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Celia-VisageCelia Fiennes, with this lovely, novel-worthy name, was a remarkable Restoration lady.

Though well-born and well-connected (her father was a Viscount’s younger son), she stayed single, which was quite uncommon for her time and station, and occupied her life otherwise.

In 1684, when she was 22, she began to travel around, because it struck her as a healthy occupation – and never stopped (or very little) for nearly three decades. Now, this was the late Seventeenth Century, when nobody went gallivanting about just to see the sights, much less a lady – so doing it in a comfortable coach and well attended would have been pretty exceptional in itself… But Celia was made of sterner stuff: she traveled on horseback, and with never more than a couple of servants. In thirty years, she toured much of England, visiting great houses and spas, market towns and ruins – and wrote about it all. Celia2

She never intended for her travel notes to be published or, indeed, read beyond her family and circle of acquaintances. But Celia was a keen observer and very pleasant writer. They made her into one of the first travel writers (and certainly the first female one) in early Nineteenth Century, and her Riding Through England on a Side Saddle has never been out of print for long ever since.

You can find it here, complete with maps (and while you are there, you may have a look at A Vision of Britain through Time’s whole collection of travel writings). Celia, besides having a vivid writing voice, provides a treasure trove of information about life and travel in William and Mary’s England.

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