Skip to content

Rural romance? Landscapes to love on Valentine’s day and beyond

Charlie Jordin
By Charlie Jordin

England is home to many beautiful, picturesque and historically-rich landscapes that provide a rich backdrop to the stories we tell ourselves. Novelists have often used them as metaphors for the trials and tribulations of love and romance in our books and on our screens, so here are some of our favourite rural literary locations to get your heart beating on Valentine’s day.

Cornwall’s wild coasts

Author Daphne du Maurier lived in Cornwall as a young woman, and the coastal scenery had a lasting impact on her work.

Her home Menabilly, on Cornwall’s south coast, became Manderley in ‘Rebecca’, a daunting, sprawling estate that symbolises the instability and lingering presence of the titular Rebecca. Both a mystery and a romance, Rebecca is a classic story for Valentine’s day.

Sweeping bay with pale sand and high cliffs dark green with foliage on a grey day seen from the top of a path
Part of the Cornish coast that so thrilled Daphne du Maurier | CPRE

Exmoor and Lorna Doone

If you like your romance more as melodrama, look no further than Lorna Doone and the landscape around Exmoor and its villages. With more plot turns than a modern soap, there’s kidnapping, violence and a criminal gang before she can finally settle down with her true love.

The novel uses the wild Exmoor landscape’s nooks and crannies for the notorious outlaw family’s activities, particularly the river valley of the East Lyn.

Old stone bridge by river ford on sunny day with white cottage surrounded by trees
The village of Malmsmead is the starting point to explore Doone Valley | travelib prime / Alamy Stock Photo

Box Hill, Surrey

If you fancy your romance less on the wild side but still with some windswept views, try Box Hill in Surrey, the site of the picnic in Jane Austen’s Emma.

With many still attracted there to admire the sweep of green in front of them the site is popular with cyclists, walkers and those on the lookout for orchids and butterflies, as well as the literary-inclined. Although the picnic was difficult for Emma, at least it put her on the path to realising her true feelings for Mr Knightley!

Three women and man watch young boy running on hill with view of fields and trees beyond.
People still gather to enjoy the views from Box Hill | CPRE

Derbyshire Moors and Jane Eyre

Derbyshire is one of the many northern settings of Jane Eyre, possibly one of England’s best-known romance stories.

A courageous heroine, Eyre’s journeys through the moors are one of the most iconic and memorable images of its book and film, with Charlotte Bronte using the landscape to represent the difficulties of her life and the wildness of romance.

You could even walk the Hathersage trail inspired by Jane Eyre. Interestingly, the trail includes Robin Hood’s cave, which takes us to another landscape.

Light grey stone tor with heather around it
The moors near Hathersage could provide a romantic backdrop for a Valentine’s stroll | Andrew Wood

Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Forest has become as famous as Robin Hood himself.

The folklore character of Maid Marian is revered by feminist interpreters – she’s courageous and good-hearted. Robin Hood is the famous folklore outlaw and legend considered to be Maid Marian’s husband or lover.

Hood and the Merry Men apparently resided in Sherwood Forest in Nottingham with the iconic oak tree Major Oak considered one of his hideouts. It’s said that Maid Marian lived with them and fell in love with Robin Hood there – under the greenwood tree.

Of course, some Yorkshire folks would tell you that Robin hailed from their county so if you prefer some moors and dales to the forest for your trysts, do head north!

Supported oak with autumn leaves and forest in background
The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest continues to provide shelter for wanderers in Sherwood Forest | David Mark / Alamy Stock Photo

Stourhead, Wiltshire

Given that we’ve stuck firmly with the romance of stories and legends, why not try a fictional landscape made real?

Opening in 1740, Stourhead is a remarkable landscape garden, our very own English Arcadia. Walking around the lake is supposed to replicate Aeneas’ journey to the underworld in Greek mythology.

The landscapes have been used in many romantic films, most famously Pride and Prejudice. The iconic temple of Apollo is the setting for Mr Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzie – in the film, if not the book.

View across landscaped valley to temple.
View across to the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead | Jane Seymour/CPRE

The landscape also features in Stanley Kubrick’s epic, Barry Lyndon, and most recently the television adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.

The artificially created lake was inspired by Italian Arcadian landscape paintings, an art style that presented a utopian view of nature, one that is unaffected by imperfection. Stourhead is the closest you can get to walking through the set of your own romantic film.

Oh, and as it is managed by our friends in the National Trust, it has a tea shop. And if your romancing goes particularly well, a pub within the gates for some celebratory bubbly!

Silhouette of couple walking across field with autumn trees in bright sunlight
Alex Caminada

Explainers

Dive deeper into the topics we care about with our handy explainer guides.