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Hardy's Dorset

Among this region's proudest claims is its connection with Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), one of England's most celebrated novelists. If you read some of Hardy's novels before visiting Dorset—re-created by Hardy as his part-fact, part-fiction county of Wessex—you may well recognize some places immediately from his descriptions. The tranquil countryside surrounding Dorchester is lovingly described in Far from the Madding Crowd, and Casterbridge, in The Mayor of Casterbridge, stands for Dorchester itself. Any pilgrimage to Hardy's Wessex begins at the author's birthplace in Higher Bockhampton, 3 miles east of Dorchester. Salisbury makes an appearance as "Melchester" in Jude the Obscure. North of Dorchester, walk in the footsteps of Jude Fawley by visiting the village of Shaftesbury—"Shaston"—and its steep Gold Hill, a street lined with cottages. Today many of these sights seem frozen in time, and Hardy's spirit is ever present.

Maiden Castle. This castle is one of the most important pre-Roman archaeological sites in England. It's not an actual castle but an enormous Iron Age hill fort of stone and earth with ramparts that enclose about 45 acres. England's Neolithic inhabitants built the fort some 4,000 years ago, and many centuries later it was a Celtic stronghold. In AD 43 invading Romans, under the general (later emperor) Vespasian, stormed the fort. Finds from the site are on display in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. To experience an uncanny silence and sense of mystery, climb Maiden Castle early in the day. Leave your car in the lot at the end of Maiden Castle Way, a 1½-mile lane. A354, 2 miles southwest of Dorchester, Dorchester.

Updated: 2013-10-15

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