In Their Footsteps: Thomas Hardy’s “Wessex”

If London’s smoggy skyline, bright lights and bustling pavements aren’t helping you put pen to paper, maybe it’s time to leave the capital for greener pastures. Follow in the footsteps of Britain’s literary greats for a spot of creative inspiration…

Visit the places that inspired Thomas Hardy’s fictional county of Wessex.

Thomas Hardy’s novels are primarily set in his fictional ‘Wessex’ but luckily for those wanting to follow in his footsteps, Wessex is based on the South West of England. Open up one of his novels and most editions contain a map of his pseudo fictional land. Spanning the coast between Hampshire and Devon, and venturing up to Oxford in the north, Hardy’s Wessex contains some of the most beautiful parts of England.

Dorset, the county famed for its dramatic coastline and packed beaches, is known as Hardy country. Born in Dorchester, Hardy lived nearby for most of his life.

Now a National Trust property, the thatched cottage where Hardy was born is well worth a visit. Hardy himself lived here until he was 34 and penned Far From The Madding Crowd whilst within its walls. The cottage is sat on a charming cottage garden which is sure to spark a little creativity.

Hardy’s former home, Max Gate, is open to the public.

Another must visit is Max Gate. Again owned by the National Trust, Hardy designed and built the house himself. Hardy lived at Max Gate until his death and wrote some of his most famous novels, namely Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge, whilst living here.

Venture further into rural Dorset and you can follow in the footsteps of Hardy’s most famous character. The Thomas Hardy Society take regular walks around Dorset following in Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ fictional footsteps. Starting in the tiny village of Marnhull, where the cottage that inspired Tess’s Marlott home resides, you can traipse around the lush and undulating countryside that Hardy describes in much of his work.

Dorset’s green valleys and wooded hills quickly turn into a dramatic coastline dotted with geographical marvels (a trip to Durdle Door and Chesil Beach, though unrelated to Hardy, is well worth doing!) A leisurely walk along the top of Dorset’s cliffs, perhaps even prance about in a white dress Tess-style if you are feeling frivolous, is bound to inspire you a little. Whilst there, take a moment to pause and look out over the sea that was sure to have inspired Hardy whilst he was writing.

A tour of Hardy country wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Dorchester itself and the Dorset County Museum. The museum boasts a fine collection of Hardy artefacts including the desk where he penned his most famous works. The museum acts as a celebration of Hardy’s life and literary achievements and often holds Hardy themed events that will inspire any budding writer to get scribbling.

Ellie Walker-Arnott

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