It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is one of the best novels and that Jane Austen is one of the best writers of all time. Interestingly, Austen was born and bred in Hampshire (for most part of her life) and Hampshire served as an inspiration for many her novels.  So, this weekend I decided to trace her footsteps and visit places where she lived. Our first stop was the village of Steventon, located between Basingstoke and Overton. Jane was born in this picturesque village and spent the first 25 years of her life.

En route to Steventon

En route to Steventon

Characterised by green, marshy farm land on both sides, sheep grazing lazily its luscious pastures and dotted with cosy thatched homes; Steventon is as idyllic as it can get. Jane was the seventh of eight children, the second daughter, born to the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. She was born on 16 December 1775 at the Steventon rectory.

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church

Jane like her literary heroine Elizabeth was an avid walker. She was often seen walking the marshy pathways of this quaint village; carefully observing people and their mannerisms. In Steventon, she wrote the first drafts of Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. The Steventon rectory stands no longer but the St. Nicholas Church where Jane’s father worked as a clergyman is still the pride and joy of this village. Jane along with her family attended this Church regularly to listen to her father preach. Dating back to 12th century, it is a small, simple building that has retained its old-world charm.

As soon as you enter this Church, a warm, comforting silence envelops you and fragments of medieval wall painting will immediately catch your attention. Surprisingly, unlike Avon where you can see vignettes of Shakespeare’s life clearly; there are very few signs that prove Austen’s origin but a spire has been added since Austen’s lifetime, bearing a wind vane in the shape of a pen in her honour inside this Church.

When the Rev Austen decided to retire, he chose to move to Bath, when Jane was in her mid-twenties and the family stayed here for a period of five years till Rev Austen’s death. After her father’s death, the family was in a precarious financial state; they stayed briefly at Southampton before moving to Chawton village; another quintessential English village in Alton.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/ Rudi Riet

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/ Rudi Riet

The Chawton Cottage served as Jane’s final home from her 1808 till her fatal illness and subsequent death in 1817. Jane settled into her writing here and also became a published author whilst staying here. This Cottage still holds the interest of many literature aficionados. Don’t be surprised if you come across a bunch of tourists from different nations all hoping to get to know their favourite author slightly better.

This charming 17th Century cottage is characterised by thatched roofs, quiet green of the village as well as brightly coloured flowers of the garden. Austen lived here with her mother, sister Cassandra and good friend Martha Lloyd. Inside the modest cottage, you will see Jane’s favourite spot—the tiny table where she etched her beloved characters.

Whilst writing occupied most of Jane’s life here; the house was also frequented by her brothers, her nieces and nephews. To these children, Jane and Cassandra were loving aunts and Jane who was also an accomplished pianist would play songs for them. A daily routine was incomplete without hearty family meals, long walks and chatting and sewing in the evening. Jane’s favourite spot was the alcove in the ladies’ drawing room where she would often sit and see the village life go by.

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral

Whilst Jane’s mother and sister were buried in the nearby Church; Jane who died at the age of 41 was buried at Winchester Cathedral.

Surprisingly, there is very little history about Jane’s life and particularly her tryst with Hampshire but every devotee who takes this Jane pilgrim is humbled by her simple life but then that’s how life should be—simple yet fruitful—isn’t it?

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As UK gears up for another spring, I can’t wait to breathe in the fresh, sun-shine filled air, take in the lovely daffodils that are springing up in every street corner and once again explore the lovely, dense, wild woods near my vicinity. If you are coming to UK or are in UK, I urge you to explore the wild, uninhibited woodlands UK offers. Here are my top three favourite picks from Hampshire.

The Vyne Woods, Basingstoke:

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I love the tranquility, serenity and the promise of unexpected that woodland represents. The Vyne Woods situated in Basingstoke, Hampshire definitely encapsulates all these qualities. Basingstoke is notorious for being a place where nothing much happens; but this woodland wonder will change your mind. It is perfect to stroll around and exercise those tired limbs on a sunny, lazy afternoon. Adjacent to the stately Vyne gardens and the House; a 16th century country house; the Vyne woodlands is a place where you can easily and happily lose yourself to the untamed charm of nature. There are many walking trails that criss-cross these woods. And don’t be surprised if you come across owls, woodpeckers and even red Deer whilst you are walking. We had a taste of the unexpected when there was a flurry of action as a herd of deer passed us without any fair warning and out of nowhere but then that’s the beauty of wilderness it strikes when you least expect it. The 3.5 mile walk is great to enjoy some walking meditation accompanied only by pristine, untamed and unflappable nature.

New Forest:

New Forest

Every spring/ summer we have a ritual to explore this unspoilt and pristine ancient woodland either by walking or cycling. The New Forest is not actually “new” it was named “Nova Foresta” and was the hunting ground of William the conqueror way back in 1079. This 193,000 acre of land has 143 miles of walking/ cycling track. Needless to say, there are a number of endless routes and we are often surprised to discover a “new” path every new season. As you tread along its beautiful path, you will come across a plethora of picturesque villages, stately tea-rooms, gurgling streams and everything in between. And if you get tired of walking in woodland you can always visit the town of Lymington, check out a section of Solent Way or take a stroll along the beautiful coast line with magnificent views of the Isle of Wight. It is definitely my favourite place to get a whiff of fresh air and relax after a busy week.

West Wood, Winchester:

 

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

 

With its gently rolling arable farmland, small blocks of woodlands, dense and rich beech plantation, this 251 hectare freehold woodland, is a classic English beauty. Adjacent to the Crab Wood Nature Reserve this beautiful woodland area is also home to range of birds and animals like Roe deer, rabbits, stoats and buzzards. It is also packed with other rare flora and fauna as well as wild flowers like bluebells (which comes out in spring) and is a perfect place for getting to grips with nature.

Not many people know this about me but I am a book nerd with an unhealthy (I am told) passion for books. Nothing gives me more joy than holding a book with its yellowing pages, taking in its rustic aroma and mentally traveling to a “place” where I have never been before. I have maintained in this blog that I have too many alter-egos; to many voices in my head (in a good way) and it does not surprise me when the book lover wins the match and comes out strong. I can easily make more space in my humble abode; give away my stylish clothes only to make more room for my beloved books. Even in this age of Kindle, tablets, Amazon and big-chain bookshops nothing gives me more joy than discovering and getting lost inside an old bookshop.

From Samuel Johnson to Charles Dickens to Geoffrey Chaucer (who was buried at the Poets’ Corner; Westminster Abbey) London has been home to many writers. Hence, it is no surprise that London is also the city where past and present, real life and fiction collide with each other giving it an upbeat, eclectic and ever-changing kaleidoscope. Here, I will share some of my favourite book havens. It is a humble list but then I am in no hurry to discover London’s best literary spots because discovering a book shop is like reading a great piece of work and I would rather savour the whole experience than rushing and spoiling the journey.

Southbank Book Market:

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Okay, I am a bit partial to this London spot. If I have to choose one favourite place in London; I would promptly say Southbank. I don’t know why this place seems so special perhaps it is the incessant buzz of people, perhaps it the calming sight of River Thames or perhaps it is this Book Market itself; Southbank never fails to cheer me up. I accidently stumbled upon this market whilst waiting for a friend, some moons ago and even today I can easily spend hours browsing through this market.

Tucked under Waterloo Bridge, you’ll find the Southbank Centre Book Market: a place brimming with students, tourists, aspiring photographers, wanderers and book nerds like me. This Book Market is not exactly a book shop but a book space (when have I cared for definitions!!) The place has an eclectic collection of books from Maya Angelou’s poetry to Encyclopedias from dog-eared copies of Dickens and Enid Blyton to mass-market copies of contemporary writers from Jane Austen to Fifty Shades of Grey (yes, sadly!) It is a spot where you will find Sylvia Plath and Meera Syal happily living together with Calvin and Hobbes and Wodehouse. What’s more? You can buy books from as less as 99 pence—no deal can be sweeter, don’t you think?

Books for Cooks, Notting Hill:

Image via Books for Cooks

Image via Books for Cooks

Whilst I find every day cooking to be a monotonous task; some days when inspiration strikes I actually love meddling in the kitchen and trying out new dishes.  I can make a decent meal but I must confess I am not a seasoned cook, I ALWAYS need the help of cook books or videos. When exploring Notting Hill on a lazy afternoon with a friend; we stumbled upon this little cookery haven. You will find cook books from floor to ceiling.

Books for Cooks was founded in 1983 by Heidi Lascelles, a nurse who understood the importance a well-cooked meal but was stunned to find that not many bookshops stocked cook books. This place was thus born. There are over 8,000 titles from simple recipe books to foodie fiction from books on nutrition to food history, sociology and chemistry. The place is like never-ending food porn that can make even the most determined dieter salivate and hungry. The only piece of caution: try to go with a full-stomach browsing through their rich collection will definitely make your stomach grumble.

Brick Lane Bookshop:

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The Brick Lane market is one of the wildest and quirkiest markets in London that refuses to give up its originality and character.  The same is true for this beautiful, independent bookshop. Go through its narrow door and you will be instantly transported into a world that has an unmistakable old charm about it, a place full of warmth and unique character.

This bookshop is definitely a place where you need to forget time, the at times irritating ring of the phone and devour its every nook and cranny slowly as if in a meditation. This bookshop has an enviable collection of poetry, fiction, sci-fi, comic books and graphic novels—a never ending list really. You will find Kafka, Tolstoy, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez to East London literature. The collection, hence, is varied, diverse and most importantly top-notch. They also have a buzzing book group and conduct writing workshops.

The Brick Lane Bookshop also strikes a good balance when it comes to pricing. Whilst books on the shelves are sold at full retail price; on the ground you will find boxes where you can get some true treasures for as less as £3! The place is filled with little seats and two comfy lounge chairs and a plethora of cushions—a perfect atmosphere to enjoy some solitude; snuggled up with your favourite read.

Stratford-upon-Avon, situated on the river Avon in the English county of Warwickshire, is decidedly an idyllic town. Best known to be the birthplace and hometown of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon is a town where time meanders slowly, cut off from the cantankerous spirit of a bustling city. As you enter this town’s winding little streets you will notice that Shakespeare still continues to dominate the place. The five Bard-linked properties: Shakespeare’s birthplace ( image below), Nash’s house, Hall’s Croft, New Place and Anne Hathway (Shakespeare’s wife) Cottage remains the heart of this town and it continues to draw travelers from all over UK and world even now.

Shakespeare's House UK attractions

Our first stop was Henley Street, where stands the famous landmark—Shakespeare’s birth house. It is quite easy to spot the house. Among the plethora of new age shops, tiny, intimate cafes and teahouses stands a half timber house where Shakespeare was born and brought up along with his brothers and sisters. As you enter the house, you will first notice a hall of fame which includes names like Judi Dench, Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart and former Doctor Who David Tennant, all of whom have enjoyed acclaim in Shakespearean roles at Stratford in addition to their on-screen stardom.

In the Courtyard, between the reception centre and the House, you would see costumed actors performing snippets from some of the best-known plays. The managers who run the show today have made quite an effort to retain the authenticity of the house; you will notice how the parlour, the hall, Shakespeare’s dad’s workshop and bed chamber are furnished as they might have looked in 1574 (unfortunately, there is a no photography policy). An exhibition runs which tells us about the times gone by and explains how part of the house became a public house in 1601. My favourite bit of the house? A literary graffiti featuring autographs of literary gems like Ivanhoe’s writer Walter Scott’s signature. This, I thought truly made the house a literature haven.

stratford-upon-Avon UK attractions

UK attractions Stratford-Upon-Avon

From here, we headed towards the Holy trinity Church in-between stopping at the Stratford Upon Avon Canal, which was built between 1793 and 1816. A spot to enjoy some peace and quiet, the Canal does not offer much except wind-swept trees looking rather stupendous in twilight, clear water, panoramic view of the town and a peaceful silence to keep you for company.

The Church and the canal is separated by an intimate garden. A gurgling stream giving out a beautiful reflection of the Church, evening winter mist hanging around its vicinity and tall, almost kissing trees on both sides gives this place an almost eerie feeling but it somehow added to its uninhibited, natural charm.

UK attractions travel

Holy Trinity Church UK travel attractions

The Holy Trinity Church also popularly called Shakespeare’s Church is the place where Shakespeare is buried. The Church has an attractive approach; with its pathway lined by trees that represent the tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles. Holy Trinity Church was one of the first churches in England where an admission fee was charged; even in 1906 visitors were asked to pay six pence each to enter.

Shakespeare, apparently died on his 52nd birthday of a fever which was said at the time to have been the result of a ‘merry meeting’ with fellow poets Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton. It is believed they all drank too much in that meeting.

Holy Trinity Church, UK attractions

As night was falling rapidly, we decided to call it a day and started our way back home but we walked past the old town briefly stopping before Hall’s Croft formerly the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susannah and her husband Doctor John Hall. This White painted carved house lends the street a dignified character; it also feels that the place is slightly struck in a time warp with vintage style houses flanking its sides. Wondering how Shakespeare’s lineage ended? The death of childless Elizabeth (his granddaughter) in 1670 brought Shakespeare’s direct line of descent to an end.

UK travel attractions

Stratford-Upon-Avon is a town steeped in history, natural beauty, legacy and literature. It is also the town where theatre continues to mushroom. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) runs four theatres here: the Courtyard theatre, the Royal Shakespeare theatre, the Swan theatre and the other place. Unfortunately, because of time constraint we couldn’t experience the theatre scene but that gives me a reason to go back.

Starting tomorrow some of the most beautiful people from around the world will be swarming in London as the London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2014 would start at Somerset House. While the big-wigs of fashion industry and bloggers would be a definite fix in the LFW shows; the rest of us need not feel so left out—it is London after all and there is plenty to do this week that will keep the fashionistas happy whilst fueling curiosity among non-fashionistas. Remember—fashion is not just in dresses. Fashion has to do with ideas. Here are some of the things that I hope to go to in the coming weeks.

Fashion is Fake Art Show:

Credit: Indra and Samia Blog

Credit: Indra and Samia Blog

The project is started by artist and women’s wear designer Samia Malik. The project started out as an activism related to ethical trade in the fashion industry; which later on branched out into questioning general aesthetics of the fashion industry. Since 2011, Fashion is Fake project has developed into artwork, street art, performances in public areas, and art show performances. The thought-provoking art show opens tomorrow and will go till May at the Indra and Samia Gallery (E1 1NB).

The story of textiles:

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jack Mitchell

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jack Mitchell

Fashion and style for me above all is a form of art. Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol at the Fashion and Textile Museum (SE1 3XF) traces the history of 20th century art in textiles. It will explore the works of some prominent artists like Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Sonia Delaunay, Ben Nicholson and Andy Warhol. The exhibition will feature examples of key European and American art movements like Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, Abstraction, Surrealism and Pop Art. The show will also explore how ordinary people were once able to connect with modern art in a personal and intimate way through their clothing and home furnishings. Intriguing isn’t it? Open till 17th May.

London Fashion Weekend:

Credit: London Fashion Weekend

Credit: London Fashion Weekend

After the fashionable frenzy of LFW has died down explore the heady mix of fashion and style up, close and personal at the London Fashion Weekend. This event allows people to get a taste of London Fashion Week with catwalk shows, discount designer shopping and my favourite– trend spotting. The event runs from February 20 to 23 and tickets start from £20.

People-watching:

Credits: Wikimedia Commons/ Danny Robinson

Credits: Wikimedia Commons/ Danny Robinson

Fashion or not, nothing is more interesting or inspiring than people watching (yes, there is a great way to do it but that’s a post for another day). Head towards King’s Road in Chelsea to see some of the most affluent people going about their everyday life in style (because apparently that’s the only way to live here). You might go green with envy but you will have a better perspective of human nature, I guarantee that. Check in one of the cafes or if you are lucky head towards any of the intimate, leafy gardens and see life in action.