FOR a literary and historic tour of England, make Bristol, not London, your base. Tread the city’s Treasure Island trail before shooting off east, west, north and south on your adventures. Bristol is at the heart of Robert Louis Stevenson’s beloved tale. Daniel Defoe met the mean-spirited Scot Alexander Selkirk here. Selkirk’s marooning inspired Robinson Crusoe. 
Bristol teems with the spirit of literature; history is everywhere. It’s also one of Britain’s hippest towns, similar to the youthful buzz Glasgow generated in the 1990s, with great indie restaurants and bars.
Bristol became our HQ when my wife and I set off to explore the literary and historic treasures of south-west England, with Rabbie’s Tours: a gem of the Scottish travel industry, that’s crafted some of the best tour experiences across Europe, Britain and Ireland. Buddy up with Rabbie’s and you get a personal driver-cum-tour guide. Ours was Dan, a human Google who knew the strange secrets of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset better than any pirate Stevenson ever imagined. Rabbie’s does all the work – booking hotels, driving you around – so all you do is enjoy the journey. It’s the most stress-free holiday going.
From Bristol our first stop was Tintagel Castle, said to be the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur. Even if the myth is a load of baloney, the rugged ruins of this 13th-century castle, lying along wild Cornish cliff-tops, are as dramatic as any story of Round Tables and Holy Grails. On the way to Tintagel, we drove through Exmoor National Park – check the wild ponies if you can – and stopped at the quaintest little town, Dunster, dominated by its Norman castle.
We spent a few days in pretty Falmouth, staying at the Greenbank Hotel, a gorgeous spot overlooking the town’s bay. Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows here. Greenbank staff bend over backwards for you, and the hotel restaurant had some of the best food of the entire trip.
Day two, and it’s St Ives, a hub for British art since the 19th century. After a tour around the Tate, and a lunch of fresh-caught lemon sole, we rolled through the lush Cornish countryside to the Minack Theatre, an open-air venue perched on the edge of towering cliffs not far from Land’s End. A production of Tristan and Iseult I saw there was like a live version of a classic Hollywood swashbuckler with actors zip-wiring through sword fights, teetering above the Atlantic Ocean.
We stopped to watch the sun go down over the splendid St Michael’s Mount, a crop of land in the bay of the sleepy town Marazion, that becomes an island once the tide comes in.
Roaming the moors was a delight. On Bodmin – home of the legendary beast – we arrived at Jamaica Inn, where Daphne Du Maurier set her eponymous novel, after a bracing morning at The Hurlers Standing Stones. Legend has it this neolithic site is the remains of godless types who dared play hurling one Sunday morning and were turned to stone.
On Dartmoor, we skirted the infamous prison and strode across the heath to the Tors, which inspired Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. All that exercise required a pasty and cream tea in picturesque Tavistock. Check out the Pannier Market there for weird and wonderful objets d’art. We overnighted in Exeter, with dinner at the famous Ship Inn where Sir Francis Drake would come for a pie and a pint. I did the same, and can highly recommend the pies. 
Next we’re deep in Dorset, Thomas Hardy country. Take time to stop in Lyme Regis, a classic Victorian English seaside town. Stroll down the Cobb – the beach promenade made famous by Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Though, rest assured John Fowles’s novel tops the movie. Spend the afternoon on the beach at the stunning Durdle Door – a natural limestone arch along the Jurassic coast, where you might, if eagle-eyed, find some fossils. I came home with a “devil’s toenail” – a 180-million-year old oyster.
The highlight, though, was Stonehenge. I’ve driven past this wonder of the world a few times while working in England, but up close it blew my mind. If you’ve visited the Pyramids or the Sistine Chapel and felt small before humanity’s achievements, prepare to become microscopic when faced with this Stone Age temple.
The next leg of our journey was into the Cotswolds, home of the thatched cottage, village green and millionaire holiday homes. Tintern Abbey took my wife’s breath away. She still talks about its ruined majesty, the abbey smashed by Henry VIII during his feud with Rome. No wonder Wordsworth penned one of his most famous poems here. Wordsworth’s pal and co-founder of Romanticism, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, spent a lot of time in this neck of the woods too.
You could lounge your life away in this part of the world, roaming the bijou art galleries and artisan lunch stops that speckle the map. We whiled an entire day away in Oxford, strolling through the colleges. Though, for my money, the Ashmolean Museum is the must-see attraction.
Finally, we were on the last leg of our week-long adventure, in Stratford-Upon-Avon.Our hotel, The Indigo, almost had me cross-eyed with joy: its exterior an authentic Tudor manor, all white plaster and black timber. Inside, you’re talking luxury, pure and simple. An unmissable stay.
You must see Shakespeare performed in his home town at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We were there when As You Like It was on. Once you’ve soaked up his words, head to his home and wander around the house where Shakespeare grew up.
From there, it’s a short walk to the site of his grave at the Holy Trinity Church. I confess, I got a wee lump in my throat there. My wife had to drag me away. But a calming pint at The Garrick, the site of an old inn where Shakespeare once went boozing, calmed me down for the trip back to Bristol, and our flight home.

For information on Rabbie’s visit


What to read:

If you take Rabbie’s literary and historic tours of England, you need some good books. Here are my suggestions:

1 Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

2 Le Morte D’Arthur, Thomas Mallory

3 The Wind in The Willows, Kenneth Grahame

4 Jamaica Inn, Daphne Du Maurier

5 The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

6 The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy

7 The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles

8 Stonehenge, Bernard Cornwell

9 Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

10 Shakespeare’s Sonnets