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A Wessex path: Dorset’s Hardy Method results in the historic Smugglers Inn | Dorset holidays



No one appreciated the agricultural English panorama greater than a sure corn service provider’s son from Suffolk. John Constable made it his enterprise to color bucolic splendour, and maybe nobody has ever accomplished it higher. And when he went on vacation, on his honeymoon no much less, he selected one specific village.

I’m standing there, by the outdated, ivy-clad church wall in Osmington, Dorset, surveying the thatched roofs forward and the rising slope of the chalk hill past. By a gateway I spot a blue plaque on the outdated vicarage wall: “John Constable, English Romantic Painter, 1816, lived right here for 3 months”.


I’m unsure the data is totally correct. The honeymoon lasted six weeks and, though Constable did sleep and eat within the vicarage, many of the newlywed’s vacation should have been spent standing in entrance of his easel at numerous areas inside straightforward strolling distance of this spot. Not very romantic, I’d say; actually not from the viewpoint of his bride, Maria Bicknell. Their host, the Rev John Fisher, had trimmed any expectations she may need entertained, describing his dwelling life within the invitation: “My spouse is quiet & silent & sits & reads with out disturbing a soul. Mrs Constable might observe her instance.”

Osmington remains to be a quiet place, simply reached throughout the fields from our begin level in close by Osmington Mills. Subsequent door to Constable’s honeymoon house is the Twelfth-century St Osmund’s church, the place the gravestones give the flavour of days passed by on this coast: loads of drownings. When Constable got here, the complete space should have had the looks of a duck crossing a pond: serene on high, frantic beneath. The smuggling throughout the Channel was at its profitable and harmful peak – brandy in these days, not folks. Strolling down by the village, my companion, Sophie, spots a bottle buried within the wall, stated to be positioned there by a smuggler, pointing the best way to some stash, maybe.

Sutton Poyntz – a beautiful village with its beck working down the centre. {Photograph}: Nick Dawe

The trail leads us throughout soggy fields by the River Jordan in the direction of the village of Sutton Poyntz. The river’s identify might or is probably not biblical, however the water right here actually had magical qualities, rising from springs below the Dorset Ridgeway and serving a number of mills. Sutton Poyntz is a beautiful village with its beck working down the centre and a pub, the Springhead, in case you want refreshments earlier than the hill climb forward.

From there, we hike uphill on to the ridge, the place it’s blowing a gale and we’re grateful for the ragged hawthorn hedge shelter. Up on the hill is a big determine of a person on horseback, 98 metres tall, carved into the chalk in 1808. It was lower as a tribute to George III, who liked close by Weymouth, though one native legend is that he hated the hillside tribute for exhibiting him driving away from the city. The views are spectacular.

That is a part of the Hardy Method, a long-distance footpath that loops out of Dorchester for greater than 200 miles, ending in Stinsford churchyard, the place the writer’s coronary heart is buried. (A destiny opposite to his needs. The nation carried the remainder of him off to Poets’ Nook in Westminster Abbey.) The ridge holds many historic barrows and hill forts alongside its size, together with Maiden Fort, simply south of Dorchester.


Up right here on the county’s wind-battered backbone, Hardy’s world feels shut – the writer did plunder the world for inspiration. Right down to our proper is Poxwell Manor, which seems within the novel The Trumpet-Main, and after we recover from the hills and all the way down to the ocean we attain Ringstead, which seems as Ringworth in his Wessex Tales. A trio of roe deer skitter away as we arrive on the combination of shingle and sand, and sink gratefully into just a little stony solar entice, out of the wind.

Ringstead seashore, which seems in Hardy’s Wessex Tales as Ringworth.

There’s a selection now: observe the seashore west, on to more and more giant rocks, or head alongside the safer coastal path. We test the tides and select the seashore, searching out the seam of fossil shells the place a whole technology of molluscs perished, caught out by some climatic change. How lucky that people are rational, scientific creatures who may by no means make an analogous mistake. Additional alongside, the seashore throws up dozens of unusually rounded boulders that appear as if stranded turtles from a distance. On nearer examination, nevertheless, they appear extra like a type of seashore bum.

It was someplace simply past this level the place John Constable arrange his easel in 1816, portray the distant Portland Island tethered to the mainland by Chesil Seashore, and some wood boats, which have been fairly seemingly to have been smugglers’ vessels. (The unique portray is within the Clark Artwork Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.). You would proceed alongside the coast to Weymouth from right here, passing the spot the place he painted a second seascape (this one is within the Nationwide Gallery in London; different native drawings are within the V&A). Our path, nevertheless, leads up the cliff to Osmington Mills and the Smugglers Inn.

Google map of the route

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Begin and end Smugglers Inn, Osmington Mills
Distance 8 miles
Time 3.5 hours
Complete ascent 396 metres
Issue reasonable
GPX observe of route at Ordnance Survey web site

The pub

The Smugglers’ Inn

The primary thought that happens to me as I gaze down on the Smugglers Inn is: “What a champion spot to cover away in.” Your entire institution is tucked away from view in a slender little gorge and blends in very nicely.


It’s subsequently no shock to be taught that this historic ingesting den spent a lot of its lengthy profession dodging excisemen and secreting giant casks of illicit French spirits about its individual. Regardless of a number of identify modifications, the pub may by no means fairly shake off its pursuers. The landlords have been all seasoned smugglers who appear to have had a variety of enjoyable, notably Emmanuel Charles, who was contraband king within the early 1800s, and a person of some allure and nerve.

His importation enterprise was ably supported by an prolonged household of 27, all at completely different occasions convicted of smuggling. The legends are of sharp wits and wily subterfuges: one story tells how they tricked a customs man into hiding up the chimney, then lit the fireplace so he fell out coughing and choking. The reality might have been quite much less picturesque: one son was shot lifeless, a brother drowned, whereas Charles himself was stated to have died in poverty in Weymouth.

Fundamental menu dish of steak and Tangle Foot ale pie served with creamy mash, Badger beer gravy and braised crimson cabbage.

The large stone fire remains to be there, and with a formidable forged iron ship’s cannon too, however the present landlords have changed the real flames with an electrical. There are, nevertheless, nonetheless loads of cosy corners to cover away in, and the low beamed ceilings and stone flooring with rugs keep that authentic environment. I just like the black-and-white images on the partitions, a reminder that smuggling was just one a part of what was largely a farming, fishing and seafaring neighborhood: shipwrecks on native seashores and photos of bluefin tuna piled on a ship’s deck.


The pumps ship native Badger Brewery ales. Meals is sturdy pub fare delivered with native thrives and culinary aptitude. I can’t resist the steak and Tangle Foot pie, however it means giving up on the Brixham hake and the Devon crab. Thankfully, Sophie will get these, so I strive them anyway – each wonderful. I just like the dessert possibility too – an inexpensive mini-portion with espresso.

The rooms

Rooms hit the proper tone for a smuggling den, with loads of nautical artefacts and antiques, however all the mandatory gear to chill out after a good stroll, particularly tea and occasional tray (with biscuits), a proper-size bathtub for an extended soak, and a snug mattress (doubles from £122).

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