Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Bliss of Bath

With Jane Odiwe on Beechen Cliff

"They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath." - Northanger Abbey

Flowery Bath

Moving so fast I'm breathless, but there's no time for jet lag or giving in to tiredness: time is short and I must make the most of every minute I am in England!  So today, on leaving the George Hotel after the requisite eggy breakfast, I embarked on the difficult journey to Paddington with my suitcase (no working elevator at the station, only stairs to drag up my load), and secured a ticket for the train that would take me to Bath at 10:30.  But the train ride was restful and lovely, gliding through the green English countryside with clouds changing every minute, and flowers nodding by the sides of the train.

My object was to visit longtime friend Jane Odiwe, well known Jane Austen author, artist and blogger, who very kindly invited me to stay at her flat in Bath.  I have visited that beautiful city several times before, but knew that to see it through the eyes of an enthusiast as knowledgeable as Jane would be a special privilege. I could not but be reminded of the scene in Northanger Abbey where clever Henry Tilney teaches the naive Catherine about artistic views and perspective:

"He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances – side-screens and perspectives – lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape."

At 4 Sydney Place, one of the addresses where Jane Austen lived in Bath
 On getting off the train I was immediately struck with the freshness and restfulness of Bath after London: the air is purer, and the small, compact, hilly city, enfolding spots of greenery, looked really lovely, in cool sunny weather with a few clouds and the breeze changing every minute and June flowers everywhere - roses and foxgloves, forget-me-nots and geraniums.

Jane's flat is most beautiful. The house was here in Jane Austen's day and is right behind the house at 4 Sydney Place where Austen lived; you can see into the garden. With her historical eye and artistic sense, Jane has made her home reflect the beauty and the spirit of Austen's time. It was a rare treat for the mind, eye, and soul, simply to sit and enjoy the sumptuous English tea she so generously laid out, on exquisite and authentic Burleigh willow ware.  Shrimps and salad, cake and tea, while we talked a mile a minute about Austenesque writing, mutual friends, aspirations and family, rhinestones and travel - it was almost too much delight to take in!

Burleigh Willow pattern

To drink tea while feasting the eyes on a nosegay of sweet peas...
Jane thought I must need to rest, and I certainly did, but I said No! I will rest tonight: take me up Beechen Cliff where Jane Austen climbed! (She was a great walker.) I had seen the major sights of the city on previous visits, but had never done this walk and was inspired by a blog Jane had written just last week - so, since she had made the climb so very recently, it was most hospitable and generous of her to do it again so soon, to satisfy me.

Halfway up Beechen Cliff

Jacob's Ladder

We have just got back, from what was certainly one of the satisfying walks of my life. We probably walked several miles - four hours - right up the wood-shaded stairs (many beech trees, hence the name) known as Jacob's Ladder, to the forested cliff, or hangar, where spread out before ou is the magnificent prospect of Bath, that Jane Austen wrote about. It was a thrill and a half, exhilarating and beautiful and flowery and wild and 18th century and divine. Reminded me a bit of the hangar at Selbourne, Gilbert White's house, equally unspoiled, where the modern world recedes completely.

Up the hangar

At the top
Views from the top

After enjoying the views, taking pictures, and smelling the wild garlic for which the hill is famous, we walked down, returning along the Kennet & Avon canals.

Canal boats
Bridge that was built in 1800, so Jane Austen might have seen it
After a bit of a rest we went up the town again, to the beautiful semicircle of houses of golden Bath stone known as the Circus (just below the famous Crescent), and dined at a most attractive restaurant, the Circus Cafe, patronized by the well heeled and happy residents of the place.

And I slept to a miracle in Jane's beautiful bed.

Restaurant in the Circus 
An old circulating library sign
From Jane's window, on a June evening 

Darkness sets in - at nearly 10 PM

 Train station next morning


Jane Odiwe said...

Didn't we have a lovely time? Thank you so much for visiting-it was a joy to see you! Come again soon!

Anonymous said...

Oh, favoured you, Diana, the gods were smiling indeed! What a wonderful experience and with such a knowledgable guide-cum-generous host. Love to see you standing on Jane's Boot-scraper to get in the photo! Hope you had your Senior Rail Card again and the Circus Cafe was where Carol and I had lunch with other "Sack of Bath" Persephone Readers. Lovely day for you - and I enjoyed it too. Thank you. Barbara

Ellen said...

It is a glorious place. I remember standing on that cliff with that fence in the way and wanting to reject the whole of Bath as unworthy ... :)

Part of the sense of triumph was completing that climb. I wrote about it in the introductory chapter of the book on JA and Bath I never wrote, remembering with what longing I'd felt that passage for years.


Diney said...

I love Bath, Diana. Not far from us, but I've never been up Beechen Cliff. Have to put that on the 'to do' list. Actually going to play a match against Bath golf club ladies tomorrow.

Unknown said...

Dear Diana, thanks for sharing your walk! I'm working on a graphic novel based upon Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey...and I wanted to know how could Beechen Cliff look like! You can find something about my project here: