Today our group set off on a train ride from our hostel in Bath to see King Arthur’s round table and Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester. However, when we arrived in Winchester we found that sadly, the Great Hall was closed for a private event, and we would not be able to see the round table today. As we set off down High Street to get some lunch and explore the town before our guided Winchester Cathedral tour (taking us past many Jane Austen sites!), we noted that the streets were very busy! There were several groups of costumed people, some standing about, some dancing, and others still playing instruments, in the street. As we walked along the street, taking pictures and walking through the normal Saturday market (full of many cool items!), we found someone to explain these costumes to us: Mayfest! Mayfest is a festival in Winchester where many groups dress in traditional dress and perform traditional Morris, sword, clog, and Appalachian dances. Today there were more than 25 groups present. When we all met up for our tour outside the cathedral, there were also children dancing around a Maypole in the Cathedral Close (a grassy area outside the doors). We went into the Cathedral for our tour at 2:30 and were met by Carol, a lovely lady, and our tour guide for the day. She took us first through the cathedral a bit, and told us that Winchester was at one point the capital of England! We then commenced the Jane Austen portion of our tour. We walked out of the cathedral and went past some brick buildings, buildings much like Jane and her sister, Cassandra, would have stayed in when they came to visit friends and family for extended stays. We walked along some more, learning about the history of England and Winchester in particular, and came to a bookstore that has been around since the late 1700s! This means that Jane Austen herself very well might have been shopping at this bookstore, and Cassandra and herself bought parchment and ink for letters there. We later got the chance to visit P & G Wells Booksellers, and it was everything promised: a bookstore that smelled of old, good, book smell. After moving past the bookstore, we came to a section of street with a garden area on one side, and the house that Jane Austen resided in right before she died on the 18th of July, 1817, presumably of Addison’s disease. There is a family that owns the home now, so we were not able to go inside, but we were able to view the home and view the garden across the street, which would have been owned by the Austens when they lived there, and would have been Jane’s view outside the window, perhaps with a few more plants than there are now. After hearing of the tragic story of Jane’s death, we walked back to the Cathedral and Carol took us to Jane Austen’s grave and memorial marker. We found out that this spot is the most famous and most visited spot in the cathedral annually, and people come from all over the world to view and pay homage to her grave. This is just one example of how much literature can impact people’s lives. After viewing the grave, we all had tea in the cafe, and went to view some other sites in the Cathedral, including the Crypt (not as creepy as it sounds!) and the Winchester Bible. It was quite the emotional day for all of us!
(On a side note, because our wifi is not great in Bath, pictures will come at a later date!)