It is undoubtedly true that Dorset has inspired some of Britain’s most prominent names in literature; Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and Henry Fielding were all drawn to the region for its emerald-green hills, ancient castle ruins and dramatic coastlines. Situated in Evershot, Summer Lodge is an ideal base from which to explore Dorset’s cultural history, with the opulent Thomas Hardy Suite (designed by the writer himself) the perfect place to stay after a busy day of sightseeing. Here are some of the key locations on a literary tour of Dorset.
Located around 23 miles southwest of Evershot is the seaside town Lyme Regis, which became the setting for Jane Austen’s novel ‘Persuasion’ after she visited in 1804. Literary Lyme offers walking tours of the places Austen spent time in, as well as the Cobb, an old stone pier where protagonist Louisa Musgrove falls in a famous moment in the story. Other tours focus on the novelist John Fowles; like Austen, he used the town as inspiration for his novel, ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’. End your trip to Lyme Regis with a visit to the Lyme Regis Museum, where a number of literary relics, including Austen’s possessions and a sketch by Beatrix Potter, are on display.
Isle of Purbeck
The Purbeck peninsula, which is an hour’s journey from Evershot, is characterised by rugged cliffs, lush vegetation and ancient stone ruins, but this region also has a thriving literary scene. Children’s writer Enid Blyton spent much of her life here, and Corfe Castle is widely believed to have been the basis for the iconic ‘Famous Five’ site, Kirrin Castle. Visit the castle to see why the ancient site was such an inspiration to the author, and drop in at the Ginger Pop shop on Corfe Castle village’s square. This store stocks an extensive selection of Blyton’s books, alongside clockwork toys, memorabilia and the Famous Five’s beverage of choice, ginger beer. For a real insight into the author’s life, take the steam train from Corfe Castle station to Swanage to experience the same journey she took several times.
While you’re in the area, stop off at the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club, which Enid Blyton’s husband bought in 1950. Whether you’re a golf-lover or not, the expansive heathland offers beautiful views over Poole and the surrounding areas. From Poole Quay, perhaps take a ferry over to Brownsea Island. This picturesque area formed the inspiration for the fictional setting of Whispering Island in the story ‘Five Have a Mystery to Solve’. The island is well worth a visit for its forested vistas and abundance of wildlife.
If you’re in the area during February, don’t miss out on the Purbeck Literary Festival. Writing workshops, performances and poetry readings will be taking place over the two-week festival period, with guided walks to set out on too, including the Thomas Hardy in Swanage tour. The festival will also host a literary walk to Wareham, the historic market town where Clouds Hill is located; a tiny cottage tucked away beneath the foliage that was once home to T.E Lawrence, aka ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
When you’ve finished exploring the Purbeck area, head over to Dorchester. Here, you can visit the Victorian Max Gate house, which Thomas Hardy designed himself before living there for several years. To find out even more about the region’s literary influences, stop by the Dorset County Museum to browse the intriguing writers’ gallery, which is dedicated to literary greats such as William Barnes, John Meade Falkner, William Wordsworth and Henry Fielding.
Back in the peaceful village of Evershot, leave enough time to stroll along the Thomas Hardy walking trail, which passes a number of sites featured in his novels. Then, having satisfied you’re appetite for literary exploration on your tour of Dorset, return to Summer Lodge for fine food and wine, and perhaps a nightcap from the cosy Whisky Lounge.
Header image: Explore Corfe Castle © iStock / Joe Gough.