September 19, 2006

A Morning in Bath and a Drive into the Peaks!

I realize I forgot to mention yesterday that Matt and I visited Sydney Gardens in Bath on Sunday evening while the babies were napping. We got there before the sun set and enjoyed walking its paths. This was Jane Austen’s favorite spot in Bath. Here is a picture from the main entrance:

I’ll post more pictures later, since I took lots!

Monday morning we had breakfast, then packed up the car and checked out of our hotel. We drove into the center of Bath and parked up near the Circus so we could walk to the things we wanted to see (the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street, the Assembly Rooms, Museum of Costume, and the Royal Crescent). We took a tiny side street (closed to traffic) and realized we had stumbled upon the very shops mentioned to us by Naomi the day before–an antique book store, an antiques shop, and a “charity shop” (what we Americans call a “thrift store”). We eagerly perused the tiny corner bookshop, which was filled with treasures. Matt found a biography of G.A. Henty, who is a favorite writer in our household, and Melissa found some top-secret gifts for members of her family. I got a beautiful book on the places mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels, which is filled with color photos and lots of neat descriptions. There was also an original copy of the memoir of Jane written by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, but I put it back on the shelf with a sigh of regret. Just a bit too pricey for the pocket! Still, it was fun to hold it for a while!

We checked out the antiques store, which was just like Dickens’s Curiosity Shop in the flesh! It was one of those places where you can barely walk without tumbling over something or other. Shelves stuffed with china dogs, old hats, candlesticks, and toast racks ranged the walls. From an upper balcony hung old military uniforms. In the very back of the shop was a photo of the same building 40 years earlier, when it was what we’d call a Five and Dime–a store that carries a little of everything at low prices. The interior shelves were all original to the shop and still advertised confectionary, quality goods, and tea! A little further down the lane was this cute cafe:

We continued down hill over stone sidewalks until we reached the Jane Austen Centre. This is a wonderful place to visit if you are ever in Bath! The staff are all fellow Janeites and very knowledgeable about Jane’s life and times–particularly about her time in Bath. The exhibit is well put together and includes a short film on Jane in Bath with Amanda Root as narrator (she played Anne Elliot in “Persuasion”). There are some original garments on display as well as several reproductions (out where you can see everything up close and not through glass!). Photography is allowed, so we took lots and lots of pictures! The doll shown here is from the Dressing Elizabeth Bennet feature that demonstrates all the layers of a lady’s Regency attire. Everything on the doll is hand-stitched, and Melissa and I just about went cross-eyed over the tiny handiwork! After we get back, we will size down the rest of the photos and put them all up so you can see everything! The Centre also features a third-story tea room that serves Regency tea daily, but we didn’t have time for that, so we moved on to the Assembly Rooms and Museum of Costume (which is in the basement of the same building). On the way, we saw the Royal Crescent, which is every bit as stunning as you’d imagine. It has its own private lawn/park in front and glows golden in the sunlight.

If you really want to see what the Assembly Rooms look like, watch the film version of “Persuasion” with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root. The room where Anne and Wentworth talk about “that wretched day in Lyme” is in the center of all the Assembly Rooms–a kind of “spoke” to a wheel. It is beautifully painted and has a domed ceiling. From there, you can walk into the “Upper Rooms,” which include a ballroom, an octagon room, and a concert hall. The hall is what you see when Anne goes to hear the Italian songs and sits with Mr. Elliot. Amazingly, the ballroom suffered a direct bomb hit in WWII and was faithfully restored to its former glory. The poor, misguided souls of the late Victorian era had actually gone in and painted the plain walls with all kinds of curlicues and wild birds and such, feeling that the room was too plain. The photograph of the “improvements” is something to see. Melissa and I agreed it was good that a later generation took everything back down to the basics and restored the beautiful simplicity of the original design! It’s a shame we weren’t allowed to take photographs, because the chandeliers alone were worth it!

The basement of the Assembly Rooms houses the Museum of Costume, which owns over 30,000 original garments. Only the merest fraction of those are on display at any given time, but we thoroughly enjoyed what we saw! here are some of my favorite Regency Era gowns:

When we get home, we’ll scale the rest of the pictures down a bit put them up so you can enjoy them all. The lighting was pretty low, so we used flash on some pictures (there is a bit of a glare at times as a result, but never directly on the garment itself). I wish we could have taken detailed closeups of the incredible lace and handwork displayed in one wall cabinet. It was breathtaking. (Matt, by the way, sat this one out so he could get us some lunch. I can hear him now, “No lace, Mrs. Bennet! No lace!“)

In one part of the museum we came upon some ladies working on mounting pockets for a future exhibit. These were beautiful pockets from the 18th century, and the curator had come up with a fantastic way to show how they worked. She dressed a mannequin in a reproduction shift, corset, and quilted petticoat, then created a see-through skirt out of–get this–steel! The skirt actually looked like organza, but it was woven entirely of thin steel “thread.” It was fireproof and touchproof and gave a bird’s eye view of the pockets tied around the waist of the mannequin. It’s always fun to see how curators come up w
ith display ideas!

After taking lots and lots of pictures, we finally went upstairs to drool all over the two gift shops, which are stuffed with fashion history books, paper dolls, Jane Austen ephemera, postcards, and more. I got a few postcards to keep and some to send home. Here is a picture of Matt after he dropped some postcards into the mail for home. We’ll probably beat them there, but it was still fun to post in that red box!

I have to stop and comment here that I think you come into Bath like Catherine Moreland and leave like Anne Elliot. As Catherine, you marvel at the incredible architecture and walk around like someone in a dream. Rounding each corner brings a new delight, and you wonder what you’ll see next. But after a day and a half in the town, you realize you’ve seen it all–and that’s all there is. It’s a fun place to visit, and the surrounding villages would make a charming place to live, but Bath itself is more a place to come and shop. That’s exactly how Jane Austen felt about it–that it was all one “white glare…cast from a mould.” In her day, she said it was full of “single persons, mostly superannuated females!” It was a place to go and be seen, but most of the activities became wearing after a while. She much preferred the country. We adored Bath and would gladly go there again, but we were glad to press on to the north country and enjoy its beauties!

So, stowed back in the car with our “take-away” lunch, we hit the road for Derbyshire. We’d instructed the GPS to take us by the scenic route rather than primarily by the M roads. Driving through Gloucestershire and Warwickshire was a treat–mile upon mile of wonderful scenery and beautiful villages. Here’s my “bird’s eye view” from the back seat, where I was blogging about Sunday as we drove yesterday:

And here are my happy companions on either side!

As we approached Warwick, I asked Matt if we had time to stop by Warwick Castle, which I visited when I was 16. It was right in our way, so we hopped out for a detour. The earliest section of the castle dates to William the Conqueror, while the later sections were begun in the 1100s and continued up through Elizabethan times. During the English Civil War, the inhabitants of the castle sided with Oliver Cromwell and avoided the fate of nearby Kenilworth Castle, which was sacked and burned. There is a Kenilworth bedroom in Warwick castle that contains paneling stripped from Kenilworth when that castle was sacked. Later, Queen Victoria had a matching wardrobe made to go with the paneling and presented it to the Duke as a gift. The original paneling contains the name of Robert Dudley, who was friend to Queen Elizabeth I (they were prisoners in the Tower at the same time). Speaking of whom, one of QEI’s saddles rests in a case in the Great Hall of the castle! Melissa photographed it. (We’ll upload all the Warwick pictures when we have a good connection at home to handle all the files.) The Great Hall currently houses (in addition to its regular armor and such) a collection of costumes worn in plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The display started two days before our arrival, and we were tickled to get to see this little “bonus.” Melissa and I walked through the “1898 Victorian House Party,” which is a huge collection of wax figures in period dress throughout the main rooms of the castle. Included among the figures are a young Winston Churchill and Prince Edward IV (for whom the “Edwardian Era” was named). I saw this same exhibit when I was 16, and it hasn’t changed a bit. I guess they must regularly clean the costumes and dust the figures!

I know my boys will love to see pictures of some armor and the huge trebuchet (catapult) next to the castle, so here are some of my favorite shots!

Because we arrived at the castle an hour before closing time, we got discounted tickets–and we still had plenty of time to look around. If you ever plan to visit, consider going late to get the discount! You will have plenty of time to poke around and see all the wonderful sights. We saw a tournament ground on one side that is used for reenactments. It’s a shame they weren’t putting one on while we were there.

We still had about two hours to go before we’d reach Bakewell, so we skipped supper and pushed on toward Derbyshire. The GPS guided us through several tiny villages with narrow streets as darkness fell, but when it announced, “You have reached your destination,” we were in the center of a hamlet almost entirely dark except for the lights at a nearby pub! We looked at each other in bewilderment, and Matt drove carefully along, looking for the sign of the Rutland Arms Hotel. No such animal. He turned around and drove back to the Bull’s Head public house to ask for directions. The keeper there said, “Oh, you mean the “ROOTlund Arms?” (The northern English accent is decidely different from the southern accent. “Me” is pronounced “meh,” and “you” is pronounced “yeh.” They also use a short “a” like we do–saying “Bath” instead of “Bahth.” “House” sounds more like “hoos,” and some vowels are almost dropped entirely. It is so much fun to hear the almost Scottish or Welsh tones and pronunciations. It’s a lovely accent.) Well, Matt pointed the car in the direction indicated, and we went three and a half miles as instructed. Ah-ha! Now we were in Bakewell. But where was the Rutland Arms? Not a thing remotely resembling it to be seen…. Matt remarked, “A neon sign would be nice!” (understand, there are almost NO neon signs in the English countryside!). We decided to see if the GPS could now find the Rutland Arms, and it did, but it said it was another three miles distant. We pressed on and ended up in another village entirely, but there was the Rutland Arms! Matt pulled into the car park and went in, just to make sure. A bemused innkeeper told us there are two identically named hotels within four miles of each other and that the one we wanted was back in Bakewell! The GPS still didn’t show it, so we just drove back and went slowly into the town center. There, in blazing neon glory, was a sign: Rutland Arms Hotel”–hanging just below the roofline of a tall building right in front of the town’s main roundabout! We all had a good laugh over that one. We couldn’t see it coming in from the other side of town, but it sure was obvious now!

By now, it was 9:05, and the hotel’s restaurant had already closed
. We’ve discovered that just about everything in the country closes around 9pm save the pubs, which are usually open until 11 (but not serving food). After inquiring at a couple of places, we found there was an authentic Indian restaurant that served until 9:30. So out in the heart of Derbyshire, we ate curried chicken and lamb massala over warm garlic pitas! It was quite delicious, and our host (a native Indian) was warm and friendly. He loved the twins, as his own wife is expecting their first child. There has been a fun and unexpected surprise on just about every stage of this journey. We feel so blessed!

I formatted pictures and updated the blog before going to bed, and tomorrow I’ll tell you about what we did today–driving around the peak district, eating a real Bakewell pudding, and visiting Chatsworth in period dress, where we saw Mr. Darcy and gave him all your best regards. ;-) Here’s a teaser picture to keep you in suspense:


What on earth are those gals up to now?
Playing in Mr. Darcy’s waterfall cascade? The temerity!

Good night, all!