As the author of four books about C. S. Lewis and his works, I am often asked for advice about touring the sites in Ireland and England related to this twentieth century author of The Chronicles of Narnia. My first Lewis pilgrimage to England and Ireland took place in 1982. Since then, I have returned many times, taking countless photographs along the way.
Lewis spent a lifetime in the British Isles; thus, one could spend a lifetime visiting the places in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales that Lewis so enjoyed. However, I will focus my recommendations to the few select places of most importance to Lewis’ life and work.
Why not begin at the beginning? Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on November 29, 1898. Thus, the best place to start with a C. S. Lewis Tour is in this cosmopolitan city known for its shipping industry in days of old.
Lewis was born in Strandtown, a suburb just outside Belfast city centre. Today, the C. S. Lewis Centenary Sculpture by Ross Wilson stands outside the Holywood Arches Library on Holywood Road. The sculpture depicts a young man beside the wardrobe of Lewis’ most famous book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe of the Narnia series. See the photo of my son, Jonathan, inspecting the back of the wardrobe; sadly, there is no way into Narnia from here.
One can follow the “C. S. Lewis Trail” from here to the location of Lewis’ birthplace, Dundela Villas. There is a blue plaque on the spot. Not far away is the church in which Lewis was baptized, St. Mark’s Dundela. This is definitely worth a stop to see the beautiful interior with stained glass window dedicated to the memory of Lewis’ parents, Albert and Flora.
From St. Mark’s it is but a hop, skip and a jump to Little Lea, the house in which Lewis was raised, at 76 Circular Road. Lewis wrote of his childhood home: “I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstair indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.”
Little Lea is a private residence, not open for tours. However, one may obtain a good view from the street through the gate.
Also nearby is Campbell College, a boys’ preparatory school that Lewis attended for a brief time in 1910.
A bit further afield is Crawfordsburn in County Down. Lewis once said that his idea of heaven was County Down with Oxford set in the middle of it.
In later life, when Lewis was a don at Oxford and later a professor at Cambridge, he still loved to visit his birthplace as frequently as possible. It was often to Crawfordsburn that he would come to stay, for the Old Inn there was close by to the home of his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves.
Greeves’ home, Silver Hill, may be viewed through the gate.
However, even better is a night or two spent at the Old Inn; it was here that Lewis brought his wife, fellow writer Joy Davidman, on honeymoon.
As the name suggests, the inn has a solid claim to being the oldest hotel in all of Ireland in continuous operation since the 1600s. The thatched roof on part of the establishment, as well as the four-poster beds in some of the rooms, make this cozy inn most charming.
From Belfast, it is quite easy to take a day trip by car to the Antrim Coast on the far northern tip of Ireland. It was here that Lewis often went on holiday as a child with his mother and brother. The drive is especially worth it for the spectacular scenery, in particular, the view of Dunluce Castle will be most meaningful to lovers of Narnia, for it was, most likely, on this fortress that Lewis modeled his picture of the ruins of Cair Paravel in his book, Prince Caspian.
Will Vaus is the author of Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis, The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story, The Hidden Story of Narnia: A Book-By-Book Guide to C. S. Lewis’ Spiritual Themes and Speaking of Jack: A C. S. Lewis Discussion Guide. Will’s books may be purchased on Amazon.com or signed copies from his web site: http://willvaus.com.