Thomas Hardy's Wessex

Harriet Still
A three-night tour discovering the life and inspiration of one of England’s finest authors
Harriet Still

Tour Dates

24/06/2022 - 27/06/2022 Book
23/09/2022 - 26/09/2022 Book

Thomas Hardy's Wessex

2022 brings a unique opportunity to see the largest collection of objects from the life of the writer Thomas Hardy ever put on display, in four simultaneous exhibitions across Dorset and Wiltshire. 

Each of these objects has a different story to tell about this legend of English literature. 

While many people know Hardy for his beautifully drawn landscapes and stories of rural life in Dorset, few know the man behind the novels. 

Inspired by his local landscapes, the stonemason’s son turned internationally-recognised author used his fame to raise public awareness of the social issues close to his heart. 

From visiting the thatched cottage where his story began to discovering how his work influenced the next generation of young war poets, you will have a personal introduction to the ‘Wessex wizard’ and his stunning West Country landscapes from the curator of these four immersive exhibitions.
 

The expert leading your tour

Harriet Still is curator for the four Wessex Museums’ Thomas Hardy exhibitions at Dorset Museum, Poole Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum. 

She studied English and History at the University of York before managing Hardy’s Cottage on behalf of the National Trust. 

Since this introduction to Hardy, over a decade ago, she has sat on the Council of Management for the Thomas Hardy Society and the Hardy Country steering group, as well as acting in various Hardy productions with the New Hardy Players and playing in Hardy folk band Tatterdemalion. 

She has spoken about Hardy on ITV, BBC Radio 4 and Channel 5. 

Harriet tempers her academic, historical and literary appreciation of Hardy with the experience of living on a small mixed farm, bringing a very real awareness of the struggle of Hardy’s rural characters whilst being immersed in the Wessex landscapes.
 

Highlights of your holiday

  • The Salisbury Museum, home to an exhibition looking at Hardy’s part in campaigning for women’s rights and his difficult relationship with religion
  • Salisbury Cathedral, to attend the Choral Evensong
  • Max Gate, the house that Hardy designed and built for himself
  • Dorset Museum, to explore an exhibition on the social tensions in Hardy’s life and his involvement in the early animal rights movement. 
  • Weymouth’s Old Harbour, to explore Hardy's love affair with the coast
  • Hardy’s Cottage (pictured below), where the author was born and raised
  • Poole Museum, to discover more of Hardy's life and work
  • Wiltshire Museum, to view Hardy's weird and wonderful ‘Book of Facts’ 
  • Stonehenge, a popular haunt and inspiration for Hardy
Please note that due to COVID restrictions outside of our control, the places we visit on any tour may change. If this happens, we will replace with an appropriate alternative.


Tour map

From your base in Salisbury, our expert guide takes you to a new destination every day.

Tour map of Thomas Hardy history holiday


Tour prices

This three-night tour costs from £1,299 per person, based on two sharing if you are taking part in the tours, and from £1,099 if you are not taking part in the daily tours.

There is no single supplement for individuals staying in single rooms, and a small extra charge for individuals in twin or double rooms. 


Included in your holiday

  • Expert guide 
  • Tour manager
  • Luxury hotel accommodation
  • Executive minibus travel to all sites, with space so you can always have a spare seat next to you
  • Entry to all museums and attractions
  • Breakfast and dinner each day


Available dates

This tour is available for two dates in 2022. There are departures on 24 June 2022 (book here) and 23 September 2022 (book here).  

Numbers are limited, reserve your place with a low 5% deposit and enjoy the full flexibility of our COVID guarantee. 

Accommodation

You'll be spending much of your time exploring sights and attractions with your tour expert, so when you return to your hotel we know how important it is to be somewhere you can relax and refresh in comfort.

For this tour, you'll be staying in a luxury hotel in Salisbury. You'll have everything you need for a comfortable night's sleep with rooms that are ensuite and facilities including a TV, radio and complimentary wifi.

Each day we'll provide meeting times for tours, meals and evening activities, leaving you with time to enjoy your hotel or explore locally.  
 

Your booking includes:

  • Ensuite room with tea & coffee facilities and wifi
  • Breakfast and a two course dinner (soft drinks included)
 

There are extra charges for:

  • All food and drink outside of breakfast and dinner. 
 

Transfers during your tour

For transfers between all tour destinations we use large 17-22 seater executive minibuses so that the seat beside you can be empty.

Transfers will be a luxury experience and your minibus will have comfortable reclining seats with safety belts, a fully operational air-conditioning system, an on-board refrigerator and a fully functioning toilet maintained throughout your journey.

Our drivers are friendly, smart, professional and punctual. so you are always in safe hands. 

 

Solo travellers welcome

Our tours are perfect for solo travellers who want to expand their knowledge and understanding of a subject, and prefer the choice of being as solitary or social as you like. Each tour is a journey of an independent mind – fellow travellers will be intelligent, well-read, knowledgeable and like-minded people, and a mutual interest in a particular topic can lead to life-long friendships.

Read more about our welcome for solo travellers here.​


Options for non-touring partners

This is a fantastic tour for partners interested in exploring beautiful Dorset and Wiltshire without focusing on Hardy. Each day we travel to new destinations, including Salisbury, Dorchester, Poole, Devizes and Weymouth, which you can explore at your own pace as the group enjoy the Hardy tour. 

Salisbury is famous for its world-renowned cathedral, but this modern medieval city offers plenty more reasons to visit. If you have an interest in history, the cathedral is home to the best preserved original of the 1215 Magna Carta, and Salisbury Museum holds an extensive collections artefacts from Stonehenge, which is just a few miles away. 

Other popular visits sights include the National Trust’s Mompesson House; Sir Edward Heath’s former home, Arundells, and The Rifles Berkshire & Wiltshire Museum. The town also boasts a great range of independent retailers and tempting tearooms and coffee shops, historic restaurants and inns. 

For day two we head to the historic market town of Dorchester, where you'll find elegant 18th century houses, broad walks and bustling shopping streets. Fascinating sites include Dorset County Museum and the Keep Military Museum, and you can learn about the grizzly history of the Tolpuddle Martyrs at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum. For those young at heart, there is also the popular Dinosaur Museum and Teddy Bear Museum. 

For the evening we travel to Weymouth’s picturesque Old Harbour to sample the freshest possible seafood. 

On day three we visit Poole, well known for its large harbour and sandy blue-flag beaches. From the harbour you can take a cruise to enjoy the scenery of Poole’s eight unique islands, or choose a bird-watching cruise with local experts. Other highlights of this fascinating town include TheGallery at the Arts University, with work from contemporary artists and designers from around the world, or wine fans can take a tour of the award-winning English Oak Vineyard.

For a final day we head to Devizes, which is regularly voted one of the UK's favourite market towns. With a colourful Medieval past and wealth of history there is plenty to see, alongs visitor attractions that include Wadworth Brewery, the 29 locks of the Caen Hill flight on the Kennet and Avon canal, and the award-winning galleries of Wiltshire Museum. 

Our final visit is to Stonehenge, where you can explore the history and tranquility of this stunning site.

Details of our itinerary for each day are below:

Tour Dates

24/06/2022 - 27/06/2022 Book
23/09/2022 - 26/09/2022 Book

Itinerary

Day 1

Start with a visit to The Salisbury Museum, situated right on the edge of the cathedral green. Hardy described Salisbury as ‘a quiet and soothing place’, and it provided the settings for his short story ‘On the Western Circuit’ and his masterpiece novel of anti-establishment ideals, Jude the Obscure.

The museum building was originally the King’s Manor but later housed the Teacher Training College attended by both Hardy’s sisters. Their harsh experiences here informed Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure, where heroine Sue Bridehead runs away from the college by climbing a wall and swimming the river.

Here, we will visit the first exhibition looking at Hardy’s part in campaigning for women’s rights and his difficult life long relationship with religion. Highlights are a stunning red silk walking dress owned by his sister as well as a cape owned by his friend and Salisbury resident Millicent Fawcett. Alongside these are original architectural drawings by Hardy from his time as a church architect, when he was still considering becoming a clergyman.

After our visit, you may choose to attend Choral Evensong in the cathedral for an opportunity to appreciate the medieval architecture of this incredible building.

This will be followed by dinner and a lecture at the hotel.

Day 2

Our day will start with a journey to the Dorset county town of Dorchester.

Originally the Roman town of Durnovaria, the market town has changed little since Hardy’s lifetime, with the streets and buildings still mirroring those depicted in Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge.

We will begin by visiting the house that Hardy designed and built for himself - Max Gate. During his lifetime, its drawing room hosted Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon, T E Lawrence, J M Barrie, the Prince of Wales and many other distinguished guests. The house has now been refurnished by the National Trust, who encourage visitors to write at the desk in Hardy’s study and sit on the chairs in the drawing room.

After lunch we will visit Dorset Museum to see the second exhibition, which focuses on the social tensions in Hardy’s life and his involvement in the early animal rights movement. Here you will get a real insight into Hardy’s insecurities around his humble birth, as well as the heights of fame that he reached.

From Dorchester we will travel down to the coast to spend the evening walking around Weymouth’s picturesque Old Harbour and sampling the freshest possible seafood.

Day 3

Sunday will take us to an altogether different slice of Hardy’s life – Hardy’s Cottage (pictured above). Unlike Max Gate, this building feels like it could have been transplanted straight from one of Hardy’s novels, and it does indeed form the blueprint for the Yeobrights’ home in Return of the Native and the Tranter’s house in Under the Greenwood Tree.

It was here that Hardy was born and spent the first two decades of his life. It is surrounded by ancient woodland and sits on the edge of Hardy’s Egdon Heath. The garden is quintessential of English cottage gardens.

In the afternoon, we will visit Poole Museum. Hardy associated the coast with love and war. He met his first wife Emma along the Cornish coast, and the museum's exhibition gives glimpses into this life-changing event including Emma’s memoir of their first meeting.

In contrast with these associations are the memories of the Napoleonic Wars passed down by his Dorset-based grandmother. These inspired his love story The Trumpet-Major and his epic poem The Dynasts.

With the horrors of the Boer War and WWI, his morbid fascination with war waned. However, his writings went on to give inspiration to the next generation of war poets, as shown by the Tribute Book on display, given to him by Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden and many others.

Day 4

Your last day will be spent exploring the ancient landscape in Hardy’s Wessex.

Hardy was keen to save the ancient landscape that held traces of previous inhabitants, as well as being fascinated by old ways of life and superstitions. He famously wrote ‘though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened’.

At Wiltshire Museum, you will see his ‘Book of Facts’ in which he collected weird and wonderful stories of ghosts, fortune-telling and witchcraft from local newspapers to inspire his plots.

His obsession with the past extended to his hobby as an amateur archaeologist. While building Max Gate, he uncovered various finds including sarsen stones and human remains. These finds are on display alongside his original poem manuscript, ‘The Clasped Skeletons’.

We will finish our return journey by visiting one the of the most famous ancient sites in Britain - Stonehenge. Hardy bicycled here regularly from Max Gate, in his research for the tragic climax of his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and called it a Temple to the Winds because of ‘the strange musical hum emitted by Stonehenge’. Listen out for an experience that ‘can never be forgotten’.

*Our visits are all subject to the latest COVID-19 situation and regulations at the time of the tour.