In collaboration with Hotels.com, but all views are my own
Growing up in New Zealand, I was always the girl with her nose buried in a book.
I may have been stuck on a little island in the South Pacific, but through the pages of my favourite novels I explored the entire world, from wartime Europe, to the sunny Californian suburb of Sweet Valley High. But by far the most enchanting was Dorset – the inspiration behind iconic locations of The Famous Five books.
Enid Blyton regularly visited the South-West as a child, spending a month holidaying in Dorset every summer. Such was her love for this stunning county, with its lush countryside and fossil-filled Jurassic Coast, that it regularly formed the backdrop for her charming adventure series.
I can’t even guess the number of hours I tagged along on their escapades, the silent sixth member of the gang, alongside Julian, Dick, Anne, George and – of course – Timmy the dog. I’d assumed those adventures were firmly in my childhood, but it turns out I have an easy way to recapture them.
Dorset has embraced its iconic history, and you can retrace the steps of The Famous Five with a nostalgic staycation, following the Enid Blyton Trail.
‘Below them spread the Dorset countryside, shimmering in the heat of the day, the distance almost lost in a blue haze,’ Enid Blyton wrote in Five on Finniston Farm, a fictional location based on the real-life farm, Stourhead Estate, she once owned with her husband.
In fact, if you read back, you can recognise many of Dorset’s picturesque locations in her delightful prose.
Steam trains always featured heavily in her books, and this was how Enid herself first travelled to Corfe Castle, a route you can still take today on the restored Swanage Railway. Sit back and enjoy the historic journey, while taking in the charming Victorian seaside and scoffing a Dorset cream tea.
Get off at Corfe Castle for a day of exploring. First built for King Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror, Enid Blyton fans might better recognise this landmark as Kirrin Castle, from the very first Famous Five adventure, Five on a Treasure Island. First released in 1942, and still just as popular today, it was this timeless classic that first introduced us to five of our favourite literary characters.
As she wrote in that very first book: Anne was staring out over the blue bay. At the entrance to it lay a curious rocky island with what looked like an old ruined castle on the top of it.
‘Isn’t that a funny place?’ she said. ‘I wonder what it’s called.’
‘It’s called Kirrin Island,’ said George, her eyes as blue as the sea …. ‘It’s a lovely place to go to. If I like you, I may take you there some day.’
Today, you can tour the National Trust-owned castle (the property is open and adhering to social distancing regulations; book ahead to ensure your place).
Whispering Island, first mentioned in Five Have a Mystery to Solve, was actually inspired by Brownsea Island, in the middle of Poole Harbour. Once owned by an eccentric recluse who banned sightseers, the island was acquired by the National Trust after her death.
It’s now a nature reserve, reopened to the public, teeming with wildlife and native flora and fauna. Catch the ferry across for a day of building dens, climbing trees and spotting squirrels, followed by a hot cuppa at the Villano Café.
In ‘Five Fall into Adventure’, the children enjoy a picnic by sea ‘where rocks jutted up from the beach, surrounded by limpid rock pools’. In real life this is Kimmeridge Bay, part of the Jurassic Coast, and considered Dorset’s best location for rock-pooling and snorkelling.
While at the Isle of Purbeck don’t forget to go fossil hunting at this World Heritage Site. Winter is actually the best time to visit, as the beaches are quieter. The rougher weather also causes more erosion, increasing your chance of finding some of these ancient treasures.
The intriguingly named Mystery Moor, featured in the book of the same name, is known to be the Stoborough Heath National Nature Reserve.
Who needs to travel abroad when you have the perfect family adventure right on your doorstep?
The National Trust and nature reserves mentioned are currently open and adhering to social distancing rules. Where available, pre-booking is recommended. Check online for updates or changes before your visit.
Steam train image by Connor Herrington on Unsplash; Durdle Door image Photo by Lemuel Gonzales on Unsplash; Poole Harbour image by Nick Fewings on Unsplash; Kimmeridge photo by Photo by Misky on Unsplash, Jurassic Coast photo by Joshua Cowan on Unsplash