Having said that I was only going to blog about my Pilgrim’s Way walks occasionally, I find myself posting again for what was only the 4th walk in. I would say that I think that it is an exceptional reason to do so, and don’t expect to be posting again in another 4 walks, but who knows.
So I need to take you all back to Maundy Thursday. I’m very lucky in that work gives me a couple of extra days off over the Easter weekend, so as the weather was good I decided to so my next stage of the Pilgrims Way. This time the walk was going to have a very literary feel to it.
With it being Maundy Thursday my normally radio listening wasn’t available to me so I decided on an audio book to listen to (at least in part). With it being Easter and it being the Pilgrim’s Way, I felt there was only one book to listen to, and that was John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s a wonderful Christian allegory. It is a great reminder to Christians about the journey we are all on. It’s not a subtle book. With the names of the characters being their traits, such as Obstinate and Pliable. Lots of these characters don’t stay with the Pilgrim for long. There is even comedy in the book when characters take what they see as an easier route even though it is called Destruction. While I didn’t finish the audio book on the walk, it was enjoyable and also uplifting. I would recommend it as a read (or listen) to anyone.
The secondary literary connection that the Pilgrims Way goes past the Jane Austen House Museum on this stretch. This is the house that Jane Austen lived in with her mother and sister when her written works were published. It is, as the name suggests, now a museum. Just up the road from the house is the ‘big house’ as Jane referred to it which was owned by her brother Edward, and the church where her mother and sister are buried. These two aren’t actually on the walk but are only a few hundred yards from it, so I had decided they would be well worth visiting as well.
I was certainly glad that I did make the effort. Chawton House was an excellent side track (as was the Jane Austen Museum) for the walk. The house has been beautifully restored and had I not been on a walk with a number of miles still to go, I could have happily spent more time there. As well as the house to walk around, there is also the gardens which will look very different at different times of the year, but has everything from small woodland to walled gardens. There’s also a great looking tearoom with cakes that would undo all the good that the walk was doing.
The highlight for me though, unusually for a gardener, was the time I spent in the library, where I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with Jeremy Knight. Now I’ll pause there for those who are big Jane Austen fans to understand who I was talking to.
For those who are not dedicated Jane Austen fans, let me explain further. As mentioned the house belonged to Edward, Jane’s brother. His ownership of the house and the estate is what had enabled Jane, her mother and sister to live in the cottage they did, free of charge. However Edward inherited the house from a couple who were childless. As part of the inheritance, he changed his name by deed poll. He became Edward Knight. Again, I will pause again while it sinks in.
So yes, there I was chatting to one of Jane Austen’s relatives. He had grown up in Chawton House and told us about what life was like in the house. It was a great addition to the visit and totally unexpected. I realise that I was lucky and that I could have easily picked a day that Jeremy Knight hadn’t been there.
I don’t know if that will be matched on the remaining 20 plus walks, and I suspect there will be other highlights, but this will certainly be one of the top ones. For anyone interested in visiting, I can highly recommend going to both in the same day. There is a discount for visiting both on the same day and you can then return free of charge for up to a year. Parking isn’t a problem and there are places in the village you can eat or outside space for a picnic.