The Hardy Way
is a walking trail with a difference. I could tell you that it begins in West Dorset and winds through idyllic Downs countryside to cross the border with Wiltshire, before looping back to Dorchester through ancient woodlands and sleepy farmland, passing the county’s famous ‘Jurassic’ coast on the way. But that’s only half a description. For though the physical backdrop to this route is undeniably attractive, the main draw of the Hardy Way is that it explores the literary
landscape created by one of the country’s greatest writers.
“How can you walk through an imaginary world? ” I hear you ask. It’s a fair question, but one that is easily answered when you consider that the writer in question is Thomas Hardy, the famous landscape novelist. Although Hardy changed the names of many of the towns and buildings that feature in his fiction, his realistic descriptions have meant these places are easily identifiable, enabling readers to physically ‘map’ out the “partly real, partly dream country” that he named Wessex. Reaching from Devon to Oxford, this semi-fictional land is the setting for all of Hardy’s major works, including Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and Far from the Madding Crowd.
Margaret's Hardy Way is a circular journey through the central ‘section’ of Wessex, starting in the tiny hamlet of Higher Bockhampton – the location of the modest cob and thatch cottage where Hardy was born in 1840 – and finishing in Stinsford churchyard, where the author’s heart is buried alongside the remains of his two wives (his ashes are interred in the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey).
And this April she will once again walk all 220 miles of the long-distance footpath she put together 20 years ago. Only now she is 81, with “dodgy knees and feet susceptible to blisters” (her words!). So, what’s it all about? Well Margaret’s decision to reacquaint herself with Hardy’s literary landscape has little to do with literature, or even walking per se. Tragically, she lost her partner Harry to pancreatic cancer last year, and is embarking on this huge challenge as a tribute to him, as well as to raise funds for three very worthwhile causes:
“Holy s**t, Lieutenant! That was Harry’s reaction to the suggestion that a walk across England, the iconic Coast to Coast path, would be a fun challenge.
Together we left so many footprints across the world from the rugged West Highland Way in Scotland to the Queen Charlotte’s Track on the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand.
But now it’s only me. Cancer struck Harry three times over the years. Twice he fought it and gained twenty-five years. But the third attack was vicious. Pancreatic. Once again, brave, he looked to a future despite the odds. But this time it was just too aggressive. The survival statistics for pancreatic cancer are grim. Diagnosed in December 2016, he died in August 2017 and it wasn’t quality time. Money is needed for research to beat this most lethal cancer and I want to help.
This is my plan: in the 1990s I created a long-distance path – The Hardy Way – some 220 miles through Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. My aim is to walk the whole route on consecutive days leaving Hardy’s Birthplace Visitor Centre on the morning of 18 April and continuing for as long as it takes. I am an 81-year old woman with dodgy knees and feet susceptible to blisters. Thirty years down the line it will be a huge challenge. Holy s**t, Lieutenant indeed!"