WRITER’S REFUGE IN THE WOODS

Susie Kear­ley ex­plores the tree-shrouded home and sur­round­ing Dorset wood­land that in­spired nov­el­ist and poet Thomas Hardy to pen many of his great works

Countryfile Magazine - - Great Days Out - Susie Kear­ley en­joys wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy and long walks in the coun­try­side.

Step into this rus­tic au­tumn wood­land in Dorset and dis­cover Thomas Hardy’s Cot­tage, a mod­est coun­try dwelling where the nov­el­ist and poet spent much of his life.

In the gar­den you’ll find veg­etable plots ripe for har­vest­ing, while the ad­ja­cent wood­land is a kalei­do­scope of reds, browns and golds. It’s a mys­te­ri­ous fairy­tale world, where rain and dew droplets sparkle on the fo­liage and mist hugs the trees. Toad­stools and other fungi grow on trunks, branches and the for­est floor, and wild crea­tures – such as mice and foxes – seek a place to keep warm through the chill of the en­croach­ing win­ter months.

RU­RAL IN­SPI­RA­TION

Hardy, who died 90 years ago this Jan­uary, was born in the cot­tage in 1840. He re­mained in the cob and thatch home, built in 1800 by his great-grand­fa­ther, for much of his early life, with the ex­cep­tion of a spell study­ing ar­chi­tec­ture in Lon­don.

When he was 27, he fin­ished his first novel, The Poor Man and The Lady, but un­able to find a pub­lisher, be­came dis­il­lu­sioned and de­stroyed the man­u­script. Only scraps of the novel still ex­ist. It was Ge­orge Mered­ith, a suc­cess­ful poet, nov­el­ist and good friend to Hardy, who en­cour­aged him to try again.

Join Na­tional Trust guides as they re­gale you with ac­counts of Hardy’s life and works long be­fore he be­came a pub­lished writer. Fol­low their sto­ries through the house, en­ter­ing the au­thor’s bed­room where he wrote his first five nov­els, in­clud­ing Un­der the Green­wood Tree at the age of 32, and Far From the Madding

Crowd at 34. Hardy was in­spired by the strong farm­ing tra­di­tion in Dorset. His fa­mous fic­tional lo­ca­tion Wes­sex was based on the coun­try­side sur­round­ing Dorch­ester and its lo­cal cul­ture, and many of the char­ac­ters in his books work on the land.

At the age of 33, Hardy fi­nally be­gan to re­ceive recog­ni­tion for his lit­er­ary tal­ent. His im­proved for­tunes are clearly vis­i­ble at nearby

Max Gate – the il­lus­tri­ous Dorset au­thor’s mar­i­tal home is well worth a visit.

INTO THE WOODS

There’s a short, well-marked walk through Thorn­combe

Woods sur­round­ing Hardy’s Cot­tage – the Na­tional Trust prop­erty has two all-ter­rain scoot­ers avail­able for hire for less mo­bile vis­i­tors.

After a few hours in the fresh wood­land air, re­lax in the fab­u­lous mod­ern tea­rooms with home­made cakes and re­fresh­ments.

“To dwellers in a wood, al­most ev­ery species of tree has its voice as well as its fea­ture,” wrote Hardy in his novel Un­der the Green­wood Tree

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