Ten of us gathered at thatched Yalbury Cottage in Lower Bockhampton, Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, for drinks and a briefing on the weekend ahead. We were offered a glass of wine and delicious canapés whilst we introduced ourselves and chatted through the arrangements for our walks through Hardy’s Wessex. We enjoyed a superb dinner in the beamed restaurant before retiring to bed.
We met after breakfast on Saturday for our transport north to the village of Cerne Abbas to begin our 9 mile walk. After a coffee we set off out of the village and up through fields along the side of the valley towards the hamlet of Nether Cerne. It was a beautiful autumn morning, the sun shining through a light, slightly misty air. We stopped at All Saints Church, a beautiful peaceful place standing opposite a stunning 17th century house.
We were intrigued to see a basket with a sheepskin lining lying on the path; having met the owner of the nearby house we discovered that the basket was the bed of a pet tortoise who had gone missing. The basket was left out on the path in case she found her way home!
Our path took us alongside the River Cerne towards Godmanstone, home to a tiny thatched inn, now sadly closed. A long gentle path led up to the Wessex Ridgeway and wonderful views across the valley with glimpses of trees already displaying some of their autumn colours. At the top of the track we paused for a rest, admiring views across a beautiful valley to a distant Roman Road and to Hardy’s Monument, shrouded in mist, on the far horizon.
We walked down a grassy amphitheatre and along the valley floor before heading up the other side of the valley and over the next hill where we could see the village of Sydling St Nicholas – our lunch destination. The village is full of lovely houses, some thatched, some flint built and is peaceful. We had a good lunch at The Greyhound pub before setting off out of the village towards the Cerne Giant at Cerne Abbas.
Another good climb took us back to the Wessex Ridgeway and along a path on the crest of the hill before descending gently towards Cerne Abbas. We saw the famous Giant in all his naked glory before reaching the village with its wonderful Abbey, church and medieval houses. Our transport was waiting to return us to lovely Yalbury Cottage, another superb supper and an early night for some to watch the rugby!
We gathered again on Sunday to walk in Hardy’s footsteps from Lower Bockhampton along the banks of the River Frome to the church at Stinsford (Hardy’s Mellstock). There we visited the church and the churchyard – full of beauty, atmosphere and images of Hardy and his family, especially poignant as we read some of his poetry at the graveside.
On to Kingston Maurward where the parkland was mist filled and full of light. Then we crossed fields and pastures towards Higher Bockhampton and lunch.
Our visit to Hardy’s Cottage was a wonderful experience, greatly enhanced by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide who happily played her fiddle for us whilst sitting by the log fire in the parlour – Hardy’s characters virtually danced before our eyes. Having viewed the house and gardens we walked back to the Under The Greenwood Tree Café for a delicious lunch. This was followed by the delights of Thorncombe Wood and Bhompston Heath (Hardy’s Egdon Heath). The sun had come through the early morning mist by this point and the views across the heath and down into the valley of the Great Dairies were breathtaking. After a short stop at a swallet hole and the Rainbarrows we crossed fields (climbing many stiles and eating many blackberries!) towards Lower Bockhampton and the end of our walk.
Each day was made special by the quotes and poems from Hardy’s work, many of which were based on the landscape he knew so well and his characters came alive for us whilst walking the paths and countryside he loved.
We had a wonderful weekend with a great group of companions, beautiful weather and a renewed admiration for the work of Thomas Hardy.