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Britain’s Literary Heroes

Written by  Monique Burns

EUROPE ThemeTravel
From William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan plays to J.K. Rowling’s magical fantasies, Great Britain’s literary heritage is monumental. London, England’s capital, and the surrounding countryside have nurtured scores of celebrated authors and provided fictional settings for their poems, plays and novels.
On a one or two-week visit to England, start with a few days in London exploring famous literary haunts of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Then head to Bath and neighboring Hampshire county to follow in the footsteps of beloved writer, Jane Austen, author of such classics as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

LONDON LITERATI
Fly to London’s Gatwick Airport aboard award-winning low-cost carrier Norwegian Airlines, known for excellent Premium and Economy class service. Once there, check into Mondrian London at Sea Containers (www.morganshotelgroup.com), a stylish design hotel on Bankside along the Thames River.
Stroll the waterfront to the acclaimed Globe Theatre (www.shakespearesglobe.com). Opened in 1997, it’s a faithful replica of Shakespeare’s 1599 playhouse. Take a tour or, better yet, take in upcoming performances of “Hamlet,” “Twelfth Night” and “The Merchant of Venice.”
In London, many authors’ homes are open to the public. The Charles Dickens Museum (www.dickensmuseum.com), at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, is the four-story, Georgian townhouse where he lived between 1837 and 1839 with wife Catherine and their three eldest children. It’s also where he wrote Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby.
At the dining room’s long burnished table, Dickens entertained luminaries like Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray. Upstairs are the author’s Longman & Broderip piano, large wooden desk, and only surviving suit, an embroidered court suit worn at an 1870 reception hosted by Edward, Prince of Wales, at St. James’s Palace.
Dickens’ tailor was Morris Angel. Just 8.8 miles northwest is Angels Costumes (www.angels.uk.com), the world’s oldest and largest costumer, founded by his son, Daniel. On a fascinating warehouse tour, you’ll see costumes worn in award-winning films and an actual note from Dickens.
London’s literary haunts are well documented. But, if you only have 2-3 days, book a literary tour. Two good ones are London Walks (www.walks.com), the city’s oldest walking-tour company, and London Literary Pub Crawl (https://londonliterarypubcrawl.com), featuring actors playing Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf. Visit spots like gold-encrusted Savini at Criterion restaurant in Piccadilly Circus where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson first hears of detective Sherlock Holmes at the Long Bar; The Newman Arms in Fitzrovia where 1984 author George Orwell tippled, and Pall Mall’s Oxford and Cambridge Club frequented by Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien.

JANE AUSTEN’S BATH
Begin your 5-7 day sojourn in Jane Austen Country at London’s Paddington Station where Great Western Railway trains leave regularly for Somerset county and Bath, home of fall’s 10-day Jane Austen Festival (www.janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk), the world’s largest gathering of Austen enthusiasts. Established by the Romans in 60 A.D., Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with honey-colored neo-Classical buildings, was where fashionable 18th-century English families came to cavort and find suitable mates for their children. Jane Austen lived only five years in Bath, from 1801 to 1806, but set two novels there: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
On downtown’s fringes, check into five-star Macdonald Bath Spa Hotel (www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk) with 131 Georgian-style rooms, a spa, gym and two pools, and elegant Vellore restaurant. Downtown, in Regency townhouses, 98-room Francis Hotel (www.accorhotels.com), a four-star Sofitel MGallery boutique property, features Brasserie Blanc for English seasonal fare, and Emily’s Tea Room with plush wing chairs and gilt-edged portraits.
In Bath, Austen associations abound. Northeast of Queen Square, at no. 40 Gay Street, the exhibit-filled Jane Austen Centre (www.janeausten.co.uk), including the Regency Tea Room, is steps from no. 25, Austen’s last Bath residence.
Northwest of Queen Square, follow the Gravel Walk, where Persuasion’s star-crossed lovers Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth reunited after an eight-year separation. It leads to the Royal Crescent, 30 terraced townhouses housing five-star Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa (www.royalcrescent.co.uk), and No. 1 Royal Crescent (www.bath-preservation-trust.org.uk), an elegant Regency-era house-museum.
Just east, the Assembly Rooms (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) were the place to see and be seen in 18th-century Bath. Northanger Abbey heroine Catherine Morland meets Henry Tilney, her great love, there. Don’t miss the 100-foot-long Ballroom with five crystal chandeliers by Whitefriars Glassworks of London.
Backtrack south to Pulteney Bridge, shop-lined like Florence’s Ponte Vecchio. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot first glimpses Captain Wentworth on nearby Great Pulteney Street. Art-filled No. 15 Great Pulteney (https://no15greatpulteney.co.uk), a 40-room inn, spa and restaurant, serves eclectic breakfasts, lunches, Sunday brunches, and dinners like sea bream with Thai puree and crab tortellini.
Head south to the stunning Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk). In the adjoining Pump Room take breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea, perhaps the Jane Austen Tea featuring her favorite caraway-seeded Bath bun. Then do as 18th-century visitors once did: sip mineral-infused water from the fish-adorned King’s Spring.

HAMPSHIRE IDYLL
Leaving Bath, take a Great Western Railway train two hours east to Basingstoke in Hampshire’s rolling green countryside where Jane Austen was born and spent most of her life. Check into Audleys Wood Hotel (www.handpickedhotels.co.uk), a sprawling English country-house hotel amid lawns and woodlands.
From Basingstoke, take a 60-90 minute bus ride to Chawton and Jane Austen’s House Museum (www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk). After Austen’s father died, brother Edward, who inherited baronial Chawton House from wealthy relatives, invited Jane, her mother and sister to live at nearby Chawton Cottage, a large brick house surrounded by gardens.
Among its many treasures is the Dining Parlour’s little 12-sided walnut table where Jane Austen wrote Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Another is Austen’s turquoise and gold-plated ring. After singer Kelly Clarkson bought it for £152,450 in 2012, Britain’s then-Culture Minister Ed Vaizey refused to let it leave the country.
From Chawton, it’s a 20-minute bus ride to Alton, site of June’s Jane Austen Regency Week (www.janeaustenregencyweek.co.uk), complete with a market fair, petting zoo, and costumed ball reminiscent of Netherfield Ball where Elizabeth Bennet met Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.
On High Street, part of Alton’s Jane Austen Trail (www.janeaustentrail.org.uk), don’t miss The Swan hotel and pub (nos. 31-33) where Austen picked up mail and caught the London coach, and the Home of William Curtis (no.4), the “Alton Apothy,” who treated her after she became ill from arsenic then used to treat arthritis.
From Basingstoke, a 15-minute train ride leads south to Winchester, the medieval West Saxon capital and Hampshire county seat. Follow The Weirs, the leafy lane skirting ancient Roman walls and crystalline River Itchen, which produces fine local gin and superb trout.
On College Street, steps from Winchester College boarding school, is the yellow three-story house where Jane Austen, aged 41, gave up the ghost on July 18, 1817. In nearby Winchester Cathedral, Europe’s longest Gothic cathedral, Austen rests under a large slate slab. Pay your respects, then toast her with local gins at the Cabinet Rooms (www.cabinetrooms.com), followed by trout, duck and other Hampshire specialties at The Chesil Rectory (www.chesilrectory.co.uk) in a 600-year-old, half-timbered house.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
For flights, visit Norwegian Airlines (www.norwegian.com). For trains, visit Britrail (www.britrail.com) or Great Western Railway (www.gwr.com). For discount Underground, bus and boat travel, purchase the London Oyster Card (www.londonpass.com/Oyster-Card). For tourist information, log on to www.visitlondon.com, www.visitbath.co.uk, www.destinationbasingstoke.co.uk, www.visitwinchester.co.uk, www.visit-hampshire.co.uk and www.visitbritain.com.

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