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Thomas Hardy’s Dorset

November 13, 2010

I think it is no secret that Dorset is my favourite county in the south of England. At the end of last month we made our way to Dorchester, and walked the paths of Bockhampton to visit Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, in the last few days before the cottage closed for its winter break.

Thomas Hardy's Birthplace

I hadn’t been to the Hardy cottage for several years, and it is even longer since I last walked the nearby remnants of the once mighty Egdon Heath. If you haven’t explored the area then please do go, though the cottage is now closed until Easter (though why the National Trust couldn’t keep it open at least at weekends is beyond me.)

Our visit was on a beautiful autumn day, the colours of the woodland surrounding the cottage were absolutely beautiful. What is marvellous about the Hardy birthplace is that you have to walk to get there, either up a pleasant country lane or along a woodland path. This keeps the immediate policies of the cottage free of cars.

A fire was burning in the old parlour, the smell of the woodsmoke drifting across the beautiful garden created by Hermann Lea, the writer who occupied the cottage in the last century, and the discoverer in his own books of many of the settings for Hardy’s fiction. The cottage is very small, but to me the most evocative part is Hardy’s own bedroom, where he would sit on the window ledge penning his early books, such as Under the Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd.

I still enjoy Hardy’s novels, though it is the poetry I admire most – Hardy is one of the most beautiful poets in the English language.  I have often walked in Hardy’s footsteps, and the footsteps of his characters. One long day, many years ago, I followed the route taken by Tess to see the Clare family in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Several times I have walked across Dorset and Somerset, using as my guide the places mentioned in Hardy’s long poem The Trampwoman’s Tragedy – both wonderful expeditions for ramblers.

From Hardy’s birthplace, we made our way to Stinsford churchyard, the Mellstock of Under the Greenwood Tree, where Hardy’s father once played music in the gallery over the door. This is where Hardy’s heart is buried, just along from the grave of a Poet Laureate, Cecil Day Lewis.

Stinsford Church

Our literature can be a good inspiration for country rambles. Despite the ugliness of new developments, such as Prince Charles’ dreadful Poundbury (has the man no taste?) and the building of new and surely unnecessary dual-carriageways, Dorset remains relatively unspoiled and good for walking.

I hope it remains so.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011 8:54 pm

    Hardy’s cottage is truly wonderful. I hope to visit it again myself some day…

  2. June 30, 2011 9:19 am

    Yes, much of the Hardy country is still wonderfully unspoiled. Worth looking at the Hardy memorabilia in Dorset museum as well.

  3. July 8, 2012 10:06 am

    You can certainly see your skills within the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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