With its stunning Jurassic coastline and picturesque rolling hills, Dorset offers a wealth of exceptional driving routes that will captivate any traveler. From historical landmarks to breathtaking vantage points, these routes allow you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the British countryside. In this blog post, we have curated a selection of the best driving routes in Dorset, all inspired by the literary connections of the renowned Victorian novelist, Thomas Hardy.

The Inner Tour

Embark on the Inner Tour, a shorter circular route that takes you through the heart of Thomas Hardy's Dorset. This journey is replete with notable landmarks and literary attractions, making it a perfect day out in the Dorset countryside. As you navigate the country roads and breathe in the crisp Dorset air, keep an eye out for the places that hold a significant connection to Hardy's works. To honor our association with the esteemed novelist and his impact on this land, we have included the fictional names from Hardy's novels in parentheses.

Dorchester (Casterbridge)
In Dorchester, you will find The Dorset County Museum, which boasts a fine collection of Hardy memorabilia, and numerous buildings that feature in Hardy novels. One notable location is Max Gate, designed by Hardy in 1885, and his home for the rest of his life. Max Gate is now in the care of the National Trust.

Stinsford (Mellstock)
Stinsford holds a number of intimate connections to Thomas Hardy’s life. Hardy was christened at the church in Stinsford and his first wife Emma is buried in the churchyard. Whilst Hardy wanted to be buried with her, only his heart is laid to rest in Emma's grave.

Higher Bockhampton (Upper Mellstock)
In Higher Bockhampton, you will find a quintessential thatched cottage oozing country charm; this, is Hardy’s birthplace. Now run by the National Trust, Hardy’s Cottage is a literary lover’s haven. After gathering insight into the author’s early life, the food at the nearby Yalbury Cottage provides the perfect replenishment.

West Stafford
Fans of Hardy’s esteemed novel, Tess of the d'Urberville's, will be enthralled to visit the church in West Stafford. This parish church is the likely marital place of Tess and Angel Clare in the novel, offering a brief glimpse into the fictional world.

In 1856, Hardy's father was engaged to repair the thatched Woodsford Castle. Young Thomas Hardy assisted in preparing the plans for its remodeling, which ultimately led to an apprenticeship offer from the castle's owner, the architect John Hicks.

Explore the cemetery in Moreton, where you will find the grave of Hardy's friend, TE Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Bere Regis (Kingsbere)
Bere Regis serves as the inspiration for the town featured in both Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd. In the south wall of the church, you can find the spot where Tess set up her family's bed beneath the Turberville window. Inside the church, you'll discover the tombs of the Turbervilles.

Athelhampton (Athelhull)
Hardy's father contributed to the restoration of the magnificent medieval hall at Athelhampton House and Gardens. Hardy himself even painted a watercolour of the house. Experience the inspiration for the painting with a leisurely stroll through the stunning manor house and its neatly manicured gardens.

Puddletown (Weatherbury)
Puddletown boasts deep connections to Hardy, with his grandfather and great-grandfather both being Puddletown natives. Such sentimentality manifests in Hardy’s works with the church gallery being celebrated in Under the Greenwood Tree. Avid readers of Hardy will also recall Troy spending a night in the church porch in Far From the Madding Crowd.

Cerne Abbas (Abbot's Cernel)
The village, more famous for the ancient figure of a giant carved into the hillside, featured in The Woodlanders and Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The tithe barn in Cerne Abbas may also be the model for the great barn in Far From the Madding Crowd.

The Outer Tour of Thomas Hardy’s Dorset

For those with more time to spare, the Outer Tour offers an extended exploration of Thomas Hardy's Dorset. While you can combine both tours, the Outer Tour alone may take two or three days to complete. Similar to the Inner Tour, this route unveils significant connections to Hardy's life and creative inspiration. As you venture along this route, keep an eye out for the following notable points of interest:

Weymouth (Budmouth Regis)
Hardy worked as an architect in Weymouth from 1869 to 1870, and the town features in Under the Greenwood Tree. Take a break for lunch in one of the many excellent restaurants in Weymouth or Portland, or enjoy a seaside picnic against the backdrop of rolling waves and refreshing sea breeze.

Woolbridge Manor, known as Wellbridge Manor in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, is where Angel Clare and Tess spent their honeymoon.

East Lulworth
In 1863, Hardy participated in the restoration of St. Andrew's church in East Lulworth. The church now hosts a permanent exhibition dedicated to Hardy's life – an insightful and inspiring experience for all visitors.

Swanage (Knollsea)
Swanage was Hardy's home from 1875-1876, and it was during this period that he wrote The Hand of Ethelberta.

Bournemouth (Sandborne)
Fans of Tess of the d'Urbervilles will recall Bournemouth as the home of Tess when living with Alec d'Urberville. Its inspiration for Hardy’s novels, however, is vast with the town also featuring in The Well-Beloved and Jude the Obscure.

Poole (Havenpool)
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Newson landed here on his return from Newfoundland. The town also features in two poems: The Chapel Organist and The Mongrel.

Wimborne Minster (Warborne)
From 1881 to 1883, Hardy resided in Wimborne Minster with his first wife, Emma.

Salisbury (Melchester)
In Jude the Obscure, Jude worked at Salisbury Cathedral, and Sue and Phillotson were married in St. Thomas’ Church. The novel’s character Sue also attended the Teacher Training College, as did Hardy's two sisters in real life. It was at nearby Stonehenge that Tess was arrested in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Shaftesbury (Shaston)
Philotson was the schoolmaster at Shaftesbury in Jude the Obscure. As well as providing fruitful literary inspiration, visitors of Shaftesbury can benefit from the superb views over Blackmoor Vale provided by Gold Hill.

Marnhull (Marlott)

Just outside the village is Tess Cottage, thought to be the model for Durbetfield's home in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Sturminster Newton (Stourcastle)

Hardy and his first wife, Emma, lived here at Riverside Villa in 1876-78. Hardy called their life here "our happiest time".

Sherborne (Sherton Abbas)
Giles Winterborne sold his apple trees in the Market Place here in The Woodlanders. Sherborne Abbey also features in the novel.

Melbury Osmond (Great Hintock)
Hardy's parents were married in the church here, and his mother grew up in a thatched house nearby. The Woodlander’s final scene also takes place in the churchyard, adding a sentimental, cyclical touch to Hardy’s work.

Beaminster (Emminster)
In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Angel Clare's father was vicar here.

Bridport (Port Bredy)

Bridport is the setting for the story Fellow-Townsmen, and the nearby secluded harbour of West Bay is mentioned in The Woodlanders.

Portland (Isle of Slingers)
The Isle of Portland, joined to the mainland by the narrow strand of Chesil Beach, is the setting and creative inspiration for The Well-Beloved.

Embarking on these driving routes through Dorset allows you to immerse yourself in the world of Thomas Hardy, where the beauty of the landscape intertwines with the author's literary legacy. From exploring historic sites to discovering hidden gems, each stop along these routes offers a glimpse into Hardy's life and the inspirations behind his beloved novels. With these routes in mind, why not follow in Hardy's footsteps and embark on a journey through the enchanting Dorset countryside, where the essence of the Victorian era and Hardy's rich imagination await.