Dorset: In the footsteps of novelist Thomas Hardy

A short walk through a flower garden and herb to Thomas Hardy’s Cottage reminds me of a vacation at my father’s family’s summer home on the wild Atlantic coast in County Mayo, Ireland.

The Dorset Cob and the two-story thatched roof building resembled a pleasant place where I played Gaelic soccer outside for hours with my cousins ​​Mattie and JT.

A happy atmosphere is also the same as a boy who asks who is immersed in a loving family and surrounded by the wonders of animals and natural plants – a vision that in the case of Hardy is only possible through the dilapidated garden of its builder, who was born in Time is also filled with bricks, blocks and other equipment in his field.

My connected feeling continued as I entered and saw the familiar open fire where his mother cooked family meals and a small bedroom where the great future writers had ventured into the world for the first time.

Thomas Hardy, writer
My visit to the cottage that was built in 1800 came when I followed the Thomas Hardy Trail through his beloved Dorset, which appeared in his books and poems and remained one of the purest rural areas in England.

Born out of Irish parents and raised in Lincolnshire, I spent a lot of restless time in my small bedroom behind Shuckin’s King Lear and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which practically shattered every initial wish that I would learn to love their writing.

However, Hardy’s study had the opposite effect: my analysis of Mayor Casterbridge’s character, topic, and drama before the exam created a lifelong love for his work – including two public holidays in County Mayo, where his books are my obsessive vacation reading.

The Dorset Trail, an extraordinary winding road through many places found in these works, as well as in life and love in its own life, begins with great excitement, worry and is complex enough to be considered one of its fictitious acts.

My base for this tour is a very beautiful vacation home that may have emerged from Hardy Country itself 150 years ago.

Apple cider factory
Cider Mill on Motcombe, the right place
When we arrived with photographer and colleague Sue Mountjoy, we had a perfect oasis in the old and beautifully restored Cider Mill, framed by old trees, in the quiet village of Motcombe, only a few miles from Shaftesbury and close to the green heart. by the writer and luxury stamp shop, the famous Blackmore Vale.

As we drove, there was a lively wedding at the Church of St. Mary next door, where Sue and I admire the view of local farmers who have enjoyed a tradition that hasn’t changed much since Hardy’s early views in the early 19th century.

Strangely, it feels like the writer is presenting scenes that appear so often in his great novels, marriage and all his plays, followed by the excitement of married life and the tragedy of love left behind, betrayal. Falling sorrow and grace.

Tess, Jude The Obscure and The Woodlanders
Hardy moved to new places far and far in the land of his birthplace Dorset (Wessex) and often came up with fictional names for places, but we chose the north because it was a great inspiration and basis for his last three books, Tess, Jude the Obscure and The Woodlanders.

So Sue – a “moderate” Hardy fan – and I dove into mixed drives and hiked through places that have changed so little since being born 179 years ago.

Bockhampton Cottage – Hardy’s birthplace

It was impressive to start with Bockhampton Cottage of the National Trust, where the sick Thomas baby was born on June 2, 1840, apparently dead until he was born, and where his literal mother and music enthusiast Dad used his writing skills to play the violin and art.

This artistic training took him to London, where he became an architect before returning to Dorset and published a successful Under the Greenwood Tree with his old school in the village.

Max Gate

Our next stop is another National Trust property, Max Gate, Dorchester House, where he designed and lived for 40 years, and where he wrote and published great works such as Jude, Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, and Tess.

There he also lived with the two women he married. The first, Emma Gifford, daughter of a Cornish priest, could not overcome the classy character of some of her works, including the controversial Judas (called “Judas Orang Saru” by church people), and despite her deep love for one another, she has lived separated from him for years at the top of the house.

After his sad death in 1912, Hardy never recovered and turned to poetry. After marrying his young secretary, Florence Dugdale, he lived in Max Gate for 14 years until he died in 1928.

From home, Sue and I will go to the Dorset County Museum in the center of the city to see famous exhibitions in the area of ​​work, as well as books, photos and manuscripts. However, a thorough renovation means that it will not reopen until next summer.

Church of St. Michael
Instead, we went to a place that manifested the sadness that shaded his life later. His mind, haunted by Emma’s disappearance at the time of his death, buried his body in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was buried next to him in St Michael’s Church in Stinsford, less than a mile from moving his birthplace, which allowed us to take a very emotional step.

golden hill
Gold Hill. It became famous when it appeared in Hovis advertisements
In the following days at Cider Mill, a true oasis of rural peace, our journey took us far and wide; to Blackmore to visit the Marnhull honey stone house where Tess lived; Shaftesbury (famous for its Gold Hill, seen in TV commercials Hovis) and starring as “Shaston” on Tess and Jude the Obscure; to Sherbourne (Sherton Abbas) for the 15th-century Far From the Madding Crowd market and The Woodlanders Priory.

Evershot (Evershed) – away from the crowd
Another stop for Tess for us is Evershot (Evershed), so beautiful that it can fall from the pages of a book and is a place like Sherbourne Marketplace in the 2015 film version of Far From the Madding Crowd in which the film The Acorn (renamed The Sow and Acorn) also there.

Sturminster Newton (Stourcastle)
In view of Hardy’s previous difficult times, a trip to Sturminster Newton (Stourcastle) had to be made, where he lived in Riverside Villa for two years and had the happiest time of his life. He wrote The Return of the Natives and poems including Overlooking the River Stour and On Sturminster Footbridge.

In this beautiful place, we end our journey with emotion and fascination with the times and the work of an author who dominates the bestseller list but evokes lots of passion, pain and unfulfilled love from his own life at work.

There the writer’s own words also summarize our footsteps and perhaps his love for nature and his beloved Wessex home when they see “a swallow flying in eight curves above the river’s gleam”. Perfect.

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