Monday, January 12, 2009

Jane Austen and the Famous Five

(The view from our window in Upavon.)

We have just had three days of literary adventures.

On Friday, after leaving the lovely Manor House in Upavon, we travelled to Bath to explore Jane Austen territory and to see the famous Roman Baths. Both aims were fulfilled with great satisfaction.

Firstly we visited the Jane Austen museum where we listened to a talk about her life, then inspected the rooms and memorabilia. Since all three of us love Jane Austen, and we have all seen the films and TV series, there was a lot to enjoy. We then wandered around the streets of Bath recognising familiar places from the films. We particularly enjoyed seeing the Assembly Rooms which were such a social centre in Georgian England.

The Roman Baths were first constructed around 2 thousand years ago, then renovated and reused in the years since but particularly during Georgian times. They are magnificant with clever plumbing, an interesting design and stunning decoration. The museum was mostly open-air so it was very cold - hence our warm coats and hats in spite of the steaming baths. The baths were lined with lead and can't be used anymore, just admired.

We then travelled through freezing cold countryside to Church Knowle near Swanage. There was a hoar frost which meant that the countryside was coverd with frost - we have never seen anything like it. Everything was white and the trees were full of white frost. It was magical.

Church Knowle is just down the road from Corfe Castle which we had come to see. Before visiting this, we went for a walk along the beach near Swanage. It was a similar beach to Noosa but very different weather!
All we knew about Corfe Castle was that it was the inspiration for George's Kirrin Castle in the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. We didn't realise that the castle has a long history itself having been first constructed in about 1000 AD then having extensions and improvements until it became a refuge for royalists escaping the parliamentarianists in 1642. They eventually surrendered but the castle was then destroyed using gunpowder to prevent any further use as a refuge. It is atmospheric and delightful.

The village of Corfe Castle is also charming and we enjoyed dinner in a local pub with a very funny Glaswegian host. Our stay at Bradle Farmhouse was also a lot of fun. On their recommendation, Zoe and I went walking through the fields down to the beach at Kimmeridge Bay. We managed to get covered in mud but loved walking along the beach.

There was no sand but pebbles, flint and shale. Zoe and I had skimming stones competitions.

Today we travelled to Chawton near Alton to see Jane Austen's home. It was the house in which she spent the last 8 years of her life with her sister Cassandra and their mother. It was full of charming things, including her writing desk and a gorgeous quilt that the three women had made out of scraps of fabric collected by friends and family. Zoe even played a small piano-accordian that was similar to one that Jane had. Of course, Zoe played the theme from "Pride and Prejudice"!

We hoped to visit an old friend from South Africa, Merran, and her family but, unfortunately, they were not home when we got to their house - we suspect they may still be visiting family in South Africa.

We are now staying at the Manor Farmhouse in West Challow, near Oxford. We went for a bracing walk when we got here and are now relaxing in front of the TV.

Oxford tomorrow.

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