OK, the second property ticked off the list was something of a disappointment. Not that the house itself let me down in any way at all, it simply served to remind me that I’m no Thomas Hardy! This beautiful, picturesque cottage was the birthplace of one of our country’s greatest writers (my own personal opinion at least) and is an idyllic place for fans of his literature to visit, while my own background is sadly lacking in such romantic associations. Somehow, I couldn’t envisage future generations of readers traipsing around the rooms of a semi-detached house in Sutton marvelling that ‘ooh, this was her first bedroom’.
Still, putting aside my own writing aspirations and concentrating on Hardy, the little cottage in Higher Bockhampton is in such beautiful surroundings that it is no wonder Hardy grew up with such skill in describing the English countryside. It was all right here on his doorstep, from the cottage garden itself to the surrounding landscape and farmland.
Hardy’s father was a builder and stonemason and would pay his workers through a tiny barred window at the back of his study, so through this cycle of visitors and his everyday life in the small village, Hardy the younger would have met many ordinary Dorset folk who perhaps served as inspiration for some of the colourful characters that inhabit his novels.
There isn’t a great deal to see inside the cottage but the Trust has amply stocked the building with information about Hardy, his family and their lives in Higher Bockhampton. The wooden floors upstairs are sloping and uneven as is so often the case in these very old cottages and the back ‘stairs’ are more of a ladder than a traditional staircase and must be descended backwards (and carefully!).
It is the garden and the exterior of the cottage that really appeals though. The cottage is somewhat remotely placed down a single gravelled lane so has to be approached from the car park on foot, either along the roadway or via a pretty woodland walk, which includes a small climb over the hill. Arriving from the woods is best as you come across an obelisk memorial to Hardy erected by some of his ‘American admirers’ in the 1930s, something that visitors coming in the other way would miss. The flower beds immediately in front of the cottage were a mass of colour during my visit and one hardy (oops, pun unintended!) soul comes and manages a small vegetable patch and orchard so there is fresh produce for sale by the cottage door.
Unfortunately, there were no refreshments on site and my quest for a bookmark failed yet again as the only ones on sale were The Thomas Hardy Society bookmarks and not official National Trust merchandise. So, the search goes on…
Highlights: Exterior of the cottage and garden
Companion(s): The Dusty Jackets book group
NT Connections: Max Gate (another of Hardy’s former homes)