As Jane Austen readers celebrate the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, BRITAIN travels to the quaint village of Chawton to explore the home and village of the celebrated author. While there’s plenty to impress the most dedicated of Austen buffs, we were surprised to discover just how perfect the area is for a weekend away.
The village of Chawton is nestled within the South Downs National Park in East Hampshire, just a 70-minute drive from London. Despite its proximity to the capital, the village’s welcoming teashop, proper country pub and bucolic setting make it feel a world away.
Jane Austen’s House Museum
There is no denying that Jane Austen is the hallmark of the village and a trip to Chawton would feel incomplete without a visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum. The museum is arranged within the cottage Jane called home for eight of her most productive literary years. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Emma were all published during Jane’s time here, and the museum gives an agreeable glimpse into what life must have been like in the Austen household. Displaying clothing, keepsakes and even the table and chair on which her most notable work was written, the museum is comprehensive without being overwhelming.
Opening times and days vary for Jane Austen’s House Museum. Please check www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk or call 01420 83262 before you visit. Admission is £7.50 for adults, £6.00 for seniors and students, £2.50 for children aged 6-16 and freee for those under 6.
Chawton House Library
A ten-minute stroll from the village centre brings you to Chawton House Library, the elegant Elizabethan manor set back on the hill. Growing up, Jane’s family was close with the Knights – the childless couple who owned the home and estate – who adopted her brother Edward on his sixteenth birthday. Eventually the estate passed to Edward, and it was he who offered the cottage in Chawton to Jane, her mother and her sister. Over the years, Jane made numerous visits to Chawton House Library and it is widely regarded as the inspiration for Mr Bingley’s Netherfield Hall in Pride and Prejudice. Having undergone extensive refurbishments over the last two decades, Chawton House Library is well worth a visit, whether you’re a lover of Jane Austen or simply happen to be in the area.
For those without Austen-ian inclinations, the house’s library has recently become recognised as a destination in its own right. Boasting an impressive collection of works by early female writers, you can easily spend an afternoon perusing the well-stocked libraries. Once you’re finished indoors, take a stroll through the carefully tended gardens to the rear of the home, which have been lovingly restored to their 19th-century design.
If you can fit it into your schedule, we highly recommend the guided tour which is available at 2:30 on Tuesdays in January and February and on both Tuesdays and Thursdays for the remainder of the year. Admission is £6 for adults and £3 for children.
Visit www.chawtonhouse.org or call 01420 541010 for details of special events, including lectures, walks and suppers.
A quick bite
If lunchtime rolls around and you’re in need of some sustenance, try Cassandra’s Cup for an enticing selection of cakes and a hot cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you fancy a pint and a pie, The Greyfriar is just the ticket.
Cassandra’s Cup is open from 10:00am to 4:30pm on selected days. Please check www.cassandrascup.co.uk for details. The Greyfriar is open from noon to 11:00pm, Monday to Saturday, and noon to 10:30pm on Sundays. Visit www.thegreyfriar.co.uk for details.
A walk in the wilderness
In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett is not one to shy away from an invigorating walk through the countryside. Jane Austen was known to share this habit, and as a result, a stroll through the fields seems a very apt way to spend an afternoon. There is a lovely walk covering four and a half miles of this beautiful area, beginning and ending in Chawton and passing through the nearby village of Farringdon. The leaflet and map pointing out a series of landmarks and features that Jane was familiar with, and made specific reference to when writing, is available below.
At the end of the day
Unfortunately, Chawton’s rather slender population of 400 means that accommodation options are limited. That said, nearby Petersfield has a number of welcoming spots to set down your bags, not least of which is The Old Drum.
Open fires, leatherbound armchairs and exposed brick create a lovely atmosphere in this newly refurbished country pub, and its revolving selection of specialty ales are a welcome sight after a day on your feet. The pub’s inventive, yet decidedly British, menu features an attractive offering of mains, our favourite of which was the Venison haunch, beer-battered haggis and juniper-poached pear. That said, the pub is popular, so if you plan to visit on the weekend, we definitely recommend booking.
Upstairs, the pub has two sleek yet comfortable rooms available to let, ensuring the journey home is a quick one. Complimentary Scotch and freshly baked cookies are a lovely touch and the following morning’s full English, enjoyed beside an open fire, seems like the perfect way to start the day.
To book a room at The Old Drum in Petersfield, please call 01730 300544 or visit www.theolddrum.co.uk. Double rooms start from just £80 (B&B) per night.
While you’re in the neighbourhood
If you’re lucky enough to have another day in the area, we can suggest a couple of ways to spend it.
Gilbert White’s House & Garden and The Oates Collection
In nearby Selborne, you’ll find Gilbert White’s House & Garden and The Oates Collection, two rather unique museums rolled into one. Arranged in the historic house of Gilbert White, the first half of the museum is dedicated to this naturalist and gardener, whose most famous work, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, is believed to be the fourth most published book in the English language and has never been out of print since its publication in 1789.
The second half of the museum is dedicated to the British explorer, Frank Oates, and his nephew, Captain Lawrence Oates, who sacrificed himself on Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1812. After making your way through the museum, we recommend taking a stroll through the gardens behind the house which have been largely restored to their eighteenth-century condition.
Opening times vary, so please check www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk or call 01420 511275 before you visit. Admission is £8.50 for adults, £7.50 for concessions, £3 for children aged 6-16 and free for those aged five and under.
Alice Holt Forest
If the weather’s in your favour, a trip to Alice Holt Forest is a great option for families. This kid-friendly park is less than 10 miles from both Chawton and Selborne, and has a range of walking and cycling trails to explore, not to mention a 3D maze, play areas and obstacle courses for the little ones.
If you’re feeling adventurous, the Go Ape Treetop Adventure should set your heart racing, otherwise, there’s plenty of space for a picnic if you’d rather relax. If you haven’t packed your own lunch, don’t worry – Cafe on the Green has hot drinks, warm food and sandwiches to fuel whatever activity you have planned.
For more information on Alice Holt Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/aliceholt or call 01420 23666. Alice Holt Forest is open from 8:00am and closes at 6:00pm from October to February, 7:00pm from March to April, 9:00pm from May to August and 7pm in September. The Cafe on the Green is open from 9:00am to 4:30pm in the winter and 9:00am to 6:00pm in the summer. For more information visit www.cafeonthegreen.co.