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
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.
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