Tie on your bonnet and button up your boots to experience Jane Austen’s England...
1. Visit Jane Austen’s House
You’re in for a treat if you visit the Jane Austen House Museum. The author spent the final years of her life in the Hampshire house, and it has been furnished to look as it would then, complete with the desk where she penned her novels. How to: Trains run regularly from London Waterloo to Alton, in South East England, where the house is, and take 1 hour 15 minutes.
2. Learn country dancing at a real-life Regency ball
Make your society debut at the Warwick Regency Christmas Ball (held on 12 December 2015), and who knows – maybe you’ll meet your own Mr Darcy! Clad in period costume; make for the Court House ballroom for an evening of ringlet-bouncing country dancing, from the Scotch Reel to the Waltz. Gentlemen, as well as ladies, should bring a fan to cool down between dances. But be careful - in Regency England a half-closed fan held to the lips meant, ‘I would like to kiss you’. How to: See unlockingwarwick.co.uk for tickets; Warwick is 90 minutes north west of London Euston by train.
3. Walk in the novelist’s footsteps
Jane Austen is known to have visited Lyme Regis, a quaint coastal town on the South Coast of England, at least twice. In letters to her sister Cassandra she wrote fondly of walks along the seafront. Jane’s experiences there are notable in ‘Persuasion’ - likely the most autobiographical of all her novels. Literary Lyme run Jane Austen walking tours (approximately 90 minutes) of the town year-round. You’ll get to promenade along the Cobb, see the steps where protagonist Louisa Musgrove allegedly fell on the famous harbour wall, and take in the same invigorating, sea-spray views the writer so enjoyed. How to: Lyme Regis is in South West England, within a 2-hour reach of Bath via a combination of bus and train.
4. Stay in a Pride & Prejudice cottage
Much of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (1995), starring Colin Firth, was filmed on the Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire. The Duchess of Devonshire recently refurbished the Gardener’s Cottage on the estate for self-catering accommodation, and styled the décor around the TV series, giving guests the sense that Jane Austen herself might walk in at any moment. While you’re there, visit Chatsworth house and gardens – get a National Trust Touring Pass for unlimited access to more than 300 stunning stately homes, gardens and castles throughout Great Britain. The lodge sleeps 6 and features elegant fireplaces, a claw-foot bath tub and 4-poster bed. How to: You can take a train North from London St Pancras to Sheffield – a 2-hour journey – then catch a bus from Sheffield Interchange (across the road) which travels directly to the estate. To book the cottage visit www.chatsworth.org.
5. Dress up like Bath’s leading lady
There’s nowhere like Bath – a city Jane lived for several years, now home to the annual 10-day Jane Austen Festival – to transport your imagination back to the cobbled streets of 19th-century Britain. A stroll around the UK’s World Heritage city, with its Palladian architecture carved from golden Bath stone – virtually untouched since Jane’s day – is an experience in itself. At the Jane Austen Centre, you can take the experience one step further and try on clothes of the era, just like the novelist would have worn. From floating Regency-style dresses, with their distinctive empire line cut, to silky reticules – drawstring purses that neatly hold a lady’s essentials. How to: Bath is 90 minutes west of London by train. Header image: © Owen Benson, the Jane Austen Festival.