Apr 14, 2014

My English Literary Tour

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.

Why 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.


  1. Jennifer

    What a lovely trip sounds like you and your daughter had a fabulous time I have never been to England but one day I maybe lucky enough to go and this would be a great place to visit

    Have Fun

    1. It was such a lovely trip, Helen. I love England. I lived in London for seven years when I was younger. Such an exciting place. I hope you have the opportunity to visit soon!!

  2. Jenn, it sounds like you had the most marvellous time. Isn't Hilltop in the most lovely setting? Seeing these places in spring, even if a cool British spring, must have been such fun. Wondering if you'll head to the moors to visit the Bronte's home next time or if you have other sites in mind for the next trip. Love the idea of a spur of the moment trip!

  3. Hill Top Farm was a highlight, Annie. It is amazing how they have kept the cottage exactly as it was when Beatrix Potter was alive.

    I'm certainly someone who likes a good routine to get things done (ie getting words on the page!!), but there's nothing like just taking off unexpectedly to exciting places.

  4. Ahh, Jen! One of the first places we ever saw in the UK was the Lakes District and Wordsworth's grave. It was March and daffodils were growing all over it - such a fitting tribute, very goose bump inducing! I'd learned the poem in English and had always adored its lilt and swagger.
    Being much more a Bronte girl than an Austen girl I have also been to Haworth as Annie suggested and bought a leather bound copy of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights from the parsonage bookshop. Very special!
    And how wonderful that your daughter is going to grow to appreciate such fabulous writers!

  5. Aren't the Lakes beautiful, Amy. I could definitely spend a summer there writing my little heart out.

    So, looks like I'll have to organise another trip! Must visit Haworth!

  6. Jen, you lucky duck! Loved hearing about your trip. Hope you're going to share more travel reminiscences here in the future. I love them. I haven't yet made JA's cottage (got to her grave in 2004 - think it's so telling that her family didn't comment on her literary work at all). Dove Cottage is fascinating, isn't it? And such a small place to hold all those big personalities! Have you been to Haworth and seen the Bronte Parsonage? That's one of the most atmospheric places I've ever been. Mind you, it was a day very like the one here this morning. Rain and wind and the ghost of Heathcliff crying on the moors (well, no Heathcliff here but you know what I mean!). Welcome home!

    1. The Bronte Parsonage sounds fascinating, Anna. I haven't been there, so will add it to my list.

      Really enjoyed Dove Cottage. Yes, it did sound as though it was quite crowded!

      Love to post more about the trip. Will do another post next month. Still need to feature our Paris adventure.

  7. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I'd love to see the Lake District in spring.

  8. I would so love to go to Chawton, Jen! It must've been amazing to sit beside that desk. Sigh.

    When I was in England in September I went to The Eagle and The Child -- the pub where Tolkien, CS Lewis and the rest of the Inklings would meet. That had me smiling most broadly. On a previous trip I visited the Dickens' House in Doughty Street in London and I found that pretty awe-inspiring too. Gotta love me a good literary pilgrimage. :-)

  9. I'd love to visit The Eagle and The Child - I reckon you'd get that fantasy feeling there! Must do Dickens too.

    It was such a great trip. Am sad now it is over and I'm back to reality!

  10. What a wonderful trip, Jennifer. I'd love to go to Chawton, and many other places made famous by authors and poets. Last year I finally made it to London for the first time, so here's hoping I get back to England go further afield next time.

  11. Isn't London wonderful, Sue? We were only in London for two days this time and I took my little one to the Tower of London which she loved. There's to both of us going back one day soon.

  12. What a brilliant tour for a writer, Jen! How awesome to sit at Jane Austen's table and imagine her working on a manuscript! Did you have a shiver?

    And you and your daughter in Miss Potter's garden where naughty Peter Rabbit was born! Fantastic! Thanks for the mini-tour!

    1. It was such a brilliant tour, Sharon. I'm already dreaming about the next one.

  13. What a great tour! Glad you had such a wonderful time.

  14. Thanks, Claire. A truly wonderful time.