England is a patchwork of poetry and prose, sewn together by master craftsmen. Wordsworth’s words weave together vivid visions of the lake district, its fells and lakes, and Chaucer describes the Kent countryside so descriptively you feel like you have just come back. The South West of England is similarly covered by Thomas Hardy, his novels set in Wessex, the old name for Dorset and its surrounds. To celebrate the beauty of this area, matched by the beauty of Hardy’s words, we have put together a walk through some of the highlights of the region on Thomas Hardy’s Dorset.
In a Nutshell:
Where: Dorset is located in the South West of England, not too far from London, but not as far as Land’s End. This trip takes you to two of the most delightful towns in Dorset, where you will walk from to unearth the history and natural beauty of the county. Starting in Shaftsbury in the rolling green interior, you will spend a couple of nights here before being transferred down to Dorchester where you will explore the coast.
Distance: The full route is 52 miles in total, with a mix of loop walks and point to point trails. The daily distances vary from between eight and thirteen miles per day.
Grade: We have graded this trip easy to moderate, so even if you don’t have a great deal of long-distance walking experience, you can still explore Hardy’s Dorset. You will be walking through a diverse variety of landscapes; downlands, heaths, wooded, coastal and riverside trails, and through farmland. Some of the time you will be walking on named trails, such as the Wessex Ridgeway, Jubilee Trail, Hardy Trail and the South West Coast Path.
Why Walk Here?
This is such a remarkably beautiful area and perfect for an immersive walking holiday. While Hardy’s tales evoke every aspect of Dorset, there is more than just the quintessential English beauty that he made so famous. The history of the area is fascinating, with one remarkable piece of Iron Age ‘graffiti’ to back this up. Not many other places in the world have an ancient 55-foot naked man carved into their hillside!
Walking through this endless patchwork of deep green fields and rolling hills is to walk in complete tranquillity. Even the towns and villages back this up, with their quiet, proper nature. The little thatched villages speak of a simpler time and the strength of community really shines through here. The locals are incredibly friendly and very proud of their villages and will welcome you merrily in.
Shaftsbury, or Shaston/Palladour, as Hardy renamed it for his works, is an outstanding place to start your trip. Its hilltop location is complemented by its buildings, all built around the ruins of its medieval abbey. The winding streets of this market town are a delight to walk down, and none more so than Gold Hill, one of the most famous streets in England. It is an 18th Century cobbled street, with stunning views, often said to be “one of the most romantic sights in England.”
Your other overnight stop on this trip is ‘Casterbridge’ or Dorchester as it is known in the real world. Dorchester is a bustling market town bursting with Thomas Hardy appeal. There is the Dorset County Museum, which has a comprehensive Hardy Exhibition and includes a reconstruction of Hardy’s study as well as Max Gate, Hardy’s sophisticated townhouse, now a National Trust property. There are many other intriguing sights to see here, such as the Town Pump, Borough Gardens or the excavations of a Roman Town House and all of this combines with the pleasant atmosphere and gentle architecture to make this a town well worth spending some time in.
Planning and Preparation
Dorset is in a perfect location to get to, meaning you can easily access Thomas Hardy’s Dorset. From London, you take a direct train to Gillingham and then a 15 min transfer is included in your trip to take you to your hotel in Shaftsbury. On your return, there is a direct train from Dorchester to London and it is also incredibly close to Southampton airport, which is great for taking any internal flights in the UK.
If you have any questions about the route, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Destination Specialists, who will be more than happy to help.