After leaving Stratfield Saye, our coach made a pit stop at the Wellington Farm Shop

As you can see, the market had many enticing items, but as none of us were going to be cooking any time soon, the majority of our group settled for homemade fudge.

Back at our “atmospheric” coaching inn in Reading, we looked forward to meeting Regency author Beth Elliott, who very kindly agreed to take us on a walking tour of the ruins of the Reading Abbey, including the Abbey Gateway, where Jane Austen attended Madame La Tournelle’s school in 1784-85.

Above, the Mercure George Hotel, Reading
Said to be from the 15th Century

Beth Elliott’s Websites are here and here.

As we walked toward the Abbey Ruins, now largely blocked off, we saw many structures probably constructed with materials from the Abbey Ruins.

Below Diane Gaston. Beth Elliott, and Victoria in front of the Abbey Gateway.

The painting below, by artist Paul Sandby, shows the Abbey Gateway in 1808, a few years after Austen and her sister Cassandra attended school there.

The Abbey Gateway Building is obviously waiting for a restoration project being sought by the city of Reading, as are the remaining ruins, now apparently considered unsafe and fenced off. 
But a few of the details on the Gateway can be seen below, though who these royal heads belong to, we cannot tell.

The Abbey was founded in 1121 by King Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror.  During the time of Henry VIII, the Dissolution of the Monasteries brought the destruction of the Abbey buildings in 1539, though ruins remain widespread along the river and elsewhere in Forbury Gardens.

Forbury Gardens is a lovely public park established  in the area long ago known as the forbury, meaning “the borough in front” occupying the hill between the Abbey and the town of Reading. Markets, fairs, and other events were held in the area.
The center of the park is dominated by the 1888 noble statue of the Maiwand Lion which memorializes the hundreds of Berkshire soldiers who perished in the Battle of Maiwand in Afganistan in 1880. Over thirty feet high, the lion was sculpted by George Blackall Simonds.

a recent memorial

The gardens  bloomed with late summer intensity.

After the Abbey Ruins and the Gardens, Beth took us to a pub, where her lucky critique group has their meetings in a private room.  We walked across the Kennet River

Oh!  Our very own sign, along the way!

Great Expectations is a hotel and pub, named after a series of readings given here by Charles Dickens. Beth’s critique group meets in a book-lined room which must offer its own Great Expectations for her lucky critique group.

Reading offers many more possibilities for exploration as well.  Someday we will return and pursue them!  For now, we enjoyed a dinner with the group and prepared for a busy day coming up.  Join us next time for a visit to Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey.