Monthly Archives: May 2017

Follow the Jane Austen trail across Britain

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and Britain is celebrating. Even the Bank of England has produced a new £10 notewhich features a portrait of this most prolific writer.

After all who has not heard of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility”. two of her all time greats that have inspired generations of readers and indeed TV viewers.

We suggest ways to follow in this great author’s footsteps.

Jane Austen and Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon in Hampshire. She is also buried in the county’s Winchester Cathedral. She did most of her writing in Hampshire and even penned her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, here. So, it makes sense that this county is the focal point for the Jane Austen 200 commemorations.

Start your trip at Jane Austen’s House Museum (her former home) and Chawton House Library in the village of Chawton, which is hosting changing exhibitions, talks, activities and other special celebrations up until December.

In the meantime, Winchester Cathedral is running “Tours and Tea” every month until November exploring Jane’s life and in Basingstoke.

Winchester BookBenches

Follow in Jane’s footsteps in Bath

The South West Spa city of Bath is a great place to get to know Jane Austen, where she lived between 1801 and 1806. The city’s perfectly preserved Georgian architecture remains unchanged from the streets depicted in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Visitors can step back in time with a free downloadable audio walking tour of the city In the footsteps of Jane Austen, that includes extracts from her novels and letters, which brilliantly describe Bath as it would have been in its Georgian heyday. Be sure to stop off at the Jane Austen Centre, located in a Georgian town house just a few doors down from where she once lived and home to an exhibition of costumes, manuscripts, and film clips to bring the author’s world to life and explore the city’s influence on her work, as well as the all-important Regency Tea Rooms (£11 per adult and £5.50 per child).

And for true enthusiasts, visit between 8-17 September to join the largest gathering of Jane Austenenthusiasts at the Jane Austen Festival. Previous years have seen fans donning full regency garb at the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, meeting their very own Mr Darcy at the Country Dance Ball, and dancing their sense and sensibilities away at the Regency Costumed Masked Ball. 2017 will see the 17th edition of the annual festival. Tickets on sale now.

Explore Jane Austin’s seaside sojourns in Lyme Regis

n to have visited and loved Lyme Regis. In her letters to her sister Cassandra she described walking on the Cobb and tellingly her last novel Persuasion was set in the Dorset seaside town.

It’s easy to explore the area especially with a guided tour with Literary Lyme who offers a several walking tours of Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast that follow in the footsteps of several authors who lived or visited Lyme Regis. In the mix is a visit to the Golden Cap, the highest point in Southern England, which features in a film adaptations of  Persuasion – 90 minute tours cost from £10 per person.

Literary Trails and film buff locations in Berkshire

Jane Austen went to school at Abbey Gateway, Reading between 1785 and 1786. It was the only time in her life she lived away from home.

To get an insight explore the area on a Readipop Reading Literary Trail, a free walking tour developed by a group of young locals, as part of a heritage project called Reading on Tour to uncover Reading’s hidden history.

Film buffs may like to visit the 18th-century Palladian mansion of Basildon Park. It had two roles, one as Mr Bingley’s house, Netherfield and the other it was the dreamy location for Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy.

With both its impressive exterior and many of its indoor spaces featuring in the lavish production, Basildon is instantly recognisable to fans. Entry to Basildon Park costs £14 per adult; £7.50 per child.

Movie tours and your own Regency House party in Kent

The Austen family had many links to Kent and Jane’s father was born, attended school and later taught in Tonbridge where a Jane Austen Walk. The author travelled often within the region stopping off in Dartford and a regular guest at Godmersham Park near Ashford, where her brother Edward lived.

Goodnestone Park Gardens, Kent

Jane and her family were regulat visitors to Goodnestone Park and gardens. Set amidst 14 acres of 18th century parkland, the house retains a lot of original features from Austen’s time taking guests back to the dinners and dances she would have attended there.

As well as being home to Austen’s heritage, Kent is home to a number of locations for well-known film and TV adaptations of her books.

BBC’s adaptation of “Emma” starring Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller showed off the idyllic village of Chillham, which represented 18th Century Highbury and Squerryes Court in Westerham, which doubled as Emma’s family home.

The Keira Knightley big screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also found its home in Kent with Groombridge Place in Tunbridge Wells providing the perfect visualisation of the Bennet’s family home. Visitors can take in the gardens and enchanted forest year-round (from £10.95 per adult and £8.95 per child).

Festival Glam Rock afternoon tea, every day till August 31

K West Hotel & Spa, once a BBC building, in London’s trendy Shepherd’s Bush area has launched a brand new Festival Glam Rock Afternoon Tea. There was a time when rock greats such Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bowie, The Kinks and Roxy Music spent time here.

On this day it was just me in search of an afternoon cuppa.

And I got to enjoy a a most unusual cuppa. Tea was served in gorgeous electric blue and pink teapots and teacups on vintage record covers of different artists – mine was a Rod Stewart cover.

The food was a colourful extravaganza, almost psychedelic. Making my way up from the  bottom rung of the tier I started on mini-clubs sandwiches of avocado, red pepper and mozzerella and ham, chicken, mustard and cream cheese – and there were no crusts.

Interspersed with these were the rainbow brioche sliders which came with beef, guacamole and mustard mayo and halloumi with piquilo peppers and tomato salsa.

There were also mini buns with carmine and poppy seeds, chlorophyll and polenta. Amazingly when I asked for gluten free, they were able to oblige.

The next tier had the “rolling scones”. They came with clotted cream and various flavours of homemade jams. And sorbet cones. I don’t care much for clotted cream so I used the creamy cheesecake that was served in a white chocolate bowl instead. When offered a second helping of the scones, more rolled in.

The top rung had minted strawberry and watermelon mini-slushies which turned out to be a most unusual flavour – one worth getting used to as minted watermelon is the trend these days. There was also lovely selection of macaroons.

There are several teas on the menu and I tried their bespoke tea – Tea Rex. This is a mighty blend of strong black tea leaves and mellow green tea leaves, peony flowers, rose petals and more than a dash of peppercorns and cherry flavouring; a flavour the fiesty rock star Marc Bolan may well have liked.

Now imagine this as part of a cocktail infusion. There were six to choose from and I tried the “Little Miss Mystery”, a blend of Gordon’s gin infused with the strongly flavoured Tea Rex tea, Quinta Tempranillo, agave syrup, raspberry and strawberry puree. It’s a bit of a wow and the flavours blasted me out of my comfort zone. For more familiar sensations I ended the tea with a trusty Prosecco.

The tea lasted an entire afternoon and offered plenty of eye-candy, novelty and new adventures for the palate. An enjoyable experience especially for couples.

Traveling in BA Observation Tower i360?

Last year the Brighton Eye (akin to the London Eye) was replaced as a seafront landmark in Brighton by the British Airways i360, a 162-metre-tall vertical tower. It is located on the site of the derelict West Pier that was burned down by fire in 2003. You can still see the ruins of the pier straggling in the water just beyond.

Some have dubbed the observation pod the “donut” due to its shape, while others have been known to refer to it as something far cheekier (best left unquoted). However you call it, there is no doubt that this is a huge feat of engineering.

This is, afterall, the world’s tallest moving observation tower with an observation pod built around a central column. It is in fact a fully enclosed futuristic glass observation pod that gently lifts (the movement is hardly discernible) up to 200 people to a height of 138 metres.

I couldn’t wait to have a go in it when it first opened but whenever I happened to visit Brighton, the i360 was closed on some technicality or other. The gremlins are long gone and I finally got to experience the BA “flight” last week.

Checking into the BA i360

Like any flight, you have to check in, collect your ticket and go through security – a sort of airport light version – a process that is guided by staff dressed in BA livery. Once passed security you get to sit on deck chairs as you watch the previous flight land. It’s quite extraordinary.

Inside the BA i360

Straddled by two BA staff, the doors slowly slide open and passengers are shown into a very spacious 360 degree observation deck. There are some banquettes for those that need to sit but most like to walk around and visually drink in the views over Brighton from various perspectives. As the pod rises the views inevitably become ever more expansive across the sea, both sides of the beach and way into the city and beyond over the Downs.

It is a serene experience with the odd chatter in the background unless, of course, you get on with groups of kids, so be sure to ask which flights are free from school outings.

Though the flight lasts around 20 minutes, it seems all over far too soon and I hardly had enough time to sip the champagne I liberated from the pod Sky Bar.

I highly recommend the experience.