- Date: 18 May 2022
- Distance: 2 x 4 – 5 mile walks
- Start: 10:00 at Chawton GR: SU 708 375
- Leader: Sandy Arpino
Petersfield Ramblers explore Jane Austen country
On a beautifully sunny Wednesday, eighteen members of Petersfield Ramblers gathered outside Jane Austen’s house in Chawton to explore the rolling countryside that inspired Jane Austen’s writing. As is often the case, we were accompanied by the very friendly Pickle – a golden retriever – who has been an honorary member of our club for many years.
Jane spent the last eight years of her life in this 17th-century house, bought for her by her elder brother Edward, living with her mother and sister Cassandra. This house is the place most associated with her writing, where she revised earlier drafts of her first three novels and wrote three more.
We’d planned a ‘figure of eight’ walk, enabling those who only wanted a shorter walk to join for just one of the 5-mile loops.
On leaving Chawton we passed the village school before seeing striking views of Chawton House on our left. It was here that Jane’s brother Edward lived, and the author was a frequent visitor.
At the end of a dead-end road (with ample parking for Chawton’s many visitors), we turned onto a path through trees then into a field of sheep with lambs. After the inevitable stop to enjoy the antics of the adorable lambs, we climbed gently before reaching a track bordered by enormous Wellington redwoods. As the massive redwoods were replaced by yews, we descended into Upper Farringdon.
And what a delightful village, packed with character buildings and immaculate country gardens. Of particular note was a barn on mushroom pillars and the most impressive topiary, including a huge, majestic swan and some contemporary ‘cloud’ hedging.
Approaching the churchyard, we were taken aback by an imposing brick building, Massey’s Folly. The eccentric Thomas Massey – rector in Farringdon for 62 years and an irrepressible builder – built the Folly over a period of 30 years with minimal help. It is a towering brick structure of three floors and some 12 rooms, totally out of place in this small Hampshire village.
In the churchyard, we found more of great interest: two ancient yew trees, one being over 2000 years old and the other around 1500 years old. The older tree – ranked as one of the ten most important trees in the UK – is now a cause of considerable concern, being fragile and in need of support.
After coffee in Upper Farringdon’s delightful Community Garden, we headed back towards Chawton, via the disused Meon Valley railway line, a reminder of our winter walks along the Meon Valley Trail further south.
Arriving at Chawton at lunch time, our group dispersed for refreshments: some enjoyed coffee and cake in the lovely Cassandra Café; some retired to the Greyfriar pub for a pint; while others picnicked in the little park by the car park.
For our afternoon loop we followed a tunnel under the busy A31 dual-carriageway, passed by the side of Alton Sports Centre and soon found ourselves in a charming rural setting: fields of sheep with lambs on one side and newly-green woodland on the other. After 2 miles we climbed steeply through woods, reversed direction and headed back to Chawton through lime-green beech woods. It was thrilling to hear the chuffs and whistle of the Watercress line below us, whilst one final surprise was finding ourselves at the Tongham Motor Club circuit where one of our members could remember being taken on a date in the 1970s!
All in all, our Chawton adventure was packed with interest, the perfect way to spend a sunny May day.
Author & Photographer: Sandy Arpino, Club Treasurer