Thomas Hardy, a beloved English poet and novelist, set most of his works in rural Dorset where the landscape itself is a character. Born in the village of Higher Bockhampton and schooled in nearby Dorchester, Hardy’s work is evocative of a vanished way of life. But, you can step back in time and visit this land that stretches across Hampshire, Devon, Wiltshire, and Cornwall. The area of North Dorset is particularly unspoiled. Here are some of the best places to get off the beaten track and discover the heart and soul of Wessex England—Hardy Country.
Discover Hardy’s Dorchester
Thomas Hardy was born in a cottage on the outskirts of Higher Bockhampton, surrounded by ancient woodlands. The cottage and Thorncombe Wood are managed by the National Trust. The cottage has a beautiful garden, the ancient beech woods are lovely, and cream tea in a local tea shop is a must. Nearby is Weymouth, the ‘Budmouth’ of Hardy Country. Weymouth is a charming Georgian town with a wide sandy bay, a pretty harbor, and traditional seaside attractions in the summer. There are also plenty of things to do in rainy weather!
Thomas Hardy was born in a cottage on the outskirts of Higher Bockhampton, surrounded by ancient woodland. the cottage and wood – Thorncombe Wood, are also managed by the National Trust and are also well worth a visit. The cottage has a beautiful garden and the ancient beech woods are lovely while visiting the tea rooms for a traditional cream tea is a must. There are several hotels in Dorchester and numerous holiday cottages and bed and breakfasts in the area. Nearby is Weymouth, the ‘Budmouth’ of Hardy Country. Weymouth is a charming Georgian town with a wide sandy bay, a pretty harbour, and traditional seaside attractions, such as a Punch and Judy stall, in the summer. There are also plenty of things to do in rainy weather, particularly the Sealife Centre.
The Vale of a Thousand Dairies
Head to the quiet north county, Hardy’s Blackmore Vale. He beautifully described it as the “Vale of a Thousand Diaries.” When Hardy was young, working as an architect, he spent several years in the market town of Sturminster Newton. He stayed in a Victorian villa overlooking the River Stour, and it’s here you can walk in his footsteps. Visit the working, 17th-century mill; it’s run by friendly, knowledgeable volunteers. Walk across the weir and along the Stour to the ruins of picturesque Cutt Mill. This trail is perfect for rural tranquility—every now and then you’ll come upon someone walking their dog, or taking their heart for a walk in the fresh air. Look out for herons, kingfishers, and otters.
Sweeping Views of Hambledon Hill
To get a sense of why locals love this area, go for a hike up nearby Hambledon Hill, just outside the village of Child Okeford. Mentioned by name in Tess of the D’urbervilles, this prehistoric hill fort is an exceptional experience. (In July and August, you’ll see harebells and skylarks. The peaceful feeling lasts all year around.) Marlott is located three miles from Sturminster Newton and is an excellent place for a bite to eat with several traditional pubs.
Traces of Hardy linger throughout the Blackmore Vale. Hardy worked on the stone foliage of the pillars in the church of St Mary’s in the sleepy village of Turnworth. Nearby Turnworth Wood and Okeford Hill offer numerous hiking opportunities with sweeping views over the Blackmore Vale. Shaftesbury is another lovely town strongly associated with Hardy novels. The Saxon hillfort town is perhaps most famous for the iconic views from Gold Hill, intriguing shops, and a ruined abbey.
Far from the Madding Crowd
Many people are familiar with Hardy’s work from film adaptations of his book Far from the Madding Crowd. Filming sites include West Bay, also the location of TV series Broadchurch, Charmouth Beach, and Mapperton House. Forde Abbey in Somerset, a former Cistercian monastery dating from 1141, has also been used in films. Inhabited as a private home, Forde Abbey welcomes visitors to its beautiful house and gardens.
Tell your Destination Expert if there are particular English writers that you love. Charles Dickens’s London, Beatrice Potter’s Lake District, and Thomas Hardy Country can all be part of your England vacation.