What do you wear to visit Miss Austen? This question weighed a little heavy on me today as we prepared to journey to Bath. I have limited access to Regency garb, but I did manage to wear hose (I think she would have approved, but perhaps would not have wanted to speak of it), boots, a long black skirt, an empire line wrap dress and (sadly today) the puffy jacket. She wouldn't have liked that I suspect. I did want to wear a hat, but nothing looked right. Surprisingly mild today, although overcast.
No one else was bothered by what to wear. Myles has a bad cold.
Samantha took us into to Bath by her usual winding and back laned route. We, the passengers, like this. Myles, the driver, not so much. Lots of little villages once more, lots of cows munching at the greenest of grass, sheep. Lovely laneways that are arched with trees - this is more dramatic at light when we drive through these circles of foliage with only the gloomy light of the car to guide us. We also discovered, on our way out of Sydling St Nicholas, that there is a large man cut into the side of a hill quite near us - etched with white (tiles?). Paris though he was wearing a cowboy hat. We will investiage further tomorrow.
Bath is utterly wonderful - this is where I want to live (how many times will I say this on this trip?). We were here about 12 years ago, but somehow I have no real memory of how amazing it is. We wandered the streets in the city in a kind of daze, all drawn to the yellow stone of the buildings and the repeated patterns and the uniformity. Which, though overwhelming, somehow does not annoy.
I marched the family off to the Jane Austen Centre. This was gold.
We were first greeted by a young woman all dressed Regency like. She sold us tickets and told us to go upstairs because we would be met by a guide who would take us around and tell us stories. We did as we were told. The same young woman then greeted us as our guide (as if she had never seen us before). She then told us about Jane Austen. Quite interesting about the family and how many brothers she had (never knew that, only knew about the sister). Where they lived, what they did and so on. Apparently, 'Bath's most famous resident' hated Bath. She wanted to live in the countryside. She didn't like shopping at the local market. She thought that residents of Bath were superfical. And she never lived in the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street (where we were currently transfixed), but she did live, once, for six months, up the road in number 25. We were shown an example of her manuscript (tiny pages, it's a wonder that they were ever kept in order). Then, off to the museum itself. Tiny, like everything else. There was a portrait that was labelled 'Probably Jane Austen'. You'd hope.
Paris got involved in working out how to use your fan to communicate wordlessly with others. Zelda stood appalled in front of the outfits she would have been made to wear had she been born in 1775. (And she, standing horrified in her black jeans and black boots and black jacket ...). We looked at tea cups and packets of cards, and dresses and measured ourselves against these tiny people (have I mentioned how small everything is, and how gigantic we are?). We were given Bath Biscuits for our health (by the same young woman who sold tickets and was our guide. This time she did recognise us). We watched little vignettes on a video loop (Niccolo became excited later when he recognised some of the places from the video that we were walking through). Then out into the gift shop. Who was there to take our purchases? Yes, same Regency lass. We didn't make it to the tea rooms, but I'm sure she was there too. Paris bought some things for keepsakes (I'm not making this up). Niccolo bought a quill and ink set. He is all ready to write some letters. Zelda bought nothing - she was after a black parasol. There was no trade in such an object. I bought a book. No surprises there.
We were then free to make our way around Bath. We walked to the Circus and then to Royal Crescent. Again, amazed by the place. Myles talked a doorman into letting us wander around the hotel that is in Royal Crescent. There was a private garden at the back (with a little cafe). We thought about what it might take for us to live there. Myles asked how much per night. The doorman gave him a look - if you have to ask ...
We frolicked on the green expanse in front of the houses. I had a race with Paris. I lost.
The children were now getting hungry. So we walked further, and were utterly charmed by everything. But we couldn't agree on what to eat. Or rather where. But we did end up in a lively pub - the Lamb and Lion. There served very English food by a barman with a very black eye. It must get interesting at the Lamb and Lion late at night. There was a dart competition on the TV. I can't tell you how mesmerising a dart competition is. We were literally cheering the darters (?) on. There was a dizzy group of women with very done hair beside us giving some cheap champagne a belting. Some barely vertical elderly folk on the other side with pints of beer they could only just lift. I was thinking of settling in for the afternoon. But we had only one day in Bath and we needed to be out in it.
We had, earlier, passed a fancy cake shop and as it was Treat Friday, we returned for dessert. I didn't partake. I felt giddy just being inside the shop. But the children - what can I say?
We then spent quite a long time in the Abbey ('What is it about abbeys?' asked Paris.) Zelda became decidedly bolshie about doing the kid's quiz. Niccolo wigged out about the quiz early on. I had to read every last dedication on the walls; surprising number of people lived or were born in Jamaica. Tragic families with many children who didn't make it out of childhood. And equal or more number who made it into ripe and old age. Spectacular ceilings and windows.
We finished in Bath with fat pigeons (not to eat, but to laugh at), the Christmas lights, a whip around Marks and Spencers in search of a hair brush for Paris (again, no word of a lie) and more wandering on dark streets.
This is my town, I feel it in my bones.
We did not make it to the baths - Roman or othewise. The otherwise baths did not admit anyone under the age of 12. The Roman baths had very good public toilets but we did not venture further. It eludes me now why. Perhaps next time. When we come in September for the Jane Austen festival (in the town she hated. I love that).