The places we read about in books exert a tremendous fascination. How else to explain the existence of phenomena like Universal’s Harry Potter world, or the restored homes of beloved authors, or literary walking tours of the cities and towns where those authors, and their characters, lived?
I have felt this pull to London, in particular, whose streets I first walked in childhood with Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear, and Sara Crewe, then later with so many of Charles Dickens’s characters (David Copperfield holding many favorites). For the all too brief time I lived in the city, I willingly added an extra half-mile to my morning journey so as to walk through Paddington Station.
This is to say, I love a literary tour. The guided variety is most welcome, but in the absence of an official guide, I’m happy simply to wander and explore.
Recently, I had the opportunity to discover Weathersfield, Connecticut, the setting for Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, with my friend Johnna Kaplan, who writes the travel blog The Size of Connecticut. The blog is a treasure for its wit, beautiful photography, and vicarious adventure. (And if you want to class up your Instagram feed, follow Johnna here and here. You will not be sorry!)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a favorite in my teen years. Kit Tyler arrives in Weathersfield in 1687 following the death of her grandfather, with whom she lived in Barbados, and moves in with her Puritan relatives. To my thinking, the novel had it all – history, adventure, friendship, romance. But the best part was Kit, the spunky heroine who acted on her conscience. I empathized with her struggle to adjust to the restrictive society she enters, to find her footing in an unfamiliar world, to reconcile what she believes is right and what she wants for herself with her loyalty to the family that has accepted her into its home. Basically, it’s everything you’d expect from a Newbery Medal-winning novel (1959).
Johnna and I didn’t do an official literary tour in that we didn’t have a Speare or historical expert on hand to tour the sites. But we did have a beautiful, temperate fall day and our curiosity and sense of adventure.
The enchanting town – and it is desperately enchanting, right down to the friendly locals we encountered on our walk, who all had a cheery “hello” for us – doesn’t look anything like it would have at the time it’s set. Most of the historic homes we saw, like this one, date to the mid 18th century or later:
We did, however, make our way to Weathersfield Cove and the Cove Warehouse, circa 1680, and therefore relevant to the time of the book:
And this gorgeous tree has likely been around for a few hundred years:
I loved it so much that I entertained fantasies of moving there, though my fantasy has so far not progressed beyond perusing (very appealing) real estate listings. For how, I’ll have to settle for tourism of the literary variety, with thanks to Speare and her lovely The Witch of Blackbird Pond.