Letter to Doreen from Dorchester
After we left you at 1.30 on Friday 21st we took just sixteen minutes from joining the motorway to turning off onto a country lane in the New Forest. We had a picnic lunch at Blackberry Hill and then drove through some pretty villages: Fordingbridge, Alderholt, Cranbourne, Sixpenny Handley and Ashmore. We stopped for a look around in Shaftesbury and decided that we would go back another day. We left there in time to arrive at our hotel at about half past five. We had deliberately chosen a village inn and The Anvil at Pimperne was just what we expected, wobbly floors, beams to bump your head on but our room was very comfortable and the food was good.
We arrived at our next village inn at 10.45 am and to my surprise were able to go straight into our room and unpack. It was called ‘The Lugger Inn’ and we chose it because it was where Uncle Phil’s one hundredth birthday party was so that we would be able to drink alcohol and not have to drive. We had arranged to meet Dave and Mary for coffee there so that we would have a chance to look at their photographs of India and Nepal before the party started at midday. The party was a fine do with about fifty people being treated to some excellent food and wine with champagne for the birthday toast.
After the party we took an hour out on our own to walk over the field and down to the coast. At this point it is called ‘The Fleet’ and looks out on to Chesil Bank. We were sorely tempted to walk for miles along the coast path. The whole region was a nest of smugglers in the 18th century, and not far away was the old church at East Fleet, where J. Meade Faulkner set one of the scariest scenes in fiction — when the young hero of ‘Moonfleet’ is trapped under the church floor among the coffins while the smugglers roam free.
We had been invited to the new house of one of Uncle Phil’s children and so we joined quite a throng of family and friends who had been at the party. I spent much of the evening going through the Joels’ (Beryl’s father’s family) family history with one Beryl’s cousins, Keith, who had mapped out quite a lot some years ago.
Next morning Beryl went for an exploratory jog around the village and I then walked out to take photographs of what she had discovered. After that we went to the swannery at Abbotsbury just to locate it and have a quick walk in the air. Then we went back to the house we visited the day before where there was still quite a crowd of visitors. We had a look at the Sunday papers and then left with Judith to go and explore places that Thomas Hardy had made famous. We found, however, that churches are the only places open in Dorchester on a Sunday. Not quite true: Woolworths was open, we passed that but did buy books in the bookshop and have coffee in the coffee shop. From there we drove along the Piddle Valley and located a place we wanted to eat at the next day. On to Cerne Abbas to view the Giant carved in the hillside.
After returning Judith to the family we left and went on to The Little Court Hotel. The hotel does not offer evening meals but the man recommended a pub half a mile away which we walked to. I most certainly would not have recommended it. It was like entering a pirates’ den – a scene from ‘Pirates of The Caribbean’ – smoky, noisy, and lots of evil eyes. We fully expected to see Johnny Depp scampering across the table tops. We survived and went back to the hotel to read and sip wine.
The next day started with a walk around the hotel’s extensive grounds.
We then went to the museum in Dorchester specifically to look at the recreation of Thomas Hardy’s study at Max Gate but we were also fascinated by details of other writers such as J. Meade Faulkner and a poet called Barnes who could speak over sixty languages.
From there we went back to the swannery at Abbotsbury, had coffee and went for a slow walk around looking at the birds in detail.
Swans have bred here for over six hundred years and I am certain we have never seen so many in one place nor indeed have we been able to walk among nesting pairs.
Later we went for a long walk in the country near the Hardy Monument. A thoroughly enjoyable experience during which we saw buzzards, sky larks and stonechats. From there we went on to Uncle Phil’s second birthday party at the home where he lives in Martinstown. We had booked somewhere completely different for our evening meal. We went to a place with a strange sounding name, ‘The Piddle Inn’ which is beside the River Piddle. No further comment except to say that we had an excellent meal.
The next day we went to St Michael’s Church which is the church Hardy used for much of his life.
From there we went to look at Hardy’s cottage at Higher Brockhampton (SY728925). We spent quite some time here and were very pleased we did because the place was very atmospheric located in woodland at the end of a long track.
Despite being popular and busy there was still a feeling for the kind of place it would have been when he wrote ‘ Under The Greenwood Tree’, indeed the opening paragraph of that novel came back to mind as I walked along the track:
"To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality."
Having immersed ourselves in Hardy we then opted for a change and went to the coast to Lulworth Cove. Unfortunately, there was such a thick sea mist we couldn’t really see across the bay. From there we took the most direct route to Shaftesbury and went in search of Gold Hill, surely one of the most photographed scenes in England.
From there we drove home along a busy motorway system.