Cut off from the English mainland by the whimsically named rivers Piddle and Frome in the north, Purbeck might like to think of itself as an isle but really it’s a peninsula. Albeit one with such a varied geography, from heathland to cliffs, from sandy beaches to marshland, that it’s inspired countless authors. Writers that include Thomas Hardy, who romped over its green hills, Enid Blyton (whose husband bought Studland’s golf club), and T. E. Lawrence, who famously lived (and sadly died) in the neighbourhood.
Capitalising on this romantic landscape and literary heritage, locals set up the Purbeck Literary Festival in 2014 and, three festivals later, are still conjuring programmes that pull in the crowds. Here, we look at what’s in store for bibliophiles who, after a relaxing morning at the charming Acorn Inn or Summer Lodge, want to discover Dorset’s scholarly side.
What: Where the Wild Winds Are: Walks with Europe’s Local Winds
Who: Nick Hunt
Where: Wareham Library
When: 24th February 2017
A big Patrick Leigh Fermor fan who retrod the footsteps of the pilgrim cum wandering scholar in his last book (Walking the Woods and the Water), in his next Nick Hunt recounts a series of walks following Europe’s local winds, including the Helm, the Bora, the Foehn and the Mistral, to discover how they influence the landscape, culture and psychology of the continent.
What: Wilderness, Empire, War and Cricket
Who: Dean Allen
Where: Swanage Cricket Club
When: 17th February 2017
Documenting the rise of cricket in South Africa in the midst of an explosively volatile political atmosphere, Dean navigates his story around a rather enigmatic protagonist: James Logan. Promoting the game at a time when the country found itself hurtling towards war with the British Empire, this talk on Logan discloses shady dealings, vicious arrests and unlikely heroics, even as cricket snowballs into something approaching a national sport.
What: Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess
Who: Andrew Lownie
Where: Belvedere Tower, Durlston Country Park
When: 22nd February 2017
In this highlight event of the Purbeck Literary Festival, Andrew Lownie explores the subject of infamous Cambridge spy, Guy Burgess. Recruited in a drive that included other bright lights such as Maclean, Philby and Blunt in the 1930s, the mix of idealism, treason, charm, conflicted loyalties, secrecy, philandering and manipulation is still a fascinating story today.
What: Fossils of the Jurassic Coast: Walk Back Through Time
Who: Sam Scriven
Where: Durlston Country Park
When: 19th February
One of the top geologists in an area full of professionals in this field, Sam Scriven invites ramblers, amateurs and experts to listen to him talk about why the Jurassic Coast is afforded such a special status. He’s also offering to identify any fossils visitors may have found over the years, hopefully pinpointing them to a specific period.
What: Super Story-Telling Sessions
Who: Martin Maudsley
Where: Corfe Castle Visitor Centre
When: 19th February
A professional storyteller based in the heartlands of Dorset, Martin Maudsley has made quite a name for himself performing at theatres, festivals and outdoor venues up and down the country. At Corfe, he’ll hopefully be using his trademark mix of poetry, music and song to mix historical tales with his vibrant imagination and very jolly demeanour.
When the books are closed for the day, it’s time to take a drive back to the epitome of country house charm, the Grade II listed Summer Lodge, where you can enjoy or glass of your favourite tipple at the bar, or put on a dressing gown and head to the spa.
Image Credits: Nick Hunt © Nick Hunt. Dean Allen © Dean Allen. Corfe Castle in the Mist © iStock/SergeRandall. Sam Scriven © Sam Scriven.