Travel Journals
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I recently returned from a three-plus week trip to England.  The following recounts 1-1/2 days near the end of the
trip, when I was in Hampshire in southern England.  I had spent the prior day at the Chawton House Library,
researching early English women writers.  This next day, 4 June, I had reserved to visit sites related to Jane Austen.
 This is the first in a series of travel journals.  
Wednesday, 4 June 2008 (and part of
Thursday, 5 June 2008)
Wednesday, the 4th of June, promised to be the best day I’d had in the
entire trip, in terms of weather at least, and the promise was kept.  I had set
aside this day for a drive around Hampshire to visit some of the significant
places in Jane Austen’s life; and I was given a beautiful blue-sky day:   warm
with the sun strong, a slight breeze to keep the temperature comfortable,
big puffy clouds tripping lightly around the heavens, and a fresh scent of
grass and earth in the air.  It was near perfection.  

I had told my landlady at Cassandra’s Cup that I would not take breakfast
that day as I wanted to get an early start.  As it happened, though, I didn’t
wake until after eight – yet another of the benefits of being in England for a
few weeks, I had actually gone back to getting full nights’ sleep and even
sleeping in on occasion – so by the time I was ready to hit the road, it was a
little after nine.  I closed my bow-front cottage door and, as I headed off to
the little car park around the corner, I smiled at the Miss Austens’ house
across the street.  
The caretaker was upstairs, opening the shutters for their ten o’clock
opening.  I was tempted to take a diversion in the garden there again as the
sun was giving the myriad colours of its blooms a bright glow.  But I kept
walking.  I wanted to visit the house again as well on this short trip and
thought perhaps if I got on the road now, I might be back in time for the
last entry at four thirty.  

Hampshire is lovely.  I did not make it down to the coast, but the southern
half of it is soft rolling hills and fields and as you drive north the inclines
become a bit steeper on the downs.  (I’m probably calling it the wrong
thing.)  There were fields being farmed, and many that were left to
wildflowers, and with the weather so good that day, it was just a delightful

My first stop was Winchester, about sixteen miles away, even though that
meant I was doing the tour a bit backwards.  I wasn’t quite sure how long I’
d want to spend there and thought if I went there first and spent as long as I
wanted, it would then dictate how much else I was able to do that day.  So I
started where Jane Austen ended her life.  Winchester is an interesting mix
of things, modern and ancient, and a lot of construction was ongoing.  I
followed signs for the city centre and found a parking garage, then spent
twenty minutes or so finding a little shop to get change so I could go back
and feed the pay-and-display meter, as I’d only had one coin when I arrived
to give me a half hour of time.  That taken care of, my car good for four
hours now, I was off towards the cathedral.  

As I walked down High Street my stomach started to growl, and I decided I
would grab some breakfast.  There was a Cornwall Pasty Company shop on
a corner, so I went in and ordered a breakfast pasty and a tea, and took it
upstairs to their eat-in area.  The building seemed to go back to Winchester’
s medieval roots – large-beamed low ceiling, huge stone fireplace.  The
decor was a mish-mash that was strangely appealing, and they had
arrangements of club chairs and coffee tables (among the more traditional
cafe tables) where you could sit and look down on the High Street to watch
the world go by.  And I laughed at the JA “connection”: there was a life
preserver on the wall with the name “Emma” written on it.  I might have
dawdled there if it wasn’t such a beautiful day and if I didn’t have a
Leaving the shop, I walked down a couple alleyways, one with an old church
the name of which now escapes me.  Eventually, a large park-like space
opened up before me and I realized that this was the cathedral square.  A
huge grassy square with a tree-lined walk intersecting it diagonally.  The
weather being so nice, there were people everywhere – sitting on benches,
lounging in the grass, walking hand in hand.  I found it interesting that as I
took the diagonal walk, there were old graves scattered here and there in the
expanse of grass.  Then about halfway across, Winchester Cathedral rose up in
front of me.  It was very impressive if only for its size, though I have to say
that the wow factor comes mainly from its interior rather than its exterior.  
For whatever reason, I decided that before going in to the cathedral to find
Jane Austen’s grave, I would first visit College Street, where she and her sister
Cassandra lived for the last few months of her life while she was being treated
for her illness.  So I walked past the church entrance, and down an outdoor
arched corridor along the side of it to another square of sorts, the cathedral
close I believe.  Other than all the cars parked around, it was very pretty, with
some lovely old buildings that at one time would have been residences (I
think) but seemed like offices now.  I went down to an area with a few
medieval tudor-style houses, then through an arch and found myself at Kings
Gate.  I remembered reading about the little church above the arched gate, so
I took the steps up to visit it:  St Swithin’s.  It was very simple, very tiny –
thoroughly lovely and moving, with light coming through a couple of windows
in an interesting pattern.  I surmised that JA might have been too ill to visit it
(at least in 1817) but wondered if perhaps Cassandra had spent any time there
praying for her sister, as it was only around the corner from their lodgings.  
When I left I walked under Kings Gate, stopping a moment to look in the
windows of an antique book and map seller (not open, thankfully for my purse-
strings) situated there.  I walked a little way down and saw the sign for College
Street on the corner.  And there on the same corner, the Wykeham Arms pub
(pronounced Wickham, I believe, hence my mention of it.)  I turned and
walked down College Street, training my eyes on the houses to recognize the
front with the jutting window where JA used to sit.  I passed Winchester
College Dean’s house and knew I had to be close, as the Austen lodgings were
across from part of his garden.  Then I saw it – a yellow-painted front, the first
floor window extending a foot or so over the pavement.  And sure enough
directly across the street from it (on the side where I was walking) was a
grassy garden plot with low wall just perfect to sit on.  So I did.  
On the house wall above the front door, there is an oval plaque that tells you
that JA spent the last few months of her life and then died there on 18 July
1817.  Other than that, it is an unprepossessing house, as one might expect.  
In the window to the left of the door was a hand-written sign stating that it was
a private residence and not to knock for admittance.  The building to the right
of it (as I faced it) was being refurbished and was covered in scaffolding – the
reason it took me a while to notice what I sought as I had approached it.
I sat on the wall for a little while looking at the place.  It was warm, the sun on
my back, and I watched people come and go, walking by the lodgings without
a second glance.  Young male students went back and forth, turning down a
small lane to the left of the house (the whole area part of the college) – once,
a student stopped a professor (for so he turned out to be) in front of the house
and had a conversation about an assignment that he’d not been able to
complete.  I don’t know why I continued to sit there.  I had taken a couple
pictures, but it was only a house, no hoopla, nothing more to see.  Yet I felt
odd sensations.  I was reflective, thinking of JA’s last, sad months, weakened
and in pain with Cassandra tending to her; and at the same time, thinking of
her writing and her wit and her enjoyment of life.  I thought of how she sat in
that extended window when she could, and would have looked out over the
Dean’s Garden.  So I turned and spent a couple minutes looking at what she
might have seen (though I suspect it has changed over the years.)  There were
a couple trees in full leaf, and they took the sunlight and made patterns of
shade over the grass.  And, though normally I’m not good with remembering
quotations, I had just read one that morning from Mansfield Park, that came
back to me now.  “To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure is
the most perfect refreshment.”  So I spent a few minutes enjoying that perfect
I turned back to the house again, planning to leave, when a young woman
walked down the sidewalk, and stopped at the house.  She knocked on the
door.  Nothing happened for a couple minutes and she knocked again.  Then
the door started to open and she was met by a woman and a very large dog
who barked a greeting.  The woman moved aside to welcome her in and then,
as she went to close the door, she glared at me sitting across the street.  I
wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there, but I tried to put myself in her shoes
and accept that doting fans probably get pretty old pretty fast.  

A moment later I finally roused myself.  And for some reason, I walked across
to the house, stood under the projecting window and, holding my camera as
high as I could, took a photo of the little garden across the way, to try to
“recreate” what JA would have seen from her seat.  Then I started walking
back.  And I couldn’t help but think of the description of JA’s funeral.  Of
Cassandra standing at that same bowed window watching her brothers, uncles
and cousins (all men) taking her sister on a final journey, and unable to go
with her this time.  And it came to me – morbid perhaps, but somehow it felt
more peaceful than disturbing – that I was following the same last route that
JA did, to the same place.  So I walked along quietly, and after I’d turned the
corner and was just about to go under King’s Gate, I looked back to see that
this was about where Cassandra would have lost sight of her sister’s casket.  
It must have been a tremendously lonely moment for her, standing in those
lodgings alone.
I wasn’t really feeling morose, it was too gorgeous a day for that.  A little
melancholy perhaps, but my emotions as I walked that last route of hers was
more one of appreciation for her life, that I (we, the world) have her six
finished books and other writings for posterity.  And for much of the walk, I
wondered what she might have thought of all this adulation – of me, as I am
sure countless others do all the time, following her last journey and taking
time to visit the places she knew.  I’m sure she would have enjoyed some
sport at my expense, and at that moment I would have been glad to give her

I came back in through Kings Gate, walked around the college close, towards
the cathedral.  There were some beautiful deep purple flowers blooming
around a tree in the road, and it made me wonder what would have been in
bloom on that July day in 1817.  
When I got to the cathedral close, I took a detour to go into the garden,
through old medieval arches, that was once part of the priory.  It was lovely
but you could hardly see the grass for all the lounging couples basking in the
sun.  Going back out, I came to an undercroft area that was having a used
book sale, so I took another detour.  Fifteen minutes later I came out with two
books: an old copy of the Book of Common Prayer (thinking it was somehow
appropriate to the occasion) and a Georgette Heyer novel,
The Bath Tangle,
that I thought I’d give a try, as I had started my trip with a week in Bath.  I
stood a moment and smiled at a couple sitting on a bench in the distance.  
They looked to be in their seventies or more, and sat there in the sunshine
holding hands.  And though it was absurd, I couldn’t help but form an image of
Lizzy and Darcy in their dotage.  It nearly brought a tear to my eyes.  Finally,
I went back again through the arched walkway on the side of the church to the
main entrances.
Winchester Cathedral is an impressive sight (and site) – the longest nave in
Europe (the world? Not sure.)  The carvings and marble and grandeur of it
are truly stunning.  After making my entrance donation, I checked the map
of the place for the location of JA’s resting place and, having determined
where it would be, I slowly made my way around the church to end up there,
wanting to view her grave last.  My mood had carried over into the church –
not a sadness really, just a pensive melancholy peace, if that makes any
sense.  It was somewhat disturbed by the fact that there were several school
groups being taken about the cathedral that day and I couldn’t escape the
lecturing, the kids scurrying around me, snapping photos (well, I was doing
that too) –
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