In a crazy fit of spontaneousness, I booked a trip to Europe last month and left a few weeks later. Main destinations – Paris, London, The Lake District and Hampshire.
Jane Austen’s House Museum
Well, there’s a lovely little village called Chawton and in this little village is the house where Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life. It was in this gorgeous 17th century cottage that Jane revised Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice which were published in 1811 and 1813 respectively.
Encouraged by their success, Jane began to write with renewed vigor. Mansfield Park came out in 1814 and Emma in 1816. It was in this comfortable home that she completed Persuasion and began Sanditon, but illness prevented her from completing the manuscript.
Jane isn’t buried in the local churchyard next to her sister and mother. She’d travelled to Winchester to be near her doctor. She died there on 18 July 1817. She’s buried in Winchester Cathedral.
We walked down to St Nicholas Church and visited the graves of Jane’s sister Cassandra and her mother. The church grounds were covered in a gorgeous display of spring flowers. So beautiful and haunting at the same time.
There were some amazing things on display in Jane’s house. One of the most interesting was Jane’s gold and turquoise ring. The ring nearly left the UK on the finger of American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson who bought the ring at an auction at Sotheby’s in 2012. But due to a temporary export ban, a massive fundraising appeal, which saw Austen fans from around the world contribute and an anonymous donation of 100,000 pounds, the ring now lives in a display case in the cottage. Isn’t that a great story?
The most fascinating piece of furniture for me was the ‘desk’ where it is believed Jane wrote her novels. Here’s me being star struck by this little wooden table.
I loved visiting Jane’s house, reading tributes from Sir Walter Scott and Sir Winston Churchill, wandering through the rooms where Jane would have dreamt up her stories. It was a wonderful treat.
Dove Cottage & the Wordsworth Museum
The trip to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District was another literary treat. When William Wordsworth visited the area as a boy, it seemed like paradise. During a walking tour of the Lake District in 1799 with fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge he discovered an empty inn. Wordsworth fell in love with the building and moved in with his sister. It was here that the great poet wrote some of his greatest work.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Daffodils, William Wordsworth
Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm
|Image source: National Trust|
Our visit (I had my daughter with me) to Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey in the Lake District was brilliant. Visiting the beloved children’s writer’s house with my little one made the experience so magical. My daughter ran around the garden imagining Peter Rabbit nibbling carrots. She spotted the rat hole used by Mr. Samuel Whiskers and was able to look up the chimney Tom Kitten escaped up before being covered in butter and dough.
We bought a copy of The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding from the gift shop and my daughter read it cover to cover that night sitting by the fire of our gorgeous hotel.
I absolutely loved my literary tour of England. I wished I could have rented a little cottage in the Lake District and been inspired by daffodils to write some of the greatest prose of all time. I did take lots of notes and it just so happens that my latest book is set near Lake Windermere just at the time when the spring flowers are blooming.