Jane Austen Tour Group at Chawton Cottage, 2013
“pursuit of novelty and amusement”… fulfilled!
Jet-lagged but buoyant, I am still tingling from my amazing 10 day excursion to Jane Austen’s England with fellow author Syrie James and 14 intrepid Janeites.
I have so much news to share. I do not know where to begin. The following is a brief recap of our incredible journey through southern England visiting many significant sites and homes associated with our favorite author and culminating at the Jane Austen Centre Festival in Bath. (I will blog about each day or site more extensively over the next few weeks, so please stay tuned.)
Jane Austen Tour Day 1:
Our arrival at Heathrow Airport, London, England. Left to right” Kathleen Dixon, Laurel Ann Nattress, Syrie James and tour guide Christina.
Can you tell we are excited? Our group of 16 Janeites assembled for the first time (after 16 hours of travel for me) at Heathrow airport and met each other and our tour guide Christina from Pathfinders Tours. The journey was put together by Ingenious Travel and included a traditional Jane Austen pilgrimage with an excursion to Kent and Lyme Regis.
A surprise visit to Buckingham Palace
Our first stop in London was a visit to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s primary residence Buckingham Palace. This was not on the itinerary, but since all of the group arrived without delay, our tour guide decided to add this stop. Were we thrilled? It was a Sunday so the streets around the palace were closed to traffic and we could stroll at leisure and enjoy the sunshine which welcomed us to London.
Visiting Jane Austen’s writing desk
Our first official stop was The British Library to see Jane Austen’s writing desk donated to the library by her great-great niece Joan Austen-Leigh. We were in awe. After dipping into their fabulous gift shop we departed for a tour of Covent Garden to see 10 Henrietta Street, her brother Henry and sister-in-law Eliza Austen’s former residence in London where Jane Austen stayed with them many times. After lunch we departed for The National Portrait Gallery to see Cassandra Austen’s watercolor of her sister Jane. Despite its tiny size it packed a wallop and brought tears to many eyes. We then departed by coach to Kent and arrived for an overnight in Ramsgate, the seaside resort where Jane Austen’s naval brother Frank resided and her character Georgiana Darcy had her near escape from eloping with the scheming Mr. Wickham.
Jane Austen Tour Day 2:
The Greek Temple at Godmersham Park, Kent
Goodnestone Park, Kent
Today we visited two stately homes: Godmersham Park owned by Jane Austen’s elder brother Edward Austen (later Knight) and Goodnestone Park, the family estate of the Elizabeth Bridges who married Edward in 1791. We toured the extensive grounds (Mrs. Elton would have approved) and enjoyed the fabulous picturesque landscape dotted with Grecian temples and ancient stone towers. It poured rain and we were soaked through, but no complaints were voiced from anyone. We were, after-all, in England.
Jane Austen Tour Day 3:
St. John’s College, Oxford
Departing Ramsgate we headed north to Oxford, the famous college town where Jane Austen’s father George and her brothers James and Henry attended St. John’s College. We were disappointed to learn that the college was closed to visitors because of an obnoxious St. Giles annual street fair, but Syrie James saved the day by sweet-talking the porter into letting our group tour the grounds. Squee!!!
St. Nicholas Church, Steventon, Hampshire
We continued on to Hampshire to Steventon and a surreal experience at St. Nicholas Church were Jane’s father was Rector and she resided for the first 25 years of her life. We continued on to Winchester to check into our hotel and have our welcome dinner there.
Jane Austen Tour: Day 4:
Portrait of Lord Nelson
We headed for the seashore today. Our first stop was at Cadland House, Fawley, to see the Drummond Family’s amazing collection of nautical, equestrian and portraiture art and objects. My favorite was of Admiral, Lord Nelson!
HMS Victory, Portsmouth
Continuing on with the naval theme, we visited the historic port of Portsmouth where Jane Austen’s brothers Frank and Charles attended the Royal Naval Academy and departed for their sea adventures. The highlight of the day was touring the HMS Victory (Nelson’s flagship) and then on to the National Museum of Naval History. Returning to Winchester, we ate at a fabulous local pub The Bishop on the Bridge. Our special guests were Austenesque authors Jane Odiwe, Monica Fairview, Lynn Shepherd and Nancy Kelley.
“My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.’
‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.” – Persuasion
Jane Austen Tour: Day 5:
The morning saw us on a walking tour of Winchester besides the Itchen River to 8 College Street, Jane Austen’s last residence, and then on the magnificent Winchester Cathedral where she is buried.
No 8 College St., Winchester
After the graveside service we departed for Chawton Cottage, The Jane Austen House Museum and a guided tour of The Chawton House Library at Chawton Manor and it’s church, St. Nicholas.
Laurel Ann & Syrie at Chawton Cottage
There was so much of Jane’s life significant to these locations that I cannot begin to summarize and will leave it for more detailed blogs in future. Suffice it to say, I floated through most of this day and still feel like it was a dream to be there and experience her home and the museum in her honor.
Jane Austen Tour: Day 6:
Walking the Cobb, Lyme Regis
We departed Winchester and headed west for Dorest and the seaside village of Lyme Regis where Jane Austen and her family holidayed and inspired her scenes in her novel Persuasion. There we walked along their famous Cobb, saw the spot where character Louisa Musgrove might have fallen, and walked through this delightful seaside town. I had a delicious local crab sandwich and my first Bakewell tart. I am hooked. At the end of the day we were bound for Bath and my excitement to see the famous Georgian spa city was only matched by Northanger Abbey’s character Catherine Morland.
“Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?” – Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen Tour: Day 7
The Regency Promenade, Bath
After a delightful breakfast we departed our hotel for the Royal Crescent Lawn to view the Jane Austen Festival’s Regency Promenade. I connected with author Jane Odiwe (who owns a townhouse in Bath) to view 700 participants in full Regency regalia paraded past us, included many of our tour group members.
Lunch at Bea’s Tearoom with Juliet Archer, Laurel Ann and Jane Odiwe
After this exhilarating spectacle, Jane and I proceeded to Bea’s Tearoom for luncheon with fellow author Juliet Archer, a most welcome surprise. Our meal was fabulous. I order lemon sponge cake for desert, but I was so envious of Jane’s husband who ordered Bakewell tart!
The Assembly Rooms, Bath
Next, we toured the fabulous No 1 Royal Crescent, a real Georgian-era townhouse with period furnishings and an amazing gift shop. This was a definite highlight of my Bath experience for me so far (not the gift shop, but the home!) Our guide then took us on a walking tour of Bath past the Assembly Rooms, the Pump Rooms, Bath Abbey and all of the homes where Jane Austen and her family had resided. My day ended with a walk through Sydney Gardens by Jane and a quiet dinner at her delightful home nearby.
Jane Austen Tour: Day 8:
The Roman Baths, Bath
Many of the member’s attended a talk this morning at the Mineral Water Hospital on Jane Austen fashions, but I jettisoned from the group to attend Sunday service at Bath Abbey and tour The Roman Baths, which did not disappoint. The gift shop there was superb and I purchased many gifts for family and friends.
Lacock Village, Wiltshire
We all met again at the hotel to depart for Lacock Village, a spot that time has forgotten, and many of the period movies have been filmed at including Pride and Prejudice 1995. I had a lovely authentic English luncheon of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at the Angel Inn, a tavern with roots back to the 1200’s.
The Jane Austen Centre, Bath
Upon our arrival back to Bath, I dashed through the rain to see the Assembly Rooms, the Fashion Museum and my last stop, The Jane Austen Centre gift shop to load up on more Austen-inspired gifts. More on all the Austen loot I accumulated and how I fit it into my small suitcase in a later post. Our final dinner together was in Bath at Sir Walter Elliot’s House for an evening of Regency-style entertainment, a buffet dinner (including lemon syllabub), and live music and dancing. As we headed home to our hotel, my head was swimming from the music and all of the incredible places and events I had been privileged to experience.
Jane Austen Tour: Day 9:
Jane Austen’s writing table at Chawton Cottage, Hampshire
After breakfast at the hotel we said goodbye to Bath and headed to Heathrow for our departure. We said our thanks you’s and tearful farewells on the coach and were deposited curbside at our respective airport terminals. Some members were staying on in London, but I flew home that day. After 18 hours I was finally home. Truly exhausted, but satisfied that I had the most wonderful experience of my life. Now I could really share my passion for Jane Austen first hand. I had been to England and fulfilled my dream of a Jane Austen pilgrimage filled with “novelty and amusement.”
© Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com