Friday, July 5, 2013

Chawton, Cambridge, London - and Home

Chawton House Library
Sunday, June 23.  Despite the ball ending late last night, I had to be at Lucy Cavendish at 8 AM to get the coach for Chawton, the conference's last event.  So I checked out of the Arundel hotel, left my bag there for the day, skipped breakfast, and high-tailed it over. 

A cottage in Chawton village

The coach took a couple of hours to get to Chawton, but it was a pretty ride through verdant landscapes, smooth enough to doze, and people had made friends by now so it was relaxed and pleasant. Lovely to see Chawton again, and we were welcomed at the Chawton House Library by Gillian Dow. We were given a truly fabulous lunch, all manner of English delicacies, ham, quiches, cheeses, apple pie, lovely country produce, just the best. 

At lunch, Chawton House Library
Flowers at the Library
Then Stephen Lawrence, the library's CEO, gave us the most informative tour I've ever had of the house - he had to talk fast to get in all the wealth of fascinating background he imparted, focusing especially on the paintings in the house.  

Then we were free to walk over to the cottage museum and enjoy it in our own individual ways, after which I had a cup of tea and (what else) a Victoria sponge, at Cassandra's Cup, with a visiting Canadian lady.  Here are a few pictures from the cottage...
A painting by Cassandra, 1802

This is the portrait Paula Byrne claims is Jane Austen, but it's very naughty of her to have affixed the label, when it is far from proved.  At least the museum has placed an explanatory card next to it in the case, but really one is dismayed by Byrne's self-serving marketing approach to historical research!
In the garden
 Boarding the bus at 4, we were back in Cambridge by 6, and had sandwiches at the college.  I'd been worrying about dragging my suitcase from the hotel to Jan's house, but Derek kindly drove me to get it, and I was soon settled in the lovely bedroom that had most recently been inhabited by P.D. James! 

Marshall House 
Garden roses

Monday was a greyish day, but it never rained, and Jan and I set off on a walk to Grantchester. It's 5 or 6 miles round trip, and I was a bit worried about my knee, but was relieved that it was no problem at all - walking on grass is so much easier than on concrete. Julian joined us on his bike and I enjoyed the Rupert Brooke atmosphere, watched chaffinches peck at scone crumbs, and tucked into smoked salmon sandwiches and cream tea under the lovely trees.

 On the way to Grantchester

 The Orchard

Is there honey still for tea?  But of course

Greedy Grantchester chaffinch

Tuesday the sun shone all day, lighting up all the green grass and flowers with that luminous English effect; pity it wasn't like that for Grantchester, but lovely anyway.  I walked slowly over the bridge to a cafe and had a cappuccino, then down the Queens Road to the Trinity Backs, so grassy and beautiful. Then met Jan and we did a bit of shopping; I was shocked by dress prices - an unwashable schmata of Italian silk chiffon for 300 pounds.  Bought nothing.  We lunched with Julian at Cafe Rouge.  Divine salmon fish cakes and chips. 

After lunch we went off in different directions, me to the Pepysian Library at Magdalene - small but wonderful. I was the only visitor, and the young librarian (what a job!) told me all about the collection.  The oldest glass-fronted bookcases in England, made by a ship's carpenter.  Early incunabula; drawings of machines invented after the Great Fire; one of Pepys' diary volumes in shorthand; copy of an engraving of his wife where the original was destroyed by a family member who thought her too décolleté. Great stuff; and then I walked a bit in the Fellows garden.

Fellow's Garden at Magdalene

Walked back, stopping at Kettles Yard.  Fascinating place; old, linked cottages where H.S. Ede collected early 20th century art and furniture, and entertained the artistic community for many years. Works by Miro, Brancusi, Henry Moore, Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, and more.  Although such a homely, simple series of spaces, there were too many beautiful objects to take everything in during one visit; what stood out for me were the sculpture of a dancer by Gaudier-Brzeska and a couple of paintings by David Jones.  As for the objects, I loved the old chairs, one 300 years old from Orkney with a "Bible drawer." The ancient nearby church, surrounded by wildflowers, was lovely, as was its "performance art" piece, a necklace of fossil beads  hanging in mid air.

 Dancer sculpture

Ancient Orkney chair
Painting by David Jones

The church at the Kettle

Walked back, and after a little rest we went to Clara's, where I had the delight of meeting little George, 23 months, and one of the most beautiful bright children I've ever seen, even if he's Jan's grandson, not mine!  He played intelligently with my collection of rhinestones, while Clara cooked a beautiful Portuguese fish stew (which I later was able to replicate quite satisfactorily at home).  Then we walked back in the late evening summer light.

Meeting George

George inspects rhinestones

In the morning took the train to London, parted from my friends, and walked the short distance with suitcase from King's Cross to Cartwright Gardens - only to discover the hotel had me for another date! My mistake, I had booked online while in a state of desperation at finding every hotel booked solid for Wimbledon.  I thought I was in a nasty pickle, but the hotel held my suitcase while I started going down the row at Cartwright Gardens. The Judd had a room - and were charging 300 pounds! But the Crescent had a lovely double, though at the top of the house, for 100. So I'm happily and relievedly ensconced up several winding staircases, under the eaves. They let me store my main heavy suitcase downstairs, so I've just taken my little bag up all the stairs.

Now I have a big decision - the V&A, or the Royal Academy exhibit Jane Odiwe went to, followed by high tea at Fortnum? One thing's for sure - Indian Dinner tonight!

Swans on the Serpentine
(Later)  Not able to decide, I did them all!  Took the tube to the RA, interesting because I'd never been there or seen their Summer Exhibition before, but a bit disappointed because I'm not a huge modern art fan anyway and it all seemed a lot of things crammed together, with a showing-off feeling.  I stopped at Fortnum's, but it seemed less grand than when I was there last decades ago, and I couldn't fancy high tea alone.  So, tube to South Kensington, and a lovely cozy reunion with dear old favorite V&A, where I had a superb lunch, lovely selection of salads and cakes.  Walked it off by entering Hyde Park at the Albert Memorial, and walking the entire length of the Serpentine, slightly bemused by seeing squadrons of heavily draped Muslim women, covered even to the eyes, passively watching flocks of swans.  (Would have made good photos but too intrusive.)  Took the tube the rest of the way back to Russell Square, and a final satisfying tandoori dinner.

 After a good sleep high up in the Crescent, I went out for a farewell peep at the British Museum, then collected my bags and boarded the tube in the first lap of my journey to Heathrow. Then out over Iceland, Greenland and Northern Canada, heading west down to Los Angeles and home...

Done walking


Ellen said...

I didn't realize the Lucy Cavendish conference was actually at Chawton house. Who were the men photographed as talking?

Prices have always been higher for some things than say the equivalent in the US, and they too have their shored up 1%.

I'm sure you'll return regularly now.


Diana Birchall said...

Ellen, it wasn't at Chawton, it was at Lucy Cavendish College in Chawton. On the last day of the conference, they took us by bus to Chawton for a day trip. I do intend to return regularly to Cambridge, I love it so!

Anonymous said...

Another busy but successful trip to the UK has come to end. I hope you will soon be planning another. Love Gorgeous George what a cutey! Barbara

Anonymous said...

Another busy but successful trip to the UK has come to end. I hope you will soon be planning another. Love Gorgeous George what a cutey! Barbara

Nina Benneton said...


The kitchen at Chawton House Library! I LOVE that kitchen for some reason. Did you get a chance to tour it?

Ramesh chauhan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.