A couple of days in Boston can only scratch the surface! We were staying in the Copley Square Hotel so spent the first day wandering round that area. It might be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, but I felt that Boston Public Library wasn’t to be missed. It’s a work of art in its own right, built round a beautiful courtyard with water feature:


I’ve written about it and posted more photos on my library blog.

There are two beautiful churches near the library, Old South and Trinity. The latter has an amazing collection of stained glass windows by various artists including (below) Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.


I liked some of the quirky statuary around Copley Square and the nearby Public Garden: the Hare and the Tortoise (related to the Marathon), Make Way for Ducklings, polished by generations of children climbing on them, and Washington with his eccentric apparel. In Glasgow, it would be a traffic cone.




Slightly further away was the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This falls into the same category as Glasgow’s Burrell and the Frick in New York – the collections of one enormously rich patron of the arts. The difference here is that the collector was a woman, a very talented and imaginative one. Isabella (1840-1924) hired an architect for the museum, which opened in 1903, but insisted that it be built to her own specifications. She also directed how the exhibits should be arranged, and they remain as she left them to this day. Photographs weren’t allowed, but I took this picture of the internal courtyard before I knew that. It’s a wonderful place and well worth a visit.


On our second day, we crossed the river to Cambridge and wandered round Harvard. The heart of the University is Harvard Yard, presided over by John Harvard himself:


He has a very shiny foot because visitors rub it for some reason – we refrained because we had read that it was also a challenge for students to urinate on it! Just outside the yard is the Memorial Hall commemorating Harvard men who died in the Unionist cause:


Further out on campus, we also liked the quirky decorative brickwork on this building – and the rhinoceros.



After Harvard we hopped on the “T” back into Boston and spent some time wandering down by the harbour.


Copley Square was a great place to stay with plenty of restaurants nearby, interesting sights within walking distance and good transport links for exploring further. A wonderful start to our New England holiday.


Following in the footsteps of literary heroines

Green Gables
Green Gables

Last summer, I fulfilled a long-held ambition to visit Prince Edward Island, setting for one of my favourite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables. I wrote about it here, and was then inspired to re-read the whole Anne series. (If you’re interested, you can read what I’ve said about the books on my children’s literature blog. My opinions have changed over the years.) This got me thinking about other places that I have been inspired to visit by books.

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt is also a children’s book, although I read it as an adult, and the heroine, Dicey Tillerman, is every bit as strong a character as Anne. At the beginning of the story, she and her younger brothers and sister are waiting for their mother in a mall parking lot. She never comes back, and thirteen year old Dicey has to decide what to do. She has $10, a road map and the last known address of Aunt Cilla, the relative they were supposed to be driving to see. Scared to ask for help in case the family is separated, she takes them on a long trek in search of Cilla, which requires all her ingenuity.  You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next – and if you get hooked, there are several sequels. I can feel another re-reading project coming on myself.

So where did Dicey inspire me to go? Although the story opens in Connecticut, the family’s home is in Provincetown at the very tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The description of the sand dunes and the sea reeled me in, and for my very first visit to the US that was where I wanted to visit. I like to think I am somewhere near Dicey’s cabin on the dunes in these pictures – yes, that young woman in the pink top is me in Provincetown in 1992. I’m not sure I can quite believe that, although the other beach picture from our second visit in 1997 is much more recognisably “me”. How did that happen in just five years?


Lyme Regis
Lyme Regis

Another place I longed to see was Lyme Regis in Dorset. Jane Austen fans will remember that this is where Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb (harbour wall) in Persuasion. However, a stronger pull was that the Cobb is also where Sarah Woodruff stands staring out to sea in John Fowles’ brilliant and complex French Lieutenant’s Woman, a Victorian novel written from a twentieth century perspective. So a few years ago I too walked the Cobb (avoiding the fall) and the coast where Charles Smithson, Fowles’ hero, searches for fossils. I read the book again and, as with the Anne books, found my opinions had changed with the passage of time – not about its quality, I enjoyed it just as much, but about the ending. Fowles provides alternatives. When I was 21, the romantic ending seemed the most attractive but in later years I wondered whether the more independent life Sarah has forged in the second ending would not be better. Again, read it for yourself and decide!

Which places have other people visited because they read about them in novels?