The Ergohacks Verdict
Thomas Hardy’s legacy still lives on today. He was a Victorian realist and as an English student, I’ve always been curious about Dorset and the rural environment where he grew up and lived that runs so clearly through his work. Cass, who hasn’t read Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Far for the Madding Crowd or The Mayor of Casterbridge at the age of six, was less keen to stop in at Hardy’s Cottage where he was raised, thinking it was going to be boring.
We arrived late morning, had a modest early lunch at the cafè and then set off for a walk through the woods to the cottage. The surrounding woodland is beautiful and the approach to the cottage is idyllic. Turn a corner and suddenly, it felt as if we’d time travelled to the mid-19th Century. Smoke was coming from the chimney and everything looked and felt exactly as it must have in Hardy’s time.
On entry, we were greeted by National Trust volunteers dressed in period costumes who deftly explained what life would’ve been like – first for a six-year-old, then to adults and finally to the English Literature student who wanted to know the finer details. We stopped in each room of the house, descended down to the kitchen where a lovely lady was cooking Ransom bread and biscuits ready for tasting and wandered around the garden, vegetable patch and fantastic shed.
It was a historic visit, as Cass had dreaded, but as always, the National Trust succeeded in bringing history to life and by the time we reached the car park, she wanted to know all about Thomas Hardy, Victorian England, how one would go about building a cottage yourself and why Gorse bushes burn hot enough to heat an oven.
It was beautiful in the spring and I imagine the garden really comes to life in the summer months, but I’d also love to return in Autumn to see the deciduous leaves change colour or in winter when I think the stark reality of living so simply would really become apparent.
Hardy’s Cottage is one of the more famous National Trust properties and combined with all the information provided at the modern and light visitor centre, anyone stopping in could learn much about Hardy’s life and how his environment played such a pivotal role in his writing. More than that though, I’d highly recommend a visit simply to experience the wonder of visiting the past. Everything has been kept in pristine, working order and once you enter the woods, time unravels and it’s extremely easy to imagine life as it would have been in the Victorian Era. What a marvellous experience.
Tickets available from the NT visitor centre
“We’re a charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything we do. We look after special places throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland for ever, for everyone.
As a charity, we rely for income on membership fees, donations and legacies, and revenue raised from our commercial operations. We have over 4.5 million members and 62,000 volunteers. More than 20 million people visit our pay for entry properties, while an estimated 100 million visit our open-air properties. We protect and open to the public over 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments. But it doesn’t stop there. We also look after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves, villages – for ever, for everyone.”*
Hardy’s Cottage is one of the smaller National Trust properties. Starting at a modest car park, it’s a short walk to the Visitor Centre where toilets, a small cafè (not NT), outdoor picnic tables and helpful staff await to introduce visitors to Hardy’s life and the property’s history. There is an accessible, short route to the cottage or follow the path through the forest for an enchanted walk that takes a bit longer, but is well worth the effort, particularly offering a lovely view on approach.
- For children: Childrens ‘Discover’ trail leaflet available from Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre and dressing up clothes in bedrooms.
- Shop, toilets and café at Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre.
- Regular events – see the ‘What’s on’ section on the official website.
- Walking routes through Thorncombe Woods (leaflet with map here).
Season: Open year round
Access: Accessible route via bridlepath, but unsurfaced and can be muddy and uneven. Trampers (all-terrain mobility scooters) available for hire from Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre. There is no charge, but users must be members of Countryside Mobility (£2.50 fortnight membership/£10.00 annual membership). Virtual Tour tablets available at Hardy’s Birthpace Visitor Centre and Hardy’s Cottage. Braille guide available from a kiosk (on request). See full access statement for more details.
Location: Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester, Dorset, DT2 8QJ
Secure advanced online booking: Not available.
Opening: 10am (Winter), 11am (Summer).
Closing: 4pm (Winter), 5pm (Summer).
Timed restrictions in place on Mondays.
Public transport access: Closest railway station is Dorchester (4 miles).
Parking: The car park is owned and managed by Dorset County Council; parking is free to National Trust members, on display of valid car sticker, and to holders of a Thorncombe Woods Annual Pass (£25.00; available from the Visitor Centre); parking charges for non-members are £1.00 up to 2 hours/£3.00 over 2 hours
We based our Ergohacks Verdict on a visit during April 2017. This article was first published on 15 June 2017.