With the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the novel Emma this year, I thought it might be fun to share some of the “Austen Trail” I have done on my travels around Hampshire and Surrey. I’m sure there’s a lot more you can do but these are the few things that have crossed my path so to speak.
Box Hill, Surrey was the picnic spot featured in Emma and it was – and is still – a beautiful part of the world. Either walk up the hill via the stepping stones, cycle up the route made famous by the 2012 Olympics on the Zig Zag Road or simply park at the top. That gorgeous view was saved for the nation by one man – Mr Leopold Salomons – and his viewing platform gives you the best vistas.
If around for lunch or dinner, then visit the Emlyn Restaurant located at the historic Mercure Box Hill Burford Bridge Hotel, literally at the foot of Box Hill. Emlyn’s, now under the toque of talented Nick Sinclair, offers a delicious repast that would refill any energy levels left depleted by the climb.
While there, as you are eating, contemplate Jane’s ode to Box Hill, on the mural to the rear of the restaurant. She might even have stayed at this hotel – who knows – it’s been a place of hospitality for over 760 years and John Keats and Queen Victoria were visitors!
Onto Chawton, Hampshire and the wonderful Jane Austen’s House Museum – I last visited on a spring-like day and walking around the house, it did have the feeling that Jane had just popped out to help her sisters and might be back any minute.
She lived and worked here for the last eight years of her life, producing perhaps her most important work – and the interior is laid out as it might have been when she lived here – her writing desk by the window so she could see what was going on, washing in the kitchen, the cottage garden alive with spring flowers and blossom.
A beautifully-maintained and curated museum which is well worth visiting, even if you are not an Austen fan.
The trail picks up again in nearby Winchester, Hampshire. Jane left Chawton with her sister Cassandra when she became ill and they stayed in lodgings in College Street with the hope of seeking help from a celebrated physician at the new established Winchester Hospital.
Sadly her condition deteriorated and she died in 1817 at the age of just 41 in her sister’s arms. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral, a building she had always admired, in a very quiet ceremony with just four people attending.
The memorial grave stone in the nave dating from her funeral details her virtues as a god-fearing person but doesn’t mention her career as a novelist – at that time, a pursuit deemed unsuitable for a woman.
This omission was redressed in 1872 when a brass plaque close to her stone was unveiled, paid for by public subscription. A memorial window above the plaque marks the third memorial to her in Winchester Cathedral and now fans come from far and wide to pay tribute to her.
I am sure there are other Austen haunts I should visit and any suggestions would be gratefully received!
Contributor and photographer: Sue Lowry
Follow A3Traveller on Twitter: @A3Traveller and Sue Lowry on Google +, YouTube, Linkedin, Flickr and Pinterest. I also operate another blog for my company, Magellan PR – http://www.magellanstraits.com. They can be followed on Twitter: @MagellanPR, on Google+, on YouTube, on Pinterest and on Facebook.