London, Winchester, and Chawton!

 

 

This blog covers the last two days, because I didn’t take my laptop with me to London. Despite feeling as though I was missing an arm, I coped. I said goodbye to Mum and Marnie early in the morning and caught a three-hour train to London from Weymouth and the Jurrasic Coast (also, the other day we drove past Chesil Beach and I nerded out because Ian McEwan, though I still haven’t actually read that book). I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society most of the way there and tried not to blub too much in front of a carriage full of strangers. Excellent book. I’m so glad I had time to reread before we hit Guernsey! London was warm, sunny, and busy. I almost felt culture-shocked after spending so much time in quiet little villages and towns, though the sense of familiarity and nostalgia was intoxicating. I love this city. Even the crowded Tube felt wonderful. After locating my hostel, I walked up the Thames (totally spotted a monument to the SOE, and excited my little history/writing nerd heart) and took the Tube to the British Museum. I’ve never been before, and I’ve heard it’s London’s most visited attraction. Had a quick lunch and hot chocolate, and had a quick look inside the beautiful, absolutely enormous, FREE museum. I only saw a fraction of it (the medieval Europe rooms mostly), but it gives a really striking impression, even just walking into the big foyer bit at the start.
London
SOE monument
British Museum
British Museum

Afterwards I went to Green Park, which had deck chairs spread all over the grass beneath the brilliant sunshine. I bought an icypole and finished my Guernsey novel, and managed not to catnap. Then I made my way to the famed Charing Cross Rd, one of my favourite streets in London due to the large amount of bookshops located there, and went shopping. The beautiful Foyle’s bookshop, Blackwell’s, all the little second hand places…I could have spent all day there, but I’m glad I chose not to in this case. I exercised great self-restraint over all. (By the way, I also saw Will Poulter walking down the street. The same Will Poulter I saw two years ago at the Colosseum).

Green Park
Green Park

I met up with Matt in Leicester Square and we went to dinner with his folks, who are also on holiday in the UK. It was great to catch up – good food and company all around. I went back to my hostel afterwards and two of the girls in my dorm were from Weymouth! I had a pretty patchy night’s sleep, but it wasn’t a bad hostel, just noisy. Woke up nice and early and got to Waterloo station in plenty of time for my train!

The train only took an hour to get to Winchester, and I met Mum and Marnie outside the Cathedral. I could not get over the immense size of it. We saw the Winchester Bible, the Holy Hole, the monument to the diver who saved the cathedral, and an effigy of Stephen Gardiner, whose name I recognised because of research for my current manuscript. We also saw (and its not the first examples we’ve seen on this trip), a number of reliquaries and relics. They seem to go in for that a lot here. But the reason I was there primarily, was to see the final resting place of Jane Austen. I didn’t realise how emotional I would actually feel, but I felt a bit teary seeing the little exhibition and her gravestone. It was beautiful. There was also a market in Winchester that we walked through on the way to the car. Mum and Marnie bought more things, but so far we’ve managed to fit everything in…
Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral
Holy Hole at Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

Then we drove to Chawton!! The village where Jane Austen spent her final years is presided over by the very grand Chawton House, but it was in a small cottage where the woman herself lived with her sister and her mother, and where she wrote some of her most famous works. That cottage is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum, and it is absolutely essential for fans of her work. You can see jewellery, needlework, and household furnishings that belonged to Jane and her family, including her writing desk and a patchwork quilt she made. The house and garden has been so lovingly preserved and comes with a killer gift shop, which I could have spend hundreds of pounds in (but didn’t). We had lunch in Cassandra’s Cup, the tea-shop named after Jane’s beloved sister, then walked up to Chawton House itself, which was owned by Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Knight. The grounds of Chawton are something to behold on their own, but we took a guided tour through the house that was terribly interesting as well. The different centuries have been preserved well throughout the house, and lovingly restored by a woman called Sandy Lerner, who has made the house into a library that celebrates women writers. You can make an appointment in the reading room (you don’t need to be a student or scholar, it’s open to the public), and arrange to view any material from the collection that you’re interested in. Obviously I will be going back there. Interestingly, Marnie and I have heard Sandy Lerner speak back home, at the Jane Austen Society of Melbourne meetings, and it was wonderful to actually see the house and library that she was describing. Also at JASM, we have met Caroline Knight and her parents, who were the last Knight’s to live at Chawton. Her father, Jeremy, runs the guided tours through the house, but sadly he wasn’t available today. It would have been amazing to experience the tour through the eyes of someone who grew up there, and is an actual relative of Jane’s, but there is always next time! And our guide was lovely anyway. I really would highly recommend Chawton to any Jane Austen enthusiast.

Jane Austen’s House Museum
Her writing desk!!
Chawton House
Chawton House Library Reading Room
Chawton House – marks to stop the witches getting in through the chimney
Chawton House

One more drink at Cassandra’s Cup, then we drove home. We’ve been to Wetherspoon’s for dinner and have been squeezing all our shopping into our suitcases. Also, tonight a giant bumblebee flew in through our open window and I ran into the bathroom and Marnie put a towel over her head while Mum ran around after it taking photos and eventually herded it out of our room. Tomorrow, Guernsey!

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