The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge


When life gives you lemons, I have learned from experience that you should read children’s books; preferably old-fashioned ones filled with unlikely coincidences, postcard pretty English countryside and lashings of easily packable food. They send you into fond reveries of a childhood you never actually had, and remind you of the possibilities of life when you are prepared to run off and have adventures. The Runaways is exactly that sort of book, and I found it the ideal antidote for adulthood. Elizabeth Goudge was a genius!

The Linnet children are those quintessential Edwardian storybook heroes; a band of perfectly sequenced girl-boy-girl-boy semi-orphans, who are left in the rambling house of an aging grandparent when their father is posted to the colonies. They are not badly treated, but life is dull and restrictive and the Linnets want an adventure. So, one afternoon, they decide to make a run for it. All is glorious until the sun starts to fade, the shadows begin to lengthen, and hunger gnaws at empty stomachs. Lost and alone in a rapidly darkening countryside, what are four defenceless children to do? Well, obviously stumble across a pony and cart that has been left outside a pub, which happens to be filled with someone’s weekly food shopping. They hop in, fill up on tinned sardines and biscuits, and let the pony take them off to its home, which is just a short journey away. Thankfully, the pony’s owner is a kindly elderly gent, who is only too happy to welcome the children into his cosy cottage and put them up for the night. The children can’t believe their luck, and when the elderly gentleman’s servant Ezra comes home from the pub singing and dancing in the early hours of the morning, it seems that their life is about to become much more exciting than at granny’s house.

In a shocking coincidence, the children find out the very next morning that the kindly elderly gentleman is none other than their father’s brother, Uncle Ambrose, who they have conveniently never met before. He has already been in touch with their grandmother, who has agreed that they can live with him, and they are now free to have as much fun as they like as long as they agree to be educated for a few hours a day. You’d think that there wouldn’t be much fun on offer in a sleepy Devonshire village largely populated by old people, but you’d be very, very wrong. For there is much amiss in High Barton. Not only does the village shopkeeper look suspiciously like a witch, but the two publicans are clearly up to no good, there is a huge tower of stones shaped like a lion up on the moor that is rumoured to be cursed, and the manor house at the edge of the village green is mysteriously overgrown and owned by the tragic recluse Lady Alicia, whose husband and son both disappeared many years ago.

With such a cast of characters to play with, the Linnet children soon manage to embroil themselves in all manner of tricky situations, and it’s all Ambrose and Ezra can do to keep them safe from harm. For it turns out that High Barton has been under a nasty spell for a long time, but can the children, through their pluck, charm and adventurous spirits, be the ones to finally break it and bring about a happy ever after? You’ll have to read it to find out!

I fell in love with this beautifully written vision of an idyllic childhood from the moment I started reading, and now I am very keen to hunt down more books by Elizabeth Goudge and imagine myself elsewhere. You just can’t beat her blend of whimsy and good old fashioned values; it’s like reading The Railway Children with some fairies and unicorns thrown in. Hesperus Press are definitely onto a winner with their latest publishing venture; The Runaways is just one of several reprinted children’s classics in their new imprint, Hesperus Minor, and I can’t wait to see what they’re bringing out next!



  1. “When life gives you lemons,,,etc.” … so true! I assume the author is Elizabeth Goudge of The Little White Horse fame, you should check that one out. I have currently retreated to the comfort of a child hood read as well. I read Durrell’s My Family and other animals in about year 7 and loved it but never had my own copy and recently I bought a cheap paperback and am again enjoying the gentle lyricism of that book.
    Off to check out Hesperus and what is available.

    1. I am planning on reading The Little White Horse – it sounds lovely! I’ve never read My Family and Other Animals and I really should. So much to catch up with!

  2. The American title of this book is Linnets and Valerians (a much better title, i think!) It was one of my favorite books in childhood and it has aged beautifully. Have you read any of her adult novels? I loved The Dean’s Watch and The Scent of Water. Actually, I love almost all of her books.

    1. Yes it sounds much more romantic doesn’t it! No – I haven’t read anything else by her at all but I very much want to now because I think she’s brilliant!

  3. Elizabeth Goudge has been a favorite of mine since I was a teen growing up during the war years. If you have not done so already, you will be enchanted with her “Damerosehay” trilogy; all her novels are simply heartwarming; I cannot think of enough adjectives to describe how wonderful she is.

  4. I was thinking of The Railway Children as I read your review and then you mentioned it at the end. I am not familiar with this author. I think I would like her. I will be looking for her books. They are probably very scarce here in a small town in the middle west U.S. A.

  5. When life gives me lemons I usually give it a good detective with a crime and an inspiring passion for their work. To be sincere, I have never considered reading children’s books, but it sounds like a great idea. As a non-native English speaker, I have to ask is it an all-time favourite in the UK?

  6. Children’s stories are lovely, I shall try following your lead! So sorry life isn’t full of glorious buttercream filled sponge at the moment, only lemons. It’s so like you to be a glass half full girl; and yet you still write with such enthusiasm for the books, even when a little glum! Books -the most important thing in life! Take care x

  7. Thanks for this review Rachel. I have read and loved a few random Elizabeth Goudge books, and didn’t realise she was being reprinted. Hooray! I have this one ordered and on its way. One I really enjoyed was Henrietta’s House. The descriptions of interior decorating are great fun! And The Little White Horse is responsible for my passion for ‘salmon pink geraniums’! I totally agree about the therapeutic benefits of children’s literature, and having started working in public libraries, I am astounded at how many grown-up serious-minded people indulge in them! In fact, I have discovered so many awesome children’s books as an adult, my sister and I are getting up a Children’s Literature Book Club. We both have baby girls and want to share as many of these great books with each other, so we can share them with our girls. Thanks again for another wonderful post.

    1. So glad you’ve bought a copy, Rebecca! I’m sure you’ll love it. You make her other books sound marvellous – I must hunt some down. How lovely about your club! What a brilliant idea. You must come back and give me some ideas once you get started as I’m always keen to hear about new children’s books.

  8. Elizabeth Goudge has to be my all-time favorite author, but I must say I have not yet read “Linnets and Valerians” yet! I am going to have to track that one down! Just reviewed her “Rosemary Tree” on my blog…. and I second the recommendation for her “Scent of Water”. If you like historical fiction “The White Witch” is also great (Civil War England).

  9. This sounds lovely – just what I ought to reading right now as an antidote to real life! (Instead I am reading the dystopia Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin for teaching.) We’re reading Elizabeth Goudge’s adult novels for the next reading group though, so I should have some reviews up in the next few weeks.

  10. But nobody has mentioned “A City of Bells” – wonderful! I didn’t know she wrote any books for children. I need to read Scent of Water and Rosemary tree, as suggested above. She could create magic!

  11. British children’s books! There always seem to be 4 siblings (2 boys, 2 girls). They always have a lot of freedom, and food is always very important. They’re always middle class or above. Of course I’m basing this only on the 2 classic series I’ve read (Narnia and Swallows and Amazons) and shouldn’t really venture an opinion on the subject since I’ve not read Enid Blyton, but I do love a retreat back into children’s books. What could be better comfort reading?

  12. When I first saw your review, I thought it was the Persephone children’s book called “The Runaway,” which I still have unread but that’s a completely different book! So now you’ve inspired me to look for Elizabeth Goudge and get around to reading some of my neglected Persephones. Last year I read “The Children Who Lived in a Barn,” which was delightful and also reminiscent of “The Boxcar Children” but without any fantasy elements. I just loved it so if you have time, look for it.

  13. I’m with Elena in that I usually go for detective stories, Ed McBain will always do if things get rough, or Maigret novels by Simenon.

    But I would have enjoyed this one back in the day. It’s perfect, a group of “orphans” off on and adventure in a strange place. Does it have a deserted island? I used to love stories about kids on deserted islands. 🙂

  14. Elizabeth Goudge was one of my mum’s favourite authors, and I inherited all her lovely books when she died. I’ts rare for anyone to mention her these days, so it was lovely to find this review here. Thank you 🙂

  15. Apologies for late comment, but “Linnets and Valerians” was my absolute childhood favourite and I wanted to re-read it before replying. Loved everything about it all over again, especially the stern but wonderful Uncle Ambrose. Nan’s parlour remains my ideal room.
    Thank you so much for reintroducing me!

  16. I loved “The Bird in the Tree” and “Pilgrim’s Inn” (in an earlier edition: “The Herb of Grace”). It might appeal to you as houses plays an important role – just remembering you liked “The Heir” and enjoy visiting old places…

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