fbpx Skip to main content

Walk in footsteps of natural history icon in the South Downs



Walk in footsteps of natural history icon in the South Downs

Gilbert White- Ink and Pen portait c. Thomas Chapman (date unknown)

He was one of the pioneers of natural history, transforming the way we look at nature and influencing the likes of Charles Darwin and David Attenborough.

Now people will be able to walk in the footsteps of Gilbert White as part of a fascinating audio tour launched by the South Downs National Park.

“In Their Footsteps” can be downloaded on a mobile phone and takes walkers on an immersive journey around the beautiful landscapes walked by some of the South Downs’ most iconic figures.

The Gilbert White walk incorporates a 5.6km/3.5 mile loop around the naturalist’s house in the picturesque village of Selborne and the countryside he walked. It was those observations of the natural world on White’s doorstep that led to The Natural History of Selborne in 1789 – a title that remains the fourth-longest constantly-in-print book in the English language (after the King James Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Pilgrim’s Progress).

The Selborne tour in Hampshire is one of two new experiences being launched by the National Park this spring.

In West Sussex, people will be able to follow in the footsteps of artist Ivon Hitchens, who sought to capture the beauty of the landscape in his colourful abstract paintings. This 9km/5.5 mile circular walk begins and ends at Pallant House Gallery, in Chichester, where people can view some of Hitchens’ works before heading off to explore the heathland of Lavington Common and surrounding countryside.

Ivon Hitchens, courtesy of West Sussex Record Office

The two new “In Their Footsteps” tours follow the success of the trails launched last year in East Sussex.

The tours incorporate Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, National Trust Monk’s House and Charleston Farmhouse and tell the stories of celebrated artists and authors, including Virginia Woolf and the world-renowned Bloomsbury Group.

Anooshka Rawden, who leads cultural heritage for the South Downs National Park, said: “It’s really exciting to be launching these two new audio trails, which are designed to bring together culture, heritage and walking, and to bring new perspectives on the South Downs landscape through the eyes of writers, artists, makers and thinkers.

“Gilbert White is regarded by many as the first ecologist and it was the way he observed nature that was so extraordinary and revolutionary, recording plants, insects and animal behaviour in intricate detail.

“He was the first to distinguish the chiffchaff, willow warbler and wood warbler as three separate species, largely on the basis of their different songs, and the first to describe accurately the harvest mouse and the noctule bat.

“His appreciation of nature’s interconnectedness still reverberates today.

“Fast forward 150 years and Ivon Hitchens developed his own connection with nature that was brought vividly to life in amazingly innovative paintings.

“After his London studio was bombed in 1940, his family settled near Petworth and his journeys across Didling, Iping Common, Heyshott, Cocking and Duncton inspired many of his colourful and emotive works.

Each tour includes engaging audio clips and a mixture of photos and archive images, as well as written content that can be displayed in 19 different languages, all to help bring the story to life.

Download the app for free on Android or Apple by searching for “In Their Footsteps”.

Anooshka added: “These free tours are a really different way of exploring the National Park this spring and summer and I hope people enjoy being inspired by the stunning landscape and the stories of the people so inspired by it.”

Gilbert White’s House