Kit P

Hiking Dorset in a writer's footsteps — the Hardy Way

JackPeasePhotography (CC BY 2.0)

Hiking Dorset in a writer's footsteps — the Hardy Way

Hiking Collection by Kit P

22

Tours

96:45 h

224 mi

14,375 ft

This exceptionally stunning long-distance footpath takes you through the countryside that inspired Thomas Hardy to write his most famous novels and poetry. At 220 miles (354 km) long, the route offers a comprehensive exploration of Dorset’s wonderful, undulating landscape and will leave you with a strong impression of Hardy’s world, as little seems to have changed in many places.

Situated halfway along England’s south coast, Dorset is a county of mild weather, tremendous coastlines and rural landscapes. More than half of it is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and most of its coastline is part of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With no cities and only a few large towns, the landscape is instead dedicated to rolling chalk downland, pastoral countryside and gorgeous little villages.

While this hike takes in many of Hardy’s haunts and sites of inspiration, a more extensive history seeps out of the ground. Dorset has been occupied since the Neolithic era and the land is littered with remnants of ancient history. Long barrows, tumuli, castles, dykes and hillforts are so numerous you simply can’t avoid them. With museums in several locations, it’s not difficult to delve into the history of this magnificent area.

The Hardy Way begins at Hardy’s Cottage, the writer’s birthplace and a beautiful thatched house just to the east of Dorchester. You hike east through plantations and across the River Piddle to Bere Regis and its neighbouring heathland. Then, the path promptly heads seawards, taking you across rural landscapes to the phenomenal Lulworth Cove. This section of coastline has geological marvel after geological marvel. If you have time, spending a full day exploring the immediate area is wonderful, particularly as Durdle Door is just around the corner.

From Kimmeridge Bay, the Way leads you north into the glorious landscape of the Isle of Purbeck, a large peninsula. Much of this area has recently been transformed into a ‘super-reserve’ and comprises multiple thriving habitats for rare birds, insects and wildlife. Here, you’ll find the mighty Corfe Castle atop its hill.

Heathlands take you to the historic market town of Wareham and up across serene landscapes to another market town; Wimborne Minster. From here, hike to Badbury Rings, an Iron Age hillfort in impressive shape. The trail loops north and enters Cranborne Chase AONB and the West Wiltshire Downs.

Winding across the fantastically peaceful landscape to the south west, you see old churches, thatched farmhouses, chuckling rivers and vibrant woodlands. Eventually, the Way brings you through Bridport and back to the coast at West Bay. Head south east to the extraordinary Isle of Portland and the famous Chesil Beach. After looping this dramatic headland and taking in a chalk horse hillside carving, the trail leads back up to Dorchester, to Max Gate, Hardy’s home of 40 years. Finally, the hike culminates just to the north at Stinsford churchyard, where the writer’s heart is buried with his wife (his body lying at Westminster Abbey).

Dorset is a place of mild weather which means you can walk this route, or any sections of it, throughout the year. However, visitor numbers fluctuate with the seasons so you might find that some cafes, accommodation and attractions are only open for the warmer half of the year. On top of this, this charming landscape is best seen in spring and summer, thanks to its abundance of wildlife and verdant nature.

Much of the hike is rural and while accommodation is plentiful in the area, particularly in spring and summer, you may need to deviate towards the end of stages to reach a place to stay. There’s only one section where timing is important; the army operates live firing ranges on the coast around Worbarrow Bay and Kimmeridge. This means that you can only walk this section on a weekend or bank holiday. You should also keep to the footpath, pay attention to signage and not approach anything that looks remotely like an explosive (the paths are kept clear).

Dorchester benefits from two train stations, with trains to Bournemouth, Southampton and London. You can also catch the train to Yeovil for destinations such as Bristol and the South West. The Yeovil line is a different station than the London line, although they are closeby. To reach the start at Hardy’s Cottage, take a taxi or catch the 187 bus from South Station to King’s Pond (Blandford direction) and use the footpath that heads south then east on the south side of the A35. A fast road, care should be taken when walking the short distance on the verge here.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    05:25
    12.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    725 ft
    850 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This initial stage of the Hardy Way is a little undulating but not noticeably and takes you through classic Dorset heathland landscapes. With charming place names, peaceful fields and vibrant …

  • Intermediate
    04:55
    11.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    450 ft
    500 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage spends most of its time wandering southwards across heathland, through plantations and crosses two rivers. The only place to get food is Bere Regis at the start and …

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  • Intermediate
    02:56
    6.63 mi
    2.3 mph
    550 ft
    600 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage meanders south over Dorset’s undulating chalk downland, all the way to the coast. The gradients are largely gentle and the scenery is largely rolling grassy hills. The only …

  • Difficult
    05:36
    12.0 mi
    2.1 mph
    1,675 ft
    1,400 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This delightful stage follows the coastline and has exceptional views of Lyme Bay and Portland. However, it traverses the Lulworth Firing Range, and as a result, can only be walked …

  • Intermediate
    03:38
    8.36 mi
    2.3 mph
    425 ft
    875 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage takes you to one of Purbeck’s most famous places: Corfe Castle. This stage is perhaps one of the most quintessentially Purbeck, if not Dorset. With chalk hills, heathland …

  • Intermediate
    04:20
    10.2 mi
    2.4 mph
    525 ft
    375 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage explores some of Dorset’s majestic heathland and spends a lot of time in Wareham Forest, already featured briefly on the Hardy Way. With plantations, heath and typical sandy …

  • Intermediate
    03:43
    8.76 mi
    2.4 mph
    350 ft
    450 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The landscape on this stage deviates from the heathland of the previous stages and lies on the edge of the chalk downlands but without the marked downs of Purbeck. You …

  • Difficult
    05:48
    13.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    650 ft
    550 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Enjoy gently undulating landscapes across the rural fields alongside the River Allen. This hike includes an ancient hillfort, a Roman road and some wonderful old houses and mills. There are …

  • Intermediate
    03:43
    8.56 mi
    2.3 mph
    625 ft
    525 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Hiking from village to village, this section takes in mostly pretty, pastoral countryside and some lovely historic houses. A short stage, there’s nowhere to get sustenance while walking apart from …

  • Intermediate
    04:41
    10.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    925 ft
    750 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The section winds its way across fields, through forests, over hills and through quaint villages in a landscape rich is history. Keen-eyed hikers will spot tumuli, cross dykes and earthworks …

  • Intermediate
    04:57
    11.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    650 ft
    850 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    With the wonderful town of Shaftesbury near the beginning of this hike, there’s plenty of exploration to be had of both rural and urban varieties. The hike starts fairly high …

  • Intermediate
    04:00
    9.53 mi
    2.4 mph
    425 ft
    350 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This hike takes in the rivers Stour and Divelish, meandering through gorgeous countryside past historic settlements and across peaceful farmland. Largely flat, it’s as easy on the thighs as it …

  • Intermediate
    03:35
    8.20 mi
    2.3 mph
    700 ft
    525 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This is the kind of hike that you spend in total bliss, ambling along without a care in the world, simply listening to the birds in the trees and the …

  • Intermediate
    04:49
    11.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    1,025 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This undulating stage wanders about all over the place; up hills, through woodlands, past villages and rarely in the same direction as the previous mile. You’ll get lovely views as …

  • Intermediate
    04:51
    10.9 mi
    2.2 mph
    975 ft
    1,100 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage is gently hilly almost all the time; you’re either going up or you’re going down. The landscape is typically bucolic and there are several opportunities to spot historic …

  • Intermediate
    03:39
    8.61 mi
    2.4 mph
    325 ft
    500 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    From the country to the coast, this stage takes you more or less due south to the sea. Fields, rivers and pretty little villages are the sites along here and …

  • Intermediate
    04:42
    10.8 mi
    2.3 mph
    775 ft
    625 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The stage is a long, breathtaking cliff-top extravaganza. This section of the coastline is more or less dead straight and there’s little in the way of undulation until you turn …

  • Difficult
    05:23
    12.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    525 ft
    675 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This hike spends half its time enjoying the gently undulating chalk landscapes and half its time gazing at the phenomenal Chesil Beach and the sea beyond. There’s not much in …

  • Difficult
    05:10
    11.7 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,000 ft
    950 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage takes place entirely on the Isle of Portland, connected only to the mainland by a road bridge and a strip of beach: Chesil Beach. This island is a …

  • Intermediate
    03:40
    8.80 mi
    2.4 mph
    275 ft
    225 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage spends much of its time in Weymouth and I’ve purposefully left it fairly short so you can explore this historic seaside town. With several castles, a large harbour …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    22
  • Distance
    224 mi
  • Duration
    96:45 h
  • Elevation
    14,375 ft
Kit P

Hiking Dorset in a writer's footsteps — the Hardy Way