I have been home from my Jane Austen Tour to England for almost two weeks yet I am still basking in the afterglow. We visited many amazing cities, museums, stately homes and gardens associated with Jane Austen and her family which will fill up many future posts, but as I looked through photos and memorabilia for inspiration on where I should begin it brought back moments when my world went silent in surprise and awe. After years of appreciation and study of Austen’s novels and her world, this was my first trip to the country that she and her characters lived in—and my first step back in time to an era two hundred years ago—far removed from our lives of modern conveniences and technology. Here for your amusement are a few personal moments that I would like to share of my journey through Jane Austen’s world.
A Sunset in Ramsgate:
“When my niece Georgiana went to Ramsgate last summer, I made a point of her having two men-servants go with her.” – Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 37
After flying into Heathrow, touring thorough the grounds of Buckingham Palace, The British Museum, Covent Garden and The National Portrait Gallery in London we headed south east to the port city of Ramsgate in Kent. After a very long day of travel by plane (16 hours) and touring in Town followed by a three hour coach ride to our seaside destination we arrived at our lovely vintage hotel The Pegwell Bay Inn overlooking—you guessed it—Pegwell Bay, a shallow inlet in the English Channel coast at the estuary of the River Stour between Ramsgate and Sandwich. Exhausted, and running on pure adrenalin, I checked into my room, dressed for dinner and descended to the dining room, whose large terrace overlooked the bay. As the sun set to the west I was given an incredibly beautiful welcome to my first day in England—a sunset so vibrant and mesmerizing it would be worthy on anything I have witnessed in California or Hawaii. As the sea gulls swooped and cawed above me I understood this site’s draw to the Georgian and Regency gentility who frequented this delightful seaside town. Austen fans may remember it as the place mentioned in Pride and Prejudice where dastardly Mr. Wickham followed and wooed the fifteen year-old Georgiana Darcy, but it shall always be for me the first night in a country that I had long dreamed of visiting.
G & G:
“Our men had but indifferent weather for their visit to Godmersham, for it rained great part of the way there and all the way back.” – Jane Austen’s letter to her sister Cassandra, 1 September 1796
While in Kent, we toured two significant stately homes that Jane Austen visited many times: Godmersham Park, the primary residence of her wealthy elder brother Edward (yes, he owned multiple estates which earned more than the astounding £10,000 a year that her character Mr. Darcy’s estate of Pemberley generated), and Goodnestone Park, the home of the Bridges family whose daughter Elizabeth married Edward in 1791. Both of these estate names are ancient and inspired by the Dutch who settled this region centuries ago. Our tour guide kept getting the names mixed up as she described the estates. We laughed and were too merry to correct her. Even our trusty coach driver got them mixed up and took us to Goodnestone instead of Godmersham. Not to worry. They are within 9 miles of each other and the detour resulted in a serendipitous experience as we traveled down a narrow one lane country road lined with ancient oaks so large and dense that they created a dark tunnel of green enveloping us. When the trees ended quite suddenly we were brought back into the sunlight resulting in the sensation of total amazement as we viewed the rolling green countryside dotted with sheep and patchwork hedgerows. This was indeed the England that I had envisioned; so beautiful it took my breath away.
The Blue Bench Beckons:
“It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.” – Emma, Chapter 42
As a classically trained landscape designer, I was well aware that England was renowned for its long history of passionate gardening. I had my firsthand introduction at two country manor house gardens at Godmersham and Goodnestone, and despite viewing them in a down-pour to rival the weather I experience weekly at home near Seattle, WA, I was able to capture some beautiful photos which I will share in later post. What really stopped me in my tracks was this beautiful turquois blue bench nestled on a quiet pathway at the back of St. John’s College in Oxford. We were there to view the great university town known for its fabulous architecture of dreaming spies and (to Janeites) the alma mater of Jane Austen’s father George and her two brothers James and Henry. As we walked through the meticulously manicured quads of St. John’s College, admiring the stonework of the buildings, we came upon their back garden which opened up to a large lawn surrounded by ancient trees. The gravel footpath encircling it lead me to this delightful turquois blue bench. It reminded me of what the British do so well in their landscape design: create intimate garden rooms offering a secret respite among the clamor of daily life. Who could not resist the sirens call to sit there, but a moment, and drink it all in?
A Bird in the Hand:
“Having therefore, agreable to that & the natural turn of her mind to make every one happy, promised to become his Wife the next morning, he took his leave & the two Ladies sat down to Supper on a young Leveret, a brace of Partridges, a leash of Pheasants & a Dozen of Pigeons.” – Frederic and Elfreda, Chapter 3
Traveling south west from Winchester our day was to have a naval theme. We were headed to the sea and the port of Portsmouth, the former Royal Navy harbor where Jane Austen’s brothers Frank and Charles received their early training as mid-shipmen and launched their significant naval careers. Our first stop was at Cadland House, Fawley, to see the Drummond family’s amazing collection of nautical, equestrian and portraiture art and objects. As we departed by coach, squeezing down the narrow country lane, a pheasant and his ladybird skirted in front of our path dashing off into the thick brush on the side of the lane. Several of my fellow travelers spotted them too, including our colorful coach driver Mervin who commented in his charming Cotswold accent that they were inches away from becoming his dinner. We were all aware of hunting and killing birds as a gentleman’s sport from the many times Austen’s male characters talk about shooting, or engaging in it, in her novels and begin to fathom the importance of it when Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice offers to her neighbor, “When you have killed all your own birds, Mr. Bingley,” said her mother, “I beg you will come here, and shoot as many as you please on Mr. Bennet’s manor. I am sure he will be vastly happy to oblige you, and will save all the best of the covies for you.”
I had never seen a pheasant that was not dead, plucked, roasted and ready for consumption before. I had no idea that they were so beautifully plumed. The birds were so prized that they are raised by the estate gamekeeper and set free so the gentlemen would have “covies” to shoot on their own property. The estate manager at Godmersham told me that shooting foul was big business in England and hunters flew in from all over the world for the privilege of taking their aim at an English pheasant. Who knew that dotty Mrs. Bennet was indeed giving a great honor to her neighbor in offering her husband’s prized targets up for his enjoyment? Regardless of their value as game, I was so struck by finding pheasant in their natural environment that I will never look upon a roasted bird again with the same relish.
The Pastry Case:
“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.” – Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 15 June 1808
I had a delightful luncheon in Bath with fellow authors Jane Odiwe and Juliet Archer and their DH’s at Bea’s Vintage Tea Room behind the Assembly Rooms. The meal was superb, and like Jane Austen and her interest in sponge-cake, the attraction to the pastry and cakes on the menu was very interesting indeed. After sampling Bakewell Tart in Lyme Regis the day before, and adoring it, I abstained, and in Jane’s honor selected lemon sponge-cake. You can see by the pastry case at Bea’s they do a splendid job with their desserts and I was all anticipation of another new English discovery. My plate arrived and I dove in. It was delightful, but, the entire time I spied Jane Odiwe’s husband enjoying his slice of Bakewell tart and envied his selection. I had many great meals while I was in England but the local crab sandwich and Bakewell tart in Lyme Regis was to die for. The first thing I did when I returned home was to hunt down a recipe online and attempt to replicate it. I served my first attempt to willing guinea pig and fellow Janeite Christina Boyd. She enjoyed it too—along with the three slices I sent her home with—which were eaten in quick succession over the next twenty-four hours!
Traveling does open up your horizons and introduce you to things you never imagined to experience firsthand. Those special surprise moments I experienced on my trip will stay with me forever—along with my memories of the people I met and the mazing Austen sites I visited.
Stay tuned for my travelogue of further adventures in Austenland over the next few months.
© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com
I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this through your eyes. As a girl coming straight from the mean New York streets, I well remember the impression seeing my first pheasant (Dorset, 1968) made on me! None afterward equaled the astonishment and ravishment of that moment. Your male pheasant looks like a particularly plump fellow – almost bursting!
Many thanks DB. Since you have been to England over 30 times, this is quite a compliment. :-)
Loved the photos! In my own pilgrimage back in 1997, I couldn’t get over how pea-green and lush the England south of London was. We hope you will find space and time to share more images and recollections.
Yes, Jeffrey. I will be sharing over the next few months. Thanks for visiting.
It sounds like we both had a lovely British holiday–your pictures have me planning my next trip–Chawton, more time in Bath and to sample a Bakewell Tart! My father tried one, but I was too busy with Victoria Sponge and Scotch Eggs! Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories.
Oh Victoria Sponge. Must try that too. Great excuse to return soon, I hope. Thanks for visiting today.
Thank you so much for sharing…. Love the pictures with the great quotes you always find to accompany them, and reading your own experiences. Yum! I want some of your Bakewell tart and tea too! :-)
Thanks Carol. You are most welcome. The Bakewell tart trial run was a success. It might be my go-to dessert now.
These posts are a delight, Laurel Ann. That Bakewell tart couldn’t possibly rival your coconut cake, could they?
Thanks Christina. I think the Bakewell tart surpasses my grandmother’s coconut cake. You must try it at the next JASNA meeting!
Truly, three-dimensional, Laurel Ann!
You have combined photographs with your charming narrative and amazing knowledge of Jane Austen’s writings to bring to your readers a feeling of having accompanied you on this wonderful trip!
Thanks Barbara – you are too kind!
It is so enjoyable to read your travel reports, Laurel Ann. I love the way you are incorporating quotes from Jane Austen and her works, along with the lovely photographs.
I love to hear people’s first impressions of England when they arrive, and this has moved me very much. I look forward to hearing more, and I am only sad I didn’t get the chance to meet you in person when you were in Bath.
I have actually been on a upland game hunt for pheasant and even partridge. Looking back on that experience, it reminds me of the Musgrove girls out with Captain Wentworth & brother Charles. Ha!
Great post and love the pictures.
It sounds like a lovely beginning to your pilgrimage. I didn’t make it to any of those places so I enjoy living vicariously through you. I haven’t ever seen a dead pheasant only living ones by the side of the road here in New England.
Two weeks after the only trip abroad that I ever took (many years ago, and not to England), I was still so bemused by the experience that I needed a lot more time to sort it out for myself. I’m amazed that you have been able to write so coherently about your wonderful trip! (Still can’t figure out how you were able to post your previous “trip” message after being back such a short time!) Looking forward to more and more stories and pictures. Thank you, Laurel Ann, I really enjoyed your “few personal moments.”
What a wonderful “travelogue.” I am looking forward to many more posts and photographs. I am sorry to have missed the trip, but am hoping to make the visit next year for the festival in Bath (even if it does take forever and a day to get there from Western Washington!).
My first visit to the UK was on September 17, 2001, in the aftermath of 911 (and flying on American Airlines, no less). Driving through England and Scotland, I was so impressed with the kindness and generosity of the British. At times the circumstances cast a bit of a shadow on the experience, so I thank you for reviving memories of the beauty and grace of the English countryside…and the pastries. :-)
I hope you come back soon, Laurel Ann!
Welcome back to austenprose!
So delighted for you (and for your taking the time to post this charming travelogue)! Glad your trip answered :)
And what is a stroll in an Enlish country garden, if you’re not suddenly besieged by the English weather? It’s a must!
Looking forward to reading more as you post…