National Trust Properties Near Dorchester Now Open All Year

Friday 24 February 2017

There is good news for our guests this year, as the local National Trust properties – Thomas Hardy’s Cottage and his later home, Max Gate, and T. E. Lawrence’s Clouds Hill – will be open seven days a week for the 2017 summer season. The two Hardy properties are also staying open all winter for the first time, from Thursdays to Sundays each week. 

Hardys Cottage

Hardy’s Cottage, in Higher Bockhampton just outside Dorchester, has been on the bucket list for all Thomas Hardy fans for a long time. Since the opening of the visitor centre, the cottage is now presented in a more authentic traffic-free environment, and can be approached by a wonderfully peaceful woodland walk, which gives a view of the cottage nestled in its lovely garden fairly much as it was on his birth in 1840.

The first impression from the outside is how small the cottage is, and even more so once you learn that the current building is actually an extension of the original. Unlike the Tardis, the cottage is just as small on the inside. It is a constant reminder that, although most of us take living space for granted, every inch was important for most people two centuries ago.

We last visited on a chilly day in October. The fire in the parlour was lit and the smoky atmosphere was another reminder of how everyday living was much hardier back then (pun not intended!). The parlour was tiny, but was apparently the inspiration for the party scene in Under the Greenwood Tree – no idea how anyone could dance in here, let alone a whole village gathering!

The most evocative room is probably the upstairs bedroom where Hardy sat to write some of the early novels, although the view to Hardy’s monument, celebrating the life of the “other” Thomas Hardy, has been lost by subsequent tree growth. (Come to Aquila Heights for unobscured views of the monument from our rooms 2 and 3!). It is easy to imagine the author working in this window, and the view – even restricted by the trees – must have helped inspire the Wessex nature of the stories.

Max Gate

For many of our guests, the Cottage is a highlight of their visit, although, ourselves, we actually prefer Max Gate, the home on the outskirts of Dorchester, which Hardy designed himself and lived in for his last forty years. This house was lived in privately for many years after his death, and has only been fully open to visitors relatively recently. As a consequence, there is little or no authentic Hardy paraphernalia here, but the NT is working towards decorating and furnishing the home in a similar style to when the author was in residence. This is giving the house what feels like an authentic atmosphere, although at this stage it is still a work in progress, with the Trust continuing to restore it as time and funding allows.

The study where Hardy wrote much of his later work was moved, item by item, into the Dorset County Museum on his death, at his request, and can be viewed in the Museum – which is well worth visiting for this, and many other, reasons. This has left an empty space in Max Gate, which the NT is filling with similar period furniture and objects. Although this is not authentic, it is very easy to imagine the author at work here.

The whole house, being both designed and lived in for many years by Hardy, feels very much like “his” house. This home was itself part of his life’s work alongside his novels and poems, and now  celebrates both his architectural and writing skills. It is not too difficult to imagine the man himself lurking around every corner, and this must come to life still more on those occasions when the New Hardy Players perform here.

Clouds Hill

Hardy’s friend and contemporary, spent time virtually ‘up the road’ in Clouds Hill, a tiny, isolated cottage in the countryside between Wool and Bere Regis. Most famous for his almost legendary exploits in Arabia during the First World Ward, Lawrence lived here on and off for the final ten years of his life whilst serving in the Tank Corp at nearby Bovington. Unlike the two Hardy properties, this home is very much as Lawrence left it, having been owned by the NT since just after his death in a motorbike accident. Walking around this intimate cottage, you can get a feel for the many facets of his life and easily imagine him here with friends whilst serving at Bovington in peacetime.

Clouds Hill is very much appreciated by our guests as the most ‘authentic’ of the three local NT properties and it is certainly easier to imagine Lawrence living and relaxing here, and a higher proportion of the contents are his genuine possessions.

However, all three properties, although relatively small, are hugely atmospheric and full of reminders of their historic residents. None of our guests have ever reported any disappointment, including those who did not have previous intimate knowledge of the occupants.

All three properties are open to the public seven days a week from 1st March until 31st October 2017, 11am-5pm, although advance booking is mandatory for Mondays at Hardy's Cottage). For further details, see the NT website pages for Hardy’s Cottage, Max Gate and Clouds Hill.   

Aquila Heights is well located to tour Dorset’s NT properties and many other places of interest in West Dorset. Book online or call us to discuss your requirements.



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