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      our holidays > Walking Holidays > UK > The Hardy Way

The Hardy Way

The verdant landscapes of Wessex
Starting point:

Fittingly, you begin with two nights at the Inn at Cranborne where Thomas Hardy once stayed. For something more gastronomic, we also offer La Fosse.

Day 1
Circular route via Knowlton: 17.5km/11mi, 5hrs

We suggest a circular route south-west of Cranborne through rolling arable land and picturesque villages with equally pretty names (Wimborne St Giles and Gussage All Saints). You also pass the fascinating 12th-century church ruins at Knowlton, built on a Neolithic earthwork. Alternatively, if your stay here falls on a Wednesday, you could visit the exquisite Cranborne Manor Gardens (pay locally).

Day 2
Cranborne to Farnham or Tollard Royal: 19km/12mi, 5.5hrs

Leaving Cranborne, you follow sections of The Hardy Way up to Penbury Knoll, a good vantage point, and past charmingly named Sixpenny Handley. You then walk along the border between Dorset and Wiltshire, following an aptly named wooded trail called Shire Rack. Keep your eyes peeled for fallow deer, tree creepers and nut hatches, and listen out for woodpeckers and nightingales. If your next base is the Museum Inn, the last leg takes you south to Farnham, but if you are staying in the King John Inn, you head north to Tollard Royal.

Day 3
Circular route from Farnham: Larmer Tree option 9.5km/6mi, 2hrs; alternative option 12km/7.5mi, 3.5hrs OR
Circular route from Tollard Royal via Larmer Tree: 10km/6mi, 3hrs

The Larmer Tree Gardens, created in the 1880s by General Pitt-Rivers, the father of modern archaeology, make an enjoyable day out on foot from both Farnham and Tollard Royal. The gardens (pay locally) were created as a “pleasure grounds for public enlightenment and entertainment”, and feature manicured lawns, colourful flowerbeds, ponds, mature woodland, a bandstand and stone pavilions. Thomas Hardy visited the gardens in 1895 and described them as “Quite the prettiest sight I ever saw in my life”. On days when it is closed (Fridays, Saturdays and for private events), anyone staying in Tollard Royal can simply complete our circular walk without stopping at the gardens, but if you are staying in Farnham, we suggest an alternative walk westwards across gently undulating downs and through the handsome medieval villages of Tarrant Gunville and Chettle.

Day 4
Farnham to Shaftesbury: 17.5km/11mi, 5.5hrs OR
Tollard Royal to Shaftesbury: 14km/9mi, 4.5hrs

Although the first part of the walk differs depending on whether you are coming from Farnham or Tollard Royal, the two routes soon merge, and you’ll find it is easy to imagine yourself in the pages of a Hardy novel as you cross remote valleys patrolled by buzzards. The highlight is the approach to Win Green, at 277 metres the highest point in the Chase, from where the views stretch for some 80 miles as far as the Isle of Wight. It is referenced in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, as is your target, Shaftesbury (or Shaston, as Hardy called it), where you spend your last two nights at La Fleur de Lys.

Day 5
Circular route from Shaftesbury: 6km/4mi, 2hrs

Either spend a relaxing day pottering around Shaftesbury (we provide notes for an hour-long town trail), taking in the famous cobbled street of Gold Hill and the fabulous views over Blackmore Vale, so typical of Hardy’s Wessex, or take a bus or taxi (pay locally) for a final short walk through the chalk hills to Melbury Beacon.

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