Unsung Heroes of HardyLand
A series celebrating the individuals who work behind the scenes to provide us with unique Hardyan experiences.
Introducing - Margaret Marande
Are you originally from Dorset, and if not, what drew you here?
Having lived in Dorset for well over fifty years I feel as If I’ve lived here for ever! In fact I was born in Kent, west of the River Medway so thus, a Kentish Maid; east of the Medway I would have been a Maid of Kent.
For the first thirty years of my life I remained in that area but in 1967 felt the need to get away from the increasingly populated and claustrophobic commuter belt area to a more rural and natural environment. My mother’s family were from Norfolk, where I had spent happy childhood holidays, so I knew that country life would suit me. I wish I could pretend that Dorset was a preference but that wouldn’t be true. Expediency made a prospective job the main criteria, and it was between Herefordshire and Dorset. Dorset won – thank goodness –or I might never have entered Hardyland!! I had studied The Mayor of Casterbridge for A levels and soon became engulfed in The Return of the Native, which is still, for me, his most topographically evocative novel.
Coincidentally I arrived just before the 1968 founding of The Thomas Hardy Society and still have the handbook of the inaugural Festival.
What is it that makes Dorset special for you?
Where to begin? At first it was mainly the contrast between a formerly suburban and then a rural existence. It seemed cleaner, less frenzied, no red double-deckers, no street lamps in the village of Sutton Waldron where I lived. The village community absorbed us and I could recognise Cider with Rosie as we tramped around the village singing Christmas Carols and eating home-made mince pies.
In the early 70s I had two more children who were Dorset from the word go, and their primary education in Fontmell Magna village school made me very glad that I had made the move from the Home Counties.
Since that time I have been beguiled by the Dorset landscape and have become intimate with it, often through Hardy’s work. Quite apart from the brilliance and depth of his novels and poems, he was a master at evoking the places that were all around me then and now. You can breathe in the locations: brooding Egdon, the sylvan seduction of The Woodlanders, the mingling of the historical periods in Dorchester and so on and so on. The coastline is incomparable. This is definitely what makes Dorset most special for me, and eternally glad that I left my Kentish roots and put down new ones in Wessex.
What was it that first got you interested in Thomas Hardy and his writing?
Initially it was because I studied and taught Hardy as a teacher of English Literature. As a student I was fascinated by the complexity of his characters and plots. In those days I was far less critical of aspects of his novels which serious Hardy scholars dissect in microscopic detail. No doubt I missed a lot but there is something to be said for being swept along on a wave of pure enjoyment and immersion in nineteenth century rural life.
It was often challenging to engage the interest of pupils who had to wrestle with language that many of them found difficult. It’s a similar sort of feeling when reading French classics in French, when the added dimension of translation detracts from pure enjoyment of the work as a whole . I found that to take students out ‘into the field’ made a huge difference both to my, and their, appreciation of Hardy’s brilliance. Hardy’s Birthplace was an obvious starting point, both for the poems, and in bringing Hardy to life as a person whose ‘humble’ origins made him seem more accessible to the students and, indeed, to me. Dorchester is alive with The Mayor Casterbridge, and that whole area made Far From the Madding Crowd come alive for them when backed up by the 1960s film.
Later, when I taught Young Offenders, exactly the same thing happened: from a position of at best, indifference, and at worst, downright hostility and disbelief, a real appreciation developed, often confounding the scepticism of prison staff.
So, firstly as a student myself, and then as a teacher and lecturer, I developed what has become a lifelong interest in Thomas Hardy, the man and his work, leading me to devote a large part of my retirement to roaming around Dorset in his footsteps and to the creation of The Hardy Way.
Please tell us about your marking of The Hardy Way, and the ensuing books.
I was glad to retire from my career in education because in the 1990s I was driving from Dorset to Gloucestershire and back most days and this was simply unsustainable!
It was truly wonderful then to be able to embark upon a project that had long been in my mind: to read all of Hardy’s work, to plan a walking route around both his biographical and fictional locations, to go out and research a route that would link as many of these as possible, and then to produce a book so that other walkers and Hardy readers could follow my route and get as much pleasure out of it as I had! This was not work – it was pure pleasure!!
It is quickly described but took several years to accomplish. I was lucky to have the enthusiastic support of the Rights of Way section at County Hall. It was through discussion with them that waymarking the route took place with the help of Ramblers Association local groups throughout the county. The Thomas Hardy Society became involved and the then Chairman, the late Dr Geoffrey Tapper, a very good friend of mine, organised an opening ceremony for The Hardy Way led by the Bishop of Sherborne, the Rev. John Kirkham, in the garden of Max Gate in March 1998. To my chagrin I was unable to attend as I had succumbed to a horrible bout of ‘flu picked up on a flight home from Australia ironically timed to enable my attendance at the opening! Best laid plans!
The first edition of the book appeared in 1995. Twenty years later Dorset County Council asked me to update the route, as much on the ground had changed. This led to a new edition of the book in 2015, launched at the then new and wonderful Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre, who have been supportive in several events linked to the walk. The waymarking was amended where necessary and is checked and renewed every year with the help of enthusiasts. A splendid new post has been erected near the cottage to mark the start of the walk.
You have done a lot of work for charity, can you tell us about it?
I have done three major projects for charity.
In 2009, for Alzheimers Research, when I supported ex Champion Jockey and Polar explorer Richard Dunwoody MBE in his extraordinary walk of 1000 miles in 1000 hours in Newmarket – this was 24 miles in 24 hours (almost a marathon in a day) for 42 days and nights. Needless to say I only walked a few miles with Richard but raised a lot of money for his cause locally.
In 2011 I supported my daughter Liz Ampairee who rode in a charity race at Cheltenham Racecourse in aid of Cancer Research UK. The late great Sir Henry Cecil, who himself died from cancer a couple of years later, presented the awards that day and I raised around £1800 locally for the cause.
My major effort came in 2018 when I walked the whole Hardy Way, 220 miles on consecutive days over three weeks, to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer Research and for my local hospital in Shaftesbury. My partner, Harry, died of this terrible disease in 2017 so the walk was called THEHARDYWAY4HARRY. It started at Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre, on a sunny April morning, with a good gathering of supporters including Lord Julian and Lady Emma Fellowes, Helen Lawes, the Matron of Shaftesbury Hospital and Maggie Blanks, the founder of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.
At the end of three quite gruelling but very enjoyable weeks with many people walking with me, including Richard Dunwoody and his partner Olivia with 18 month old daughter, Milly, in a backpack, I raised around £7,500 for the causes.
Finally, is there a unique Hardyan experience that you can share with us?
In the early 1990s, when passing Keeper’s Cottage in Yellowham Wood, the occupant, Gordon Cutler, whose family had lived in the cottage for many years, invited me in to have a look at the interior. Gordon was retired but had made thatching spars. The cottage was quite primitive and the old water pump in the kitchen was still in working order. Gordon told me that his father had been given a shilling by Thomas Hardy, who showed him where he had envisaged the Greenwood Tree, now a magnificent beech.
Gordon was still living in the cottage until recently and may still be there now.
6th August 2020