Hampshire walk in the South Downs at Chawton
- Credit: Steve Davison
In memory of Jane Austen, who died 200 years ago, Steve Davison heads to Chawton for a wander in the South Downs National Park just south of Alton
The reason many people visit Chawton is the novelist Jane Austen, who spent the last eight years of her life in the village. The 17th century house, now known as Jane Austen’s House Museum, where she lived with her mother and sister is open at various times (jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk; 01420 83262). During her time here, Jane wrote and revised six of her world famous novels, namely Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion; the last three being fully written while living in Chawton.
From her former home the walk leads us along part of the disused Meon Valley railway that once ran between Alton and Fareham. Don’t worry if you happen to hear the sound of a steam train in the distance, it’s not a ghost train on the old line but one running along the nearby Mid-Hants Railway Watercress Line between Alton and New Arlesford.
Soon we leave the old track to arrive at Upper Farringdon, home to thatched cottages and the 12th century All Saint’s Church. For a time, the Selborne naturalist, Gilbert White, was curate here while a later incumbent, the Reverend Thomas Massey, was responsible for the unusual Massey’s Folly – the large red-brick and terracotta tiled building opposite the church.
After wandering through the village (the shorter walk misses out this loop) we head back towards Chawton, passing the Church of St Nicholas. In the churchyard are the graves of Jane Austen’s mother and sister, both of whom were called Cassandra (Jane herself, is buried at Winchester Cathedral). Next to the church is the rather grand Elizabethan Chawton House. The estate belonged to the Knight family for several hundred years and later in the 18th century Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight – he had been adopted by Thomas and Catherine Knight – inherited the manor, after which his mother and sisters moved to the village; Jane was a frequent visitor to the estate, and some believe ‘Donwell Abbey’ in Austen’s Emma was modelled upon Chawton House.
The 400-year-old house is now home to the Chawton House Library, a charitable centre for the study of Early English Women’s Writing, with a collection of over 9,000 books. The house and gardens are open at various times (chawtonhouse.org; 01420 541010). From here it’s a short walk back to the car park.
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• Start/finish: Car park (SU708375) in Chawton (behind the Greyfriar’s car park); just east from the A31 / A32 junction at Alton
• Map: OS Explorer 133
• Distance: 5 miles (8.1km) or 3.75 miles (5.9km)
• Terrain: gentle ups and downs, tracks and paths, some gates and stiles, sections of road and two main road crossings
• Time: 2 hours without stops (shorter walk 1.5 hours)
• Refreshments: The Greyfriar (01420 83841) and Cassandra’s Cup tea room (01420 83144) both at Chawton
• More Information: To find out more about Steve, including his books, visit: steve-davison.co.uk
1 (SU708375) – From the car park exit back onto the village street with Jane Austen’s house opposite and Cassandra’s Cup tea room and The Greyfriar pub over to the right. Turn left, then immediately left again and follow the lane for 250m before turning right into Ferney Close. At the end of the cul-de-sac take the path between the houses, go through a gate and follow the enclosed path. Cross a stile and down steps before carefully crossing the A32, then go up some steps and through a gate. Keep ahead and soon bear left through a copse before going right and left to continue southwards between fields. Keep ahead along the shady track for slightly under a mile, passing under a bridge on the way. On reaching another bridge, go up steps to the lane and turn left to the A32.
2 (SU704354) – With care, cross the A32 and follow the lane opposite signposted for Manor Farm, to reach a cross-track junction after 600m (the short walk turns left here). Turn right between houses, then bear left along Parsonage Close to a junction. Turn right to a T-junction and go left along The Street. At the next junction, with a thatched cottage opposite, keep ahead along the enclosed path. Once in the field, turn left following the left-hand margin and then right, staying in the same field. At the kink in the field boundary, turn left over a stile and head north through the field.
3 (SU717355) – At the field corner turn right over a stile and follow the enclosed path to Stapley’s Farm. Turn left along the track to a lane. Turn left and just after All Saint’s Church – with Massey’s Folly on the left – turn right along the track to a junction. Turn left, soon passing a barn on saddle stones and keep ahead to reach the cross-track junction passed earlier. Turn right up the track and keep ahead down through the trees of Berryhill Plantation.
4 (SU707361) – Continue down through the field and then Noar Copse. Cross the stile and keep head across the field to two stiles in the far corner. Cross the one on the right to follow the enclosed permissive path northwards, parallel to the A32, crossing another stile on the way. At the end, cross a stile and continue straight on along the lane towards Chawton, soon passing a driveway on the right that leads to the Church of St Nicholas and Chawton House (short detour). Continue along the lane to arrive back at the start.