Historic Dorset Guide
As every tourist brochure will remind you, Dorset is Thomas Hardy Country. It is hard to avoid mention of Dorset's most renown native son, so pervasive is his influence. If you are even a casual reader of Hardy's late Victorian novels, such as Tess of the d"Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure, you will find Dorset an unparalleled delight.
Hardy drew his portraits of towns and villages from the real places where he lived and worked, and one of the favourite occupations of visitors is speculating on the identity of places mentioned in Hardy's novels.
Hardy himself was born at Higher Bockhampton, where the National Trust preserves his family's cottage. Hardy's final home of Max Gate, Dorchester, is also preserved by the Trust, and a large collection of the author's memorabilia can be seen at the Dorset County Museum in that city. For a suggested itinerary of Dorset places associated with Thomas Hardy, click here.
As pervasive as Hardy's influence is, there is much more to Dorset. The lovely port of Lyme Regis, setting for the novel and film, The French Lieutenant's Woman, is set on steep Georgian streets above Lyme Bay. Join the regular tours of the area led by the Lyme Regis town crier. For a longer walk, take in the South West Coast Path, which follows the entire coastline of Dorset on its way to Devon and Cornwall.
Further along the coast is the open circle of Lulworth Cove, where the great natural stone arch of Durdle Door allows the sea to rush in. Further south is Chesil Beach, a long spit of land strewn with smooth pebbles polished by the action of waves and sand. At the eastern end of Chesil Beach is Abbotsbury, where you can wander at will through colonies of mute swans at the Swannery or explore 20 acres of rare and exotic plants in Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens.
Near Portland is enigmatic Corfe Castle, where the striking ruins of a medieval fortress hover above an attractive village of whitewashed houses and tile roofs. From an even earlier era is the impressive hill fort at Maiden Castle, the largest such structure in Britain. Earthen ramparts up to 60 feet high mark the place where the Celtic inhabitants of Britain made a futile stand against the might of invading Rome in 45 AD. Other ancient monuments include the impressive Iron Age camp at Badbury Rings and the massive Cerne Abbas Giant hill figure.
Speaking of hills, there cannot be a more photographed scene in England than the vista from Gold Hill, the steeply cobbled street running through the lovely market town of Shaftesbury. And don't miss Milton Abbas, which has been rated the prettiest village in England. From seaside walks to green-shaded villages, Dorset has more of timeless England about it than just about any place in the country. And then there's Mr Hardy ...