A lady and her letters
A Books & Bicycles Tour
A feisty feminist, witty and worldly, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a significant figure in eighteenth century literary circles. Notable moments of her life include rejecting Alexander Pope’s proposal of marriage, bringing the smallpox inoculation from Turkey to England, and writing the Turkish Embassy Letters. Spend ten days wandering through the heart of England, taking in the Peak District and Derbyshire, discovering her works and world.
Total distance covered: 222 miles
A luxury stay at a spa hotel, former childhood home of Lady Mary
Visit to Holme Pierrepoint, former home of Lady Mary
Chatsworth House, inspiration behind Austen’s Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice
Sudbury Hall and the National Trust Museum of Childhood
North Lees Hall, the catalyst for Bronte’s Northfield Hall and Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre
Start at Lichfield Cathedral and the memorial to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, before taking a leisurely cycle alongside the River Trent to Stenson and The Bubble Inn.
On the way to the award-winning Primrose House B&B, there is the opportunity to pass by Holme Pierrepoint Hall. This was the childhood home of Lady Mary, a stunning Tudor house set in thirty acres of parkland and formal gardens. A well-timed visit means it is possible to take a tour followed by tea and cake, or coincide with a Shakespeare performance in the grounds.
The second lengthy day of cycling is well-rewarded with a stay at Thoresby Hall, a luxurious spa hotel that was once Lady Mary’s home. It is possible to visit the library where she once spent hours dedicated to her studies, and there is access to everything from falconry to a croquet lawn. It is perhaps worth taking an extra day here to really enjoy the surroundings: a cycle tour should, after all, be as much a meander as a mission.
Today’s ride takes you to Ravencar Farm B&B with its cosy, comfortable rooms. More significantly, the route passes by Renishaw Hall: in 1980, this was used in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and the hall and the nearby village of Eckington were the inspiration behind DH Lawrence’s controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover – a book that essentially went on-trial with EM Forster on the witness stand defending its honour. Specialist literary tours are run on Sundays in the season, and advance booking is advised.
Sir Edward Wortley Montagu – correspondent, seducer and eventual husband of Lady Mary – bought and restored Wortley Hall in the 1700s. An overnight stay in one of the quaint, cosy cottages set in the heart of the expansive estate is the perfect excuse to explore yet another of Lady Mary’s homes.
It may be a long day but it is full of distractions – and not just the gentle, rolling hills of the Peak District. North Lees Hall served as Bronte’s inspiration for Northfield in Jane Eyre – in 1845 she visited the hall several times – and the end point of Chatsworth dramatic house that resulted in Pemberley in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The Heathy Lea B&B is an ideal stopping point, possibly for an extra day to spend wandering around Chatsworth’s grounds in the hope of bumping into an errant Mr Darcy…
It’s a long, gentle ascent through the Peak District to reach Stoop Farm B&B situated just outside the village of Longnor – used as Lambton in the BBC’s Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. If you take an extra day and add in a 30 mile round trip (uphill on the way there but deliciously downhill all the way back) it is possible to visit the National Trust’s Lyme Hall, known as the location of the infamous Wet Shirt Scene as Darcy emerges from the lake. The gorgeous house provided the exterior shots of Pemberley and is a must for any lover of Austen; the B&B has a hot-tub with sparkling wine experience that can be booked in advance and could well be a worthy ending to the evening.
It may be another long day but it’s downhill all the way to Ashbourne, the Derbyshire market town known as the Gateway to Dovedale. Long Chimneys B&B is the perfect base, with a network of public footpaths on the doorstep that lead out across the stunning Dales.
It is thirty miles back to the starting point in Lichfield, a downhill glide via Sudbury Hall where the vast majority of the interior shots of Pemberley were filmed in the BBC’s Colin Firth production of Pride and Prejudice. The Hall is also home to the National Trust Museum of Childhood: a showpiece for seventeenth century craftsmanship, paintings are hung in extensive galleries by artists who were also commissioned to paint Lady Mary. It is a final glimpse into the lifestyle of one of the most significant writers of the eighteenth century, and perhaps a worthy ending to the tour would be back in Lichfield Cathedral, standing before her memorial.
Does a Books & Bicycles tour sound like your cup of tea?
Slowly cycling around the countryside in pursuit of all things literary is the perfect holiday for book lovers.
If you love the idea of spending some time on two wheels seeing the most beautiful parts of Britain and getting up close and personal with your favourite authors and books, please send me a message and I can help you organise a bespoke tour. One day, I plan to guide some tours myself: I have a lifelong love of books, a 1st class honours degree in English Literature where I specialised in the Romantics, crime literature and the Modernists, and a Master of Studies from the University of Oxford with a niche emphasis on eighteenth century women's poetry. I bring unique ideas, thoughts and enthusiasm to all literary topics and am looking forward to spending time with a group of likeminded bookworms in pursuit of the ghosts between and behind the pages. If you are interested in joining a tour just fill in the contact form, let me know which route interests you the most, and I will send you dates and costs as soon as they are confirmed.