Robin Waldman and his family tie in literature and lavender on a summer’s day out to Chawton and Selborne as they explore Austen’s local connections and breathe in the heady scents at Selborne Lavender.

Literature and lavender

Our outing this month takes in history and local farming in marvellous mid-Hampshire, in the Alton area. Our trip centres around the village of Chawton, home of Jane Austen and a seasonal spot nearby in Selborne, at the lavender fields. Chawton is a pretty village around twenty minutes from Winchester. Austen fans, especially those from the USA, delight in the village ambience with its lovely, thatched cottages and lush green countryside. Some of our favourite spots in the small village include the Jane Austen House Museum, a lovely tearoom opposite the museum, as well as a large playground with picnic spot, and Chawton house.

Great British Life: Chawton Cottage (c) Robin WaldmanChawton Cottage (c) Robin Waldman

In Jane's footsteps

First off, we visited the famous writer's 17th-century house (informally known as Chawton Cottage) in which Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life. The children were given a family trail activity to fill in as we moved from room to room, which they enjoyed, and we played some traditional garden games such as skittles in the green space surrounding the house where sweet-smelling flowers were growing in abundance. We ended our visit with the gift shop where they sold everything Jane Austen related from clothes and tea through to her famous novels, of course.

Great British Life: Learning about the Austen family (c) Robin WaldmanLearning about the Austen family (c) Robin Waldman

Living history

We enjoyed discovering and learning about Jane Austen and her family’s life, and the broader era they lived in through the impressive collection of family heirlooms the museum has on display. The historic setting truly brings to life the context in which Jane Austen, and the wider early female writer community, lived and worked. An inspiring and educational location for both adults and children.

Great British Life: Chawton House (c) Robin WaldmanChawton House (c) Robin Waldman

Keep it in the family

A little further down the road is Chawton House, the home of Edward Austen, Jane’s brother. The ‘Great House’ (as Jane Austen called it in her letters) is surrounded by large grounds which include a chapel regularly used by the Austen family. Following in Jane’s footsteps, we explored the beautiful walled gardens and the parklands, where grazing sheep kept us company. Inside the Elizabethan manor, you will find a vast collection of early women’s writing, which is now open for the general public to explore.

Great British Life: Time for tea (c) Robin WaldmanTime for tea (c) Robin Waldman

Time for tea

Our tour of Jane Austen’s House and Chawton House’s grounds left us a bit peckish, so we stopped by the nearby café, Cassandra’s Cup, which also sells local produce, making it very popular to both locals and tourists exploring Jane Austen’s history in the village. The café has an indoor and outdoor area decorated with teacups and bunting and is a lovely spot to catch up with friends or family. We recommend the traditional afternoon tea with tasty scones.

Great British Life: Village cricket (c) Robin WaldmanVillage cricket (c) Robin Waldman

Howzat for a spot

If you’d rather bring a picnic, then the perfect spot is a large field with playground opposite Jane Austen’s house museum. We were lucky enough on the day to catch a cricket match being played with the quintessentially English backdrop of countryside and grazing sheep. The field offers plenty of picnic tables as well as the nice soft grass to lay out your mat and enjoy.

Great British Life: The lavender fields in Selborne (c) Robin WaldmanThe lavender fields in Selborne (c) Robin Waldman

Lavender blue

Just ten minutes’ drive away is beautiful farmland and countryside. The lavender fields in Selborne open every summer for visitors to enjoy their stunning purple rows of lavender; this spot is perfect for updating your family photo whilst taking in the sweet flowery smell. A bug hunt is also on offer for the kids who, for a small fee, are given a checklist of bugs and wildlife, and a microscope to get a closer look.

Great British Life: The fields are great place for a photograph (c) Robin WaldmanThe fields are great place for a photograph (c) Robin Waldman

Top tips

The fields truly are a local landmark, and the owners have clearly amassed a great knowledge of lavender growing. Did you know the difference between lavender and lavandin? Lavandin has more pointed flower spikes, and is less well-known, but also produces high-quality oil. This harvesting and distillation knowledge can not only be appreciated in the fields, but also in the gift shop! From essential oils to hand and body products, and home fragrance, there’s something for everyone. We made sure to take some of the experience home with us, opting for some of their yummy lavender jam.

Great British Life: A vole in the field (c) Robin WaldmanA vole in the field (c) Robin Waldman

Wildlife spotting

During our stroll, we spotted plenty of wildlife including butterflies, ladybirds, bees, and a squeal of delight from the kids when they spotted a small vole making its way through the shrubbery. Surely bonus points for our wildlife hunt! As of this summer, Lavender Fields have opened a café which overlooks the fields, and gives even more reasons to enjoy a visit with a cool drink and wonderful views.