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Digital Subscriptions > Attitude > 292 > The heart of Hampshire

The heart of Hampshire

SALLY SHALAM CONTINUES HER TRAVELS AROUND THE UK BY CAR, WITH THE HELP OF LEADING CAR HIRE COMPANY HERTZ. A VISIT TO HAMPSHIRE TO WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF AUTHOR JANE AUSTEN UNCOVERED AN EXQUISITE MUSEUM AND A FORMER MANOR HOUSE BUT SADLY NO SIGN OF MR DARCY. NO MATTER, IT’S STILL ANOTHER IDEAL SUMMER SHORT BREAK

Gently elbowing my way through a horde of excited, chattering schoolchildren, I found a small, unassuming writing table in a corner of the dining room. No larger than an occasional table for a pot plant, perhaps, yet here was the very place where Jane Austen sat with her quill pen and wove irresistible tales of the English landed gentry. At this table she completed Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma and more. In 2017, Visit England’s Year of Literary Heroes, special events were held around the country to celebrate writers from Arthur Ransome to Arnold Bennett and characters from Harry Potter to Sherlock Holmes. The bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, in 1817, played a central part. Most people associate Austen with the city of Bath but the school group and I came in search of her in the village of Chawton, where she lived from 1809 until shortly before her death in Winchester in 1817. The journey is one I’d gladly undertake any time (perhaps in summer next time, for Regency Week, an annual celebration of Austen’s life, held in late June). The lanes approaching the village are hugged by woodland and gently undulating crop fields. Now, in late autumn, the quietude was disturbed only by skittering dry leaves and I could almost imagine Miss Austen somewhere up ahead, riding in a little carriage. It was hard to believe that Basingstoke and Winchester lie less than 20 miles distant, and the M3 at such close range.

HARVEY MILLS © VISIT WINCHESTER

At the heart of the village, where three streets converge, stands Jane Austen’s house, now a museum, in an English cottage garden flanked by a low brick wall. Apart from the antique furnishings, polished to mirror shininess, the late-17th-century house is charmingly simple, an old bakehouse and washhouse remain almost as they might have been left 200 years ago. In the museum shop, amongst the gifts, cards and DVDs wrapped in smouldering shots of Mr Darcy, there is a display case of antiquarian editions of Austen’s works. Surely ultimate souvenirs for the diehard fan. The only accompanying sound was birdsong as I walked, later, in the footsteps of Jane and her sister Cassandra, whose afternoon perambulations would have taken them to nearby Chawton House, which their brother Edward had inherited as part of a far more sizeable estate. I passed a row of low-slung thatched cottages and again, it seemed as though time had stood still. The Elizabethan manor, now Chawton House Library, is primarily home to collections of rare and unique tomes by women writers, some dating back as far as 1600 and to which Jane Austen would have had acce

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