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Hazel Jones, a Jane Austen scholar, professor, author, and experienced guide also accompanied us. She shared little-known facts about the world of Jane Austen, and we loved picking her brain. She has previously published Jane Austen & Marriage and has just released a new book, Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, with a gorgeous photo of Colin Firth as Darcy on the cover (which she has the rights to use).
It’s safe to say (with the exception of one JA purist) our fellow travelers were Colin Firth Darcyholics, too. They came from all over the world—Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Russia, Israel, and Belgium. In fact, Janet and I were the only Americans. The majority of the group was in their twenties and thirties, and we were thrilled to see so many young people in love with Jane Austen. Of course, Janet and I have forgotten what thirty feels like, but that’s beside the point.
The tour began in Bath, and we arrived a day early. The city was amazing! We felt as though we had literally gone back in time! We had never seen architecture like that of the Royal Crescent and the Circus. Everything was crammed together, a far cry from the wide open spaces we were used to in Texas. Janet and I craned our necks gazing up at the sights until we reached the beautiful Francis Hotel in Queen’s Square, only a block or so from the Jane Austen Centre!
Our first excursion was a short walk to Jane’s place, where we posed for pictures with the Regency guy standing out front. The gift shop is small, but we milled about, made our purchases, and climbed the stairs to have tea and delicious cakes. I’d like to say that we explored Bath the rest of the day, but in fact, after flying all night and with only two hours of sleep, we were exhausted. We returned to the hotel and napped until bedtime and then got up and went to bed. We’re a sturdy lot, that’s for sure!
The next morning, we met our tour group at the train station for morning coffee and set out for the Cotswolds and the village of Lacock, which was used to portray Meryton. Owned by the United Kingdom’s National Trust, it’s an ancient English village maintained as close as possible to its original condition. We saw The Red Lion where Darcy first met Lizzy and walked along the street window shopping just like Lydia and Kitty. If Bingley and Darcy had come riding up, the town would have been perfect.
We visited the Bell at Bromley of which Lady Cat instructs Elizabeth, “If you mention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to,” and posed for pictures beneath the window where Lydia leaned out and surprised Lizzy and Maria Lucas. Not far from that site was an old abbey used as Darcy’s university where he strode down the corridor, opened the door, and discovered Wickham and a girl in flagrante. I got weak in the knees just thinking about touching the same doorknob that Colin Firth touched! Then I thought about Wickham touching it and decided to wash my hands.
After settling in at our next lovely hotel, we prepared for the formal dinner to be held that evening at Longbourn. Costumes were encouraged, and rather than rent, Janet made our gowns. She said it would be a snap. It turned out to be tedious, laborious work, but she did a beautiful job. I can’t tell you how excited we were getting ready that evening! I felt just like Lizzy, although, unfortunately, I looked more like Mrs. Bennet. The tour director had told us to bring adaptors for our electrical appliances to convert to UK sockets. Janet’s electric rollers adapted just fine, but a few minutes after plugging in my curling iron, I noticed smoke wafting up to the ceiling. When I picked up the iron, the top half melted and fell over like a limp noodle. Hill? Hill? Oh, where was Hill?
Longbourn was absolutely magical! All decked out in our costumes, we visited the church where Darcy, Lizzy, Jane and Bingley were married. From the church, we walked to Longbourn on the same path that the Bennets trod in the early scenes of the movie. The first moment we saw Longbourn, it was unbelievable! The house still looks just like it did when Lizzy walked up and did the rolling eyes dance with Mr. Bennet. The yard, or garden as the Brits say, was truly lovely! Some dancers from Bath arrived in costume, and Janet snapped my picture with the president of the Georgian Dancers Society.
Inside Longbourn, we were served a buffet supper and sat in the drawing room. Afterwards, we were taught country dancing in the large entry hall. Execution of the steps was hilarious, and most of us bumbled about like Mr. Collins! While waiting to dance down the line, some repeatedly took the opportunity to refill their wineglasses, and by the time we did the steps to Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot, some unusual variations occurred. I doubt that Darcy would have approved of our savage society, but surely Sir William would have clapped his hands and cried, “Capital, capital!”
All in all, it was a fantastic evening, but for one complication. Janet and I discovered that empire waistlines are somewhat tricky to maneuver. Ours had a tendency to climb. I refuse to show you the close-ups where my bust line is prominently displayed with the waist crawling up to my neck. Janet’s pictures are much better. Since she has a light and pleasing figure, the photos don’t reveal that her boobs simply fell out the bottom.
On the second day of the tour, we visited Netherfield, Darcy’s London where he hunts for Wickham and Lydia, and we spent the night at Hunsford Parsonage. I’m happy to report that Mr. Collins was not at home, and we were greeted by the owner of the house, a charming lady named Victoria who preferred to be called “Tor.” She and her neighbors had prepared a lovely table of sweets for our afternoon tea.
We sat in the room where Darcy made such a mess of proposing to Lizzy. Except for the furniture, it looks the same even down to the wallpaper. The clock still sits on the fireplace mantel where Darcy stood in such agony. A beautiful girl name Stacia from Israel stayed in Lizzy’s room, and yes, the closet still has shelves in it. Janet and I shared a room across the hall and up a couple of stairs. The entire house had stairs here, there, and everywhere.
That night, Janet and I were too excited to sleep and began to giggle about everything just like Lydia and Kitty. The more we tried to be quiet, the worse it got—like getting tickled in church! We finally decided sleep was the only solution. I had managed to contain myself when Janet said she was going to charge her I-Pad all night. She plugged it in on the table beside my bed. Moments after turning out the light, she cried, “Oh!” and jumped up from her bed and began feeling her way around the room in the dark.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“What if the electrical plug does what it did to your curling iron? No one would ever forgive me if I burned down Hunsford Parsonage!” She promptly unplugged her I-Pad. Never mind the fact that we might have perished in the fire—she had to save Hunsford!
Rosings Park (Belton House in Lincolnshire) was unbelievable! The film did not do justice to the beauty of the grounds. There’s a huge orangery (greenhouse built of stone that matches the mansion) behind the house and a formal English garden filled with colorful flowers, shrubs, and a fountain between the house and the orangery.
Inside the house, we saw the stairs that Darcy ran up after being refused by Lizzy, and then we toured his bedroom where he wrote his tortured letter to her. The majestic Queen Anne bed still sports the same bedspread used in the movie.
The interior of Pemberley was shot at Sudbury Hall, another mansion in Derbyshire. We drooled over the ornate white staircase, visited Darcy’s red bedroom where he hurriedly dresses the morning he’s going to see Lizzy in Lambton, and sighed over the pianoforte in the music room where the look occurs. Then we walked down the great gallery where all the portraits were hung. Unfortunately, Darcy’s likeness is no longer there. That’s probably wise because Janet would have tried to stuff it into her luggage.
We were as impressed with the Peak District as Lizzy was! The scenery was breathtaking! We spent the night at an inn in the countryside and awakened the next morning to incomparable views, the sound of cows lowing, and the lush, green fields dotted with white sheep.
In Derbyshire, we visited a carriage museum that had Georgian carriages used by the BBC in the film. A lucky few of us took a ride in a carriage. Actually, it was more like the cart that Anne Elliot rode to Uppercross in the Amanda Root version of Persuasion. I was the last one to climb aboard and thought I was so fortunate to ride up front with the driver. With silver hair and long, bushy sideburns, he had actually driven the carriages in the film and in Wives and Daughters. I planned to ask him tons of questions, but before I could open my mouth, I learned why the huge white horse directly in front of me was called Sir Farts-a-Lot. I heard Janet and the others laughing behind me, but I decided to ignore the horse and enjoy myself. At that moment, the horse lifted his tail and did a whole lot more than fart! Once that was over, we enjoyed a perfectly lovely ride to the church.
On the last day of the tour, we visited Lyme Park which is Pemberley! It was absolutely positively worth the entire trip! We were taken to the exact spot where Lizzy gets her first glimpse of Pemberley across the lake. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I believe I would have been very happily situated to have sat there all day long.
We saw the courtyard where Darcy races down the steps buttoning his jacket, trying to reach Lizzy before she leaves. We walked the same path Darcy and Lizzy took with the Gardiners bringing up the rear. Janet and a few of the more adventurous group made the trek to the infamous pond. They had to climb a hill and wade through the mud to reach it. A blowing rain began in the middle of it all, and Janet returned soaked but with a smile on her face.
After the tour ended, we spent several more days in England, visited Chatsworth, and made our way from Manchester back to Bath where we took time to explore more of its treasures. We envisioned Austen’s characters dancing in the Assembly Room, visited the Pump Room where Janet actually drank a glass of the famous water (it smelled like rotten eggs!), and Jan got friendly with an ancient statue at the Roman Baths.
The only downside to that part of the trip was our decision to rent a car in Manchester. Having never driven on the wrong side of the road (on purpose), we got lost more times than we can recall, hit a few too many curbs, learned to dread roundabouts, and decided you have to live in Bath several years to ever know where the heck you are because they rarely post street names. The big red double-decker coaches, however, are your best friends if you want to see the city. [pic 18]
We could make you suffer through scads more of our dream vacation, but we’ll spare you. Janet was our photographer, and it was extremely difficult narrowing the selection for this post, not to mention wading through the hundreds of pictures she took of a duck in the pond at Rosings, a gull flying over Bath, a beautiful dog that looked like a wolf on the streets of Bath, horses prancing about at Netherfield, and various and sundry birds. Did you know she likes animals?All in all, though, we’d say the Pride and Prejudice tour is well worth the time and money. It provided the escape we were seeking, transporting us back two hundred years to the days when Darcy and Elizabeth fell in love, and that’s what it’s all about for Darcyholics, isn’t it?
Leave a comment, telling us what you’ve seen or would particularly like to see, and be entered in our giveaway. One winner will receive a set of Janet’s lovely Darcy and Elizabeth note cards, and one will win a signed copy of my latest novel, The Journey.