Thomas Hardy’s places

In bright autumn sunlight, M and I drove today through Dorset, to photograph some of the actual places that Hardy describes in Far From the Madding Crowd. I was fulfilling a promise to Charlie Maddaus of Maine, who is currently teaching the novel to his students (see comments on an earlier post). In what follows I have put Hardy’s place-names in italics.

We drove through Sherborne (Sherston Abbas) and south to Middlemarsh (Marshwood). Then up onto a high ridge that runs above Cerne Abbas (Abbot’s Cernel) and so down into Dorchester (Casterbridge). Here we turned east out of the town, and soon reached a stone bridge – Grey’s Bridge – over the River Frome (Froom). This is where an exhausted Fanny Robin fell, and was guided by a large dog to the Union, or workhouse, and where Troy later waited for her in vain.

Grey's Bridge over the Frome, near Dorchester

Grey's bridge over the Frome, near Dorchester

Some two miles further on we left the modern highway and turned up the old road that climbs Yellowham Hill (Yalbury Hill). It was in the woods here that Liddy’s sister lived; that Joseph Poorgrass got lost; where Troy and Bathsheba, driving home at dusk, met Fanny; and where Gabriel slept in a hay-wagon. The road climbs quite steeply, and is over-arched by trees. It has a lonely feel. A little further on is Troy Town (Roy-Town), where there is a farm and one or two houses – but no sign of the “Buck’s Head” inn, where Joseph got drunk on his journey with Fanny Robin’s coffin. There was nothing definitive to photograph on this stretch, however.

Returning to the main road, and then missing the exit to Puddletown (Weatherbury), we drove on to Bere Regis (Kingsbere). Above the village rises Woodbury Hill (Greenhill). Taking a narrow side-road, and then a stony track, we reached the top of the hill where a flat green field, surrounded by ancient earthworks, marks the site where the annual Sheep Fair was held, and where Troy, disguised as Turpin, appeared in the circus tent. From the edge of the field there are wide views over Dorset farmland – large fields and wide-spread hills. Apparently a fair was still held there within living memory.

Bere Regis - village store and inn

Bere Regis - village store and inn

The view from the Sheep Fair field, Woodbury Hill

The view from the Sheep Fair field, Woodbury Hill

Now we turned west again and returned to Puddletown (Weatherbury), the village at the centre of Bathsheba’s story.  Its heart, in the old days, was the Square, where market stalls were set up between the cottages and the churchyard.

The market square, Puddletown

The market square, Puddletown

A few yards up on the right stands St Mary’s Church, in whose porch Troy spent a night, where Fanny was buried, and where Bathsheba and Gabriel were finally – and secretly – married.

The porch, St Mary's church, Puddletown

The porch, St Mary's church, Puddletown

The nave, St Mary's church. Note the box pews, the choir gallery, and the fine timber roof.

The nave, St Mary's church; note the choir gallery and box pews.

Many of the book-rests in the pews, and especially in the choir-stalls, bear carvings of names and initials, some neat, some ragged; and on one, under the balcony, is the name “Henery” – spelt with an extra ‘e’ just as Henery Fray does in the novel.

The carved pew.

The carved pew.

High on the church tower are the gargoyles, one of which flooded Fanny’s grave.

The "gurgoyles".

The "gurgoyles".

The old malt-house which once stood behind the doctor’s house and was probably the model for “Warren’s”, is no more. Likewise, the circular, brick-lined sheep-washing pool beside the river Piddle was bulldozed away some years ago. Waterston Manor, thought to have been the inspiration for (but not the location of) Bathsheba’s farmhouse, is hidden by high hedges.

We made a quick trip, a mile or so east of the village, to take a peek at Athelhampton House – Hardy’s Athelhall. A fine old house, privately owned but open to the public – on payment of a substantial admission fee.

Athelhampton House

Athelhampton House

We returned towards Dorchester, then turned north up the long valley of the river Piddle – which, it must be said, is a modest stream; quite piddling, in fact. Strung along it, and almost running into one another, are the villages of Piddlehinton (Lower Longpuddle) and Piddletrenthide (Upper Longpuddle). We pause to photograph the church at the latter, then headed back to Sherborne and home.

All Saints church, Piddletrenthide

All Saints church, Piddletrenthide

It will take another trip to find Norcombe Hill, where Gabriel first met Bathsheba. It is over on the other side of the county, near Beaminster (Emminster). Later, perhaps, we shall re-visit Lulworth Cove (Lulwind). where Troy left his clothes on the beach and swam out to sea.

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2 Responses to “Thomas Hardy’s places”


  1. 1 Cara December 2, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Some beautiful photographs there. Captured with such glorious light.

  2. 2 drtombibey December 2, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Beautiful. I don’t think we have anything that old in the States except the forests.

    Dr. B

    drtombibey.wordpress.com


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