7 essential stops for the perfect Jane Austen pilgrimage
July 18 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austin's death and the release of a new UK £10 note bearing her likeness. We reveal the places you should visit to celebrate her life and her work
1: Jane Austen’s birthplace, Steventon
The church in Steventon (Dreamstime)
Jane Austen was born in Steventon, a sweet little village in the north of Hampshire. The house where she was born is gone, just a field now, but the church, where her father was the vicar, is still there and has a small display dedicated to her. Sometimes, there are people on hand to tell you more about the village and Jane’s time there.
The village is tucked away down tiny country lanes and is not easy to find. A man called Phil Howe runs a company called Hidden Britain Tours that does tours around northern Hampshire, visiting the country villages and hamlets that Jane Austen knew. It’s a great way to see where Jane grew up and understand the influenced it had on her, whether she realised it or not.
2: Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton
Jane Austen's house in Chawton (Dreamstime)
The most important place a Jane Austen pilgrim should visit is Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, again in the north of the county. It was where Jane spent the last eight years of her life and where she revised three early novels and wrote three more. It’s the place for her writing.
It’s called a cottage, but it’s not our modern view of a cottage. You will see the drawing room, the bedroom she shared with her sister, and the dining room. There’s a lovely garden and quite a collection of Austen memorabilia. It’s probably the most important place with regards to her writing. She stopped going to parties and wrote, and her genius just flowed.
3. Winchester Cathedral, Winchester
Memorial plaque in Winchester Cathedral (Dreamstime)
Winchester Cathedral is where Jane Austen is buried, in the north aisle, marked by a gravestone and a few memorials. It was unusual for people like her to be buried in the cathedral at that time. Her final resting spot was featured on Songs of Praise recently.
She died a few hundred yards from the cathedral, in a house on College Street. She was staying there to be near a doctor at the hospital because her health was in a very poor state. She was there for about eight weeks and died on the 18 July 1817.
4: Jane Austen-themed exhibitions across Hampshire
As part of the 200th anniversary celebrations there are a number of Jane Austen-themed exhibitions that will appeal to both fans and laypeople alike. The Mysterious Miss Austen is on at the Winchester Discovery Centre, and will have five portraits of Jane under the same roof for the first time, something real fans will enjoy.
Jane Austen lived in Southampton for three years between 1806-09, and the local council has created The Jane Austen Heritage Trail where you can walk in her footsteps through the old town, with plaques marking eight places where she lived and visited.
The trail begins at Bargate, where seven-year-old Jane, her sister and cousin went to a nearby school, before heading down Southampton High Street to Arundel Circus and the Juniper Pub on Castle Square where she once lived.
The trail ends at the Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin Hotel, where Jane celebrated her 18th birthday in December 1793 by going to a dance with her brother.
6: The Cobb, Lyme Regis
The Cobb at Lyme Regis (Dreamstime)
The harbour at Lyme Regis is known as the Cobb, and it was here, in Persuasion, that Louisa Musgrove hits her head when she recklessly jumps into Captain Wentworth’s arms and he fails to catch her.
It’s quite a dramatic moment in the book. Readers, if they feel inclined, can recreate the scene, exactly where it was set, but perhaps without the head injury.
The Lyme Regis Museum is currently being upgraded and will have a Jane Austen display there too.
7. Lyme Park, Cheshire
Lyme Park. Colin Firth not shown (Dreamstime)
Lyme Park is a large National Trust estate located south of Disley, Cheshire. It is known best among Jane Austen fans as the place that was used as the location for Pemberley in the TV adaption of Pride And Prejudice, and the lake Colin Firth emerges from in his wet shirt.
I visited the estate with a friend well before the series and remarked to her that it would make a brilliant Pemberley. 20 years later, the BBC agreed with me.
It’s an absolute must for Austen pilgrims, with the added bonus that it is really beautiful and close to the wild Derbyshire countryside.
Louise West is the driving force behind Hampshire reclaiming their greatest heroine, Jane Austen, during the bicentenary of her death. For more information on the festivities planned, visit the official JaneAusten200 website.
Main image: Austen fans in period dress in Bath (Dreamstime)