STAND and Thomas Hardy Society Walk Report
A walk to discover how much beautiful Wessex countryside will be lost
On Sunday 25th October at 10.00am twenty-one people met by the Thomas Hardy Statue at top o' town to participate in a walk led by Tony Fincham (THS) and Alistair Chisholm (STAND) which traversed and skirted the land under threat by the proposed development of 4000 houses over a large area of Hardy's beloved Wessex, principally within Stinsford Parish. The population of Stinsford Parish in the 2011 census was 334, 39 less than in 1851 when Hardy was 11 years old. If the proposed development goes ahead, the population will suddenly explode more than tenfold, with the concomitant detrimental effects that this will incur.
We set off down Chalk Walk taking in the Roman walls which Hardy affirmed that, along with the Roman Town House, ‘Casterbridge announced old Rome in every street, alley, and precinct. It looked Roman, bespoke the art of Rome, concealed dead men of Rome’. After stopping by Hangman's Cottage, used by Hardy in 'The Withered Arm', we headed for the water meadows, which would become lost under a visitor's centre and housing catering to those who can afford price tags in the region of £500 000, many of which would be used as 'second homes'.
After Blackwater and Ten Hatches Weir where Michael Henchard saw his own effigy float by when contemplating suicide the group crossed Grey's Bridge and entered the fields to follow the Froomside Path climbing up towards Kingston Maurward, and turning left towards the weir where the lake empties itself into the Frome. In Desperate Remedies this inoffensive cascade becomes a waterfall which you can hear ‘in every room of the house, night or day ... enough to drive anybody mad’ – a necessary exaggeration from the author of that ‘sensation novel’. This beautiful stone house, built by Christopher Grey in 1591, is described by Pevsner as ‘the late Elizabethan E-plan manor house refined to a point of perfection’. In Hardy’s day the Old Manor, that ‘glad old house of lichened stonework’ was in a very poor state of repair and subdivided into cottages – thus accurately forming the basis for Knapwater Old House.
Tony related how Hardy’s original fascination with this place dates from his attraction to Julia Martin, in pursuit of which he attended a harvest-home held in a barn adjoining the Old Manor House, commemorated in ‘The Harvest-Supper (Circa 1850)’ (Collected Poems #746), a poem which reverberates into Far from the Madding Crowd.
Following the bridle path we traversed Cross Hollow Hill, as the party climbed the pastures we looked back for fine views of Kingston Maurward. Near the first field boundary one can cross Hardy’s route – trudged daily as a young man - from Higher Bockhampton to school and then work in Dorchester.
After crossing the treacherous A35 we skirted the north-east corner of the proposed development area which extends behind Higher Kingston Farm to Slyer’s Lane. We beheld on our right Grey's Wood beyond Higher Kingston Farm. Snail Creep, which starts at Hardy’s Cottage continues into Grey’s Wood was where that Dick Dewy ‘entered a hazel copse by a hole like a rabbit’s burrow’ and 'nutted as never man had nutted before’ in Under the Greenwood Tree. Sadly, this route is not a public right of way. Waterstone Ridge, part of the Ridgeway, and the farmland around Waterstone Manor - Bathsheba Everdene's Upper Weatherbury Farm - were all viewed.
The group of walkers stopped for a well-earned picnic by the ruin of the cottage Fiddler's Green, immortalized in 'The Three Strangers'. Here Tony related the history of the cottage, and folk singer Jerry Bird gave us a fine rendition of the tune 'Fiddler's Green'. After our stop we followed the path down to Three Cornered Coppice and headed towards Seager's Barn, and then walked a number of miles to the East of Higher Burton.
The nine mile walk ended at John’s Pond, the innocuous seeming pool ‘wherein nameless infants had been used to disappear’ – one of the undoubted conveniences of High-Place Hall, the original of which can be rapidly reached by ‘the steep back lane into town’ straight ahead (Glyde Path).
All of this beautiful land will disappear with the proposed housing developments. Please visit the STAND website to register your support for the campaign against the ruination of part of Hardy's Wessex - https://stand-dorchester.net
With thanks to Tony Fincham and Alistair Chisholm, and to Jerry Bird for supplying the photographs.