I’m travelling through England as I write this, finding inspiration and learning lots of useful information for future books. I now know how to recognize coaching inns, market towns, moors, and much more; I understand better about parsons and parsonages and why Mr. Collins’ first duty was to collect tithes. I can now put myself mentally in the correct landscape. I’ve seen fellow authors Jane Odiwe and Juliet Archer, and talked plot for hours with two as-yet-unpublished writers in the Austen-inspired novel field. I’ve managed to stay one step ahead of the floods, but have dealt with enough deluges to make me think I’m re-enacting Mr. Darcy’s Refuge. I’ve had far too many adventures to cover in one blog post, so I’m going to focus on my most recent adventure.
My friend and I have been staying in various inexpensive B&Bs around the country, but we decided to have one big splurge and spend two nights at Middlethorpe Hall, a 1699 country house in York run by the National Trust as a hotel, with all profits going to the National Trust. It’s been restored to the appearance of a 18th century manor, furnished with antiques and including extensive gardens. I was hoping to soak up some good atmosphere for my new book by spending a couple of days in surroundings where Darcy would have felt at home.
To be honest, I was expecting to feel rather out of place, since ‘elegant’ and ‘upper crust’ aren’t words you’d usually think of in the same sentence with me. Also, I expected it would basically be a historic hotel which happened to have a couple of antique furnished lobbies. I was wrong on all counts.
There are ten rooms and suites in the manor. We stayed in the cheapest, which was still very nice and distinctly manor-style even if it was on the third floor and up the servant staircase. There are half a dozen public rooms, all furnished and decorated appropriately to the period, and I think I’ve spent time in all of them. Having the formal gardens completely to myself made me feel like it really was something private to me, even if the reason the gardens were empty was that it was too chilly for any of the more sensible guests to venture out. Afternoon tea was served in one of the sitting rooms rather than the restaurant, adding great verisimilitude.
The staff went to great lengths to make us feel personally taken care of. All the staff seemed to know us immediately and worked unobtrusively to make our lives easier. When the taxi dropped us off as we returned from a trip into York on a cold rainy day, the porter opened the door before we reached it with our room key in his hand.
We then made a quick trip up to our room to change into dry clothes, then came downstairs to have afternoon tea. Since we were still damp (I’m pretending here that we didn’t actually look like drowned rats), the porter led us into the smaller sitting room/library where he lit the fire to warm the room for us. We had our tea in glorious privacy there. My friend had mentioned disliking a particular food item at dinner the night before, and it was quietly left off from the tea tray. It was fascinating to see how quickly we stopped noticing the staff working in the background to take care of this or that. I could get used to that!
I’ll close with some pictures of the gardens and park, including a willow walk by the lake, and the good news that sitting at the antique desk at Middlethorpe Hall gave me the inspiration to start a new story. I’m very excited about it – and I may just have to use Middlethorpe as the setting! If you’d like to see these pictures in a larger size, I’ll be posting an album of these and more on my facebook page.