Live a life of elegance and wit
Wear fabulous costumes, take tea with Mr Darcy and learn to dance in elegant Regency fashion. You’ll soon discover why Jane Austen and her books have inspired film adaptations, drama series and won an army of devoted fans.
Dress up like Bath’s leading lady
At the annual Jane Austen Festival, you can take part in a promenade wearing clothes 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. The event holds the world record for ‘The largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes’.
But Bath is a picture of Georgian elegance any time of year. Jane Austen lived in the city from 1801 to 1806, and much of her writing on city life and experiences was based on her time here. The World Heritage site, with its Palladian architecture carved from golden Bath stone, remains virtually unchanged since Austen’s day.
How to: Bath is a 90-minute journey from London by train.
Visit Jane Austen’s house
Jane Austen spent the last 8 years of her life in Chawton, a Hampshire village between Winchester and London. This is where she did much of her mature writing, including ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Emma’, and revised several of her earlier works.
The Jane Austen House Museum is practically hallowed-ground for fans. But even if you’re not familiar with her writing, it’s a fascinating 17th-century home in an idyllic village. After her death, Jane Austen was buried in nearby Winchester Cathedral, a towering gothic building that’s also well worth a visit.
How to: Trains run regularly from London Waterloo to Alton, in South East England, where the house is, and take 1 hour 15 minutes.
Learn English country dancing
Jane Austen’s characters enjoyed nothing more than a lively jig about. To try some ringlet-bouncing country dancing yourself, quick step your way to Mrs Bennet’s ballroom classes.
There’s no need dress up, but you might find it interesting to look into some ballroom etiquette before you go. For example dancers brought fans to cool down between dances. They could also convey hidden messages to prospective suitors with the positioning of their fans– half-closed and held to the lips, for instance, meant ‘I would like to kiss you’.
How to: St Marks Church Hall is 300 yds from Surbiton Station. To get there, it’s a 17-minute ride by fast train from Waterloo Station. The group meets twice monthly on Wednesday evenings. You can join any time and there’s no need to pay in advance.
Walk in the novelist’s footsteps
Lyme Regis, England
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.
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.
Take tea with Mr Darcy
The Regency Tea Room – part of the must-visit Jane Austen Centre – is the perfect place to experience afternoon tea like Jane and her heroines.
Order the popular ‘Tea with Mr Darcy’. It includes finger sandwiches, a warm scone served with Dorset clotted cream, jam and a pot of tea. And keep your eyes peeled – you might even catch a glimpse of the dashing gent himself.
You can enter the tea room for free, but it’s worth splashing out for a ticket to the centre. As well as a life-sized wax work of Jane, by a forensic artist, you’ll also find a selection of Regency costumes to try on.
How to: By train, Bath is a 90-minute journey from London.