Things to see and do at Hardy’s Cottage
Explore the simple thatched cottage where Thomas Hardy was born, grew up and became a world-renowned writer. Then get back to the nature he loved with a walk through Thorncombe Woods, the woodland and heath landscape that greatly influenced his work.
The rooms of Hardy’s Cottage
This was the heart and hearth of the Hardy home, where the family would prepare their food, boil the kettle for tea, play music and socialise by the fire in the deep inglenook. Fuel for the fire was collected from the woods and heath behind the cottage.
This was the scullery of the original cottage but later used by Hardy’s father as the office for his stonemasonry and bricklaying business. Here he managed his accounts and paid his workers through a small window at the rear.
Hardy’s grandmother Mary was an important figure in the household and had a big influence on his life. This room was both her living room and where she prepared meals. It contains a bread oven which was heated by burning gorse inside it. Granny was evidently a rather spry old lady, judging by the steep staircase next door that leads up to what was her bedroom.
The sisters’ bedroom
This is where Hardy’s sisters Mary and Kate slept. Through the curiously angled windows you can peer under the ‘eyebrows’ of the thatched roof to enjoy views of the garden and orchard.
The parents’ bedroom
This simply furnished room with whitewashed walls is where Hardy was born. It is the scene of his earliest memory: being in his cradle with a snake curled up on his chest, which had got in from the heath behind the cottage.
After Granny’s death in 1857 this became Hardy’s bedroom. Here, at a desk by the window, he wrote his early novels including Under the Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd.
Thorncombe Woods and beyond
This 26-hectare mixed woodland and heath site was well loved by Hardy and greatly influenced his work. It contains a great diversity of trees, including sweet chestnut, beech and mature oaks. It also houses a small hazel coppice, home to the much-loved dormouse.
The central wood is home to giant beech trees that stretch out their limbs, casting cool shade in the summer and littering the forest floor with a crunchy carpet of beech nuts in late autumn.
The sweet chestnut trees to the north twist skyward amongst a mass of spiky leaved holly trees, whilst the hazel coppice on the southern tip is known by locals to be the first spot in the wood to burst with bluebells in the spring.
A wildlife haven
Amongst the flora, creatures great and small go about their lives. Dormice, bats, butterflies and a wide variety of songbirds and raptors all take up residence in the wood. Wildlife is messy so be sure to look out for evidence of its presence, such as a chewed pine cone or hollowed hazelnut.
A well-preserved fragment of the Roman road that would once have run from Dorchester to Badbury Rings in the east connects Thorncombe Woods to Black Heath. Here, through spring and summer, the heath is awash with pink-hued heathers and sweetly scented gorse.
An important watering hole for wildlife and the resident Dartmoor ponies, Rushy Pond buzzes with dragonflies and damselflies, whilst the pond’s surface is often disturbed by a newt surfacing for air or a grass snake on the hunt.
Walk in Hardy's footsteps
For a quick dose of the nature that the author loved, the pink path through Thorncombe Woods is a short route, taking approximately 15 minutes to walk. It goes through the heart of the woodland and up to the gate of the orchard, which descends to the entrance of the cottage’s gardens.
For a bit more adventure the blue path is a longer route, taking approximately 35 minutes to complete. It starts in the woodland, where it proceeds over the original Roman road, before going past Rushy Pond and eventually joining the pink path at the top of the orchard.
Hardy's Birthplace visitor centre
Built in partnership with Dorset County Council, the new visitor centre is just a short walk from the cottage, on the edge of Thorncombe Woods.
With new interpretation displays, a ranger's workshop and a learning and community space, it is a gateway for visitors and local people to discover more about the life and works of Hardy and his connection to the local landscape.
Visit the dog-friendly café at Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre, an independent family-run business that prides itself on using local produce for its varied menu.
If you are planning a visit to Hardy's Cottage, you will need to book your visit in advance. Find out how to book and what to expect when you arrive.
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