If I haven't mentioned it before, and you don't already know me, let me now declare that I am a huge fan of Jane Austen's novels, along with all of the many film adaptations of those novels and many of the related sequels, updates, ect. It can hardly come as a surprise to hear that I dedicated much of my travel plans to seeing with my own eyes her world, as well as the film locations that have represented her world. Of course, I didn't get everywhere, so Cornwall (the setting for much of Sense & Sensibility), among others, remain for later trips, but Hampshire, Wiltshire, Derbyshire and Bath all made this trip. I'll do my best to cover the high points, without gushing too too much for any non-Janeites that may give these posts a chance.
My first stop out of London, perhaps rightly so, was Jane's actual home. Famously, she never married, and so one of her brothers who did well for himself nicely let Jane, her sister, and their mother live in a small home on his estate near Winchester for the latter part of her life (where she wrote all of the published versions of the novels). It's in the village of Chawton, which is only about an hour drive southwest from Heathtrow. This is in Hampshire, and is quite close to the town of Winchester, which is actually so sizable that I ended up on a belt around the town rather than going through the center of town to check out it's (supposedly) nice cathedral where Jane is actually buried. As this was my first day on the roads, I didn't quite have the confidence to turn around and go find that, and I was unfortunately pushing on to my first stop in Salisbury, but combining the two would definitely make sense for a pure Jane-focused tour. In any case, when I say "village" - I mean it! Teeny little streets with adorable homes, a parking lot, and maybe one or two pubs just across the street from the "Jane Austen's House Museum". I grabbed a perfectly nice lunch from the pub just across the way (which boasted a nice back garden), and then with a giant smile I entered the little museum shop to start my visit (at under 10 pounds, a complete bargain!). In the back of the house there is a little learning center which is sort of about her place in history and an overview, located in what would've been a small stable, but as that and the back patio was filled with more mundane details about life back in the early 1800's, I pretty quickly pushed on to actually enter the house. The rooms are made up as much as possible as they would've been, with some of the actual furniture that would've been in place. Famously, a teeny little table in the dining room is set up by a window with a quill & paper, showing where she actually wrote (the hand & neck cramps she must have had!). She and her sister shared a very small room with twin canopy beds - basically everything was small and practical. There is all sorts of memorabilia showcased in tasteful displays - including some jewelry & even some letters. There's even a framed copy of the letter her sister wrote with a quite detailed and sad account of her death. The letter was to a niece and really drove home what it must have been like not to have phones, or any other means of getting news around. Sniff! After poring over a lot of the displays, I made my way back over to the shop where I just absolutely became a giddy kid in a candy store. Luckily, the nice shop lady gently reminded me that the armload of DVDs I had probably wouldn't actually work in the US, so I put them all back in favor of a nice boxed set of the novels. It was ridiculous how much I dithered back & forth over just that purchase, especially given the extra weight they would be to lug home - but, one great thing about having a rental car? I just left them in the trunk for the rest of the trip! Had I been taking the train from place to place, I may have chosen differently- and I do so love my little set of books (now complete with stickers showing I bought them at Jane's house!). :) Here's a shot or two of the house & village:
Once I had this taste of Jane- I was excited for more. Like I said, I mistakenly missed her memorial in Winchester, and I've since learned that I missed another major site in my eagerness to get to boring Stonehenge. Just between Salisbury and the big stone circle is Wilton House, which I had heard was used for the interiors for the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice. For whatever reason, I didn't think it was worth visiting and I skipped it. Silly me - I've since learned it has been home to MANY films (including Sense & Sensibility, Young Victoria, and others), and is really a spectacular example of a 17th century grand home - so it goes on the list for a future trip.
Continuing on into Wiltshire towards my next destination of Bath, I specifically picked a meandering route through the country to visit the village of Lacock. I specifically wanted to visit this random little village because I knew it was the site of the village scenes in the BBC version of P&P. When I arrived, I found out the entire town is protected as part of the National Trust, and it's also the site of an important Abbey which was also used as parts of Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies! As I stated earlier, I chose to join the Heritage Trust, rather than the National Trust, and after wandering the village (and having seen the HP Studio tour), I elected not to go into the Abbey, but it was quite lovely to see, even from outside. The village itself has been used in countless BBC productions- mostly because it's impossibly adorable, with nearly every home perfectly in the style of a 17th Century village. All they have to do to film is cover the streets & sidewalks with dirt, and I guess pay the villagers to park elsewhere. I spoke with a shop keeper who was too cute about remembering when Colin Firth came to town (it was only for a few days, she wished it was for longer). Plus, the country road I took there was full of adorable other villages, at least one gorgeous vista over rolling hills, and yes- even kegs being delivered in a horse-drawn cart. !!! Utterly charming.
I'll stop now, because my next stop of my Austen-inspired portion of the trip is Bath, and that lovely city definitely deserves its own post. It of course has many Austen-related spots, but much, much more. I'll leave the other main Austen destination (Derbyshire), until later- just to keep the geography a bit more consistent.