Maybe it's because 2017 marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen. Or maybe it's because it's 20 years since a certain young wizard called Harry Potter first appeared on our bookshelves.

Whatever the reason, we've all been invited by Visit England to spend the next 12 months celebrating our Literary Heroes - their books and the places they lived, worked and were inspired by.

And not just the obvious destinations, either. Part of the thinking behind the celebrations is to get people visiting our more surprising literary hot-spots. Such as The New Forest.

Forest tourism chief, Anthony Climpson says: "For those who know their literature or where to look, the forest has some amazing literary connections to books about crime, magic and adventure."

He believes that one of the first places any bookworm should look is the village of Beaulieu which, arguably, could be described the forest's literary capital.

Correspondence shows that during the early 19th century, following her family's move to the Southampton area, Jane Austen herself took a turn up the Beaulieu river, accompanying her mother and sister on a boat. The three women passed Buckler's Hard, which would have been a working shipyard at the time.

At the other end of the century, Beaulieu's Montagu Arms Hotel became the base for Arthur Conan Doyle while he researched the background for his adventure novel, The White Company.

Far better known for his Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle was said to regard his adventure novel - set partly in Beaulieu Abbey and Minstead during the Hundred Years War - as a superior work. He is reported as saying: “When I wrote the last line, I remember that I cried: 'Well, I'll never beat that' and threw the ink pen at the opposite wall.”

He must have enjoyed his time at Beaulieu, however, because he later bought a house in the area. Bignall Wood near Minstead is privately owned now but during Conan Doyle's time there it was regarded as a place of mystery and speculation.

His son, Kingsley, died during World War I and Conan Doyle held séances at the house a desperate attempt to find comfort following the tragedy. It was said that the local postman refused to deliver to the property and when it came to interring Conan Doyle's body in the grounds at All Saints Church, Minstead, it was placed as far as possible from the building, befitting - as it was seen then - a spiritualist unbeliever.

The forest is home to another literary grave - that of Alice Liddell, better known as the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland. Under her married name of Alice Hargreaves she came to live in Lyndhurst and was a society hostess but at the age of four she met Charles Dodgson - better known as Lewis Carroll - and unwittingly became the inspiration for the little girl in Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the first draft of the Alice stories. Alice, who came to the forest in 1880, was said to find her fame a burden. She died in 1934 aged 82 and her grave can still be seen in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels in Lyndhurst.

Other writers connected to or inspired by the New Forest include Nevil Shute, who based part of his wartime adventure story, Requiem for a Wren, on his experiences during his time billeted at Exbury House during World War II, and Captain Marryat, whose story of the plucky Children of the New Forest became a smash hit following its publication in 1847.

Modern writers have been inspired by the forest and have set their novels there but it’s become a darker place in literary terms; a backdrop for crime, horror and even the supernatural.

In 2014 readers of Matthew Arlidge's blockbusting debut crime story Eeny Meeny were taken to an unspecified part of the New Forest when a traumatised, abducted woman recounts a horrendous tale of brutality and murder. Arlidge mentions the forest in several of his other books and is understood to be considering basing another crime novel in the area.

Horror of a supernatural kind is the theme in James Herbert's 1987 book, The Magic Cottage, with a New Forest plot involving bats, a 'crazy sect' and 'hideous creatures'. Writer Edward Rutherfurd was also inspired by the forest’s mysterious side and included a dragon and other fantastic creatures in his novel, The Forest, published in 2000 and which covers 1,000 years of the area’s rich history.

Of all forest-inspired books, this is Anthony Climpson’s favourite. “It’s a fantastic read and covers so many stories connected to New Forest history and life,” he says. “We like to think of the area as a place of nature and beauty, which it is, but it’s fascinating to see how many great stories it has inspired over the years.”

*The New Forest will be supporting the Year of Literary Heroes. For more information try