DORSET’S FAMOUS FIVE
English author Enid Blyton loved it. Seventy-five years on, you will too
“The children looked out for it as they drove along the coast. Then Julian gave a shout. ‘There it is – that must be Kirrin Bay’ … 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.’”
Seventy-five years after Enid Blyton introduced us to the Famous Five in Five on a Treasure Island, George’s invitation still stands along the Dorset coast.
Blyton holidayed on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset on England’s south coast three times a year until she was elderly. It’s little wonder it inspired so much of her writing. With its rolling green hills, thatched cottages, ruined castles, glittering blue coves and sandy bays, it’s the stuff childhood dreams are made of.
And so they were, once the prolific Blyton began her Famous Five series. Already a successful author, by the time she published Five on a Treasure Island in 1942, she was at the peak of her career – she would write 700 books and sell 600 million copies worldwide.
“I don’t think that I use anything I have not seen or experienced. I don’t think I could,” Blyton confessed.
Consequently, it’s easy to find the real life places that inspired her and step into your own Famous Five adventure for a little while.
Kirren Castle is Corfe Castle and you can still catch a steam train there from Wareham or Swanage. The restored line is charming, complete with ticket offices, waiting rooms and smartly dressed porters.
It’s impossible not to feel a thrill when the whistle blows and you chug away in your first class carriage.
They even offer a cream tea train and train driver experiences.
But there’s no time for that when Corfe Castle is waiting to be explored.
Built by William the Conqueror and blown up by Oliver Cromwell, the romantic castle sits atop a hill overlooking the quaint village of Corfe, constructed of Purbeck limestone.
Now owned by the National Trust, not George, it’s nevertheless still full of mystery.
The village is crammed with cream tea shops and cosy pubs.
And yes, you can buy lashings of ginger beer.
At the end of the steam train line is the seaside town of Swanage, and as you pull into the station you could be arriving for your holidays in the 1950s, so little has it changed.
Enid Blyton was a regular visitor, staying at the Grand Hotel, a Victorian hotel with a private sandy beach on the Jurassic Coast – England’s first natural World Heritage Site.
You can just imagine her sipping a pre-dinner G&T on the terrace.
Blyton was a keen golfer and bought the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club, which appears in Five Have a Mystery to Solve.
Although the bookshop she would sign her novels in is now a newsagent, much of the rest of the town is the same, with cafes and ice-cream parlours crowded around the bay.
It’s an England a generation of Australians left behind in the 1950s, and is heartening in a way that it’s still there.
From a pirate hideaway to millionaire’s playground, by the time Enid Blyton saw Brownsea Island it was owned by recluse Mary BonhamChristie who let its castle and lands run wild and banned visitors, inspiring the author to rename it Whispering Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve.
Now owned by the National Trust, it’s a nature reserve.
Full of red squirrels, it’s a lovely place to take a trail. The boat ride there is fun, on the bright yellow Brownsea Ferries from Poole or Sandbanks across the bay.
Kirren Bay is the beautiful Lulworth Cove, along the coast between Swanage and Weymouth. This tiny little cove with its pebbly beach, sparkling sea and fishing boats could be a Greek island.
It’s little wonder it, and neighbouring Durdle Door with its rock arch formation inspired Blyton; it’s unlikely anyone could fail to be enchanted by Lulworth.
Crammed with more tea shops and inns than you could imagine along the winding little lane to the beach, it makes for a memorable place to stay. The Lulworth Cove Inn, with its eclectic rooms and fine dining is a standout.
Between Stoborough Green and Corfe lies the moorland that features in Five go to Mystery Moor, which is an atmospheric place to ramble through the heather and stop for a picnic.
The Famous Five loved to feast in the fresh air – they famously said, “I don’t know why, but the meals we have on picnics always taste so much nicer than the ones we have indoors.” Indeed they do, especially if you pack sandwiches and “great slices of cherry cake”.
KNOLL HOUSE HOTEL
Blyton stayed in this classic English seaside hotel from the 1960s until her old age and it’s still going strong, 80 years after it opened.
Set on the National Trust-owned beach at Studland, it feels like little has changed since the author’s day, with its swimming pools and tennis courts, children’s teatime and strict adults-only dining room.
Inevitably, the holiday has to end. And as you drive away from the undulating hills and chalky paths that promise all sorts of exciting adventures, you can only hope, like Julian, Dick, Anne and George that you’ll be back again next summer.
With its windswept, craggy coves and ruined castles, discover the magical English coast that inspired Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series 75 years ago.