Lovely though this walk was - a bright, crisp day and full of late autumn colour - the walk I really want to show you today was further afield and something of a pilgrimage.
Despite having grown up in North Hampshire, I don't think I've ever been to Steventon, the village where Jane Austen was born and lived until the age of 25. A story in the Austen family has it that she fainted when told that the family were moving to Bath in 1800. Whether or not this is true, she was certainly happy in the Hampshire countryside and talks in her letters of many walks to visit friends in the neighbourhood.
We began our walk at the church where her father, George was Rector - St Nicholas.
This beautiful, twelfth century church stands alone, surrounded by grass, at the end of a lane from the village. Jane Austen was christened here and it's where she would have worshipped regularly. Fortunately the church wasn't locked so we could see the various monuments to the Austen family inside.
This rather grand one is for James Austen, Jane's oldest brother, who succeeded their father as Rector at Steventon. James was considered by many of the Austens to be the literary one of the family. In the 1930s a great grand neice of Jane's erected this more modest but touching memorial to her in the church.
It's a lovely church and well worth visiting for its own sake.
From the church we set off through the village, past cottages that Jane would certainly have known ...
... and out into the countryside. The walk took us along many old hedgrerow lanes like this one which Jane's nephew, Edward Austen-Leigh, said were 'the chief beauty of Steventon'.
It was on a walk through a hedgerow like this that Anne Elliot overheard Captain Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove talking as they gathered nuts in Persuasion (and yes, the nut trees are still there).
If you can ignore the railway that now cuts through the countryside, it's easy to feel that you are walking in Jane Austen's footsteps. The paths are old and, although many of the buildings she would have known are no longer there, others are still to be seen.
This is Ashe Church which was, sadly, locked but the walk took us right past the Rectory, onece the home of Anne Lefroy, Jane's great friend and mentor.
Here Jane danced and flirted with Tom Lefroy, her friend's nephew. She wrote to Cassandra about it,
I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all.
Tom Lefroy went on to become Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and, when asked about Jane in his later years, said that he had loved her, but that it was a 'boy's love' - whatever that might mean.
Jane and Tom would also have danced at Deane House, home then of the Harwood family.
I know this looks grand but the Austen family were not as affluent as the Harwoods. Mr and Mrs Austen only managed by a combination of taking in boarding pupils and farming, a Rector's pay not being sufficient to support a large family.
The villages of Steventon and Deane lie on each side of what was, in Jane's day, and still is the road between Andover (where I was born) and Basingstoke. The Austen family collected their letters from the Deane Gate Inn which also served as the coaching post. I remember going to this pub in the 1970s when men in plus fours could still be seen at the bar. The pub closed a few years ago and is now being redeveloped as a restaurant. This is what it looked like on the day of our walk.
Just down the lane from the Deane Gate is Cheesedown Farm, once rented by Jane Austen's father; everywhere we walked there were links like this.
As I've said, many of the houses Jane would have known are no longer there and this includes Steventon Rectory where the family lived. I knew that you could still find the site of the house by the water pump that once stood at its back and, as we walked back along the lane to the church, we kept looking for it in the surrounding fields. The light was going and the hedges were thick so we were about to give up when we saw a gap in the hedge ...
Now it may not look much but that patch of weeds in the middle of the field surrounds the old pump. So this is where the Rectory was. At the back of the site is a gentle hill which brings to mind this description of Catherine Morland, heroine of Northanger Abbey who also grew up in a country Rectory ...
she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house
... a glimpse of the young Jane perhaps?
I shall definitely go back to this part of Hampshire for another walk, perhaps to the site of Manydown Park where Jane accepted a marriage proposal ... only to change her mind the next morning. Or maybe to Ibthorpe where her friends Mary and Martha Lloyd lived. Both the sisters would go on to marry Austen brothers in later life.
And I must go back to the Chawton House where Jane lived towards the end of her life with her mother and sister, Cassandra.
I've just realised that today, 16th December, is the anniversary of Jane Austen's birth in Steventon Rectory in 1775. A nice coincidence.
I'll leave the last word to Anne Elliot in Persuasion, on her own autumn walk ...
Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn-that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness-that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.