If Chawton’s most celebrated spinster and feminist before her time was alive today I would love to believe she would have the sense and sensibility to participate in a Fueled by Beer circular pub walk. That’s because Jane Austen’s Hampshire home, with its neighboring villages of Upper and Lower Farringdon, presents an excellent opportunity with three lovely pubs along the way…
This 5 mile circular walk begins and ends in the village of Chawton situated 2 miles south of Alton just off the busy A31 Winchester road. If coming by train, from Alton Station you can take the Winchester bus #64 to Chawton Roundabout then walk along old Winchester Road into Chawton village. If driving to Chawton there’s a free car park across the street from Jane Austen’s House. Either way start the walk from the Jane Austen House. Further details including the route map are available at the East Hampshire Council website here.
Driving from Reading, if you’re like Mr Fueled by Beer, you’ll follow the old A32 road from Risely on the Berkshire-Hampshire border to Alton via Hook and Odiham. To him it will always be the A32; he refuses to use the downgraded B3349 designation in the same way that he refuses to accept Wallingford or Abingdon as part of Oxfordshire. They’re on the English (Wessex/Berkshire) side of the Thames not the Viking side (Mercia/Oxfordshire) godammit. Whatever was good for Alfred the Great and Danish King Guthrum in the 9th century is good enough for Mr Fueled by Beer and, as the cantankerous old sod still maintains, 1974 never happened.
The map at left shows the old A32 as it was before the M3 and M4 motorways were built. Back in those days innumerable Reading folk suffered horrific traffic jams getting through Hook, Alton, etc. on their way to seaside holidays on Hayling Island. Oh, happy days!
Anyway, back to the walk. The route follows Jane Austen’s footsteps from Chawton to Farringdon and back combining paved country lanes, public footpaths across sheep pasture, and a rail trail (trackbed of the former Meon Valley Railway). Given that we walked this in February after a period of heavy rain the off-road sections were pleasantly free of mud for the most part. This being the northern edge of the South Downs National Park the land is chalky and well drained which, unlike Fueled by Beer’s home turf trails in the Thames and Kennet valleys, with their heavy clay soils, the Chawton-Farringdon loop can be enjoyed year-round.
Our plan was to follow the walk according to the printed route and have a Sunday lunch at one of the pubs en-route. First up was the Rose & Crown in Upper Farringdon; next was the Golden Pheasant in Lower Farringdon; and finally in Chawton there was the Greyfriar pub or Cassandra’s Cup tearoom, a nice alternative to the pub for a light bite before leaving.
Rose & Crown, Upper Farringdon: as it turned out we stayed only for a drink and snacks; although Sunday lunch was being served the ambience simply didn’t make us want to stay for a meal. It’s a nice pub and the cask ale we downed from local brewery Triple fff was in excellent condition. The pub has earned Cask Marque and LocAle accreditations.
Golden Pheasant, Lower Farringdon: as soon as we walked in we knew immediately that this was where we wanted to have our meal. The ambience was just right: the busy dining room, the cask ale selection on the bar, and the food we observed coming out to tables all said this was the place. After a short wait for a table everything flowed smoothly. Dining room and bar staff were friendly and attentive. Our food was freshly prepared, quality was high and prices very reasonable.
For the Sunday roast you can choose from three different meats plus a veggie option, and each is offered in a ‘full’ or ‘small plate’ serving. For £6.50 my small plate came loaded with thinly sliced rare roast beef, roast spuds, yorkshire and gravy. When my veggies were combined with Mrs Fueled by Beer’s we had eight, yes eight, different fresh veggies (peas, mangetout, carrot, parsnip, squash, cauliflower, asparagus, brocolli). It was probably the best value Sunday roast I’ve ever had.
The cask ales here were excellent too: house Golden Pheasant ale is brewed by Hogs Back and then there was Upham’s Tipster as well. These two golden ales made the perfect accompaniment for our food. We rounded out the meal with a citrusy pale from yet another local brewery: Frensham’s Rambler served as the perfect digestif for the rich food. All three of our beers were from LocAle breweries and were all < 4% ABV. Satisfied but not over-stuffed we resumed the walk which now heads back to Chawton along the old rail trail.
Greyfriar, Chawton: when we arrived back at the village Jane Austin’s house and Cassandra’s Cup had both just closed for the day so we popped in to the Greyfriar with the idea of getting some dessert. This is a Fullers pub – which we usually find to be reliable if not always stellar. While it would be hard to find anything badly wrong with this pub based on this experience it seemed to be falling short of the mark in most respects. Beer selection was poor for a Fullers house – only Pride and Seafarers on. The food was uninspiring and overpriced. Our one dessert and plate of cheese and biscuits cost as much as the two roast dinners we enjoyed at the Golden Pheasant. And to cap it all service was generally lacklustre and inattentive. The overwhelming gut feeling here was of a pub that is milking its location at Jane Austin tourist central. Prices are jacked up, they have a captive clientele, and they know it. The Farringdon pubs have to work harder to attract and keep customers and it showed in only one visit.