Monday, August 25, 2014

An Inspiring Literary Road Trip: Re-crossing The Pond

This writer has always heard that time flies when you’re having fun, but I’m pretty sure it passes quickly regardless. Either way, it’s been just over a year now since I returned from Europe, so pack a bag and come with me as I revisit my unforgettable U.K. trip. (And I’m happily planning now for a December return to the UK, France, Germany and Austria for my honeymoon!) 

I’ve had the privilege of flying over the Atlantic or “Pond” quite a few times over the years, but this time was extra special to me. For it was the first time overseas I’ve ever visited the same place twice – and I’d been there six years ago at the exact same time. So when I disembarked the plane in Edinburgh, Scotland I was already feeling a bit of déjà vu.
Big Ben in London
I made my way to meet up with my group, including my dear friend, Carole, at our group’s historic 1800s garden apartment – or flat – in the lovely Drumsheugh Gardens, a quiet area just minutes from the city center. We all then headed via taxi to a neat little dinner locale called The Elephant House. The quaint eatery has excellent food and a lovely view of Edinburgh Castle – but it’s most famous aspect is as the birthplace of Harry Potter. (J.K. Rowling wrote her early manuscripts there.)

I tried haggis there, which is one of Scotland’s most popular traditional dishes that consists of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep or calf minced with beef or mutton suet, onions, oatmeal and seasonings that is packed inside a sheep’s stomach and boiled. You heard right. I had to try just one bite. It didn’t taste bad, but I think it needed a bit of a kick of our Louisiana Cajun spices. (hehe)

My entire trip held quite a few literary and film highlights – many were unintentional but equally inspiring for any writer or in general lover of books and movies. Cruden Bay’s Slains Castle was a must-see locale since it’s the setting for one of my and Carole’s favorite novels, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. After a very out-of-the-way walk, we found the castle at the end of a muddy footpath. Even teetering precariously at the edge of a sea cliff had not taken away the ruins’ splendor. 
Me & "The Winter Sea" (hehe)
Next, we traveled to England and even farther back in history with a visit to Hadrian’s Wall and the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain, Housesteads Roman Fort - one of several permanent forts built by Roman Emperor Hadrian in about AD 124. The entire wall extends over 80 miles from the coastline of the Irish Sea to the North Sea. We only visited a three-mile portion of it that contains the fort and Sycamore Gap’s Robin Hood Tree, which was used as a setting in the 1991 film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.
Our brief wall journey turned out to be an epic one with the few miles being filled with steep uphill treks, slow crawls down uneven stone stairs, hops over stone fences on ladders and treads through unleveled forest pathways. But seeing Robin Hood’s tree was not enough for me. I’ve been fascinated with stories of the legendary outlaw since childhood, so I had to visit a few other locales – including Nottingham.

Nottingham Castle, perched high on a cliff in the city’s midst, is impressive but unfortunately not the original built by William the Conqueror in 1068 but a 1600s mansion. The Robin Hood statue is located at its base. I enjoyed eating at England’s oldest inn, the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, in Nottingham. In existence since 1189 A.D., the inn is carved out of rock directly under the castle and served the Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem.

Me & the Robin Hood Statue at Nottingham Castle
Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood’s home, was the next stop. Once part of a royal hunting forest, its 450 acres now form the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve. There are three walking trails through the native woodland and over 500-year-old trees. I meandered down a trail with only the slight shuffling of my feet against the dust and a bird’s distant call for company. The breeze faintly rustled overhead branches, sounding as whispers of tales from long ago. It truly was a time when I wish the trees could talk.

And when in England, one must stay in a quaint village and preferably a cottage – and we did just that. Blue Cottage, a 500-year-old thatched structure, is nestled near an emerald pastureland full of grazing sheep in the tiny village of Ebbesbourne Wake. With thick cob walls and straw-laden roof, the little two-story cottage seemed out of a fairytale.
Our thatched cottage in Ebbesbourne Wake
Another Robin Hood movie stop was to the lovely Old Wardour Castle ruins, which were used as Locksley Castle in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. We were able to tour several floors of the castle’s rooms. The ruins were well worth a visit. We also paid a visit to Wilton House, one of England’s most gorgeous manor houses and the home of the Earl of Pembroke since the 1540s. Part of the grand house is open for touring, but the real feature is its expansive gardens, which have been used in several films.

The Cotswolds or the Heart of England is a place where time has stood still for 300 years. We went on a three-hour bus tour from the lovely Georgian city of Bath to visit two of the area’s villages – Castle Combe and Lacock. Castle Combe is the epitome of a timeless English village as its residents have hidden modern conveniences such as power lines and satellite dishes. Lacock dates back to the 1200s with its lime-washed half-timbered and stone houses and is managed by the National Trust. The residents proved their ancestors lived there to be able to rent a house. 
A picturesque view of Castle Combe

Back in the city of Bath, we strolled past the lovely abbey and the city’s honey-hued buildings to the Jane Austen Center near where the authoress actually lived. Jane used Bath as the setting of two of her novels. We partook of afternoon tea at the center’s tea room before jetting back to London. At King's Cross Station, we even made time to pose for a picture at Platform 9 3/4 - made famous by Rowling's Harry Potter novels.

Me at Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station
Portobello Road Market was a must-see with over 1,000 dealers of every ware imaginable. Afternoon tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum was on our list. Its three tea rooms comprised the world’s first museum restaurant when built in 1857. We also viewed royal paintings inside Buckingham Palace and visited Westminster Abbey just in time to hear the incredible men and boys’ choir. For dinner, we chose from a vast array of cuisines at the famous Harrod’s Department Store Food Hall’s glass front display cases. I also got to purchase a book from Persephone Books in London, which is one of best-selling author Kate Morton’s favorite book shops.
The amazing Portobello Road Market!
On a June 2 early morning taxi ride, through a sleepy gaze over London, I realized that that day marked the Queen’s exact sixtieth year as Britain’s monarch. That is definitely something to remark on, especially since in a few short years she could overtake Queen Victoria as the longest reigning monarch. Overall, I enjoyed returning to the lands of Earl Grey, tartans and manor houses and I’ll be back across the pond soon.

So what’s your favorite literary location you’ve visited? Or which would you absolutely love to visit?

Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a historical novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, photography, singing and currently planning a November wedding and honeymoon to Europe.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog ( You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. What a great trip! Thjank you for sharing, Morgan! (This is Donna--it will publish as Stan because we are in Canada and I'm using my husband's computer)

    1. Hi Donna!! :) It was a great trip! And you know how we love Jolly Ole England!

  2. Thanks for a fascinating account of your UK experiences, including the great photos, Morgan. I have been to some of these places but now I want to see them all! Re a literary venue I would like to visit, perhaps Anne of Green Gables territory on Prince Edward Island would still top the list--or perhaps the Channel Islands, where a couple of recent books I have read have been located.

    1. Hi Jo-Anne! Thanks so much!! And I'd really like to go to Prince Edward Island too! Love Anne of Green Gables! :)