The great travel writer Simon Calder once said “if you want to be a travel writer, start at your own back door”.
That really struck a chord with me, and whilst I have no great ambition to be a travel blogger (I have a full time job that makes leaving the house for longer than day difficult) it did make me think about how neglected our own part of the world can be. I have spent most of my adult life wishing I was exploring a far flung country whilst ignoring the stunning scenery England has. There are huge swathes of the country I have never visited and so I vowed to do a bit more exploring closer to home.
A year or so ago I heard about an initiative called “Sitting With Jane”: 24 hand painted benches that would be dotted around the area Jane Austen had called home. Placed there to mark 200 years since her death, and then auctioned off to raise money for charity.
I vowed that I really should go and find them because this is literally down the road. And then I promptly forgot about it. They would pop up on my social media feeds and I kept thinking “I really do need to go and see those” whilst trying to work out how and when I would do so. Fast forward to this month when my inlaws came for the week and the perfect opportunity to go and find a couple.
We had been at the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke because my pa in law had found it on the web and voiced a desire to visit. There’ll be a blog post on it soon as we all thought it was fab, and right in the entrance hall is one of the benches:
Which I clearly made my mum in law sit on (she being a huge fan of Jane Austen).
With the help of the Sitting With Jane app we were able to locate the others and work out the ones we could get to easily on the way home. Many of them are dotted around the centre of Basingstoke, which we chose to avoid, but some of them are further afield and easily reached by a short walk from a car park.
As well as telling you where they are located the app lets you “unlock” the bench, each one having a reference number. Tap it in and you get to see more information about the bench and who painted it.
This is the one at Oakley Park
And of course, again, I made my ma in law sit on it so she could truly say she had been sitting with Jane.
If you want to find out more about the art trail all the info is here: Sitting With Jane
They are all accessible to the public (though you do need to check opening times of the venue) and at the end of the run in September they will all be taken to Milestones for the weekend before being auctioned off.
If you are local I do urge you to go and find a couple, even if you can’t do them all. It’s not everyday you can say you sat with the most famous local resident of the area, is it?