Manchester/Bath UK Trip Journal Day 7
First Great Western, Moving, Somewhere in the UK
I am on my way to Chawton via Southampton and Winchester. I will take two trains to get to Winchester, then a bus to get to Chawton. This was the easiest and cheapest way to get to Jane Austen’s house, as the only other two options were to go via London (too expensive) or to go from Bath to Alton (outside of Chawton, and too complicated, with multiple trains and train stations). So I seemed to have found the least offensive route to go.
Today is my last full day in the UK, and I’m both relieved and sad at the same time. Relieved because this trip is almost over, and I can go home to my husband and dogs, to my little house, to my full sense of being. Sad because I have enjoyed my trip so much, despite of or perhaps even because of any hiccups. I have been lucky here to meet so many wonderful people, to stay at such beautiful and friendly B&Bs, to have gotten lost, and found, so many times.
Yesterday in Bath was a revelation to me, not only about this project, but about what I expect from myself and my trip. I had a lovely but maddening time in Bath. I walked to the City from the B&B, which all told took about 15 minutes. I am slow! I found out that I am slow! Brits walk so much faster than me, it’s hard for me to keep up. I started at the train station, got my tickets for Chawton today, and picked up my tickets for Friday’s trip to London Paddington. The ticket agent was very kind to me, and laughed when I told him I was trying to get to Jane Austen’s house, and asked if he knew of an easier way to get there. “I’m afraid you’ll have to ask my wife,” he said. But I got my tickets all the same and went off to the City.
The first thing I came across was a stop for one of those “hop on, hop off” buses, and I decided what better way to see Bath? The better news: this one came with two trips (Bath City and Bath Skyline), and unlimited hop on/hop off for two days. I took the bus around Bath City, and got off at the Royal Crescent.
My first stop was the No. 1 Royal Crescent Museum, which has been recreated to resemble a Georgian household. It was a beautiful house, and they’ve done a marvelous job of recreation. But this is where I felt my first true unease: recreation. That’s what I was seeing. While a beautiful home, with painstaking detail put into recreating it as true to form as possible, it was still a recreation regardless. But I went through, examining the rooms and their goods, the kitchens and scullery, and then left, alone, to take a picture of the Royal Crescent and to hop back on the bus.
I say “alone” because I had a hanger-on in the Museum. Anyone who’s ever visited a Museum knows that occasionally, you find yourself with the same people, traveling the same ground. That’s common, but this one waited to go to another room until I left the first one, followed me through, and stood near me. Very disconcerting.
But I took my obligatory pictures of the Royal Crescent and the ha-ha separating public and private land, and hopped back on the bus. I took it back round the city, looking at all the different places Bath had to offer, and when we got to our final stop, I was going to ride it again to Jane Austen Centre. “It’s just up the road,” the driver said. “Five minute walk. It’ll take 25 minutes on the bus.” So I tromped off to find a pasty and a water before I found the Centre, up a bloody hill, always up a bloody hill.
Lo and behold, I did find it, and I did walk up a hill, but I was there all the same. I managed to catch the first tour and sat and listened to a guide discuss Austen, point on a huge recreated map at different cities where Austen lived, and just generally gush over Austen herself.
Sorry, Gentle Reader, that last sentence was finished an hour after it started. I met a lovely woman on the train and we had a lovely chat about all manner of things. Now, I promise not to neglect you any longer!
Walking through the Austen Centre, I again had the feeling of offness. As if this is not a place where Austen herself had ever been, just a recreation of Austen herself. This is true, of course, and the Centre makes no attempt to claim this is where Austen ever had been. Instead, they suggest that this is a place near to where she might have been, or ask us to look through the window, down the road and we might see a place where Austen herself walked, and where her characters surely walked.
There it was. Where the characters surely walked. The connection to Austen was created through her books. That was part of my research, of course: the travels through the books themselves. But also, part of it was to see Austen, herself, where she lived and breathed, where she walked, what she did. And that, I was not finding anywhere.
After I left the Austen Centre (after buying several buttons that stated “I ❤ [insert Austen hero’s name here]” for my student Austen group at university, I headed to the Assembly Rooms and the Fashion Museum. Here, I thought to myself, I will finally feel Austen’s presence.
And I did. Or at least, I did for a moment, thanks to two things: the windows, and the Fashion Museum.
The windows? How to explain them? I felt like the windows were places where Austen herself might have looked, the scenery Austen herself might have seen, the rooftops Austen herself might have looked out on. Of course, this isn’t entirely true, as the Assembly Rooms were bombed in WWII and completely destroyed. But still, there was a sense of greatness in those rooms. Perhaps because of the recreations filmed there? I wasn’t sure.
But also, the Fashion Museum, which was, without a doubt, the most authentic place in Bath. Partly because they currently had an exhibit on Georgian Fashion, with actual clothes worn by actual Georgians. I’ve researched at the Fashion Museum before, with great success and happiness, and it was so nice just to go through and see the clothes they had on their display for the Georgian exhibit. And the clothes. The gorgeous silly clothes, dating throughout the Georgian period, through to Austen’s time. Panniers and cutaway skirts and Watteau gowns and all the beautiful things were there. I really love Bath’s Fashion Museum, and highly recommend it to anyone who might want to see reality of the past.
Then, it was about time for my appointment at the Pump Room, and this, I knew, was where Austen herself had walked. This was the Pump Room! Huzzah! Hurray! I had only been there once, back in 2006, when I ran through the Baths as quickly as possible before I had to catch a train back to London. I drank my mineral water (icky ick) and ran off to the Station. But now, I would linger, eating my afternoon tea and enjoying where Austen herself had once been.
Except, there was no sense of Austen there either. She wasn’t in the Pump Room, hidden, perhaps, by the tables and the tourists, the waiters and the staff. Even the Pump itself was unavailable at the moment—at least, I didn’t see anyone manning it.
I did enjoy my tea. It was very posh and lovely, and delicious. More of a bite experience than a full meal like one gets at Claridge’s or The Savoy. But lovely nonetheless. But it was time to get on. I had promised my father pictures of the Royal Masonic Building, and I had looked for it for almost 45 minutes without finding it.
I finally stopped and asked directions, and of course, it was closed. Unfair! Slings and arrows! I hauled myself back to the City Bus stop for the Skyline tour.
Here, I rode on the top of a double-decker bus and saw the entirety of Bath from the hills. And Bath, I am happy to say, is gorgeous. So lovely. So picturesque. I was happy on this 45-minute bus ride, and got to see several places where Austen had been: where she stayed, where she walked, where she ate. At least, I was able to see those things from the bus.
The bus dropped us off, and instead of catching a cab from the train Station like I should have, I walked stupidly back to the Abbey (I know there are cabs there) and took a cab back to the B&B. There, I sat for a bit, blogging, before I went in search of dinner.
Wolfgang had said there was a pub and an Indian restaurant up the hill, so I went exploring to try to find one or the other. Of course, I got desperately lost, but stopped and asked a very nice woman for directions. She led me to the Indian restaurant and the pub both. After looking at both menus, I decided on the pub. I sat and ordered a burger, a salad, and a diet coke. The burger was delicious, with bacon and cheese, and the chips/fries were lovely. But what was best was the homemade tomato chutney they served it with. That made up for the lack of dressing (they seemed to have forgotten) on the salad!
I headed back to the B&B, but it was dark by this time, and I lost my way, AGAIN. So I stopped and asked directions, and two very kind women took me down the path and made sure I knew my way from there.
Once again, the kindness of the English overwhelms me.