Gilbert White's Selborne and Jane Austen's house
Main walk 20.4 km (12.7 miles)
Short walk to Chawton 12.1 km (7.5 miles)
Alternative ending Adds 2km (1.2 miles)
|Maps||OS Landranger Map 186. OS Explorer Map OL33 (formerly 133)|
|Toughness||4 out of 10 (6 out of 10 via Selborne Common, 2 out of 10 on Short Walk to Chawton)|
|Features||The quiet corner of Hampshire through which this walk passes seems like the kind of countryside in which nothing much ever happened. Yet in the late 18th and early 19th century it inspired two famous writers - Gilbert White and Jane Austen. After a section over wide upland fields to East Worldham, the walk first plunges into the delightful arcadia of woods, hangers and hidden pastures that surround Selborne, about which White wrote his famous Natural History. From there, it crosses wooded Selborne Common and gentle ridges of downland to Chawton, the home of Jane Austen for the last eight, and most productive years, of her life. On the way you can reflect on Austen's remark in Persuasion that two villages only three miles apart "will often include a total change of conversation, opinion and idea": though only a few miles apart, even today Chawton and Selborne seem like different worlds.|
a) Short walk to Chawton: This follows a direct route from Alton to Upper Farringdon, joining the main walk route there. This makes a total walk of 12.1km (7.5 miles). This is a useful option if you want time to visit Jane Austen's House in Chawton, 9.3km (5.7 miles) into the walk. With the Rose & Crown in Upper Farringdon currently closed, the only lunch options on this route are also now in Chawton (see Lunch and Tea Places below).
b) Alternative ending from Chawton to Alton: This route avoids the road walking through the centre of Alton, partly reversing the outward route of option a) in the process. Note that it is somewhat afflicted by noise from the A31 in places, if the wind is in the wrong direction. It is 2km (1.2 miles) longer than the main route, and so 4.8km (3 miles) from Chawton to Alton railway station compared to 2.8km (1.8 miles) by the main walk route.
A bus, the number 38, links Alton station, Chawton and Selborne (and vice versa) Mondays to Fridays, but not sadly at weekends. Currently there are four services a day, stopping outside the Selborne Arms in Selborne and Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, with the last bus at around 4.30pm. Using it you can start or finish the walk at Selborne, catch a bus from there to Chawton to see Jane Austen’s House, or cut out the last part of the walk from Chawton through Alton town centre. Call 0871 200 2233 for more information.
Two trains an hour run between London Waterloo and Alton (one hourly on Sunday; journey time about 1 hour 10 minutes). Take the first train after 9am from Waterloo to get to lunch in time, or to have time to visit Jane Austen’s House on the short walk.
By car: Alton station has a pay car park, or you can park anywhere in the centre of Alton and walk to the station to start.
The Church St Mary, East Worldham dates from the 12th century, though it was extensively renovated in the fifteenth century. Shortly afterwards, it was given by the Bishop of Winchester to his newly founded Magdalen College in Oxford. A 14th century effigy in the south wall is thought to mark the burial place of Philippa, wife of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, whose son Thomas was Lord of the Manor here.
Gilbert White's famous Natural History of Selborne, based on his observations in the countryside around the village, was published in 1789, and it has never been out of print since. His grandfather had been vicar of the Church of St Mary' Selborne from 1681 to 1727 (it is this Gilbert White, not the famous naturalist, who is named in the historial list of vicars at the back of the church), and White himself was born in the Vicarage in 1720, moving to The Wakes, where the Gilbert White Museum now is, when he was nine years old.
White was ordained in 1747 after studying at Oxford University, but failed in his attempts to find a parish of his own, and returned to his native village to become a curate (that is, a paid deputy for an absentee vicar) in All Saint's Church, Upper Farringdon (visited on this walk). He stayed the rest of his life in this relatively lowly post, passing his time developing his garden and studying the nature around him.
In this he was not unusual among 18th century clergymen, but he stands out for his detailed observations, living writing style, and his fascination with ordinary flora and fauna rather than exotic rarities. As a result he is now considered one of the world’s first ecologists. He died in 1793 and is buried in the north east corner of the churchard of St Mary's Selborne. At his request, the stone was simply marked GW 26 June 1893.
The Gilbert White Museum (tel 01420 511 275) in The Wakes, Selborne, not only recreates his house and garden, but also has a section on Captain Lawrence Oates of Scott of the Antarctic fame - the man who stepped out of the tent to die in a blizzard saying: "I am just going outside. I may be gone for some time". The reason is that in 1953 when the Gilbert White Society were trying to raise money to buy The Wakes, the Oates family offered to help on condition their family collection was exhibited too. The museum is open 11 am to 5pm daily except for the week after Christmas.
Chawton. Though her novels are set elsewhere, Jane Austen was always a Hampshire girl at heart and she was devastated when her father retired in 1801 as vicar of Steventon, a small North Hampshire village, and moved his family to Bath. Jane hated Bath and wrote nothing during this period. Worse, when her father died four years later, she, her sister Cassandra and their mother were left with little money and no fixed home.
It was Jane's brother Edward who finally came to the rescue. He had been adopted by the wealthy but childless Knight family, and so had inherited the Great House at Chawton (now Chawton House and recently opened as a library of women writers of Jane Austen's time). Edward found his sisters and mother a house in the centre of the village, and they moved there in July 1809.
Jane was delighted by "our Chawton home", and immediately started writing again. Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion were all written here, and it was while living in Chawton that she first won outside acclaim as a novelist when her youthful novels - Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility - were at last published. The house is now run as Jane Austen's House by the Jane Austen Trust (tel 01420 832 262) and is open 11.00am to 4.30pm from March to November, on weekends only December to February. Among the exhibits is the creaking door to the room where Jane did her writing. The hinges in the door were kept deliberately unoiled so that she could conceal her work if anyone came in, writing novels not being considered a suitable profession for a lady.
Alas Jane's happiness at Chawton proved shortlived, as in 1817 she fell ill with a mystery illness, and died in Winchester, where she had gone for medical treatment. Because she was the daughter of a clergyman, she was buried in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. Cassandra and her mother remained in Chawton for the rest of their lives, however, and are buried in the churchyard around the back of the St Nicholas's Church, which like the Great House is passed on this walk.
The walk from Chawton to All Saint's Church, Upper Farringdon was a favourite of Jane's, not just because it passed through her brother's estate, but because she was friends with the family of John Benn, the vicar there: in her letters she writes of walking over to Farringdon for tea. Gilbert White was also curate here from 1761 to 1784 (that is, some time before Jane Austen lived in Chawton, though he knew and visited with Jane's father when the latter was Vicar of Steventon). Note the amazing and very ancient hollowed out yew tree in the churchyard (to the left of the church door, as you approach it from the road)
The curious red brick building across the road from Farringdon church is Massey's Folly. Designed and built by the Reverend Thomas Massey, with only three local labourers to help him, it took 30 years to complete between 1880 and 1910. The design was apparently influenced by the daughter of an Indian civil servant, who used to visit Massey secretly. The building stood empty for 15 years after its construction; it was then turned into the village hall and school
An early lunch can be had 4km (2.5 miles) into the main walk at the Three Horseshoes in East Worldham (01420 83211) which serves food from 12.00pm to 2.30pm daily and has a garden.
However, the recommended lunch stop, 10.2km (6.3 miles) into the walk, is the Selborne Arms (tel 01420 511247), which serves food from 12pm to 2pm and has a pleasant garden.
For a lighter lunch, the Coffee Room is a new cafe in Selborne village, open Tuesday to Sunday, and the tea shop in the Gilbert White Museum in Selborne is also a possibility: see Tea
There are several fine places for a picnic on the section between East Worldham and Selborne, particularly the pasturelands around King John's Hill and the clearings in Binswood. The Long and Short Lythe valleys on the last half mile into Selborne, as well as the hill leading up to the church, are also particularly enchanting picnic spots. If you are planning a picnic later in the walk (for example, on Selborne Common), the village shop, open till 6pm Monday to Friday and 7.30pm on Saturday, has a good selection of food items.
On the Short Walk to Chawton the Rose and Crown in Upper Farringdon is currently (May 2017) closed. An alternative is to have lunch in Chawton, 9.3km (5.7 miles) into the walk at either Cassandra's Cup (see Tea for details), which has a light lunch menu from 12pm to 2.30pm, or at The Greyfriar pub (01420 83841) next door, which serves food from 12pm to 2pm Monday to Saturday or 12pm to 3pm Sunday. A possible picnic spot is also indicated between paragraph 138 of the short walk text.
On the main walk, the Rose and Crown in Upper Farringdon is currently (May 2017) closed. The recommended tea stop, if you can reach it in time, is Cassandra's Cup opposite Jane Austen's House in Chawton, which is open 10.30am to 4.30pm. An alternative is The Greyfriar pub next door which is open all afternoon for tea and coffee, and also serves ice cream. Either of these two places are also ideal tea stops on the Short Walk to Chawton, assuming you don't use them as lunch stops.
Later tea options include both a Caffe Nero and a Costa Coffee in Alton high street, both open till 6pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm on Sunday, and the nearby Swan Hotel (tel 01420 8377), which serves cream teas until 6pm, and tea and coffee until normal pub closing times.
If you are finishing the walk in Selborne (ie by taking the bus back from there, Mondays to Fridays only), the tea shop in the Gilbert White Museum is highly recommended. Set in an elegant 18th century parlour, it offers cakes made to period recipes, and is open the same times as the museum - 11am to 5pm. From 12pm to 2pm, there is also a light lunch menu. You can visit the tea shop without paying for the museum: simply make known your intention at the ticket desk, and they will direct you.
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
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Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk