Dorset: Within the footsteps of novelist Thomas Hardy

The brief stroll via the flower and herb backyard as much as Thomas Hardy’s cottage jogged my memory of holidays spent at my father’s household summer season house alongside the wild Atlantic coast of Eire’s County Mayo.

The Dorset cob and thatched construction was two storeys and resembled that blissful place the place I performed Gaelic soccer outdoors for hours with my cousins Mattie and JT.

The joyful environment was additionally the identical, that of an inquiring younger boy immersed in a loving household and surrounded by the surprise of nature’s animals and crops – a imaginative and prescient that diverged, in Hardy’s case, solely by his builder father’s ramshackle backyard which, on the time, was additionally stuffed with the bricks, beams and different paraphernalia of his commerce.

My feeling of a connection continued as I stepped inside and noticed the acquainted open hearth and kitchen the place his mom had cooked household meals and the small bed room the place the long run nice writer had first ventured into the world.

Thomas Hardy, novelist

My go to to the 1800-built cottage got here as I adopted the Thomas Hardy Path via his beloved Dorset, which options all through his books and poetry and stays one in all England’s most unspoilt rural counties.

As a young person born to Irish dad and mom and rising up in Lincolnshire, I spent many troubled hours in my tiny again bed room swotting over Shakespeare’s King Lear and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that just about killed off any early hope that I’d study to like their writing.

Although, finding out Hardy had the alternative impact: my pre-exam dissection of the characters, themes and sheer drama of The Mayor of Casterbridge created a lifelong love of his work  – together with two County Mayo holidays wherein his books had been my obsessive vacation studying.

So it was with enormous pleasure that launched into the Dorset Path, a outstanding meander via lots of the locations that function in these works in addition to within the life and loves of his personal life, troubled and complicated sufficient to have featured as one in all his fictitious plots.

My base for this tour, appropriately sufficient, was an idyllic vacation cottage that may have sprung from the pages of Hardy Nation itself 150 years in the past.

The Cider Mill

The Cider Mill in Motcombe, a terrific base

Arriving with my photographer and accomplice Sue Mountjoy, we had the proper haven within the historic and fantastically restored Cider Mill framed by mature bushes within the tranquil village of Motcombe, simply a few miles from Shaftesbury, and near the guts of the writer’s inexperienced and luscious stamping floor, the well-known Blackmore Vale.

As we drove up, a full of life marriage ceremony was in progress subsequent door, at St Mary’s Church, the place Sue and I admired a scene of native farming individuals having fun with a practice which might even have modified little in since Hardy’s early 19th century vistas.

Unusually, it felt just like the writer himself was reaching out and presenting us with a scene which featured so typically in his nice novels, the marriage, and all its dramas, adopted by the fun of married life and the tragedy of forsaken love, treachery, bereavement and fallen grace.

Tess, Jude The Obscure and The Woodlanders

Hardy drew from far and large throughout his Dorset (Wessex) house county for novel places, typically inventing fictitious names for locations, however we opted for the northern space because it was such an enormous inspiration and the bottom for his ultimate three books, Tess, Jude the Obscure and The Woodlanders.

And so it was that Sue – a ‘average’ Hardy fanatic – and I plunged right into a blended driving and strolling tour of a spot that has modified so little since he was a born there 179 years in the past.

Bockhampton cottage – Hardy’s birthplace



It was extremely evocative to begin with the Nationwide Belief’s Bockhampton cottage, the place the sickly child Thomas was born on June 2, 1840, apparently stillborn till he lastly screamed into life, and the place his bookish mom and music-loving father nurtured his aptitude for writing, taking part in the violin and artwork.

That inventive teaching took him to London the place he turned an architect, earlier than returning to Dorset and publishing the profitable Underneath the Greenwood Tree, that includes his old fashioned within the village.

Max Gate

Max Gate

Max Gate c. Dorset Council

Our subsequent cease was one other Nationwide Belief property, Max Gate, the Dorchester home he designed and lived in for 40 years and the place he wrote and printed such greats as Jude, Casterbridge, The Woodlanders and Tess.

It was additionally the place he lived with the 2 ladies that he married. The primary, Emma Gifford, a Cornish vicar’s daughter couldn’t address the racy nature of a few of his works, together with the controversial Jude (nicknamed ‘Jude the Obscene’ by Churchmen) and, regardless of their deep, mutual love, she lived other than him for a few years within the higher a part of the home.

After her much-mourned loss of life in 1912, Hardy by no means recovered and turned to poetry, residing for an extra 14 years at Max Gate, after marrying his younger secretary Florence Dugdale, till his personal loss of life in 1928.

From the home Sue and I’d have headed subsequent to Dorset County Museum, within the centre of the city, to see its famend shows of his working space in addition to books, pictures and manuscripts. However a significant redevelopment there means that it’ll not reopen till subsequent summer season.

St Michael’s Church

As a substitute, we made for a spot which epitomises the unhappiness that overshadowed his later life. Along with his thoughts haunted by the lack of Emma on the time of his loss of life, his stays had been interred, by nationwide acclaim, at Poet’s Nook in Westminster Abbey, however his coronary heart, nevertheless, was buried beside her, in St. Michael’s Church, Stinsford, lower than a mile away from his birthplace, which supplied us with a extremely emotive step on the Path.

Gold hill

Gold Hill. This was made well-known when it appeared in a Hovis advert

In our subsequent days on the Cider Mill, a real haven of rural peace, our journeys took us far and large; to Blackmore to view the honey stone cottage of Marnhull the place Tess lived; to Shaftesbury (famed for its Gold Hill, featured in TV Hovis adverts) and its main function as ‘Shaston’ in Tess and Jude the Obscure; to Sherbourne (Sherton Abbas) for the Far From the Madding Crowd market place and the 15th century abbey from The Woodlanders.

Evershot (Evershed) – removed from the madding crowd

One other Tess stop-off for us got here at Evershot (Evershed), so fairly it might have dropped from the guide’s pages and was a location, like Sherbourne market place, within the 2015 movie model of Far From the Madding Crowd, wherein The Acorn (which was renamed The Sow and Acorn) additionally options.

Sturminster Newton (Stourcastle)

Allowing for Hardy’s ultimate troubled years, one journey needed to be made to Sturminster Newton (Stourcastle) the place, for 2 years, he lived at Riverside Villa and had the happiest time of his life, writing The return of the Native and poems together with Overlooking the River Stour and On Sturminster Footbridge.

It was at that idyllic spot that we ended our journey of emotion and fascination with the occasions and works of a author who dominated the best-seller lists, however evoked in his work a lot of the fervour, ache and unfulfilled loves of his personal life.

It was there, too, that the author’s personal phrases summed up our path in his footsteps and, maybe, his personal pleasure of nature and his beloved Wessex house watching “swallows fly in curves of eight, above the river’s gleam.” Good.

Truth File

STAY:  Dorset Hideaways are providing the Cider Mill, Dorset within the tranquil village of Motcombe from £400 for a Three-night keep this month (February 2020).

MORE INFO: The Thomas Hardy Society and  Go to Dorset

DOWNLOAD GUIDES: Hardy Path and Exploring Thomas Hardy’s West Dorset


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