Do you want to whisk someone off on a fabulous romantic break? West Dorset is a perfect destination. Perhaps some of these ideas will inspire your romantic escape to our cottage for that special getaway!
Enjoy a countryside walk and the dreamy scenery of gentle rolling hills.
Stroll around the harbour together with an ice cream or a bag of chips.
Simply take to the South West Coast Path and gaze at the beautiful coastline.
Feast your eyes on the blanket of bluebells across Eype Down in late spring.
Make the most of Dorset’s dark sky and gaze at the stars together.
Snuggle in front of the wood burner in the cottage.
Feeling the love? So why not channel your inner Bridget Jones and visit West Dorset for a Full-Blown Mini-Break Holiday Weekend, or stay longer and explore all that the area has to offer. If you haven’t yet booked accommodation we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.
Maybe you are a Thomas Hardy enthusiast, keen to see where he lived and visit the areas which inspired him? You’ll find that West Dorset makes an ideal base for doing just that.
To be honest I wouldn’t say Thomas Hardy is a favourite writer of mine. Perhaps the result of having his book The Trumpet Major drilled into me at school. A frustration with his characters when they don’t communicate, don’t say the one sentence that would sort everything out. Oh my, what miserable storylines! Did you see that depressing film Jude, made about twenty years ago?
Should I give him another chance? His life and work is so tied up with West Dorset. He is undoubtably Dorset’s most famous author and considered one of the greatest ever English novelists and poets. He created some of the strongest leading female characters in 19th century literature. So that’s a yes then. In the meantime I’ve been reading about him. Just google his name and you’re spoilt for choice, although you do come across the actor Tom Hardy a lot too. I’ve written a little here on the writer, an outline of his life with a focus on the links between it, West Dorset, and the “Wessex” of his novels. Some links are included to help with the planning of a visit to Hardy Country.
Thomas Hardy’s Life
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in a tiny Dorset hamlet called Upper Bockhampton (now Higher Bockhampton) near Dorchester. The cottage where he was born and brought up had been built of cob and thatch by his great-grandfather in 1800. Initially Hardy’s mother educated him at home where she introduced him to the classics. Aged eight he went to his first school at Bockhampton before attending the Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester. Hardy’s family couldn’t afford to send him to university so, aged sixteen, he started training as an architect in Dorchester. After moving to London in 1862 he began to write in his spare time.
After Thomas Hardy’s first novel was rejected by publishers in 1867 he turned to the “pastoral” for his subject matter. His intimate, first-hand knowledge of the countryside where he grew up was to be a major factor in his subsequent success.
Hardy lived in Weymouth in 1869 and between 1871 – 1872, working as an architect’s assistant. Here he wrote part of Under the Greenwood Tree.
In 1874 he wrote his fourth novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, at his parent’s cottage. He was so excited at times writing it that while out walking he had to grab a leaf or a stone on which to scribble phrases. In this book he introduced the idea of calling the region where his novels are set in the west of England “Wessex”.
Married in 1874, the Hardys moved from London to Yeovil, and then to Sturminster Newton in Dorset. Far from the Madding Crowd was successful enough for Hardy to give up architecture and pursue writing full-time. Over the next twenty-five years Thomas wrote ten more novels.
In 1885 Thomas and his wife moved into Max Gate on the outskirts of Dorchester, a house he designed and built by his brother. Hardy’s wife died there in 1912. Although they were estranged for the last twenty years, during which she lived up in the attic, her death had a traumatic effect on him. His eulogies to her written after her death are considered his peak poetic achievement. In 1914, aged 74, Hardy married his secretary who was 39 years his junior.
By 1928 when he died, aged 87, he was a celebrated grand old man of letters. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner. He had requested to be buried in Stinsford (his Mellstock) churchyard in the family plot. His heart was buried there with his first wife, later joined by his second wife after her death in 1937.
Thomas Hardy’s Works
Thomas Hardy is now regarded as one of the greatest of English novelists and poets. His complicated tales of thwarted desire and human failing, his memorable characters and evocative descriptions of recognisable places, have become classics.
Alongside Far from the Madding Crowd his fourteen published novels include Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887 and Hardy’s favourite), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and his final novel, Jude the Obscure (1895). His Complete Poems has been continuously in print since the 1920s.
Visit Hardy’s Homes
You can visit Hardy’s Cottage, the cottage where he was born and grew up. It is now owned by the National Trust. It sits next to Thorncombe Woods, an ancient woodland. This opens out onto heathland, the beginning of Hardy’s “Egdon Heath”. Tripadvisor reviews are very positive. They note that the National Trust volunteers in the cottage are very helpful and interesting, the cottage is fascinating and the garden is beautiful. The cafe by the car park is recommended too.
Max Gate is also a National Trust property, only fully opened to the public in 2010 with work still in progress. It is another “must see” for those interested in Thomas Hardy and giving an insight into his later life (only negative comments I can find are about the lack of a car park or tea room).
Explore Hardy’s Wessex
West Bay is an ideal base from which to explore some of the sites of the thinly disguised Wessex made famous in his stories and poems. Many of the features of Hardy’s descriptions still remain. A long distance (actually very long, 220 miles) footpath, the Hardy Way, links many of his favourite sites.
Bridport (Port Bredy) is a location which makes numerous appearances in Hardy’s works. It is the place the Squire retires to after the momentous events in Hardy’s witch story The Withered Arm. It also receives mentions in the short story The Fellow Townsmen and The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Weymouth’s Esplanade, the Gloucester Lodge Hotel and Old Rooms are featured in The Trumpet-Major (1880), renamed Budmouth in the 1895 edition. Budmouth Regis makes an appearance in several other of his novels too.
The town of Beaminster (Emminster) is home of the Clare family in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and the place the destitute Tess walks to in order to seek help from her estranged in-laws. Going east from there on the Wessex Ridgeway, hidden in the verge, is the Cross-in-Hand stone pillar. Tess swears on it to Alex that she will never tempt him. The Acorn Inn (The Sow and Acorn) is in Evershot, where Tess eats her breakfast. Lovely views of Blackmoor Vale can be seen along the route.
Speculation about the location of Gabriel Oak’s original home has led some to suggest that nearby Eggardon Hill may have have been the model. Maiden Castle has strong connections with the Mayor of Casterbridge.
Hardy’s home town of Dorchester is called Casterbridge in his books. Along with Hardy’s Cottage and Max Gate it is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in Hardy. A collection of Hardy relics is held in Dorchester’s museum, which includes a re-creation of his study. On a walk around Dorchester you will find buildings, geographical features and monuments connected with the great author. His statue is not far from County Hall.
What a treat if you are a Hardy fan, to visit West Dorset and explore some of the most beautiful literary heritage sights in England. If you’ve read all this and haven’t yet booked accommodation for your trip to the area, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage if you wish, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.
Incidentally, if you are interested in finding out where the locations were for the 1960’s and the recent film versions of Far from the Madding Crowd check out this post, this post and this one!
Did you see my recent post about film locations along the Jurassic Coast? This time we move inland, including movies filmed in the historic manor houses and grounds of Mapperton and Athelhampton. Seen the film? Why not take a trip and visit one of these stately homes and gardens to experience the scenic locations in real life. Mapperton House is less than 20 minutes drive away from West Bay, just 5 miles northeast of Bridport. Athelhampton is about 40 minutes drive away, 5 miles east of Dorchester. Perhaps extend your visit and spend some time exploring Dorset’s county town, or the Iron Age fort of Maiden Castle, 2 miles south of Dorchester.
Mapperton House has been the backdrop for several period dramas. The 1995 film Restoration was filmed at Mapperton House and Forde Abbey (in Somerset). It is a costume drama starring Robert Downey Jr., Meg Ryan, Sam Neill and Hugh Grant. Set in the 1660s, Robert Downey Jr. plays a young doctor who falls out of favour with Charles II.
More recently the 2020 film version of Rebecca has inspired fans to flock to Mapperton House after it was used as a location for Manderley, the (Cornish!) mansion central to Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel.
The adaption of Jane Austin’s Emma (1996), the tale of love and match-making, starred Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam and Ewan McGregor. It was filmed in several Dorset and Somerset locations, including Mapperton House.
In the 2015 film of Hardy’s Far from The Madding Crowd the house was transformed into Everdene Farm, the farmhouse Bathsheba inherits. Mapperton’s elegant front courtyard was turned into a mud-caked 19th century farmyard for the filming.
Tom Jones, the 1963 adaptation of the Henry Fielding classic, was filmed in twelve separate locations in Dorset and Somerset including Athelhampton House, Cerne Abbas, Beaminster and Nettlecombe (Somerset). It starred Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans and Joan Greenwood. Tom Jones is set in 18th century Somerset and tells the story of a baby abandoned at a country manor who is raised by a kindly squire.
Athelhampton House and gardens were used as the main location in the 1972 mystery thriller Sleuth starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. The house played the role of a large stately home in the Wiltshire countryside, belonging to Andrew Wyke (Olivier), a crime fiction author who invites hairdresser Milo Tindle (Caine) to his home after learning of his wife’s infidelity with him. A lethal game of cat and mouse follows and the film has one of cinema’s most memorable endings. Incidentally, the maze in the top picture was built in the grounds for the film, as were the gargoyles along the driveway in the opening shot. and the house interior was recreated in Pinewood Studios.
The 15th century house was also used in 1998’s film Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett, loosely based on the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign.
The children’s film From Time To Time (2009), directed by Julian Fellowes (who owns a manor house himself, West Stafford House near Dorchester) stars Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, and local resident Harriet Walter. A WWII evacuee goes to stay at an aunt’s manor house, filmed at Athelhampton House and Julian Fellowes own home, which he discovers to be a timewarp portal to a past age. Nearby Puddletown was used for church and village square scenes.
Eggerton Hill and Maiden Castle
In the original 1967 adaptation of Far from the Madding CrowdFanny’s meeting with Sergeant Troy (Terence Stamp) out with his Dragoons is up on the (then-unpaved) road over Eggardon Hill. Troy’s seduction-by-swordsmanship display takes place within Maiden Castle, south of Dorchester.
The 2003 TV film of The Mayor of Casterbridge starring Ciaran Hinds was filmed around Askerswell, Cerne Abbas, Maiden Castle, Stonebarrow and Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
In the 1830s a group of six Dorset farm workers formed a union in an attempt to win a fair wage. They called a strike and were arrested and sentenced to be transported to Australia for seven years. Known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, their story is central to trade union history. The film Comrades (1986) tells this story, with the first half of the film set in Dorset before the action moves to Australia. The village of Tolpuddle (8 miles east of Dorchester) had become too modern to be authentic for the 1830s setting and so the Tolpuddle scenes were actually filmed in the abandoned village of Tyneham in South Dorset (which had been taken over by the army after the Second World War). Other key scenes were shot in Dorchester where streets were dressed to look early Victorian, including hundreds of sheep. Half way up High Street West there is a plaque on the wall of the courthouse where the martyrs were tried and found guilty, and this was the location the film used for the same purpose.
Salwayash, near Bridport
Gemma Arterton starred in BBC TV adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbevilles in 2008 and returned to Dorset in 2010 to star in the film Tamara Drewe. This tale is a modern take on the Thomas Hardy novel Far from The Madding Crowd. Scenes were filmed in and around the picturesque village of Salwayash, near Bridport, with Arterton returning home to beguile the men of a small Dorset village.
If you’ve read this and want to see some of the film locations for yourself but haven’t booked somewhere to stay we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a a look inside the cottage or head to our Enquire and Book page for availability, the rates and how to book. Or stay tuned for the third instalment of movies with scenes around West Dorset. We’re off to Lyme Regis next…