What's New

Winter/Spring 2022

Reviewing our previous updates makes interesting reading. By the time summer 2021 had arrived the UK was just emerging from its 3rd lockdown following the shockwaves of the Covid Delta variant.

We were delighted when the USA opened its doors once again to international travel this November. This boosted traveller confidence in both directions and we were pleased to host intrepid travellers, eager to make their Jane Austen pilgrimage.

December 16th is always a special day for us and all Janeites.

Living close to the centre of Basingstoke it's an honour to be able to visit Adam Roud's elegant sculpture and offer floral tributes, and kind thoughts on her birthday. Phil played a crucial role in the commissioning of the sculpture.

The December 2021 commemoration was attended by several of the people who initiated the sculpture including Phil, MP Maria Miller, Cllr Juliet Henderson and Debbie Reavell. Everyone briefly unmasked for this photo, conscious of the emerging Omicron variant.

As a business we are confident of our measures in place for the safety of our clients, we are triple vaccinated and apply lateral flow tests before any tour. We are certified by Visit England as good to go!

The pandemic had one unexpected opportunity for us. Phil now delivers guided tours of Andwell Brewery https://www.andwells.com, a Hampshire maker of craft beer. The opportunity arose after an encounter with the brewery's managing director who heard that Phil was a musician and guide and interested in landscape literacy and real ale. So Phil is now au fait on hops, barley prices and now a regular reader of Farmers' Weekly. His brewery tours are now a popular Saturday event.

We look forward to welcoming you to Hampshire in 2022.

Celebrating Jane Austen's birthday on 16th December 2021.
L to R: Phil Howe (Hidden Britain Tours), Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Cllr Simon Bound (Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council). Debbie Reavell (Basingstoke Heritage Society), Cllr Juliet Henderson (Hampshire County Council) and Cllr Arun Mummalaneni (Brookvale and Kings Furlong District Council)

Winter/Spring 2021

A carpet of snowdrops at Steventon churchyard.

The travel industry is still in shock and signs of recovery may be hoped for in the vaccinated summer of 2021. We look forward to welcoming clients who have had to postpone their long planned bucket list of visits and travels.

Lockdown has enabled us to film some video vignettes, some of which you can view on the Instagram page, @janeaustentours.

I was pleased to assist Dr Philip Seaton from Tokyo University research the Jane Austen tour and he edited the book Contents Tourism and Pop Culture Fandom Transnational Tourist Experiences. Dr Seaton flew from Japan to give a guest lecture at the School of Asian and Oriental Studies and kindly invited me to attend. It was weird but flattering to be in the audience as the subject of academic interest.

Copies of the play Twelve Hours, the story of Jane Austen's engagement, are now available directly from info@hiddenbritaintours.co.uk

Snowdrops are quietly appearing, as are daffodils, and we have made this year's marmalade.

Here's wishing us all a safe 2021.

Don't cancel, re-schedule!

What strange times we are living in. At the beginning of 2020 many people hadn't heard of Wuhan, let alone been able to put it on the map. We had several tours already booked in our diary for the spring, mostly from the USA and we were optimistic about the enthusiastic emails we were receiving as new enquiries. Phil's play, Twelve Hours, was scheduled for its next performance in another Hampshire church, and we were finalising discussions with two country houses about staging it.

We are particularly mindful of how untimely this has been for Chawton House. On the 3rd March 2020 we attended their launch celebration for the 2020 season. It was very upbeat, and we were able to see some fantastic artefacts now on display in this most elegant of houses once owned by Jane Austen's brother, Edward. Most notable was a script written by Emily Bronte. We look forward to the restrictions being lifted and being able to take our visitors to this wonderful Grade 1 listed property and the nearby Jane Austen's House Museum, the Jane Austen jewel in the crown.

Our thoughts are with you, your friends and families if you are reading this. We hope you are all safe and well and able to keep smiling through any lockdown or other restrictions. In line with government advice as well as our own desire for self-preservation we are not running any tours until restrictions have been lifted but please feel welcome to contact us with your enquiries or questions.

If you are looking for something to read you may like to order a copy of Twelve Hours - A play about Jane Austen's twelve hour engagement. Alternatively, do look at all the lovely comments about our tours on Trip Advisor. We were having a spring clean and came across our three comments books from when we started our tours in 2005 until review sites started to become the norm about five years later. It's interesting to reflect on how our tours developed, initially from guided walks in the New Forest.

Our Jane Austen Dancing Years Tour came about because our local tourist office asked us to develop a tour to coincide with the launch of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly and Matthew McFadden among many other glittering celebrities. Little did we realise the significance of our historical knowledge and insight into north Hampshire life.

One of the best early stories is from a Chinese man. Not many single men come on the Jane Austen Tour, but one single Chinese man did. William Lin. In 2008. Halfway through the day he said, "Reading Jane Austen helped get me through Chairman Mao's cultural revolution". Phil asked him to explain. William said he could read the novels and see in them the behaviours of the communist officials he had to deal with the snobberies and prejudices Jane Austen satirised in her novels. He said, "She helps us to understand the universality of human nature. One can recognise common characteristics of her characters in any society, any culture and in any age".

Had he been caught reading this decadent bourgeoisie capitalist roader literature he would have been attacked by the Red Guard and sent to a re-education camp, re-assigned to clean latrines or worse. He eventually escaped communist China to become a professor of literature at Vassar, the USA's women's university. William Lin moved to Vancouver, Canada.

While the current situation is challenging please remember that even if our lives are changed it won't go on forever. We are optimistic that much good will come of it and look forward to hearing from people from across the globe to keep our spirits high and thank you wholeheartedly if you have taken some time to read this. We thank all our clients and look forward to getting back to business as usual.

Lockdown watercolour by Sue Howe, prints available on request. Instagram: @ArtistSueHowe.

January 2020

Happy New Year; Bonne Année; Frohes neues Jahr. To celebrate the new decade, we have translated our summary brochure into French and German.

Click here (Francais) or here (Deutsch) to read them.

We continue to welcome all visitors from across the globe in 2020. Please email us if you have any questions about how we can help to make your tour the best day of your trip to the UK.

The Jane Austen's House Museum is closed throughout January. However, we are still open and happy to offer a half-day Jane Austen Tour of her neighbourhood and the villages surrounding Steventon. You can combine this with one of our other tours if you would like a full day outing to see our beautiful Hampshire countryside.

One of the advantages of sightseeing in January and February is the absence of leaves on many trees so you can see much more of the landscape. On a bright, crisp, frosty day the scenery can look spectacular.

On 16th December we celebrated what would have been Jane Austen's 202nd birthday. We added a splash of colour to Basingstoke's Jane Austen statue. There are photos on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages all of which can be accessed from the bottom of any page on our website.

November 2019

Hidden Britain Tours offer gift vouchers for all our tours. They make an unusual Christmas gift or birthday present for someone special. Please contact us directly for more information.

We are honoured by the comments our visitors add to Trip Advisor. It is such a pleasure to hear that we are the highlight of travellers' visits to England. One of the many things that our guests appreciate is the excellent food offered by The Fur and Feathers, an award winning country inn which is conveniently located for our tours.

It's a family run pub with an excellent selection of gin, wine and beer, and can cater for all dietary needs. We are particularly fond of the caramelised onion tart with goats' cheese topping and side salad, a regular item on their menu.

The historic surroundings of the refectory at Chawton House is a delightful alternative to the Fur and Feathers. We visit this Grade I listed house, where Jane Austen's brother Edward lived, on our Jane Austen Tour and having a quick lunch stop there also provides an opportunity to see inside part of the house and browse the bookshop.

Gastronomic excellence from the Fur & Feathers.

September 2019

Start of one trail of brass plaques along London Street to the Jane Austen Statue in Basingstoke.

Jane Austen Quote Trail.

A feature of Basingstoke's Old Market Square is a much loved sculpture of Jane Austen which visitors to the old part of the town are always thrilled to see.

Almost a year ago, Phil Howe, Director of Hidden Britain Tours, initiated and commissioned a Jane Austen plaque trail to raise awareness of Jane Austen and her links to the town by encouraging people to follow the trail along London Street to the sculpture.

Phil says, "The idea was inspired after seeing stolpersteins (German for "stumble across"). These are small commemorative plaques set into pavements across Europe outside houses where families of Jews were deported. Our plaques are two quotations in fragments, so people have to walk and make sense of the whole quotation."

First quote: "There was a scarcity of Men in general / & still a greater scarcity of any / that were good for much" (Jane Austen dancing in Basingstoke Sat 1st Nov 1800); and second quote: "It is a truth / universally acknowledged / that a young man / in possession of a good fortune / must be in want of a wife" (Pride & Prejudice 1813).

Unfortunately, the first two plaques (underlined above) were swiftly removed by an opportunist within less than half-an-hour of them being laid. We wondered if the irony in the words which were taken was really understood by the thieves. We like to think that had Jane Austen still been alive she would have found this an amusing twist.

This September we rectified the missing links to the trail and reinstated two new brass plaques.

We hope you will get a chance to find and follow the full trail for yourselves.

Twelve Hours - Review.

The première performance of Twelve Hours on 18th July was a resounding success performed to a full house at Wootton St Lawrence Church.

The play, an original drama written by Phil Howe about Jane Austen's brief engagement, is of huge interest to our visitors [Click here to read a full review].

Following this accomplishment, we have been approached by other Hampshire groups with links to Jane Austen to stage the play in their neighbourhood in 2020; confirmation to follow. You can read more about Twelve Hours by visiting the website Twelve Hours

July 2019

Twelve Hours - Costumed Performance.

Twelve Hours, the story of Jane Austen's brief engagement, written by our Managing Director Phil Howe, is to have its première as a costumed read-through by actor Kerry Fitzgerald on Thursday 18th July 2019 at 7pm.

This is poignant not only because it is the anniversary of Jane Austen's death, but also because the performance is in St Lawrence Church, Wootton St Lawrence, the church at the centre of the Manydown Estate which her suitor inherited.

Twelve Hours recreates an intense event in Jane Austen's life that is often overlooked. This dramatic monologue is a subject which Phil has approached with sentiment, humour and respect. Running time 55 mins. Tickets available from WeGotTickets.com. For further information see Twelve Hours

Trip Advisor Hall of Fame Award.

For the eighth year in succession Hidden Britain Tours has been awarded the Trip Advisor Excellence Award and we have now been elevated to their Hall of Fame. We are very honoured to have received this recognition.

Kerry Fitzgerald who performed as Miss Austen in Twelve Hours with Phil Howe during dress rehearsal.

May 2019

It is a big decision to say, "Yes," to a marriage proposal. It is an even bigger decision to refuse the offer after twelve hours. Especially if you are Jane Austen.

This new book, written by Phil Howe, M.D of Hidden Britain Tours is a must-read for all fans of Jane Austen, her real-life, her novels, the films and TV dramas based on her books, and all book-lovers who thrive on stories of romance.

In Twelve Hours, Phil recreates an intense event in Janes life that is often overlooked. It can be read as a story, a dramatic monologue or performed in theatre or non-theatre spaces. It is a sensitive subject which he has approached with sentiment, humour and respect.

It's December 1802. Her father has recently resigned as rector and moved with his family to Bath.

Jane Austen, now twenty-six, is back in Hampshire visiting her friends Catherine and Alethea, members of the Wither family on the prosperous Manydown estate.

Their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, proposes to Jane Austen.

This is the emotionally charged story of those twelve hours.

Read more about the background to Phil's ground-breaking publication by visiting http://www.twelvehours.co.uk

Copies are available from the author, contact twelvehours@hiddenbritaintours.co.uk £9.99 excluding post and packaging.


March 2019

Hampshire is one of the most beautiful counties in England. It is the 7th largest county and includes two National Parks and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Hidden Britain Tours has been successful in applying to be one of the experiences in The English National Park Experience Collection. This brand-new collection of bookable experiences tells the stories of our iconic National Parks and is a useful resource for the independent traveller.

In the afternoon of our Jane Austen Dancing Year's Tour we take you to the picturesque village of Chawton which nestles on the eastern margin of the South Downs National Park, the UK's newest national park. The village is steeped in history. It was in this very village where Jane Austen settled in 1809. Her brother Edward Austen-Knight had the good fortune to inherit the magnificent Chawton House and he generously offered a comfortable cottage to Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother close by. This cottage is now the Jane Austen's House Museum. Cassandra and Mrs Austen are both buried in the village churchyard.

The village is a model of quintessential Englishness with its mix of thatched cottages and elegant country houses, the village school, cricket pitch, playground, bridle path and grazing animals on green fields. It has a popular pub and a classic teashop which serves delicious sponge cakes on real china plates. It's a gem and a joy to be part of.

Many of our clients take the opportunity to include our Jane Austen Tour as part of a south of England mini-break. The South Downs section of The English National Park Experience Collection is a convenient way to plan your UK stay. It will also generate several other great ideas for where to stay and what to do.