By Rodney Appleyard and Anna Appleyard
Excited about exploring the world of Thomas Hardy at Greenwood Grange Cottages near Dorchester in Dorset, I started my journey hungry for new cultural experiences, having spent the day at the site of another great artist in Dedham, where painter John Constable made his name.
I picked up my wife en route and we eventually arrived on a night something like a scene from an Agatha Christie novel: the wind was howling, the rain was pounding and the sky was as black as velvet. Fittingly, it had just turned midnight and the final part of the journey had involved travelling through wet country lanes, with puddles splashing up the side of the car. It all added to the dramatic atmosphere of our arrival. Running the few steps from the car to the accommodation left us breathless and soaked.
What a contrast then, upon turning the key and opening the door, to find a warm country kitchen, so welcoming and inviting that we immediately forgot the storm outside. We were greeted for the start of our anniversary weekend by colourful spring flowers on the breakfast bar and warm tones of natural wood and copper ornaments, before opening the complimentary bottle of bubbly, which completed our feeling of instant relaxation. And this, I’m happy to say, rather than the former, became very much the tone for the weekend at Greenwood Grange.
The accommodation consisted of a two bedroom luxury stone cottage, and very snug it was too. In fact, all of the 17 stone cottages on site are beautiful throughout, having been transformed from farm buildings built by Thomas Hardy’s father in 1849. They stand proud in this magnificent historical setting.
Each cottage is suitable for couples, families or groups of friends. Our individual cottage, the Stour Castle, was set in a cosy complex consisting of many other quaint cottages, with a stunning pond in the middle, featuring carp swimming serenely in the centre.
Inside the spacious and cosy cottage, you could easily spend most of the weekend on the comfy sofa, under the beautiful striped blanket which resided there, gazing outside to the private patio or beyond to the shared garden.
But once you tire of relaxing, it’s only a short walk within the luxury grounds to the indoor pool. It was very warm and had a ‘Roman bath’ type feel to the décor. We also enjoyed the sauna next to the pool. The view though the windows during our swim was the perfect way to fully indulge in the natural surroundings of where the cottage is based and soak up the peace and tranquility.
The next day, we were delighted to explore plenty of land within the grounds of the cottages and a whole field designed specifically for children to enjoy outdoor games. The accommodation also has tennis courts on site.
Across the road, we found out all about the life of Thomas Hardy at Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre and then took a short walk to Hardy’s house itself, where he wrote Far From the Madding Crowd. The pretty thatched home is nestled in the ancient Puddletown Forest, which is managed by the National Trust. It is open to tourists every day and is reminiscent of a picturesque scene from a fairytale as you approach it from inside the forest.
We were also spoilt for choice with things to do in the local area. We took a leisurely drive to Durdle Door, a natural archway formed of rock in the sea, which is also featured in many films, such as Wilde, Nanny McPhee and of course, Far From The Madding Crowd. Nothing quite prepared us for the sound of the waves crashing around that archway, or indeed for the muddy climb down to the beach. It was well worth all the squelching though, to see a beautiful coastline and a geographical wonder.
After that, we ventured out to Chesil Beach, near Weymouth – another place listed in Greenwood Grange’s glossy pamphlet – Coast and Beaches Guide. The stones at this beach were larger and the climb was steeper, but thankfully shorter. It has a very good visitor’s centre, with a fantastic little café serving the most marvellous crab-based snacks to hungry holiday makers who have over-exerted themselves climbing up and down to access beaches. The crab sandwich was the most delicious we have tasted, and I was informed that the crab was from that morning’s catch. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!
Overall, Greenwood Grange is an inviting collection of converted farm buildings and fields and we really did feel miles away from frantically paced life, or Far From the Madding Crowd, as Thomas Hardy would describe it. Chickens stroll freely around the place and guests are invited to help themselves to an egg for breakfast. Similarly, the vegetable garden is well cared for and, once the season kicks in, guests will be able to take access produce from a communal basket to cook up in their own kitchens. It is this thoughtfulness and striving to go that extra mile that makes GG so special.