White Cliffs of Dover

After a refreshing night in our first ever Airbnb we woke up early to trek to the White Cliffs of Dover. This natural landmark is famous for the beautiful white chalky cliffs that overlook the narrowest part of the English Channel facing France.

That morning there was a storm rolling in so we couldn’t stay as long as we would like, but I can tell you from the place we stayed the night before, you can see France on the horizon across the water during good weather. It’s very distant but so very cool! We were tempted to take the train to France through the tunnel but the cost return would have been over 150 pounds, which although isn’t too pricey, is quite a bit after you add up all the other stuff we needed to pay for on our trip. (It’s an interesting idea though if you can do it! Once you get to France then the whole of Europe is open to explore!)

Somehow we always have natural landmarks in the morning, which is not great if you’re near a body of water, because the fog is just unforgiving. Despite it being 10am, and blue skies, the view was a little hazy. We trekked out to a nice viewpoint and took photos. The sun helped to make some of the thicker part of the fog disappear, so we ended up with some nice pics. From the part where we walked you can get a few nice cliff-face photos but I imagine the best photo op would be looking up at the majestic cliffs from a boat on the water.

As we were there when the Cliffs opened to visitors the whole area was quiet and we were able to explore on our own without any interruptions. On the way back to the car we took a new route against the cliffs where we unexpectedly came across a mini cave that goes about 2 feet into the cliff and out again. We snuck in like a couple of kids, took some photos, and ran back out.

From this area you get a great view of the port where big cruise ships come and go. You can also see Dover Castle perched on the other side of the mountain.

Jane Austen House Museum

For Jane Austen fans, her house in Chawton, where she died and wrote her last books, is a pilgrimage you get to do once in a lifetime. When Addam surprised me with this trip my first thought was that I would finally get to visit Jane’s home.

With that much expectation riding on this day I was worried that I might be disappointed. Looking back I think it wasn’t ruined by expectation because I’m not sure my imagination is very good at really picturing what I will see when I actually fulfill a dream. I’ve always wanted to “visit Jane Austen’s house” but I never really think about it further than seeing the outside. I didn’t picture what it would look like on the inside much, aside from what I saw in Becoming Jane (a biopic starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy).

So what was it like?

First of all, it’s actually around the corner from a major highway, which I was not expecting, and you probably wouldn’t guess if you just dropped from the sky in front of her house. Chawton is a very quiet town. I imagine that without Austen’s legacy here tourists would never visit it. Chawton House might grab some attention but I wonder if that mansion too would get the visitors it does without it having a connection through Jane’s brother.

When we arrived we parked on the street and walked to the pub across the street from her house. It’s called The Greyfriar and they had the usual English pub fare. It was a perfect pit stop for a quick lunch. If you’re after afternoon tea you could go next door to Cassandra’s Cup – a traditional tearoom.

Finally the moment came to visit her house. We walked across the street and purchased our tickets. I was starting to get giddy and quiet all at once. We watched a very short introductory film, and then went around to the house.

The first room you go into isn’t exactly part of the tour. They were the kitchens a room attached to the house. In the middle of the room in front of a big fireplace sat a table. On the table there were some tools to make your own scented “smelling bag”. With a bowl of crushed lavender, some ribbon and a round white sachet, I made my lavender bag.

I don’t think I can bring it back with me to the U.S. but I made it all the same. Throughout the tour I smelt it, and wondered whether Jane brought lavender into the house from the garden to smell. I love flowers and have several vases in our own house where I put fresh flowers every week.

After the kitchen we went into the main entrance to the house, which upon entering, struck me as very quaint compared to what most of the landed gentry would have had at the time.

Every room had some memorabilia for Jane Austen or someone who was part of her life. The highlights that stood out to me: The desk where Jane would write her novels, some of Jane’s hair placed in a tiny little ring, portraits of Jane, original letters written by Jane and the piano where she used to play.

I spent far too long in the gift shop trying to decide what to get. I ended up with a plaster bust of Jane that I will put on my work desk for writing inspiration.

Winchester Cathedral: Jane Austen’s Grave

Just a short drive from Chawton is the much larger city of Winchester. It is here, at the impressive Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen is buried. It was nearing 5pm and I was a bit hesitant to pay to get in the church just to see the stone with her name on it but it felt important that if we visited her house we should pay our respects to her final resting place.

We were able to get in for free because nobody was manning the entrance desk, and it seemed that people were allowed to enter the church and look around freely. We waiting a few minutes for someone to come along but they didn’t so we proceeded. It didn’t take too long to find the Austen stone. On the wall there’s a gold plaque memorial, and in front of that in the middle of the hall, is Jane Austen’s original gravestone.

The message is so bittersweet because Jane was not famous at all when she died. She had no idea that she would become one of the most famous authors that ever lived. When she died she was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, taken too soon from the earth, and missed. The words on the stone reminded me that Jane isn’t just the author of the books that I loved, but a person who had secrets and flaws. I wish there was a way we could go into the past and meet people that have since died. My list would be long. Jane would be close to the top.