“…she had the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany her uncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed taking in the summer.
“We have not determined how far it shall carry us,” said Mrs. Gardiner, “but, perhaps, to the Lakes.”
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “Oh, my dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone – we will recollect what we have seen.“ PRIDE & PREJUDICE
We must confess that travelling was every bit as exciting as Elizabeth Bennet suspected – for we have just returned from a wonderful touring jaunt all around England and can report that rocks and mountains do undeniably put the young men to shame!
From the quaint winding alleys of Frome and Shrewsbury, and the magical cathedrals of Wells and Lincoln, to the charming pier at Southport and the crags above Kendal (for we were indeed carried as far as the Lakes), we could not have had a more diverse and hospitable set of stops had they been imagined up by Jane herself!
Which is quite an achievement, given the breadth of Jane’s imagination evident in the ‘lost’ works we unearthed along the way.
In Lincoln we brought to light a sporting opus, ‘Mansfield Town Ladies FC’, replete with meddling oligarchs and goals galore, whilst Peterborough’s offering opened with the rare occurrence of an amputated leg thrown clean through the parlour window. It turned out to belong to a dastardly admiral, of course.
Twice Jane showed remarkable foresight (or, if you will forgive us, ‘force-sight’) in incorporating elements of a Galaxy Far Far Away, with Wells and Lancaster playing host to first a heroic, and then a decidedly villainous Lord Vader (or Darthy, in the former case), whilst the memory of the marauding wildebeest in Banbury still chills us to the bone.
‘A very strange stranger it must be who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme to make him wish to know it better’, wrote Jane in Persuasion, but she can hardly have imagined that ‘knowing it better’ would mean popping into the delightful Marine Theatre for a never before seen Regency amusement charting Lord Zayn’s departure from ‘No Direction’ (evading a devious but still perplexingly-present Gollum in the woods along the way).
And what a time we had in Lyme, bashing at chunks of rock shed by the Jurassic cliffs in search of fossils, and posing for windswept portraits on the Cobb, the salty air and the shriek of the seabirds overwhelming the senses just as they would have done for Anne Elliot and her steadfast Captain Wentworth.
Similarly diverting was Wells’ ancient ‘Chain Library’ – its crumbling volumes literally tethered to the shelves. There was, alas, no Jane Austen to be found there (it turns out monks and bishops were slow to cotton on to her considerable charms), but treasures as varied as a catalogue of unhappy fates that befell missionaries (sharpened sticks galore) and a centuries old naval pop-up book were plucked out for our delectation. Our convivial hosts also gifted us a frightening-looking tromboncino, which Miss Amy most innovatively made use of.
All in all we visited twenty wonderful towns, from the sprawling to the petite, and made too many gracious new friends to mention. We can’t wait to pack up our smocks and chemisettes, scramble into the Post Chaise and do it all again in 2017 – the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing.