England Revisited – Hello London!

Last but certainly not least, it was time for the big town.

Having returned our rental car at Heathrow, our taxi ride in a black Mercedes into London was a crescendo of anticipation. A long ride on M4 was followed by A4, Natural History Museum on Cromwell Rd, Harrods on Brompton Rd, Hyde Park, Wellington Arch, and a few more minutes of snaking through the traffic of Piccadilly, we arrived at Cavendish Hotel. Centrally and conveniently located with fantastic view from our room on 9th floor, I couldn’t have hoped for a better welcome to London! Adding to the excitement were Jubilee activities taking place on Jermyn Street.

And I couldn’t be happier with the location, walking distance to many great places, Fornum and Mason, which I had visited often, is just across the street, Academy of Arts practically a block away, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, The Mall, Buckingham Palace, Green Park and St James Park, Hyde Park, St James and St Martin in the Field where I had been to for concerts and such. The list goes on and on. It is close to luxuries such as Ritz, Lanesborough, Galvin at Windows, Old Bond Street, Burlington Arcade and Piccadilly Arcade, but also close to packs of eateries and shops that are easier on the wallet, and main shopping areas on Regent Street and Oxford Street are also close by.

It seems that central London is always busy, with the exception of first lockdown in 2020. During our stay, it was less busy than before the pandemic, especially after the Jubilee, which I preferred. The rest of our stay was a whirlwind of visiting with friends, shopping, eating, and having a good time.

Old Bond Street

Burlington Arcade, Fornum and Mason and Piccadilly Arcade

Lovely dinner and best Crème Brulee ever at Cote on St Martin’s Lane

Cote is one of my favorite places to eat in London. We walked there via Leicester Square and strolled leisurely back via Trafalgar Square.

Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus

Shopping on Regent Street, lunch at Bilmore then a leisurely stroll back via Oxford Street.

Green Park and St James Park

London has many amazing parks. We were able to revisit the closest two, Green Park and St James Park.

A Happy Birthday!

I am a tea drinker and Afternoon Tea works its wonder on me. I think I can safely say that nowhere else comes close to the variety and quality of Afternoon Tea that London can offer. Among a list of places I’d tried, Dorchester and Fornum and Mason come up on top, Dorchester for most gorgeous tearoom, and F&M for most delicious savories and sweets. This time, I booked Peter Pan themed afternoon tea at Aqua, Shard for my birthday.

Fortuitously, Jane Ausen Society London Branch, of which I am still a member, organized a walking tour following Jane Austen’s footsteps between Convent Garden and Twining on The Strand that would coincide with my birthday. I couldn’t have planned it better.

Highlights of our walk included Royal Drury Lane, Convent Garden Markets, St Paul’s Church, Henry Austen’s house on Henrietta Street where Jane Austen stayed, Somerset House and Twining where Jane Austen was believed to have shopped.

“What! Are they naked?”

In addition to the lucky walking tour, we landed on extra entertainment. One day while waiting at a bus stop on Piccadilly just outside the main gate to Academy of Art and across from Fornum and Mason, a large group of cyclists appeared a few blocks away on Piccadilly. My husband was wondering out loud, “Are they naked?”. I couldn’t tell and had to use my camera to zoom in. Yup, they were wearing between very little to utterly nothing. We thought they might be passing by but they turned down to St James Street instead. And I was not disappointed, I’d probably be more embarrassed than the nude cyclists if they got too close, ha-ha!

And guess what! An hour or so later, having done my shopping at Twining on the Strand, I was standing outside the store front, admiring the majestic Royal Courts of Justices right across the street, who else but that same group of cyclists, hundreds of them, appeared on the other side of the street, streamed down The Strand eastwards right by the Royal Courts of Justices. Being closer this time, I had a better view, but was still able to avoid the embarrassing details, thanks to my nearsightedness. While a few painted themselves orange, green, or something else, the majority of them had nothing but their birthday suits on. A few boasts of eye pleasing physiques, most are average, and a few not so great.   

It couldn’t be comfortable riding in one’s birthday suit, could it? I couldn’t help but wonder what they were baring themselves for!? It was picked up by many news media of course, but this is the official website, World Naked Bike Ride London: https://wnbrlondon.uk/

London is probably not stranger to quirkiness, but we somehow didn’t run into this one when we lived there.

London, we will meet again!

Dinner at Hawksmoor on Air Street on the day before leaving was delicious and London under full moon was memorable. I won’t say good bye London, we will meet again!

England Revisited – Staying in an English Village

Where to go for first oversea vacation in 2 years? No brainer really, back to England of course!

At this point, dear Blog, I should explain about this hiatus of more than two years. We moved back to USA in Sep. 2020. Although that is not the only reason for the abrupt halt to my posts, I’ll spare you the details of vicissitude, and focus on returning to England for a holiday.

Living in London between 2015 and 2020 was truly the time of my life. Although I had been a fan and visited multiple times prior to moving to London, those five years afforded me the opportunity to explore further the British Isle in length and depth that I had not expected. I am now convinced that, despite its own host of issues and imperfections, the British Isle is my happy place. Interesting fact was that I didn’t come to the conclusion until after moving back to US. Sometimes one must step away to see the big picture.

Needless to say, it was exciting to be back. During almost three weeks’ time between May 26 – Jun 13, we stayed with a couple of friends in their village in Essex, took a road trip and finally spent a good portion of time in London. As a friend put it, “England is the best this time of the year”, I couldn’t agree more, I was reminded many times why I love England!

As much as I enjoy London the big town, I love the countryside too, and no visit to England would be complete without experiencing its countryside & village life, its heart and soul! Luckily, we were invited to stay with our dear friends Amanda and Ian in their village in Essex.

Having arrived at Heathrow Airport on May 26, we picked up our rental car from Enterprise, and drove towards Amanda and Ian. Heathrow, Enterprise, M25 and service areas on the way are formerly familiar stomping grounds, fatigue from the long flight swept away, and the excitement built, “Hello UK, I am back!”. As we left the traffic behind, entered the rural scene and along with it that sense of peace and quiet that I enjoy so much in the English countryside. Thus we began the first 4 days of our holiday.

Being close to London, our friends get the best of both country and town. Meanwhile, like many villages in UK, it boasts a long history and hosts a number of Grade II listed buildings. Although I have visited multiple times before, I still find it irresistible!! Take a little stroll with me through one of the walking routes, crossing wheat fields, picking on Elder Flowers, Dog Roses, and Sticky Grass while minding and avoiding Nettles, looking for the elusive manor house, which alas was completely concealed in greenery this time of the year, visiting Parish Church of St Mary dating back to 12th century, walking through high street spotting various old and new buildings, stopping at a war memorial, which is something you might see in every village of certain age and a way of reminding its residents how precious peace is, and watching a Saturday cricket match. And certainly, don’t forget delicious tea and cake at the end of the walk.

London Diary – Jane Austen Day at Painshill

Jul 16, 2017

A lovely day out in Surrey! We went to Painshill for Jane Austen day and discovered what a gem that Painshill is. A classic English 18th century landscaped garden, it couldn’t have been a more perfect setting for a JA day.

London Diary – Jane Austen Festival in Bath!

Sep 12, 2016

It is not officially autumn yet, but it is unmistakably palpable, cooling spells, leaves on the streets, schools starting last week and it seemed all the sudden it is starting to get dark at 8 not 10. It is at such turn of the season Bath welcomes its annual Jane Austen Festival. We were there for its opening over the past weekend. Three times in Bath, I like it better each time. In fact, it is becoming my favorite of all cities.

Beautifully situated along River Avon and over the hills on its banks, Bath is a prefect union of town and country. From architectural delights in the heart of the city, Bath Abbey, Roman Bath, Pump Room, Guild Hall, Putney Bridge, Royal Crescent, The Circus, The Assembly Room, to its average honey colored sand stone buildings and houses, to Queens Square, Victoria Park and Parade Garden, Bath is lovely to behold. Drive up to Alexandra Park south of the river, a breath taking view of Bath awaits. Fox and Hound north of the city is a popular pub with lovely view and great food. From that outward, Bath is surrounded with that typical, delightful Cotswold country side.

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Making it extra fun for me is Jane Austen Festival, which is a 10 days event and each day is filled with a range of programs. The costume parade is one of the highlights and officially commences the festival. The first time we went to the festival in 2014, there were more than 500 people participated in the costume parade, a record breaking year and a spectacular parade. The weather was less than perfect this time. But despite the rain, more than 300 people participated in the parade. We again were observers of the parade, next year I have a mind to go back in costume.

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Other events we did included pre festival get together, Jane Austen afternoon tea at Pump Room, a festival fayre at Assembly room, where you find Regency costumes and accessories for sale, and a 20 minute, comical version of Pride and Prejudice performance. My favourite was Austen Undone, a brilliant 90 minute program that seamlessly fitting together a walking tour with storytelling. The story is a spinoff of Austen characters, plots and humor. We got to watch it unfold live on the streets of Bath. Hilarious!

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Icing on the cake are the many fun places to shop, a few special mentions, Barlett Antique Center near Assembly Room, Mallory and Miles Mann (jewelry) near Bath Abbey, Alexandra May (costume jewelry) near Royal Crescent, Milsom Place, market at Guild Hall and monthly Artisan Market at Green Park Station.

London Diary – One Weekend with Jane Austen, National Portrait Gallery, China Town and Antique Fair

“London is not a city, it is a world!” I couldn’t agree more. Since moving to London, my motto is “to live like a tourist”, the reality is closer to ‘Resident during the week and Tourist on the weekend’.

Jan 9, 2016
It is a day dedicated to Miss Jane Austen; I am joining Jane Austen Society in London for the first time for a group meeting in the afternoon. So it seemed a perfect plot to see Jane Austen’s portrait by her sister Cassandra at National Portrait Gallery before the meeting.

As it turns out, China Town is in the area, so we decided to walk through China Town from Tottenham Court on way to National Portrait Gallery, which is right next to National Gallery.

We finally made it to China Town for the first time, after all these visits to London. It is a small area encompassing a few streets and decorated by colorful and handsome gates and large red lanterns. Gerrard Street in the center of it is lined with enticing fronts of restaurants and shops. Grocery stores, bakeries and shops displaying Cantonese style, deliciously golden roast ducks. While there are Hunan and Schezuan restaurants, most seem to serve Dim Sum and Cantonese/Hong Kong style cuisine.

As soon as we arrived, craving for Dim Sum surged and we decided to slightly alter the plan by having Dim Sum for lunch instead. We tried Wan Chai Corner, it was delicious!

After lunch, we had an hour for National Portrait Gallery, luckily, it was about 5 minutes’ walk to it from China Town, passing Leicester Square on the way.

It was my first time at the gallery and we went straight to level 2 where we’d find Jane Austen’s portrait. Once inside the exhibit room, I was instantly drawn to it. What a fascinating place, rows and rows of beautiful portraits covering its walls. I felt as if I had stepped into a wonder land. After a few rooms full of grand, opulent royal portraits, we came to the room of the Romantics where the small portrait of Jane Austen, a penciled sketch by her sister Cassandra, is ensconced in a highly protective case. It is quite sad, really, that this is the only portrait of her that exists. Moreover, it is said to not be a true likeness and is called by some “Cassandra’s failure”. Nonetheless, Jane Austen is vividly alive in the hearts and minds of her fans.

Once I paid my pilgrimage to Jane Austen’s portrait, I was able to direct my attention to the other portraits in the room. It was mesmerizing; there you have in the room some of the giants of the Romantic Movement, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, so on.

I asked about Lord Byron, and was told Byron is on loan to Russia.

The Bronte sisters were my next search and I found them on ground level next to Charles Dickens and not far from Charles Darwin. That was all the time I had. I was sorry to have to leave already but I know I would be back.

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Jan 10, 2016
I watch Antique Road Show, both US edition and UK edition. In addition to the items themselves being interesting, the history and stories of people involved with them are also fascinating.

In comparison, UK edition has showcased older and higher quality items. When I found out about The Mayfair Antique and Fine Art Fair, I couldn’t help but jump on the opportunity. It was a 3 day event held at Marriot at Grosvenor Square. Exhibitors are antique dealers and the items on display are beautiful, museum quality pieces. It was great, we enjoyed it very much.

Unlike other type of shopping, you can bargain, and don’t be afraid to do so. This fair is held multiple times a year at various locations. Find out more at this link: http://adfl.co.uk/.

England 2014 (3) – Finding Jane in Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon, Hampshire and lived there for the first 25 years of her life. At 25, her father retired and moved the family to Bath where she lived for 6 years. After her father die, she moved back to Hampshire and remained in Hampshire until the last of her days. After Bath, she lived at first at Southampton for 3 years before settling at Chawton Cottage as her last home. When her illness worsened, she moved to Winchester to be near her doctor. Sadly she died there weeks later and was buried at Winchester Cathedral.

Jane left her foot prints at many places, but Hampshire was her home, the center of her universe and where she left the most of her marks. To me, Hampshire is the Jane Austen country; it is the heart and soul of Austen land.

If Bath and the festival were the perfect start and warm up for my quest to find Jane, I was ready for more. We now made our way towards Steventon, Hampshire, with great anticipation, albeit not exactly clear what to expect.


Although Steventon Rectory, the house where she lived in Steventon, had been demolished, site of the house remains unoccupied, and Steventon’s St Nicholas Parish Church, of which her father was the rector and an important part of her life there, stands intact. Besides Steventon, Jane’s social life often took her to nearby villages and towns where she visited and stayed with friends or attended social events.

I had made a wish list of places with a connection to Jane; which, among others, included Dean House of Overton where she reportedly met Tom Lefroy the first time, Ashe Rectory of Ashe Village where Lefroy’s aunt and uncle lived and where she visited, Basingstoke Assembly Room where she danced, which is now Barclay Bank, and Oakley Hall, from which Jane reportedly drew inspiration for some elements of her Mansfield Park. Luckily Oakley Hall is now a hotel and was available for the night I would be in the area. With access to Oakley Hall securely covered, my primary desire was to find the church and the site and see what else come my way.

As we drew closer to Hampshire, glimpses of rolling, green hills came into sight; it gladdened my heart and excited my imagination for it seemed to be announcing proximity to Jane Austen country. Finally we arrived at Steventon late afternoon.

With an address being no more specific than “St Nicholas Church, Steventon, Basingstoke, Hampshire”, we fumbled a bit around the small village before turning on to a narrow one car gravel path lined by tall and heavy hedges on both sides. Several minutes on it, Voila, I spotted a sign for the church pointing to another path on the right that looked just like the one we came from.

We turned right accordingly, pushed forward searchingly and slowly, several more minutes later, the path widened up and the hedge on the left side thinned out, we could see fenced fields and paddocks. Shortly after that, the road seemed to be coming into a cul-de-sac like end of road. Straight ahead, a sign of “Private” marked the begging of a tiny dirt path which quickly disappeared into the woods; to the right, we could see a large red brick house wrapped in scaffolds, obviously under renovation and/or expansion, was it the Steventon Manor House? It seemed a substantial house and quite handsome but I did not linger any more on it.

The huge tree on the left drew my attention, and one single car that parked not far from it. With a few more paces forward, there it was, the front of St Nicholas Church of Steveton revealed itself, with a façade that I had seen multiple times in photos, no longer behind the huge span of that big tree.

I did not rush in. I stood still and stared for a moment. By now, I figured out the gigantic tree to be the 900 year old Yew tree that I read about, so I went forward to take a closer look. While I was taking photos, my husband approached the front door and found it locked.

Before he had a chance to communicate to me what would have been a devastating news, the door was opened from inside and two ladies walked out. They were from US too, visiting Jane while in England for a holiday. We chatted and exchanged well wishes before we parted ways. And I was ready to go in.

Small and unassuming, it was Jane’s church, and it just felt so dear and special to me. I took my time inside, checking out all that I could and then I sat down on a bench on the first row. I sat there quietly and thought, “This is probably as close as I can get to Jane.”

When we left, we made sure we closed up the door tightly but left it unlocked just in case; I would hate to disappoint anyone who might come in later. The church is supposed to remain open during the day but someone comes to lock it up for the night.

Finding the site of the former Stenventon Rectory proved to be a bit trickier. We decided that it was most likely the field at the corner where the two paths intersected but there was not any sign to confirm it. The hedge on the path in front of the church was so thick we could hardly see through it. On the other path however, we found a railed up opening in the hedge and pushed up close to look the field over. Across the field from there were a bunch of wooden planks standing up in a higgledy wiggledy circle with a sign that says something to the effect of Danger, Keep out, which my telephoto lens help read. There was another sign on the field stating the field is private and under a conservation project. I realized that could be the old water pump on the site.

And then I spotted a house with white exterior sitting on the hill across the path and the drive leading up to it was securely gated up. The firmly closed gate was anti climax but it was my Ah Huh moment nonetheless. It reminded me of a photo I saw. This house very well could be the new Steventon Rectory that Jane’s brother Edward Knight built for his son after demolishing the former one where Jane had lived.

To ascertain, I turned back to the path leading up to the church and traced the hedge until I found a relatively thinner spot where I could squeeze through up to the fence. There what I saw perfectly matched the one I had seen before of the site and the Steventon Rectory that Edward Knight built.

Until that moment, I did not realize how quiet the village had been, besides those two American women and a few horses, there had been no encounter of anyone else. And there stretched out in front of me serenely was the field with the lime tree and the boarded up old pump that was the site of Jane’s former home. It was a large field; to the far left, there were horde of cows grazing, to the far right beyond the fence, new Steventon Rectory perching on its hill, in the distance in between, the silhouettes of a few other houses rubbing shoulders with trees, further into the distance were rolling hills and woods and the horizon. The search in Steventon ended with that memorable picture that I took home with me.

St Nicholas Church of Steveton

St Nicholas Church of Steveton

St Nicholas Church of Steveton

St Nicholas Church of Steveton

A Plaque St Nicholas Church of Steveton dedicated to Jane Austen

A Plaque St Nicholas Church of Steveton dedicated to Jane Austen

I made it!

I made it!

Site of former Steveton Rectory

Site of former Steveton Rectory

Oakley Hall

Oakley Hall, only 3 miles from Steventon, is an enchanting place. The 18th century manor house is handsome and elegant. It has a rambling ground with walking path that stretches far in the back of the house. Gracing the front of the house is a pleasing view of gentle hills and open fields.

Owners of the house in Jane’s time, the Bramstons, were good friends of the Austen family. It is suggested that Jane Austen’s novel “Mansfield Park” is based on Oakley Hall and that Lady Bertram was based on Mrs. Bramston.

Besides the guest rooms in the main building, there are more rooms in the building that was formerly the stable. The building might be 18th century, all rooms are elegantly and conveniently contemporary. The breakfast room is decked out the same contemporary style that the rooms are. The library however looks as though it’s kept its former grace and glory. Both the breakfast room and the library are located on the back of the house and look out to pleasant view of the ground.

A little chat with a staff member led her to mention about the cottage in the back, where, according to her, Jane had stayed and done some writing. A little foot path in the back of the house took us to the cottage in a few minutes. Sitting between lawns and fields, and although not far away, the cottage could not be seen from the house due to the trees and shrubs by the path. Ambling down the path and around the cottage in a faint drizzle and a delightful peacefulness, I felt slighted intoxicated, as if I had been touched by the very spirit of Jane Austen country.

Oakley Hall’s front facade

Oakley Hall’s front facade

Oakley Hall - view from the front

Oakley Hall – view from the front

Oakley Hall – back of the house

Oakley Hall – back of the house

Oakley Hall - Cottage in the back

Oakley Hall – Cottage in the back


I would have liked to linger at Oakley Hall a bit longer but Chawton awaited.

Chawton is no more than 16 miles from Oakley Hall. The postmodern reality between Oakley Hall and Chawton however created an anachronistic illusion and made it seemed further. Almost as suddenly, we arrived at Jane Austen House Museum, aka Chawton Cottage, a red brick house that I had seen multiple times in photos, and by then, the sky had cleared up beautifully.

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage was owned by Edward Knight, Jane’s brother who was adopted by their father’s rich nephew Thomas Knight and eventually inherited the knights’ estate. The cottage became available when Jane was living in Southampton and Edward offered it to his mother, sisters and a friend of the sisters to live for free for the rest of their lives. Chawton Cottage was sold by the Knight family to Thomas Edward Carpenter who later donated it. Jane Austen House Museum is now owned and run by Jane Austen Memorial Trust.

The ticket office cum souvenir shop is in an angle shaped building separated from the main house so the tour starts with a show of this building that used to function as storage and bake house, etc. After that, a lovely garden greets you. It is a large garden with trees and shrubs and tall hedges marking its borders in the back, left and right. An open green lawn dominates the center, to one corner, is a garden of flowers, the other, a sitting area with a tree in the center and a bench wrapped around. On the back hedge, there is an opening in the shape of an arched door, by the hedge on the left side, there is a little foot path quietly screened by the hedge and shrubs, as if a little secret place for lovers to steal a kiss.

The first part of the house we saw was the kitchen. Taking a quick turn in it, the kitchen scenes in Miss Austen Regrets came to mind. A poster in the kitchen explains the situation as although the Austens employed a cook, the Austen sisters helped out with the housekeeping at Chawton Cottage. They would not have been involved with this kind of chores however when they were visiting their wealthy brother Edward Knight.

Next was the drawing room. When we entered, a few people were already in there. Moments later, none but one gentleman remained and he approached me.

“Are you a fan”, he asked.

“I call myself a fan,” I answered. And we smiled.

He introduced himself, at the same time pointing to his name tag that said “Jeremy Knight”. Not waiting for my reaction, he immediately turned and pointed to the family tree on a wall close to us while saying “Does the name mean anything to you?”

“Of course”, I replied excitedly, “you are descendant of Edward Knight”.

And yes, he is indeed direct descendant of Edward Knight and he volunteers at the cottage museum during summer time. It was my lucky day. And how could I resist asking for a photo op? He obliged but not before taking his nametag off. He was so adroit at it and I was so excited that I did not notice the act until he put it back on later and explained that it’s his standard practice.

We chatted on. I asked him which of Jane’s book he likes most. Instead of answering, he joked that I was probably finding out if he had read the novels or not. I replied I was picking his brains because I would consider him expert on the subject. I also asked which of the heroines would be his favorite. And of course he did read all the novels. It sounded like Eleanor of Sense and Sensibility might be high on his list; but he added that Sense and Sensibility however is a story bit close to home. Other visitors had been around and I could no longer monopolize him. I thanked him for making my day and continued on with the rest of the house.

In addition to the kitchen and drawing room, there are dining room and reading room on the ground floor. Bedrooms are upstairs. The house is set up to show how it would have been in Jane’s days but most items while from the same period are not originally Jane’s or the family’s. According to Jeremy, a table and cabinet in the drawing room however are some of those that came from the family, specifically from Jane’s father and his house in Steventon. It is a miracle if you consider that they had had to sell everything before moving to Bath. A note there at the house tells a story about that move. Jane fainted when she was told that they had to sell everything including her piano. But since some of their things were purchased by family members (Edward Knight in particular did make purchases just to help out), it made it possible for some of these things to be tracked down many years later. Jane Austen’s turquoise ring, which caused the drama involving Kelly Clarkson, was purchased earlier this year and now permanently owned by Jane Austen House Museum.

Actually being there at the house where Jane lived for many years and became a published authoress, learning more about her, including the little things of her life, was very dear and special, she became more alive and real. A small round table in the dining room set by the window with ink and pen on top of it was especially evocative; it brought to mind the iconic image of Jane bending over the table, pen in hand, writing and capturing all those characters, stories and dialogues bursting out of her brilliant mind. And interestingly that exact same image is framed and hung on the wall above the table.

Jeremy recommended a tour to Chawton House which was exactly what I had planned to do. So that was where we were heading to next. But not before leaving a comment on the guest book. Thanks to Jeremy’s suggestion on my way out; I forgot and almost walked out without doing it. Here is what I left in the comment book, “Jane, I love you. You have inspired me to come all the way from the other side of the pond to follow your footsteps. I am happy to be here to pay tribute to you.”

Chawton Cottage- aka Jane Austen House Museum

Chawton Cottage- aka Jane Austen House Museum

At Jane’s House

At Jane’s House

Chawton Cottage – One Corner of the Garden

Chawton Cottage – One Corner of the Garden

Chawton Cottage – Dining Room

Chawton Cottage – Dining Room

Chawton House

Chawton House is a quarter mile down the street from Chawton Cottage. It had been in the knight’s family since 1524 and was one of the three estates that Edward Knight inherited from Thomas knight. Chawton house still belongs to the family in name but is on a 125 year long lease to the former founder of Cisco, Sandy Learner, who is a Janeite, writer herself and animal right activist, and has turned it into Chawton House Library, a research and learning center of women’s writing from 1600 to 1830. Its collection of books is open to “scholars and general public alike”.

It is also open to public for guided tour. Limited tours are offered each day, call or email ahead to find out about scheduling and make your appointment. We were lucky to catch the only tour of day, albeit it was on a route that was a bit different from the routine one due to a conference on Jane Austen that was to take place that weekend at the house and a few of the rooms regularly open for tour were being set up for the conference and off limit to tourists.

As soon as you turn up to the path leading up to the house, you are welcomed by a delightful prospect; St Nicholas Church, larger and more elaborate than the one in Steventon, is about midway on the right and opposite to the church are paddock and stables.

As a grade II listed Elizabethan Manor house, Chawton House is almost 500 hundred years old and the architecture indeed reflects the style of its age, especially the interior. It had been “rumored” to be in a bad shape before Sandy Lerner took over. If that was true, it has certainly been restored to the richness and elegance befitting to the great manor house that it is. Photo taking inside the house was very limited since some areas do not allow photo taking and others do not allow flash light.

It is believed to be the model for Donwell Abbey, Mr. Knightly’s home in Emma and Miss Austen describes Donwell Abbey as “rambling and irregular”. I have to say it did seem a bit rambling and irregular with its interior layout. Maybe it is the model for Donwell Abbey, as both the surname and the house might suggest.

A small reading alcove in a room on upper level was pointed out to us; it is believed to have been used by Jane. The Austen connection probably made the house more interesting to fans, Chawton House is however a house worthy of a tour with or without the Austen connection. One lady in our tour group had been there two times before and was back for more, and that is a great recommendation for you. Another lady of our group was a teacher of literature from Philadelphia and on a 6 week sabbatical in England.

The sun beaming and air fresh, the garden and ground could not have been lovelier; we had a delightful walk through the garden and woods nearby.

With Oakley Hall still fresh in mind, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Both rich and elegant, they are very different in their architectural and decorative styles. Chawton House reminds me of Thornfield Hall of Jane Eyre, Oakley hall, Harfield of Emma.

As I strolled through churches, houses, gardens and grounds in Hampshire, I felt awe, wonder, warmth, joy and a kindred spirit, a sprit that will stay with me.

Chawton House Front View (Northwest facing)

Chawton House Front View (Northwest facing)

Chawton House (Angle View

Chawton House (Angle View

Chawton House (Southwest side)

Chawton House (Southwest side)

St Nicholas Church of Chawton

St Nicholas Church of Chawton

England 2014 (1) – Seeking Jane in Bath

Although Jane Austen, aka England’s Jane, lived only to 41, she is immortal to me in many ways. She lives on through her gift to the world, a treasure trove of novels, which two hundred years later are still admired and enjoyed by millions all over the world. I’ve read all six of her novels, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey; some of them more than once. I’ve seen many adaptations based on her novels; those by BBC are among my favorite. These adaptations bring her stories and characters vividly to life and further pique my interest and curiosity. As I learn more about her, my interest in her works also grow. I love her stories and characters; I admire her for her keen observation of life around her, her sense of humor, her language, and even more, of her great imagination; and greatly I respect her for her talent, wit and ideals. For each novel, I have a favorite adaptation and I go back to them now and then for Jane and her novels are not only my escape and guilty pleasure but also part of my spiritual pillar.

Since I learnt about Bath’s Jane Austen Festival, I had wanted to see it up close, and this year I finally made it there for its opening weekend. This was not my first time in Bath. I was in Bath ten years ago on a bus tour from London; we had only few hours there, and I was not at the time aware of the Jane Austen Festival, but Bath did leave a favorable impression. This time Bath got a more proper visit that it deserves, we stayed three days and nights.

Bath is pleasant with elegant architecture all around. The tourist attraction it is, and being there on the weekend and during the festival too, it was busy but not crazy and it quieted down quickly and comfortably early in the evenings. Bath’s best feature is its town center, situated just north at the bend of River Avon; it is gorgeous with the magnificent Bath Abbey, Roman Bath, Pump Room, Pulteney Bridge, all covered in warm and pleasing golden hued stone, and the pretty Parade Garden by the river to boot. The view from tower of Bath Abbey is worth the climb. Royal Crescent is another architectural highlight in Bath not to be missed.

Dining experience there was delightful as well. From lunch at Blue Quails Deli, a small place that serves only breakfast and lunch, to dinner at the famous, historic Sally Lunn’s House, to the modern and exotic Turtle Bay, to the very dear and special Jane Austen Tea at the Pomp Room, to the daily full English breakfast served at the Kennard, the guest house where we stayed, I give dinning in Bath the best of this trip for its variety, quality and value.

River Avon from Pulteney Bridge

River Avon from Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge

Roman Bath

Roman Bath

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

Jane Austen Festival 2014 in Bath opened Friday September 12th and continued on till Sunday the 21st. It featured a grand opening on Sat the 13th with the Promenade, where participants donning strictly Regency attires paraded through Bath from the Assembly Room to the Parade Garden, a great Masked Ball on Friday the 19th, and a long and impressive list of events in between. You can still see it on janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk. As it is the way, festival participants not only dress up for the Promenade, many of them stroll through town in their costumes throughout the length of the festival.

Based on timing and interest, I pre-booked and planned for these events, Pre-Festival Get Together, the Promenade, albeit only as a supporter watching and following and not a participant this time, Exsultate, Jubilate, a concert by Bath Symphony at Bath Abbey.

Pre-Festival Get Together the night before the Promenade was a perfect warm up, especially if you are there for the first time, and although its turnout was much smaller in comparison to the size of the Promenade, it was nonetheless a good opportunity to meet some like-minded fans. I met fans from Australia, Germany, Holland, Canada, USA and certainly those from England as well. One of such is from my own town. When Valerie told me where she was from, I involuntarily slipped out an excited cry, which quickly trailed off.

The grand Promenade was the next. Armed with intelligence of the Promenade’s procession route, which I obtained from Jackie, the festival director, whom I met at Pre-Festival Get Together, my husband and I occupied a good spot at the Circus to watch the parade. The parade went by the Circus twice then moved on to the rest of the route. We subsequently followed the procession to the Parade Garden where the crowd convened and eventually dispersed. It was a marvelous sight to behold and inspiring to see so many women and men turn up, for some it was a family event, and to see them so enthusiastically and un-bashfully flaunting their love of Jane and regency costumes. And wow, how beautiful and elegant the regency costumes are. It instantly transforms everyone who dons it; some ladies turned out bewitching and some gentlemen quite dreamy. A little spoiler for some here, although there was a decent turnout of gentlemen to participate in the festival, it seemed, majority of them, if not all, were a Mr. Darcy already taken and belonging to some Elizabeth.

An anecdote to add to this year’s festival. It turns out that England does not monopolize the zeal for Jane Austen, there are Janeite societies all over the world, and Jane Austen Society North America’s Greater Louisville Region chapter is such one that it stands out. Moreover, in its own 7th Annual Jane Austen Festival held in July this year, it beat Bath in number of parade participants by setting a world record of 450 participants, thereby setting up a rivalry and Bath vowed to take back the record from the colony. Luckily for Bath, it succeeded by setting yet another new world record, 550 people participated in the parade in Bath’s most recent and its 14th Jane Austen Festival. Will the race continue? If yes, it would not be unwelcomed.

Exsultate, Jubilate! The concert at Bath Abbey featured music that would be played in Jane Austen’s days. It was a beautiful event in very way. I could not imagine a more atmospheric setting and the acoustic pure, clean and full. Interestingly, it also featured a male soprano, an unusual phenomenon and certainly a first experience for me. And guess what, “Prince Regent” honored the evening with his appearance.

No visit to the Jane Austen Festival is complete without the Jane Austen Tea. We took it at the Pump Room. We ordered a regular afternoon tea and a festival special Jane Austen Tea, which featured potted jellied ham with pickled vegetables and brown toast in place of sandwiches, and lemon curd mini Bath bun, scones with Earl Grey butter and plum jam, Jane Austen custard tart, ginger beer and gooseberry syllabub desert shot, and a tea of your choice, as always. Pump room is gorgeous, the afternoon tea was delicious and the live music added to the whole thing the perfect note.

Parade 1

Parade 1

Parade 2

Parade 2

Parade Garden 1

Parade Garden 1

Parade Garden 2

Parade Garden 2

Parade Garden 3

Parade Garden 3

One can visit Bath anytime of the year and find traces of Jane in Bath all year long by visiting Jane Austen Center and Jane’s former residence on Gay Street near Queen Square, Jane’s residence on Trim Street and Sydney Place, Assembly Room which was the social center of Bath in Jane’s days and a place Jane herself frequented during her visit and stay, etc. Visiting Bath during the festival is however especially and wonderfully atmospheric. From the richness of festival to Jane Austen Tea that is available at the Pump Room only during festival time, which features noshes Jane would savor herself, it is during the festival, Jane’s connection to Bath is mostly and fully accentuated. When I go back to Bath, I would probably again go during the festival.

Having said that, Bath is a beauty and delight in its own right and it also hosts many other festivals. It would certainly be enjoyable to visit any other times as well. I walked by many shops that looked really tempting but since shops there close early around 5pm, I just couldn’t seem to find the time for shopping during this visit.

Lost in Austen

Lost In Austen

I confess. Since I stumbled across Lost in Austen, a Mammoth Screen/ITV television production, I have become addicted to this Pride and Prejudice inspired fantasy and been contriving to get a dose of it every day, multitasking between desktop, laptop computers and TV sets, in one way or the other. This behavior no doubt qualifies as an unprecedented “fresh lunacy”. I had never watched anything more than twice back to back, but now I I’ve been watching Lost in Austen daily for three weeks running and wanting more still…
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