Date: April 1 2022
Location: Chawton, Hampshire
Now that spring has arrived, it’s time to lace up the boots and start tromping my way around the south of England. At least that was the thought yesterday when we decided to head to nearby Chawton, in Hampshire. The sun was shining, but the snow was flying and made for a blustery 9.5km walk through the Jane Austen countryside.
Our walk started in a small car park directly across the Jane Austen house, a rather large brick cottage on the end of the main street in the small village of Chawton. The house, now a museum, is where Jane Austen wrote and lived during the last decade or so of her life and was built in the 1700’s, and was briefly a pub before Jane’s brother purchased it and the family moved in. She wrote three of her books here, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion and likely revised others such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility here as well before being published.
We headed toward the edge of the small village (so small it only has a pub and small tearoom, a church and a school) and wandered toward the hillsides that Jane Austen would walk through frequently. Along the way we spotted a few nice thatched cottages tucked near the road.
After leaving the village we crossed a busy road and followed some trails through farmer’s fields until we reached the now disused Meon Valley Railway Line, a 22 mile rail line that ran for about 50 years through Hampshire. It’s now cleared of tracks and is used as a walking trail.
This portion of the walk also follows a path called St. Swithun’s Way which is a newer path named after a 9th century bishop and follows the Winchester to Farnham section of the much older Pilgrim’s Way which is a trackway dating back to at least 600 bc and used by Pilgrims to travel between Winchester and Canterbury. We followed this section of the ancient pathway turned rail line turned walking trail for a few miles before we ended up in the nearby village of Farringdon.
Just like Chawton, it is a tiny village tucked amongst farmer’s fields but one thing that did stick out was the massive red bricked tower of Massey’s Folly. The building, now in a bit of disrepair, stands in the center of the village and across from a large churchyard. It was built over a period of 30 years by the local reverend, an eccentric man named Thomas Massey. Nobody really knows the reasoning behind his desire to build such a massive and imposing structure in the middle of a small village in the late 1800’s but it is an interesting building to look at, with intricate brick carving work throughout the outside walls. Over the years it has housed a village hall, a school, meeting rooms, theatre productions and is now being turned into flats.
Across the road from the red bricked Folly is the 12th century church, All Saints. Dotted around the churchyard are ancient yew trees which have been dated to be about 2000 years old! The church was home to a well known scientist, naturalist and reverend Gilbert White who was in inspiration for Charles Darwin and praised for his environmental work.
We left the churchyard and walked along the farmer’s fields, following a small brook where we saw a few pheasants and even a red and black stoat scurry through the grass. The snow was starting to fly at this point and thankfully we didn’t have too much longer to go before we had looped back down toward Chawton and the welcoming warmth of The Greyfriar’s Pub.