After the moving tributes in St Ann’s Square to the Manchester arena victims, and the exuberant production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Sally and I boarded a very early morning train at the reopened Manchester Victoria rail station and trundled down the country to Bath. This was a pre-booked birthday present – having a fancy meal on a fancy train.
Belmond Northern Belle
Shiny cutlery, starched linen, elegant crockery, roomy seats, inlaid-wood panelling, attentive staff and a feeling that we were in for an Agatha Christie train ride. Ideally there would be no murders on the Belmond Northern Belle but there would be time to scoff and quaff and watch the world go by – hedges, fields, livestock, towns, roads, stations, counties. England went by.
"I do like it so very much...."
Jane Austen had, at best, an ambiguous relationship with Bath; but she recognised its primacy as a place of display, of mating rituals, of society gossip and an embodiment of the tension between society’s hypocritical constraints and the potential joy of social and romantic interaction. The Jane Austen Centre is not an ex-residency of the impeccable writer but, as an entertaining museum, it conjures an excellent account of her life and times, as does the refurbished Royal Crescent Number One. We’ve been to Bath before, staggering round the cobbles on a spa/walking tour/fun-filled mid-week break. And this trip was a short one, a bonus sandwich in the middle of the luxury of an old-fashioned train ride. But it is easy to understand why Catherine Morland is moved to say in Chapter 10 of Northanger Abbey:
“I really believe I shall always be talking of Bath, when I am at home again – I do like it so very much.”