Sunday, October 2, 2011

London - Day Five

Waking up to yet another fine weather day it was off to Waterloo station to catch the train to Alton.  Rolling hillside, villages, ramblers and even deer held my attention at the window so my copy of Persuasion was soon packed into my bag.  Pulling into the station I took a quick snap of these cheery green gates so I could remember the vintagey sort of feeling that reminded me of Winifred Holtby's South Riding.  An American couple in the train station heard me ask about the walk to Chawton and kindly offered me a lift in their cab...yes please!
Pulling up in front of the pub across the street the couple made straight for the Austen home but I just had to stand still for a few moments and take it all in.  It's one thing to see the house on the internet but to stand there and hear birds call, feel the breeze blow and hear the sound of hinges opening and closing...I've just whipped back there now thinking about it!
A feeling of reverence comes over you when you step across the threshold and only a whisper will do.  The floors creak so you walk through the rooms slowly and softly but there is definitely a feeling of cheeriness about the place.  Large windows flood the rooms with sunshine, I suppose as the rooms are sparsely decorated they feel more airy than they might have in Jane's day.  Artifacts and letters are on display throughout the house as well as costumes from various "Jane" films but it's the little desk by the front window that was the main attraction for me.
This cosy bedroom was Jane's and overlooks the back of the property where the bake house still stands.  I smiled to myself when I read the note about the commode next to the fireplace.  The upper shelf has a semi-circle cut-out to accommodate the occupant's head while in to speak.  I've never come across that before in a historical house.  At Carlyle's House I also asked about the shallow depth of the fireplaces.  Since they depended on the fire for heat it couldn't be allowed to just rise into the chimney and you wouldn't venture too far from it in cold weather so you would be close by if a spark flew out too far.

Lingering over letters to friends and family, Jane's beautiful topaz crucifix, snippets of hair to memorialize the dead and needlework, my mood shifted.  Despite the sun streaming through a window, brightly enough to bring an orange tree to fruit, I felt sad that medical knowledge lagged behind Jane's illness and she died too soon.  And selfishly for me, before more of her writing could be published.  The thinking now is that she had lymphoma, something which could still have brought about her end in these modern times I suppose.  Needing some air I picked a road and made my way down it.  There are no thatched cottages in Burlington, I've only ever seen them on television, in magazines or whilst whizzing past on a train in England.  Standing in front of the quaintest cottage you could imagine, with flower pots in full glory while tendrils of greenery grew over the stone wall I realized for the second time in two days I had misplaced my umbrella and a very un-Austenesque swear word was uttered from my lips.  Time for lunch!

I have no idea whether this structure was here in Jane's day but it's the view she would have had from the window where her table stands.  Cassandra's Tea Room is next door but was closed as it was Monday so to the pub it was.  Thinking of it as stories to bring back to my pub-loving husband I did my bit for research and asked the very hospitable landlady for something ladylike in the hops department.  Sitting at a window seat so I could gaze at Jane's house, I basked in the cosy interior, the friendly guests and the sign asking customers to remove their muddy boots so the countryside doesn't come inside!
Always keen to try something on the menu I haven't tried before I ordered a Coronation Chicken sandwich.  It's not something that has ever appeared on a menu at home so I was curious.  It was delicious!  Having no idea what the thin, curly crispy bits were on the side of my plate I asked the young server when he next passed my way.  They are deep-fried peeled parsnip and he said he found them quite more-ish.  I generally feel that way about cake over parsnips but they weren't bad at all!

Thinking I would take the bus back to the train station I crossed the road to check the schedule at the stop.  The next bus was in two hours!  Clearly we are no longer in London and I am ignorant in the ways of village life.  So I stopped back into the pub and asked the lovely landlady if she could please ring me a cab.  And sure enough, the same driver turned up to collect me that had dropped us off.  And to top it all off he even pinched my cheek when he dropped me at the station before making his way to do the school run.

Back on the train to London, thoughts of my village idyll were shattered all too soon by a young man from Bangladesh desperately searching for a sponsor as his visa was about to expire.  He had loads of questions about Canada and why I was in England.  When I told him my daughter was attending university he simply asked about the ages of my boys.  Thankfully his stop was soon approaching so I could get back to Persuasion and thoughts of Jane writing it at her little table.

Thinking I would take in a London Walk later that evening I exited the Westminster tube station.  A soft-spoken woman was filling in for the usual guide so I decided to pass and headed to Green Park instead.  A night time stroll past The Ritz, press my face against the gorgeous window displays at Fortnum & Mason, spend an hour at Waterstones before heading home from Piccadilly Circus for a cup of tea and my day was complete.


  1. Thank you for sharing your visit with us. I was on a tour years ago that stopped at Chawton but the house was not open for visitors. Reading about your day finally gave me a chance to see inside :>). Susan E

  2. Beautiful description! I long to go someday.

  3. I love Alton station and all those on the Watercress Line it is not far from me, neither is Chawton. I really should go one day!

    I am loving your adventures in London.

  4. So enjoying all your England posts and this one the most of all. We really must get out to Chawton! And now that the jet lag has passed on this end too will email very soon.

    K x

  5. I think I could happily live in such a quaint little village as that! Maybe I can at least visit sometime. Had a chuckle over Jane's commode. What a thought.... :)

  6. I have never been to alton! that sounds amazing! and how good that it tied in with Rachel's readalong.

  7. I'm so envious, Darlene. I should pretend I'm on holiday here and go to all these places that I've never got round to visiting.

  8. A perfect day! Chawton will be my first stop on our next trip across the pond.

  9. A delightful description! If you ever happen to visit Chawton again, make sure to visit Chatwon House Library as well. It's a 5 minutes walk from Jane Austen's House. It's a house which belonged to Jane's brother and she used to visit this place: she attended balls and other social events there. It's a beautiful place, open to visitors (though not every day), and you might even catch a glimpse of a beautiful library!