Tour the Kent of Jane Austen
Jane Austen, one of the most widely read writers in English literature, spent much time in Kent and knew it intimately. It was indeed connections with country house life in Kent that provided inspiration for some of her most famous novels of romantic fiction. The Austen family itself had many links to Kent that can be traced back as early as the 16th Century. Now you too can explore Jane Austen’s Kent……..
Day 1 – The Weald of Kent
‘Weald’ comes from an old English word meaning forest and this area of Kent still retains much of its ancient woodlands. The tour starts in the borough of Tonbridge and Malling lying in the heart of Kent, where the ancient landscape of woods and fields undulate towards villages and hop farms. This area has a rich cultural heritage and at its centre, by the River Medway, sits the buzzing market town of Tonbridge.
Jane’s father George was born in Tonbridge, and along with his cousin, attended Tonbridge School where he also later taught.
Head due north from Tonbridge for four miles on the A227 and you will find the quaint and peaceful village of Shipbourne in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Jane’s father, George, took up the Perpetual Curacy of St Giles Church, Shipbourne in 1754 taking over from his cousin Henry.
The historic Georgian spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells appears in several of Jane’s novels and is just 9 miles from Shipbourne. Nowadays visitors can still browse among the chic independent shops of the colonnaded Pantiles and the High Street, with stops for refreshment in one of the cosy coffee shops.
Jane’s beloved brother Henry is buried in the small Woodbury Park Cemetery tucked behind St Johns Road.
The circular Jane Austen walk and audio tour starts at the magnificent 11th century Tonbridge Castle which boasts Kent’s best example of a Motte-and-Bailey Gatehouse, amongst the finest in England.
The walk also includes Tonbridge School and the church of St Peter and St Paul where the Austen family worshipped and where Jane’s paternal grandparents are today buried.
Jane Austen owned some early Tunbridge Ware boxes which are unique to the Kentish towns of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Some examples of this form of decorative woodwork can be seen in the Tunbridge Wells Museum.
Spend the afternoon wandering the elegant 17th century gardens which include a formal Knot and Oriental Garden, a secret Garden, the white rose garden and the wonderfully named Drunken Garden, a favourite of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Day 2 – Kent Downs and East Kent
The day starts in Tenterden, an appealing Cinque Port town with an attractive, tree-lined high street and wealth of independent shops. Known as The Jewel of the Weald, the town has largely escaped much modern development and so has retained its charm. Spend a leisurely morning browsing the interesting shops before lunch in one of the towns many eateries.
You can see the tombstone of Jane’s Great Uncle, Robert Austen (‘Robin’) at St Mildred’s Church in the centre of the town.
After lunch head into the Kent Downs, an area of outstanding natural beauty and visit some of the special places that Jane knew so well.
Godmersham Park lies in the middle of the Stour Valley between the market town of Ashford and the historic city of Canterbury. Here the river Stour meanders through the stunning countryside of East Kent and the Kent Downs. Jane was a frequent visitor to this house where her brother Edward lived. On arriving in Godmersham in June 1808, Jane wrote “The country is very beautiful. I saw as much as ever to admire in my yesterday’s journey”.
Although the house is now closed to the public, the gardens and heritage centre are open through the National Gardens Scheme and at certain times throughout the year. You can still see the house from a circular footpath which starts at Godmersham church, a place which also has strong links to the Austen family.
Kent has been used as a location for the filming of Austen’s novels. Much of the 2005 feature film Pride and Prejudice staring Keira Knightly was filmed at Groombridge Place Manor House and Gardens in the beautiful village of Groombridge, four miles South West of Tunbridge Wells.
Heading East from Tunbridge Wells just off the A21 is the pretty village of Horsmonden centred on a large village green. Jane’s great grandmother, Elizabeth Weller from Tonbridge, married an Austen from Horsmonden. Having originated from this area; many of Jane’s ancestors are also buried in the gated tomb in the nearby St Margaret’s Churchyard.
Enjoy dinner in regency style at Austen’s Restaurant at the Gun and Spitroast Inn overlooking the village green.
Follow the path of the River Stour into the historic city of Canterbury which Jane knew very well. Explore its history and heritage, stunning architecture and visit the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral where Thomas Becket was murdered and now forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, Canterbury buzzes with a youthful vibe and visitors can delight in the many boutique shops and eateries.
Enjoy a refreshing beverage at the Fitzwalter Arms in nearby Goodnestone, a quintessential English pub often visited by Jane herself.
The tour ends at Goodnestone Park, once the home of Edwards’s wife’s family, a haven of tranquillity in East Kent and less than nine miles from Canterbury. Jane was often entertained here with dinners and dances and it was after one visit in 1796 that she began writing the novel that became Pride and Prejudice. Today, visitors can spend a very pleasant hour or two wandering amid Goodnestone’s 14 acres of 18th century parkland.
At the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone there are five original letters written by Jane Austen to Fanny Knight, her favourite niece and daughter of her brother Edward who lived at Godmersham (catalogue ref is U951/C/112).
Less than 3 miles up the road, Jane also knew the pretty and ancient village of Chilham which was filmed extensively for the BBC’s adaptation of Emma. A medieval square sits at its heart, surrounded by Tudor houses, a 16th century church and castle