11th April, 2017
Dorset was Enid Blyton’s most treasured holiday spot. From the 1940s to her death in 1968, the Isle of Purbeck was the author's refuge; a place she would go to rest and refuel twice or three times a year, rarely writing during her visits. But while her brain was at rest, her imagination was at play, the stunning coastal surroundings and historic sites serving as endless inspiration for her beloved children’s stories. This year marks the 120th anniversary of Blyton’s birth, and to celebrate we’ve compiled a special walking and cycling holiday highlighting some of her favourite Dorset spots – many of which feature in the some 700 books she wrote during her lifetime. To tempt you further, we’ve compiled a list of six of the most magical destinations she liked to frequent, all of which form part of the tour.
Knoll House Hotel, Studland
Knoll House Hotel in the idyllic village of Studland was Blyton’s favourite place to stay during her later visits to Dorset in the 1960s. Set in four acres of gardens, with gorgeous sea views – you can even see the Isle of Wight – the hotel is just a short walk from Studland beach. The ultimate base for a good old fashioned seaside holiday, and your home for the duration of the trip. (Fun fact: Studland is said to be the inspiration behind Toy Town, home to Noddy et al in Blyton’s acclaimed series; while Mr Plod, the town’s pernickety policeman, is thought to be based on a local PC who scrupulously patrolled the village streets).
Isle of Purbeck Golf Club
In 1950, Blyton and her husband Kenneth bought the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club, which features in the author’s 1962 book, 'Five Have a Mystery to Solve'. The splendid heathland course, which dates back to 1892, numbers among the best in Britain, and is just a short cycle from Knoll House Hotel. (Along the way you can spot the tiny cottage that was home to fussy, young nature-lover Wilfrid in the book!) Should golf not be your thing, it’s well worth a visit for the magnificent views alone.
This glorious, battle scarred castle, perched on top of a thyme-strewn hill, could ignite even the most dormant of imaginations. And in Blyton’s case, the iconic, one-thousand-year-old ruin gave shape to Kirrin Castle: the dilapidated site frequented by the Famous Five during a number of their adventures. Blyton first visited the castle in 1941, arriving by steam train from Swanage; later, her feted protagonists would be described embarking on the same train ride, in the opposite direction, as they travelled home from boarding school for the holidays. The steam railway has recently been restored, and is a magical must-do included on our itinerary.
The Grand Hotel, Swanage
This classic Victorian hotel dates back to 1898, and was one of Blyton’s favoured holiday destinations in the 1950s. It overlooks the splendid Swanage Bay, around which the author and her husband would swim each evening before supper. Stop for cream tea and lashings of ginger beer in its sun-filled garden.
Another location in 'Five Have a Mystery to Solve' is Brownsea Island, located in the middle of Poole Harbour (NB: in the book it’s called Whispering Island and is set "in the great blue harbour"). Today the verdant nature reserve – filled with grassy gardens, a variety of trees, as well as peacocks and red squirrels – is owned by the National Trust, but in Blyton’s day it belonged to the notoriously reclusive Mrs Bonham Christie, whose steely determination to return it to a natural haven, saw all visitors turned away. For this reason, Blyton, who is unlikely to have visited herself, playfully refers to it as ‘Keep Away Island’ in parts of the book.
In 'Five Fall into Adventure', the young explorers visit Kimmeridge Bay on the Jurassic Coast, where they’re described frolicking by rock pools and rowing around the coastline. There they spot “a high cliff on top of which was a dour grey stone building... a little like a castle... with one square tower overlooking the waves”. This is believed to be the Clavell Tower, a folly built in 1831, which you can visit on the third day of your trip as you traverse the breathtaking clifftop footpath that Blyton so loved, taking in Lulworth cove and Stair Hole, which also star in her stories.