last wednesday - otherwise known as international women's day - i arose from my sick bed for good reason: a celebration of all things literary, boozy, and as old as hell; a few of the things that make me who i am. i jest! (or.. do i?) i had been looking forward to this day trip to hampshire for ages, and not least of all because of the literary twist (and wine) we were promised, but because it was to be a #girlsonly adventure with some of my favourite pr ladies, travel bloggers, and clever women from around the internet. not a bad way to spend women's day, right?
learn caligraphy at jane austen's house
our first stop was to the house that our beloved jane austen called home for the last decade of her life. it was in this modest (i could totally see myself living there) family cottage that jane revised three previously-written but unpublished manuscripts, and wrote three of her most famous novels, before her illness became too much and she left the house to be closer to her doctor in winchester. she lived in this house with her mum and sister, and even shared the room with cassy well into her late thirties. i mean, i struggle to share a flat at 32, i really take my hat off to jane for the grace to share what's - by london's standards, not a very big room, with her little sister in her 30s.
the house and beautiful garden are now privately owned, but publically open thanks to the jane austen society, and reflects the comfortable and happy home the austen ladies created for themselves in the country. the cottage still houses a collection of jane's actual things, and offers experiences like dressing up and calligraphy in the old bakehouse and kitchen. it was really charming, and a bit.. poetic, i think, to be there on international women's day, and in the 200th anniversary year of her death. #woah.
study proto-feminist literature at chawton house library
chawton house is the unofficial home of early women's literature, and until recently, was a world-renowned research centre into the topic. i mean, it still is, but it's now so much more. as well as restoring incredible works of writing to their place in history, they enable future generations to be inspired to follow in some incredible and pioneering footsteps. the blackened library inside (those books, man, they're olllllld and delicate! they have a first edition of mary wollstonecraft's 'a vindication of the rights of woman' on show, from 1793!) houses a collection of works now available to view by the public, as well as scholars who can apply to live on-site and study these famous works.
the rest of the house and gardens (huge, but no hedge maze sadly!) are open to visitors from all over the world, and the beautiful rolling countryside estate makes a wonderful day out. not to mention the insane collection of artwork that line the walls inside - including a portrait of maria graham, the world's first noted travel writer. hey gurl!
go wine tasting with hattingley valley's (female) winemaker of the year
hattingley valley specialise in making english sparkling wine - think prosecco, but made here. in england. sparkling wine made in england. they use the traditional, tried and tested methods in their estate just outside winchester, but in a way that has seen them win a buuuunch of awards. including head winemaker emma rice's "winemaker of the year" award a few years back.
we were treated to a mini-tour of the factory where the grapes are crushed and turned into the delicious, bubbly nectar i live to drink, before sitting down with emma for a one-to-one tasting session with the woman who should know best. we sampled three of their best, including last year's international wine and spirit competition second placed rose. mm mmm mmmm. my fave!
discover medieval winchester
traditionally known as 'the city of kings and priests', winchester is most well known for its survival of the medieval period and the reclamation of some really old buildings, and it's awkward-looking, spier-less, gothic cathedral in the town centre. which, coincidentally, also holds jane austen's grave too. bless. in the remains of the great hall (supposedly from king arthur's time) hangs the "real" round table - from "knights of the round table" fame (supposedly)(i'm not sold, personally), thus proving their point about, you know, being medieval.
i've been to winchester once before, on a much nicer day, and i'm here to report that it's a little less pretty in the wind and rain. and when you're rushing from point to point with the greatest tour guide to ever exist (ex-school teacher meets your classic mary poppins stereotype, i'm pretty sure her name was geraldine, and she was classically bonkers in the very best way.), you sort of miss all the "pretty stuff". we were on a mission, you see: we marched through town, taking all the relevant roads and alleys that had connections to jane austen;, from the church she probably might have been to every sunday, past a pub she maybe could have danced in, strode by the house she definitely did die in, to the grave she is most certainly buried in. it was jane austen's winchester, but i'd be keen to go back and try erica vonderwall's winchester some time.
experience the wonder that is gin-chester
yeah, you read that right. not only is winchester home to the bombay sapphire, gorilla spirits, and pothecary gin distilleries, but twice yearly the wonderfully drunk citizens of the town host what they tenderly call their "ginchester-fête." originally planned to celebrate 'world gin day' (it's a thing) on saturday june 10th, the now-annual gin festival is a truly local event for people to celebrate all that is great about hampshire's food and drink scene - with a natural focus on everything gin-related! sign me up, right! well, you can literally sign up here.
all in all, i think we can agree that one day in winchester was totally not enough, and that i was definitely super exhausted after all that exploring and adventuring. so, big thanks to my friends over at visit england and visit hampshire who have once again shown me the extra wonderful things that there are to see and do in this country of ours. they're celebrating everything literary this year, so if that's your jam, make sure you check out the events they have coming up around the country this year.
*i was a guest of visit england's, but all thoughts are my own*