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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Days in England: The Rest of the Tour

I left you last week saying goodbye to Oxford, so now we’ll take the train northwest to Manchester, and from there go south again to Hereford and the other sites.

The countryside that glided by the train windows looked much like the American Midwest farmland, with hay bales, harvested fields, and livestock peopling the gently rolling land. Only the buildings were noticeably different, because they were transplants from the nineteenth century—farmhouses, country cottages, the occasional manor house and medieval church, almost all of them built of brick or stone. It was lovely!

Manchester, a large city, is energetic and industrial. The Sense and Sensibility costume tour that Laura and I were on began here. Manchester was interesting to me for its pivotal position in the Industrial Revolution; we had no time to really tour it, but if I go back I’d like to explore its history some more. I’d want to see Elizabeth Gaskell’s house, which is being turned into a museum; this important Victorian author lived in Manchester for over thirty years.

Liverpool, which we visited on Monday after the tour started, seemed relatively similar to Manchester, but it had a seaport feel. Despite the business-oriented character of both, these cities had beautiful architectural examples—Liverpool has the fantastic Walker Art Gallery, which looks like a temple from Rome! (I’m serious—my friend Laura, who’s been to Rome, said she did a double-take when she saw it.)


Liverpool isn’t right on the sea—so I still haven’t seen the ocean up close—but has access to it by the Mersey Estuary. London has its pigeons, Liverpool has its seagulls. But believe it or not, so do Hereford and Bath, which are decidedly landlocked (though they are built around rivers). By the time I was in Bath, I’d had rather enough of seagull shrieks!

Hereford is a mid-sized town of over 50,000 people, but it felt smaller. (Everything feels smaller in England, though; I think I might have mentioned that before.) It’s about sixteen miles from Wales, and I was excited to see some Welsh—in a brochure and on signs around the county of Herefordshire. I didn’t hear anyone speak it, though, which would have been so cool! We stayed at a wonderful bed-and-breakfast, which was our jumping-off point for exploring the town, which felt more normal to me, seeing as I’m used to towns that size and that modern. (Actually I’m the most used to little American towns, but the little English towns I visited were very individualistic.) Hereford has its share of lovely, old-fashioned buildings, however! The cathedral, made of layers and folds of reddish brick, reminded me of a rose, especially because when I first saw it, it was awash in sunset. One of the oldest buildings in Hereford is a striking black-and-white, half-timbered house built in 1621 … that’s from the reign of King James I! Townhouses that old are unusual.

Hereford Cathedral
The Old House (wikipedia)
We also jumped off from the bed-and-breakfast to see Berrington Hall, a gorgeous country estate now owned by the National Trust (we went there in Regency dresses—we actually looked a part of it), have a private Regency ball with dancing instructors in an old Hereford hotel, and visit Hay-on-Wye. Now, don’t be jealous, but Hay, on the River Wye on the Welsh border, is “The City of Books.” It has twenty-five bookstores, of the never-boring, old and/or second-hand variety. If only I didn’t have to lug purchases in my suitcases before I could get them home! If I could have avoided that, more books would have immigrated to the U.S. with me.

Berrington Hall
Berrington Hall
Between Hereford and Bath, our final location on the official tour, we stopped at Lacock—a perfect village where every structure is fabulously old. It’s so pristine that BBC has used it as a set for movies such as Cranford and Pride and Prejudice; basically all they had to do was move out the cars and cover the tarmac (British term for pavement) roads with dirt. Inns, restaurants, and tempting little shops intersperse the houses; it’s a place you could easily spend a day or two in even though it’s so small.

Bath was another favorite on my visiting list. A beautiful, beautiful city … it almost doesn’t feel like it can be a real place where people live out their lives, when I look back on it. It’s almost all made of Bath stone, which is a light sand-colored limestone, and built up in a picturesque Georgian style. With its unusual prettiness, it also possesses a relaxed, holiday atmosphere. We were there for the Jane Austen Festival and dressed up in our Regency costumes on Saturday to participate in the Promenade. The coordinators were counting us and we were all holding our breath—we were going for a record number of people dressed in Regency attire, gathered in one place. We assembled in where else but the Assembly Rooms, the lovely building where Jane Austen’s characters attended parties and concerts. And guess what … we broke the record! Our total came to 550, breaking the previous one of 400-something and thus landing us in the Guinness Book of World Records. While collected, we were addressed by Adrian Lukis, who played Wickham in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice; he is very involved with The Jane Austen Centre of Bath. Surprisingly, he was not in costume—he joked that he doubted his officers’ uniform would fit him anymore. But he looked great!

Outside the Assembly Rooms

The Pump Room in Bath---also in JA's novels
Pultney Bridge
The Royal Crescent
 Jane Austen lived in Bath for a while, and she transports readers there in her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Even though Bath wasn’t a place she liked, I felt close to her there, especially on Gay Street and No. 4 Sydney Place, the two places she lived. Somehow, despite the variety and interest and wonderfulness of everything I saw in Bath, it all came down to that.

The Jane Austen Centre

No. 4 Sydney Place
I’m sorry this post got so long … I had more to say than I realized! I should have known better than to try to cram a week’s worth of England in a normal-sized blog post. Is there anything you want to know more about before I move on to other subjects next time? (I’m actually planning on something related to my trip—namely, historical costumes!)


  1. So Berrington Hall is where those lovely pictures of you and Laura were taken? That was a great set of photos for you both. When I traveled (or actually anytime at home, too) I usually looked bad in pics, but occasionally the light, colors, and clothes would combine to create a good effect. That's definitely what happened to you at Berrington!

    lol, I know about lugging all those purchases around in a suitcase before you can get them home! I was tired of that suitcase by the time I returned to Texas. :P

    1. Yep, Berrington Hall! Thank you for the compliment. We are always our worst critics .... : )
      Suitcases can be very wearing! It was always a relief when I could go somewhere without it. When I went on my second trip, the family one, it was so nice to have a little suitcase with just a few things along!

  2. This was another interesting post--loved hearing about all this! Hereford Cathedral -- wow it looks so pretty.

    And AWW I love that picture of you two in the gateway!! You look so beautiful and fitting there in your costumes! ^__^

    That's soooo cool about everything at the Assembly Rooms! Y'all look lovely there too. :)

    Sounds fabulous--thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Deborah! It's fun for me to write about it. Thank you about the photos, too---it was splendid to dress up and actually look the part! That's never really happened to me before. : )
      Thanks for commenting!