“A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.”
― Thomas Hardy,
The childhood home of the Victorian novelist and poet, nestles quietly in a pretty garden in a small rural valley. Now managed by the National Trust this piece of British history is not very well signposted and you are best locating it through the postcode on the website. Although the postcode takes you to the farm just immediately before the turning for the visitors centre, it isn’t hard to find, drive a little further and a signpost directs you left, down a quiet single track lane.
Free parking is available at the visitor centre, however, when we visited there were some ongoing contractors works so the car park was halved, resulting in a lot fewer spaces and we were lucky to grab the last one.
We have finally relented and bought a couples membership for the National Trust when it became evident that half of the places we wanted to see were run by them. The amount of money we had paid in visitors fees so far had gone half way towards a years membership, so it was a no-brainer, although we should have perhaps done it sooner.
A short walk from the car park is the visitors centre which also houses the toilets and a little cafe. Unbeknown to us, and not very evident from any signage, we were supposed to get our tickets here, as it happened we bypassed the visitors centre and went straight up the path leading to the house.
Hardy’s childhood home is probably a quarter mile walk along well maintained footpaths. We did take our walking boots as we guessed it would be muddy, and it is if you want to travel further afield, however getting from the car park to the house is a route of gravel footpaths. It is hilly and a brisk walk takes you up and then you meander back down to the small valley were you get a peep of the lovely thatched cottage.
The gardens are well maintained with a number of areas to sit and on entering the house you will be greeted by National Trust staff or ‘story tellers’. The house is much as it would have been when Hardy was young, and unlike other national treasures, things aren’t roped off or put in glass cases. You are welcome to walk around, sit in comfy chairs by the fire and nosey in cupboards filled with period nick nacks.
The ladies will tell you stories of Hardy’s early life, his works and his loves and they are rather enthusiastic and knowledgeable of their subject. The house, as you would perhaps expect is quite small and I imagine in the summer months can get quite busy. The staff told us that only 8 people are allowed upstairs at one time due to the old timber floors, which is evident when you go up the stairs, the undulating floors and the low ceilings reminded me of the ‘crooked house’ of nursery rhymes.
We were quite lucky and had most of the house to ourselves, hence we were able to get some lovely uninterrupted photos. Outside of the house is the cider house which sits at one end of the garden, this is where Hardy would partake in that very South West tradition of making his own apple cider. Next to that, the obligatory outside ‘privvy’.
A leisurely wander around the house and interaction with the staff would probably see you spend about 30-40 minutes here. However, once you’ve had your fill of the lovely house and pretty gardens, there are extensive trails locally to wander.
We headed out of the house and went to find the sign posted Rushy pond, which we both thought was a bit of a disappointment, not the pretty lilly filled pond of your imagination but more a peat hole with a few reeds. Perhaps it is more inviting in the summer months, but from where we were standing it looked more like a boggy water filled hole. We ventured further and tried to find a mill which was on one of the next signposts, however the signage petered out and we found ourselves walking through heathland without a mill in sight. There was however a Roman Road a short walk from the cottage which we walked along, but it was very muddy and we were thankful for our walking boots at that point.
After an hours walk in the sunshine over some quite hilly terrain we headed back to the cafe for well earned cake and coffee (for the American, tea for me.) The prices of the food are what you would expect at a visitors centre, our order of cake with clotted cream and coffee and a toasted teacake with tea came to around £10.00.
I think in the summer months it would be quite busy with frustrations on parking and getting in and out on a single track road. That said, I suspect that the Hardy house garden would be absolutely delightful when all the plants are in full bloom and set in its little valley I imagine its a beautiful sun trap too!