Some of our walks are celebrate the lives of a person particularly associated with a place. One of these is the county of Hampshire, in the south of England – and in particular the small town of Chawton, which for the most creative period of her short life was the home of the great novelist, Jane Austen, who did most of her mature writing (including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma) in the house that is now a museum dedicated to her life. Our walk, over two days and three nights, starts in Winchester, the ancient English capital that itself has strong connections with Jane (who is buried in the cathedral) and passes through Alresford, Chawton itself and Alton. In Chawton, life was more tranquil than it had been since the Austen family's move to Bath from Hampshire in 1800. Jane's niece Anna described the Austen family's life in Chawton thus: "It was a very quiet life, according to our ideas, but they were great readers, and besides the housekeeping our aunts occupied themselves in working with the poor and in teaching some girl or boy to read or write". Jane wrote almost daily, it seems, allowance made for her work by relieving her of some housekeeping responsibilities. The Austens, as far as we know, socialised very little with the neighbouring gentry and entertained only when family visited (there were frequent visits from brothers and young nieces and nephews and Jane, in particular, would get involved with their games, making up stories and singing songs), a perfect arrangement for an author. Otherwise, a daily routine would include - apart from family meals, sewing, talking and playing music (Jane was an accomplished pianist, apparently practising for two hours every morning before breakfast) - long walks in the surrounding countryside. Whilst the rooms of the House and Museum, its garden, and its prominent position at the heart of Chawton, all help to provide a tangible connection to Jane’s intimate family life, and to many of the waspish observations she makes in her novels, it is the countryside which in many ways provides the strongest sense of what life was like for her in the early 18th century. So when you walk through the pretty Hampshire villages, and across the rolling landscape so typical of southern England and really very little changed from what Jane would have known, you are entering the world she evokes in her books.
This post was written by Christopher Knowles