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Bath & Lyme Regis - One Does Not Love a Place the Less for Having Suffered in It ...

By Mariagrazia @SMaryG

Bath - One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it
On my tour of England from north to south last year (HERE) I couldn’t complete my Jane Austen pilgrimage, since my friends and I were following more than one trail (Richard III, movie locations, literature, abbeys and cathedrals) and each of us had put her own special goals on our common schedule. This is why we decided we would complete my Austen tour this year  visiting the South – West region of the Island and  starting from Somerset (we landed in Bristol),  more precisely  from Bath. The most common opinion on the years Jane Austen spent in Bath wants them unhappy and unproductive. Jane arrived in Bath with Cassandra and her parents in 1800, after her father had unexpectedly announced his desire to retire from the ministry. Young Jane must have been really depressed if not shocked, though Bath was not and is not an unpleasant place . Those (1800- 1809) are the years of The Watsons, which she left unfinished, of Harris Bigg-Wither’s proposal (her only marriage proposal for what we know), which she rejected, but those are tragically and especially the years when her father died and left Jane, her mother and her sister doomed to live on the financial contributions of the Austen men. All those are the reasons  why I couldn’t imagine Jane being very happy there, while visiting Bath last week, on July 19. I loved the place , which is enchanting,  but my Austen-related thoughts were just not positive. Then, a quote from Persuasion  came to my mind “One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering”. At the same time I started thinking about Catherine Morland  and Ann Elliot and about their happiness in Bath. Those two lovely heroines were Jane’s creatures and she wanted them happy right in Bath. Seen through their eyes,  Bath became a much more exciting place: The Pump Rooms, The Assembly Rooms, The Crescent or The Circus got all a special charm on. My first goal was The Jane Austen Centre, of course. My friends were a bit like: “let’s do this soon and let’s forget it” ,  as if we were heading to a dentist’s study instead , but I was really happy to start my tour from there.  Look at my smile! And yes, you got it!  I couldn’t resist buying some ... several ... well... quite a few of souvenirs in the lovely shop downstairs. After that , we visited the Roman Baths and the Pump Rooms, the cathedral and the shopping area nearby, then we walked towards the Assembly Rooms (didn’t visit the Fashion Exhibition, though), then crossed the Circus and headed to the Crescent. All those places are fortunately quite close to one another so that you can easily visit them in one good walk. I want to go back to Bath to see what I haven’t yet and I’d love to do it in September, if not this year, sooner or later, so that I can take part in The Jane Austen Festival they hold annually. That would be wonderful!
Lyme Regis – Do the seagulls ever sleep? The following day we left Bath and Somerset and drove through Wiltshire, directed to Dorset. After visiting Old Sarum in the morning and Corfe Castle in the afternoon we arrived at Lyme Regis just in time for dinner. We left our baggage at the incredibly atmospheric B&B by the sea we had booked and went to a nice pub to have a very English dinner.  Walking along the beach soon after eating was definitely pleasant. It was a Friday night, there were several people but not a crowd. Accompanied by the constant presence and persistent, weird, high-pitched screech of hundreds of seagulls, but caressed by a cool wind and the red sunbeams of a mesmerizing sunset, we walked as far as The Cobb and just had a look at the infamous “Granny’s teeth” from where Louisa Musgrove fell so theatrically in the pages of Persuasion.  Did we want to go up? “Better to try tomorrow in the daylight”, we thought. Then, “What about waiting for a Captain Wentworth’s apparition”?
We postponed our Persuasion – style adventure to the next day and went back to our lovely B&B where thousands of books and a little portrait of Jane Austen near the bed where waiting for us! I was stunned by that place: cute, comfortable, crowded with incredible books, coloured, cosy: The Book Lovers’ Bed & Breakfast made our stay in Lyme Regis simply unique. First thing the next day we went to Ottery St. Mary - a small village nearby where Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born - then to Charmouth, Jane Austen’s favorite walk when she was in Lyme, and Mary Anning’s favorite place to search for fossils and dinosaurs! Skeletons of dinosaurs. Have you read “Remarkable Creatures”? After a nice walk looking for ammonites, which we didn’t find and which our guide book said it was highly reproachable to dig and collect,  we went back to Lyme Regis late in the afternoon to experience the thriving adventure of climbing or descending the Granny’s Teeth We thought the place would be as quiet as the night before, only with much more light. Instead,the place was overcrowded with merry people watching a sports show with loud music and a radio DJ-style presenter. The crowd on The Cobb, the beach and all around the harbor was cheering, shouting, applauding the acrobatic stunts of young people skating and skiing on the water. Did we really want to achieve our enterprise (a comical fall down?)  in front of all those people? My friends did. It was not comical but funny enough and  no one  fell down. As for me, I couldn’t do it. I felt dizzy and paralyzed after climbing the first three  steps from the ground. I had to stop and the only achievement for me was  a picture on those steps, carefully taking my back attached to the wall. Not very brave, I know. I simply am not and I can’t act what I am not. Maybe Captain Wentworth’s presence would have made me more daring. Just maybe. But he wasn’t there nor nearby.  Do you think Jane Austen tried those steps? Why did she choose to make Louisa fall down from up there? She might have witnessed someone fall while staying in that little village by the sea in Dorset.  Lyme Regis is lovely and romantic , not when it is that overcrowded, though . Better to avoid going there at the weekend, if possible. I loved my room with a view on the sea, the walks along the beach  at the sunset, the views and the hospitality .  Just one little complain:  if only they could send the seagulls to sleep - between... let’s say midnight and seven a.m.-  maybe a visitor could sleep at least 7 quiet hours. Could you gently ask the seagulls, please? 

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