Ambling through Austen’s world
A Books & Bicycles Tour
Total distance covered: 117 miles
Visits to multiple film locations from the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility
A stay in Sidmouth, where Jane Austen fell in love
Lyme Regis, a significant place both in Austen’s life and in Persuasion
Dashes of Daphne du Maurier, John Fowles and Charles Dickens
Teignmouth and Dawlish, both holiday destinations for Austen
Start at Plymouth train station and head along the estuary to Saltram House, a stately home that plays the part of Norland House in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility film. It is possible to visit the house, formal gardens and extensive grounds, and the tea room in the former stables is the perfect energiser for the ride over to Wembury. Devotees of the film will recognise this as the spot where Marianne tumbled in the rain before being swept up by Willoughby; after a whimsical reenactment head off to Plantation House via the quaint village of Modbury.
Leave the panniers behind and set off on a day trip to the Flete Estate and the beautiful, unspoilt River Erme tidal estuary. It is possible to rent any of ten cottages on the estate and Austen lovers would do well to note that Efford House was used as Barton Cottage in the 1995 adaptation. Available for booking by the week, this would make for a wonderful basecamp from which to explore the south Devon coast. As a day’s gentle cycling, all that is needed to make the day perfect is a picnic followed by use of the luxurious spa back at the hotel.
It’s a lengthy ride to Torquay but there are more than adequate distractions along the way. The village of Berry Pomeroy in the South Hams is where Marianne marries Colonel Brandon, and Compton Castle is Willoughby’s estate. Orestone Manor hotel offers luxurious accommodation in a wonderful Georgian manor house – and incidentally is the place where the creator of the world’s first Christmas card once lived. With views stretching across Lyme Bay, it is the ideal place from which to anticipate the journey to Lyme Regis, focal town of Persuasion.
Today’s ride takes you to Mill Farm Bed and Breakfast, with its stunning views across the Powderham Estate. The route hugs the coastline, heading through Teignmouth and Dawlish, both visited by Austen. In 1802 she stayed at what is probably known today as Den House in Teignmouth, and passed an extended holiday in Dawlish – a place that features frequently in Sense and Sensibility and, having been visited by Charles Dickens, also became the birthplace of the eponymous Nicholas Nickleby. It’s a lovely little town to while away a few hours, with most areas largely unchanged since Austen would have visited.
Austen’s final unfinished novel, Sanditon, was almost certainly based on Sidmouth, a place that she visited in 1801 and where she fell in love. The man died shortly after, but the place clearly had a hold on her heart to merit a novel’s dedication. Staying at the beautiful Woodlands Hotel, it is likely that you will be sleeping less than half a mile from where Austen herself would have stayed. Is there anything as immediately satisfying and inspiring as wandering around a town visited and loved by a favourite writer…?
And so to the grand finale of the Austen tour: Lyme Regis. In Persuasion she wrote of the village, “A very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.” Visiting there in 1803 and 1804, her descriptions in both the novel and her letters to her sister Cassandra show she loved the place – indeed, it is said that Persuasion is her most autobiographical work, and there is something that sets it apart from the others. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is also closely tied to Lyme and the Jurassic Coast. There is only one place to choose to stay in Lyme Regis for serious bibliophiles: the Booklovers B&B is delightfully eccentric and the ideal ending to the tour.
Six miles from Lyme Regis lies Axminster, on the direct rail line back to Exeter – a pleasant alternative, perhaps, to a 35 mile bike ride! The train travels alongside an area of outstanding natural beauty, and perhaps offers the perfect opportunity to re-read some favourite passages of Austen while the countryside whistles by.
Does a Books & Bicycles tour sound like your cup of tea?
Slowly cycling around the countryside in pursuit of all things literary is the perfect holiday for book lovers.
If you love the idea of spending some time on two wheels seeing the most beautiful parts of Britain and getting up close and personal with your favourite authors and books, please send me a message and I can help you organise a bespoke tour. One day, I plan to guide some tours myself: I have a lifelong love of books, a 1st class honours degree in English Literature where I specialised in the Romantics, crime literature and the Modernists, and a Master of Studies from the University of Oxford with a niche emphasis on eighteenth century women's poetry. I bring unique ideas, thoughts and enthusiasm to all literary topics and am looking forward to spending time with a group of likeminded bookworms in pursuit of the ghosts between and behind the pages. If you are interested in joining a tour just fill in the contact form, let me know which route interests you the most, and I will send you dates and costs as soon as they are confirmed.