If you’re planning to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life this summer and relax and unwind in Dorset, then look no further than the Summer Lodge Country Spa Hotel. Set in beautiful grounds, the Summer Lodge offers the ideal countryside location for a family-friendly holiday or a quiet couples retreat.
Whilst there, make sure to take the opportunity to explore what has been fondly dubbed Thomas Hardy Country. Here, visitors can learn about the area’s close connection with the renowned literary figure and understand the rich heritage and historical landmarks of this beloved rural setting.
Your first stop should be Hardy’s cottage; the quaint residence of one of England’s late, great writers is set in the gorgeous Thorncombe woodlands. Descend down the stone path, through the lush greenery towards the simple cob and thatch cottage. A relic of traditional 19th century country life, you’ll be transported back to a time when life was simple. Born in the cottage in 1840, Hardy’s fondness for the dwelling was often referenced in many of his literary works. And here he produced masterpieces such as Under the Greenwood tree. Inside, many of the original features have been restored or preserved by the National Trust, giving visitors a fascinating window into what everyday life would have been like for Hardy.
Explore Thorncombe woodland, a great hiking spot with numerous paths that extend towards Puddletown Forest and Dorchester. Running through the area is a well-preserved Roman road, and you’ll be able to spot a wealth of wildlife, from grass snakes to Song Thrushes down towards nearby Rushy Pond.
Max Gate is the smart Victorian townhouse that Hardy, a trained architect, designed and built in 1885. Now also part of the National Trust, the house has been furnished to look just as it would have when Hardy was alive. Here lies proof of the writer’s status as part of the wealthy middle classes, and the grand house still appears impressive by today’s standards. In this home he was to write some of his most notable works, including Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and an abundance of poetry. Guests can sit in the study and imagine Hardy at work over a hundred years earlier. Throughout the year you can enjoy regular events such as exhibitions and cultural talks within the grounds, and see Max Gate come to life with the buzz of activity.
The small village of Stinsford offers yet another facet to exploring Thomas Hardy Country and the writer’s rich life. Here Hardy was christened and although his ashes were scattered in Westminster Abbey his heart is buried alongside his family, fulfilling a lifelong request that he be laid to rest in the area he adored throughout his life.
Dorset County Museum is another great place to immerse yourself in Dorset’s rich and vast cultural heritage. Regularly showcasing new exhibitions connected to the history of the area and its colourful inhabitants, their current exhibition, Free Time, charts the changing trends in leisure activities and social pastimes over the last 60 years. The independently run museum houses a vast array of artefacts within its walls and discovering the geology and social legacy of Dorset couldn’t be simpler.
Head down to Clouds Hill to see the simple dwellings of legendary historical figure Thomas E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia” and dear friend of Thomas Hardy. The secluded hut is a vestige of a bygone era and unravels the details of Lawrence’s remarkable life. Most of Lawrence’s belongings are as he left them and the hut is still without electricity. Within the grounds, take in vistas of the Isle of Purbeck and walk the Lawrence of Arabia trail, which encompasses Bovington’s Tank Museum, Cloud Hill and the church where Lawrence was laid to rest.
Feature image Dorset Countryside: Jeffrey Banke/iStock/Thinkstock