A group of history enthusiasts met on Sunday night outside the Mecure hotel in Winchester.
This is where, in an earlier building, John Keats stayed two hundred years ago.
On Sunday afternoon 19 September he walked out into the countryside before writing his his poem To Autumn.
At lunchtime some of us had heard the poem’s bicentenary marked on Radio 4’s World This Weekend with Edward Stourton walking to St Cross.
But we were on a Hyde 900 organised walk where it was being suggested that in 1819 Keats had been walking the start of the Pilgrims’ Way. His St Cross walk was maybe a regular route on other days.
First we followed Charles Ball’s 1818 Winchester walks book which Keats had read. It took us to the remains of Hyde Abbey which in 1819 was Hyde Farm with several thatched barns. These may be the ‘thatch-eves‘.
On Twitter Anna Mercer had just recalled Susan Wolfson’s claim that Keats was a “cat person”. We were delighted to meet two on leaving the Abbey.
Then we were on the Pilgrims’s Way, or St Swithun’s Way as it is known in Winchester, which follows Nuns Walk. We walked past blackberries and over conkers alongside one of Itchen braids hinted at by ‘river sallows‘. On a bridge we batted aside ‘small gnats‘.
To the right were water meadows where sheep were once reared in large numbers – the ‘full-grown lambs‘.
To the left was the Abbey’s former farm Abbots Barton and its stone barn. Crab apples, or ‘apples‘, were cascading from one side.
Was Keats trying the first mile or so of the Pilgrims’ Way before his death in Rome two years later?
Starting a pilgrimage from Winchester now has a new resonance.
The Hyde 900 annual King Alfred weekend is at the end of October. Saturday 26 October is King Alfred Day in the calendar and Alfred was buried at Hyde Abbey.