If there are two things I love in life it’s a pretty country cottage and curling up with one of the classics, so when my last birthday rolled around and I pondered where to spend it one (admittedly unusual) choice sprang to mind – Hardy’s Cottage in Dorset.
So I enlisted my parents and off we went to Higher Bockhampton in the sticks outside of Dorchester, where the gorgeous cob and thatch cottage that Mr Hardy called home sits quietly waiting for visitors. There’s a big car park in the woodland near the cob, and from there we followed the signposts for the 15 minutes or so throughout the sun-dappled woodland of Thorncombe Woods until we came across the entrance.
Now, those of you who love the literary greats as much as I do will know what I mean when I say that even as we rounded the corner into the little side road beside the cottage I could feel my imagination going into overdrive. My mind’s eye saw the writer wandering his way along the road we were strolling along, arms behind his back and head down as he mused over The Withered Arm…and one of the best things about the cottage is that it’s hardly changed since Hardy was born (in 1840), raised and lived as an adult there.
And you have to hand it to the National Trust, they know just what we want when we’re following in the footsteps of our literary betters, and if anyone can make a historic house feel as though Thomas Hardy’s just nipped out for a stroll then they can. As we stepped across the porch the smell of the fireplace conjured visions of Hardy penning his works, quill in hand while the flames danced behind him.
After all, this is where Under the Greenwood Tree, Far from the Madding Crowd and much of Hardy’s poetry came to fruition, and when I saw the views across the gardens below from the bedroom window I could quite understand why inspiration called. The perfect cottage garden, a footpath winds its way between shrubs and bushes and wild flowers (bear in mind this was summertime) stood so high that they were brushing my shoulders as I cajoled mum into the obligatory Hardy’s house selfie. There were even roses around the door to greet visitors.
Speaking of selfies, the writing desk upstairs is photo-ready complete with a feather quill, so that people like me can plonk down and pose before continuing to wander the rooms. I may be making the cottage sound idyllic, and when I sit at my own desk now and look at the postcard of Hardy’s Cottage it’s easy to forget the slightly less perfect aspects of rural life that Mr Hardy would have stumbled across in his day to day life.
As we left the cottage we noticed a little bookshelf thoughtfully stocked with second hand first editions of Hardy’s work, and when my parents treated me to a beautiful red leather bound copy of Far from the Madding Crowd my birthday was complete.