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Walking in the Steps of Gilbert White

March 25, 2015
Walking in the footsteps of pioneering naturalist Gilbert White – the great walk approaches

Over 80 people have so far signed up to walk in the footsteps of the great pioneering eighteenth century naturalist and writer, Gilbert White.  Between 27th April and 5th May Rosemary Irwin, from the Gilbert White’s and the Oates Collections in Selborne, Hampshire, will be fulfilling a long held ambition by taking the 74-mile journey from Gilbert White’s former home in Selborne to Oriel College, Oxford –  a regular journey of White’s during his days as fellow of the College.

 Says Rosemary, chairman of the trustees of the Museum and brainchild and organiser of the walk; ‘This walk is all about making Gilbert White’s huge contribution to natural history and science better known, and to raise money to help us renovate the museum so that we can continue to fascinate lovers of the English landscape and nature for years to come’.

 The Reverend Gilbert White was a naturalist, scientist, writer, gardener, clergyman and countryman.  His delightful book about the nature and countryside surrounding his beloved village in the South Downs – “The Natural History of Selborne” (1789) – is one of the most popular books in the English language and has never been out of print. ‘Gilbert White’s book, more than any other, has shaped our everyday view of the relations between humans and nature.’ says Richard Mabey, naturalist and White’s biographer.

 Rosemary is hoping that, through her long walk from the Hampshire corner of the South Downs to Oxford, Gilbert White will get the attention he justly deserves.  Says Rosemary again; ‘How many people know that he was a great man, a scientist, a writer of genius, a lover of nature and gardens, someone who could classify ‘little brown birds’ by their songs into different species, had a delightful sense of humour and cared deeply about the poor? He is considered to be ‘the father of ecology’ because of his ground-breaking discoveries through the study of weather, plants and ‘wild things’?  Even Charles Darwin claimed that he stood on the shoulders of White and made a pilgrimage to Selborne in 1857.’

 White is famous for the way he studied – making minute observations over a long period from his garden as well as from his walks and rides in the countryside near his  home, noticing things – like the fact that owls hoot in B flat!  Says Simon Barnes, writing in The Times (1 June 2013) ‘(White) invented three entire sciences: ecology, ethology and phenology (the study of recurring seasonal events) which is of immense relevance now, as climate change has become one of the most pressing issues facing the planet ….he saw the connections and the connectedness. He understood the way it all fits together.”

Rosemary has been preparing her route for over a year and has been able to plot a route that takes in lovely countryside alongside canals and rivers.  Says Rosemary; ‘Gilbert loathed coaches and was often coach sick,  so he would have made the journey on horseback.    Gilbert would have probably gone by what are now major roads, and we could do the same but it wouldn’t be much fun.’

Rosemary has plenty of support from well-wishers hoping to accompany her – including a descendant of the Oates family But more are welcome – those wishing to join part or all of the 75-mile walk can choose from:

 Day 1: 8 miles (Selborne – Shalden)

Day 2: 9 miles (Shalden – Newnham)

Day 3: 9 miles (Newnham – Beech Hill)

Day 4: 8 miles (Beech Hill – Sulhamstead)

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: 11 miles (Sulhamstead – Goring)

Day 7: 12 miles (Goring – Dorchester)

Day 8: 9 miles (Dorchester – Abingdon)

Day 9: 9 miles (Abingdon – Oxford)

 The walk costs £25 per person per day and £10 per dog per day.  Children under 18 are welcome for free but the pace will not be suitable for those under 10. If you would rather not walk but would like to sponsor Rosemary visit  For registration and more details visit the website.


For further information please contact Rachel Shimell  email:

Notes to Editors:

The South Downs National Park

From rolling hills to bustling market towns, the South Downs National Park’s landscapes cover 1,600km2 of breathtaking views and hidden gems. A rich tapestry of wildlife, landscapes, tranquillity and visitor attractions, weave together a story of people and place in harmony. Discover the white cliffs of Seven Sisters, rolling farmland, ancient woodland and lowland heaths or enjoy our ‘picture perfect’ villages, traditional country pubs or flourishing vineyards. Let the South Downs National Park subtly seduce you.

East  Hampshire The area of the South Downs that spills into East Hampshire – around Chawton where Jane Austen lived – has quite a different feel from the rest of the new National Park.  Hidden away between the cathedral cities of Winchester and Chichester, its steep wooded hills and hidden valleys of watercress farms, lavender fields, vineyards, hop gardens and trout-filled streams, together with its picture-perfect villages and peaceful market towns, make it undoubtedly one of the loveliest parts of rural England.

About the Museum Gilbert White & the Oates Collections is an Independent Charitable Trust and Accredited Museum, Reg Charity No. 307098. “The Natural History of Selborne,” published by the Reverend Gilbert White in 1789, has been described as “the first serious work on ecology”, and is one of a handful of books that have never been out of print since publication, along with the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare & Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.   Gilbert White was a pathfinder at the birth of ecology. He pointed the way to the organised study of the natural world which is a vital weapon in our ability to monitor, measure and understand what is happening to our planet. The Scott Expedition of 1912 – commemorated in our exhibition to Captain Oates – laid the scientific foundation for modern climate studies based on understanding the Antarctic.



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