Five ways to celebrate the Famous Five in Dorset this summer
This year not only marks what would have been Blyton’s 120th birthday but it is also the 75th anniversary of the release of the first of in her ‘Famous Five’ series of books, considered by many to be her magnum opus.
Enid Blyton is one of the world’s most popular children’s writers of all time. Her books including Mallory Towers, Noddy and the Secret Seven have been loved by both children, and the adults reading to them, for generations.
The stories of Julian, Dick, Anne and Georgina’s (Call her George if you know what’s good for you!) adventures with Timmy the dog, all take place in the South West of England, during the adolescents’ summer holidays from school. For Blyton, Purbeck in Dorset was her favoured holiday destination, spending up to a month each year vacationing in the area. Her trips to this beautiful part of the country came to influence much of the content of the 600 books she wrote over a 40 year period, but none more so than her Famous Five series.
Whether it’s for one of Enid’s famous month long holidays, or just a bank holiday weekend, Dorset is a fabulous place to visit, and with such a connection to the famous author, we thought we’d give you five (get it?!) suggestions on how you could have your own Famous Five inspired adventure in the area.
1. Discover Corfe Castle
The ruins of Kirrin Castle located on the fictitious Kirrin Island, serve as one of the key locations in ‘Five on a Treasure Island’ — Blyton’s very first Famous Five book. It is perhaps no surprise to hear then that the ruins of Corfe Castle on the Isle of Purbeck, which Enid first visited in 1931, are thought to have been the inspiration for the Five’s debut outing.
Take a walk around the glorious ruins of Corfe Castle which dates all the way back to the Norman conquest, followed by a stroll around the charming village, which is also unsurprisingly the inspiration of Kirrin Village.
Once you’ve checked out everything Corfe has to offer, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous check out some of the stunning views by walking out to the Purbeck Ridgeway.
2. Take a ride on the steam train
From Corfe, the next Famous Five inspired location on any fan’s agenda should be Swanage, and what better way to get there than by steam train? Blyton did many of her journey’s down to Dorset on the train, and steam locomotives feature heavily in her works.
While most lines have allowed steam to give way to electric and diesel alternatives. Corfe still has its own steam railway, with a service that runs to the seaside town of Swanage so you can truly make yourself believe you’re living in the era of the Famous Five.
3. Take a dip in Swanage Bay
The Victorian resort of Swanage was Blyton’s favoured place to stay whenever she visited Purbeck. Blyton and her husband, Kenneth, even purchased the Swanage and Studland Golf Club there, which also crops up in her books.
When they were staying in Swanage it’s noted that Enid and Kenneth both enjoyed taking a dip in the sea, swimming around the then two piers which at that point existed in the bay. Today, just one of these piers survive however, in true Blyton style, it’s worth taking a dip in the pristine waters of Swanage bay. Just remember to stay safe, obey any instructions from lifeguards and to stick within the marker buoys.
4. Get the ferry to Brownsea Island
In the Five’s penultimate adventure ‘Five Have a Mystery to Solve’ the gang head to a mysterious island located in a giant blue harbour that goes by the name of ‘Whispering Island’.
The inspiration for this curious island was Brownsea Island, located in Poole Harbour. Which in Blyton’s heyday was owned by the reclusive Mary Bonham-Christie who forbade anyone to visit the island, as she felt it should be left to return completely to nature. Blyton famously called Brownsea Island ‘Keep Away Island’ as a result.
The island today is owned by the National Trust and can be accessed daily via a public ferry. The island offers an extensive expanse of pristine woodland and heath to explore, with a wide variety of wildlife — being notable in particular for being one of the last remaining places in the UK where you can view Britain’s native red squirrels in their native habitat.
5. And don’t forget the lashings of ginger beer
Now, sadly the term ‘lashings of ginger beer’ doesn’t actually show up in any Blyton book, funnily ‘lashings of boiled eggs’ does. But at any rate, thanks to Blyton’s sumptuously descriptive passages of the food and drink which the Five consume throughout their adventures, the books descriptions of food are now one of their most famous characteristics.
Whether you do all of the activities listed above or just one or two, the chances are you’re going to work up a healthy appetite. So, we think that perhaps the very best way to celebrate both Blyton’s birthday, and the anniversary of the Famous Five’s first outing, is with a picnic.
Blyton’s food may sound modest by today’s standards, but to a post-war audience used to rationing, the Famous Five’s meals would seem like a true banquet. Obviously pack whatever treats you like, but if you want to keep it authentically Blyton be sure to include some: egg and sardine sandwiches, tinned pineapples, ‘juicy’ pears, apples, ham, lettuce, tomatoes and of course, plenty of ginger beer and lemonade to wash it all down with.