoys in the Pool, off Helford village. Anchoring is not permitted in the upper reaches where there are oyster beds. Gweek is accessible on the tide.

Buy West Country Cruising Companion by Mark Fishwick at Amazon (UK)

Buy The West Country by Carlos Rojas and Susan Kemp-Wheeler at Amazon (UK)

Lyme Regis - The Cobb aerial view at Sunrise early one summer morning - the literary location of The French Lieutenant's Woman

Lyme Regis is a comfortable anchorage in offshore winds. Credit: Martin Pawlett/Alamy Stock Photo

Lyme Regis, Dorset

Recommended by Jane Russell

Fans of Jane Austen will know that Lyme Regis is an important setting in Persuasion.

A flight of steps down the historic harbour wall is the scene of Louisa Musgrove’s fall, and in Austen’s wake many literary giants are said to have stayed in the town, including Tennyson, who wanted to be shown the exact location of that fictional accident.

The Cobb was again centre stage in the highly-acclaimed Harold Pinter 1981 film adaptation of John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

I still carry with me that memorable scene of a cloaked Meryl Streep standing alone and distant on the curve of stone as the storm waves surged and burst around her.

Just this year, a newly-released film, Ammonite, draws on the life story of the famous Lyme Regis palaeontologist Mary Anning, adding yet another layer of interest in this inspirational little port and its adjacent coast.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

An easy approach along the curve of Lyme Bay, Lyme Regis is best visited in settled weather.

With onshore winds and swell it can become dangerous, but in offshore winds it is a delightful place to be.

Ask the harbourmaster (07870 240645) and you might be able to dry out against Victoria Pier or pick up a visitor mooring.

Or anchor off, north of the leading line which keeps you clear of the extension of rocks at the eastern end of The Cobb.

Buy The Shell Channel Pilot by Tom Cunliffe at Amazon (UK)

St Peter Port has three marinas, but only one - Victoria Marina - is for visiting yachts.

St Peter Port has three marinas, but only one – Victoria Marina – is for visiting yachts. Credit: Visit Guernsey

Guernsey, Channel Islands

Recommended by Jane Cumberlidge

Although Guernsey is popular with sailors some may be unaware of the German occupation during the Second World War.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer mixes fact and fiction to tell the story through letters between Juliet, an author, and members of the society on the island.

Personal experiences of hunger, danger and selflessness are sympathetically revealed.

Continues below…

The feelings of isolation when radios were confiscated and fear when listening illicitly.

The cruelty meted out to the slave workers from Eastern Europe and the joy when Red Cross parcels of food were delivered by SS Vega in December 1944.

As well as familiar locations in St Peter Port you can visit the German Underground Hospital in St Andrews, take the cliff path from Fermain to town, and see lookout posts around the coast.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

Most British yachts will arrive from the north through the Little Russel. You need to time the tides carefully as wind over tide in the Russel will be hard-going.

The entrance is between Platte Fougère lighthouse on the west and Tautenay beacon to the north of Herm.

Off the north-west coast of Guernsey drying rocks extend up to two miles offshore and over half a mile north-west of Les Hanois, on the south-west corner.


Buy North Brittany and Channel Islands Cruising Companion by Peter and Jane Cumberlidge at Amazon (UK)

Havre Gosselin, Sark Island.

Havre Gosselin has 10 visitor moorings. Credit: Kuttig Travel 2/Alamy Stock Photo

Sark, Channel Islands

Recommended by Miranda Delmar-Morgan

Far-flung islands have often inspired literature and the last feudal bastion in Europe, Sark, has played its part.

Dame Sibyl of Sark enjoys a biography by Barbara Stoney, and there have been novels such as The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee and the Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Cauldwell, which features a tax expert.

The mines of Little Sark provide a setting for John Oxenham’s A Maid of the Silver Sea.

Most famous, however, is Mervyn Peake, who spent time on Sark before and after the Second World War, and wrote the second of his Gormenghast trilogy there.

A war artist, illustrator and poet he conjures up Mr Pye who is on an evangelical mission to save the souls of the islanders.

Populated with extraordinary characters he uses the remoteness to contain eccentric residents, and the terrain for a dramatic departure by the delightful Mr Pye.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

The very strong tides and big tidal ranges demand close attention both for passages and for anchoring. There are numerous approaches.

Pilcher Monument on the west coast is conspicuous and provides guidance for Havre Gosselin or La Grande Grève but some landmarks are obscured by trees.

From St Peter Port it is six miles to La Grande Grève via the Little Russel Channel. Grève de Ville on the NE coast has seven visitor buoys.

No anchorage is safe in all weathers.

Buy The Channel Islands, Cherbourg Peninsula and North Brittany by Peter Carnegie and Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation at Amazon (UK)

Walton Backwaters which was the literary locations of many of Arthur Ransome's novels

Walton Backwaters is a maze of saltings, creeks and marsh, allowing complete escape. Credit: Patrick Roach

Walton Backwaters, Essex

Recommended by Julia Jones

When Maurice Griffiths decides against the Walton Channel and sails Swan up Hamford Water and into Landermere in The Magic of the Swatchways (1932) he wants peace to write.

Reread this chapter ‘The Silent Creeks’ and you’ll see the romance of this unique landscape sparking his imagination.

It’ll be impossible to spend much time here without thinking of Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water (1939) and feeling the urge to explore (preferably in something shallow draught) and put names to the muddy islands.

Ransome’s generosity is that he always leaves space for others to imagine their own adventures, as I did in Ghosting Home (2012).

His last visit to the Backwaters was in 1951 on board Barnacle Goose.

By this time the main artistic significance of the area centred on the extraordinary land-based colony at Gull Cottages at Landermere Creek founded by the Stephens family but then including Nigel Henderson, John Hutton, Sir Basil Spence and Eduardo and Freda Paolozzi.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

Whether you’ve come from the north, crossing the deepwater ship channel into Harwich Harbour, or via the Wallet and the Stone Banks buoy, it’s essential that you locate the red and white Pye End buoy.

From here the channel is well marked though largely unlit, and depths can drop to 1m at LWS.

With the hard Pye Sands to port and the Halliday Flats to starboard, first time visitors should enter on the flood.

Chartlets can be downloaded via www.eastcoastpilot.com.

The Island Point north cardinal buoy marks the moment of decision: port for the Walton Channel (and eventually Titchmarsh Marina, www.titchmarshmarina.co.uk) or starboard into Hamford Water.

Buy East Coast Pilot by Garth Cooper & Dick Holness at Amazon (UK)

Whitby is one of the most famous literary locations - Bram Stoker set Dracula in the town

Whitby Abbey stands at the entrance to the harbour, a landmark for sailors for centuries. Credit: Getty

Whitby, Yorkshire

Recommended by Katy Stickland

The imposing Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey overlooking the harbour entrance is immediately evocative of Bram Stoker’s Victorian novel; the jagged shapes on the horizon reminiscent of Dracula’s infamous fangs.

The Irish novelist visited the Yorkshire resort in 1890, and was inspired by the town’s windswept East Cliff with its abbey and church; the churchyard is where Dracula first flees in the form of a dog after he is shipwrecked, bounding up the 199 steps to the ruins.

While visiting the town’s library Stoker first read about the 15th-century Romanian ruler Vlad III who infamously impaled his enemies on wooden stakes, and was known as ‘son of the dragon’ or Dracula.

The atmospheric fishing port has also inspired other writers; Robin Jarvis set his trilogy The Whitby Witches here. Kate Atkinson’s private investigator, Jackson Brodie visits the abbey in Started Early, Took My Dog.

The history and folklore of the area is also explored in GP Taylor’s fantasy novel, Shadowmancer.

Cruising to literary locations – Getting there

The approach to Whitby is straightforward except in strong northwest to east onshore winds, which can create breaking seas at the entrance; small vessels should avoid entry in these conditions.

Round the Whitby NCM to avoid Whitby Rock. There are two pier extensions at the entrance.

Enter on 169° before altering course to 209° when the FI Y 2s beacons on the East Pier are abeam.

Once into the Lower Harbour wait at the Fish Pier pontoon for the swing bridge to open for access to Whitby Marina (01947 600165)

Buy Cook’s Country by Henry Irving at Amazon (UK)

Pick up a copy of Sail the British Isles book from Yachting Monthly

From the makers of Yachting Monthly comes this essential guide to sailing around the UK and Ireland. Every iconic location in the British Isles is covered here, from peaceful ports like Dartmouth to sailing hotspots such as the Isle Of Wight. Perfect for planning a long weekend getaway or an ambitious break on the waves, Sail The British Isles is perfect for any boating enthusiast who is itching to discover their next adventure.

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