Rain doesn’t stop play

7 April 2014
Ben Pentreath

I arrived in Dorset on Friday afternoon to find the house and garden bathed in remarkable sunshine. It felt like a midsummer evening. Will and Maggie were driving down for the weekend, and my neighbours Ed and Christine were coming over for supper to celebrate 9 years since they moved to the village.

I snapped a couple of photos on instagram that evening…photo 1 photo 2…and that was the last we saw of the sun. The following morning a heavy fog lay in the valley, and rain was falling. We abandoned plans for Bridport market, never that fun in the wet, and decided instead to head to the tiny cottage, that none of us had visited before, which was Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, at Higher Bockhampton, just the other side of Dorchester. A good thing for a day like that.

P1020102If you visit, be sure to take the path through the woods to the cottage.  They are beautiful… the perfect approach. In the thick melancholic mist, totally quiet, with only the sound of birdsong, it felt  like walking through the opening pages of a Hardy novel.P1020077

P1020100 P1020094 P1020076 P1020093 P1020092 P1020089 P1020088 P1020103 P1020101 P1020086 P1020081 P1020080You approach the house from above. It nestles in a narrow valley.

P1020112 P1020108 P1020115Hardy’s family were builders, and his grandfather built the cottage. Here Hardy wrote his first two novels, Under the Greenwood Tree, and Far from the Madding Crowd. P1020119 P1020122 P1020128 P1020136

It was a beautiful place. Perfect.P1020144

We called in at Stinsford, to find his memorial in the churchyard, along with Hardy family graves, and the beautifully-carved gravestone of the poet Cecil Day Lewis.P1020145 P1020147 P1020148

Next on the journey: Max Gate, Hardy’s house that he designed and built on the outskirts of Dorchester. Hardy trained as an architect. I think it’s a good thing he wrote.

The house was horrible.

Partly… to be fair to Hardy, because it is furnished in faux-Hardy-style like some grim old people’s home from the 1970s…P1020164Partly, because of the gruesome attic where his wife Emma retreated for the last decades of her life, coming down only for an hour in the evening to sometimes have supper with Hardy. It was completely freaky:


But above all, it was basically just one of the nastiest houses I’ve been in for a very long time. Everything about it was badly planned, claustrophobic, awkward. I really hated it (can you tell?).   The sort of place where you visit and want to take a bath as soon as you get home. Such an extraordinary contrast to the beautiful, serene little place we had just been at.

You can tell why I’m not very good at English Literature. I’m sure that a lot of readers of the blog will know a lot more about Thomas Hardy than I do, although I love those of his novels that I’ve read. But certainly I never want to return to Max Gate again in my life. The National Trust guides, incidentally, could not have been friendlier and nicer.

We stopped for a brilliant lunch at the Buttercross Bakery in Poundbury, run by my friend Clive Cobb. Good to be in a place that felt alive again.P1020179 P1020180 P1020182I designed the Buttercross with Clive. The exterior is pure red-brick 18th century classical. Inside, we decided to leave the concrete blocks and steel frame exposed – pure and unadulterated, like Clive’s simple plain beautifully-baked food. Not to everyone’s taste,  but it feels curiously real amongst the cornices and sash windows of Poundbury. It has a great atmosphere. Call in if you are passing.

The Parsonage was still shrouded in a deep mist.

P1020191 P1020190

We went for a melancholic walk, exploring the derelict 19th-century stable block in the village…P1020199

And heading down the valley in to the gloom.P1020204 P1020203 P1020202 P1020201


I don’t think I can end the blog on quite such a grey note. Time to wake up. Hehehehe.

Well, you remember my crazy purple dining room?

P1020221Which now has a pair of bright orange curtains which I’ve moved from my old study upstairs…? Bonkers. My job lot of junk-auction Piranesi engravings is being framed as I write. But I had decided I wanted to carpet the room, with a proper wool carpet. If you’re going mental 1960s country-house-look, you’ve got to go the whole way. I wanted it to be olive green.

To complete a completely bizarre day, we stopped off at Carpet Right in Dorchester on the way home.

P1020172 P1020173 P1020170It’s a brilliant place. Here’s me and Sean ordering my carpet samples. Not quite where you’d expect to find me buying my carpets, eh? Think again.  I somehow suspect the FLASH SALE poster is there permanently, don’t you? We were the only customers.


They had exactly what I wanted.

P1020214 P1020215 P1020218 P1020219Say what you like about my dreadful taste. I’m loving it. I’m ordering that carpet next week. I think it is important not to use an underlay. I want to see the shadow of the floorboards coming through the pile, don’t you? The curtains need extending, so I’ll order a deep chocolate brown bullion fringe.

Maggie pointed out that colour inspiration was right outside the window.P1020220She had a pretty good point.

We woke up on Sunday morning. Guess what. More mist. We had breakfast and abandoned Dorset. Too much fog already. We had the smoothest drive back to London and a delicious lunch at the Bibendum Oyster bar and a happy mooch around the Conran Shop. Reminding one that the best of life is all about contrasts, and it’s never a good idea to let the gloom penetrate a whole weekend. Have a great week!

41 comments on this post



These photos of old trees are impressive. I like the way you catch so masterfully the essence of things and places. You would also be an excellent photographer.

All the best, from Lisbon


Love the color scheme, and agreed regarding the underlay, but I’d trim the curtains in “Harvest Gold” (in old refrigerator parlance).


And to think of all the glue that was scraped off of your lovely, wood, dining room floor (“English Decorating” pg. 90).
Wine stains won’t be as fetching on the new carpet- wait, maybe it will be safe if abstaining from alcohol prevails post lent?



Ben, i’ve long been an admirier of your work and also your blog, you share with such honesty which makes it so refreshing. Your tour of Hardy’s home brings me to think of the poem he wrote called:

Architectural Masks

There is a house with ivied walls,
And mullioned windows worn and old,
And the long dwellers in those halls
Have souls that know but sordid calls,
And dote on gold.

In a blazing brick and plated show
Not far away a ‘villa’ gleams,
And here a family few may know,
With book and pencil, viol and bow,
Lead inner lives of dreams.

The philosophic passers say,
‘See that old mansion mossed and fair,
Poetic souls therein are they:
And O that gaudy box! Away,
You vulgar people there.’


Matthew – interesting – I wonder if he knew which verse Max Gate falls in…?!

What awesome pictures. I would love to see a place like that with so much history. The tree pictures are really unique.
Thanks for sharing !!!


Thank you for the Hardy tour. It reminded me how much writers and artists are great at creative activity but often not very nice to the real people they live with who have to tolerate their “ways”;frequently women, but not always. Have inherited olive green carpet on the stairs and landing. Boring but extremely tolerant of life in general!


Olive green is not boring!!! 😉

Diane Keanesays:

Ben, I forgot to mention earlier–can’t wait to see the framed Piranesis in situ!!



I’m with those other slightly intimidated readers….most of your commenters seem to be very familiar with your subject matter, whereas it’s ALL new to me. A great education, comments included. Oh and this was a perfect post – nature and history and bold, happy-making decoration.


Thank you so much for posting and please don’t EVER feel intimated by the comments on the blog… that goes for everyone 😉 Ben

What a terrific set of photographs you share with your readers. I enjoyed seeing the woodlands in the mist, which reminded me of the woods I used to play in when I lived in Kent (now ensconsed in San Francisco).

I also loved your color choices – reminds me of an aubergine in the best possible way.

I will be visiting England for two weeks in late September, London as a base, I just added this trip to my visit including the restaurant, thank you! (not the carpet store)

It seems to be foggy and rainy in Dorset, N.C. and Sydney. Perhaps if we were to hover over the earth we’d see it wholly girt by rain.

Thomas Hardy, woods, houses – all very good but what really takes my fancy is Clive Cobb’s pasty. What nicer thing on a dank and gloomsome day.

My mind wasn’t sure about your colours but my eye certainly fancies them – scrolling up and down the pictures it was grabbed each time by a great tooting fanfare of colour, in an increasingly pleasing manner. I love all that humming going on between purple and orange. Especially in the corners. Found myself wondering whether white was really needed there, like some sober arbitrator, but couldn’t decide what else you could do.


Dear PMB it really should just be silver… I guess… which I can’t afford right now!

Ben, thank you for taking us along on your visit to Hardy’s cottage, and along the perfect route: the mist, the moss, the thatch—sooo charming, in a non-sweet, dreamy, nostalgic way. How different the aspect would be on a sunny day. I agree about the house he designed. Stuck somewhere in gothic-land. That entry way looks like it’s waiting to suck you in and you’ll never see the light of day again.

Well, I still have some mixed feelings about your dahlia-purple dining room, but I’m coming round. But that dull green carpeting??? Ben, it looks like something you found in Max Gate! Why not a green with presence, to hold its own with the walls and curtains? Like some of those fresh greens on the mossy trees, or even the lawn green outside your inspirational window view? Or if you must have olive, why not carpeting with tweedy texture of mixed greens, like the box by the tulips? So much solid color is kinda boring, I think. Well, that’s my rant for this week. Can’t wait to see the finished dining room décor, whatever you decide 🙂



hehehe I think it’s pretty good in person. I tried a greener green as well and it was a bit too, um, green 😉


I so agree with Penny, Ben. I love your blog but rarely comment, as your other commenters intimidate me! I feel like Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral – my American voice sounds off and I find myself writing and then deleting pseudo-British sounding comments.
Enough! I love your blog and I think your dining room color combination will give you great pleasure. Can’t wait to see the result.


Dear Elizabeth, you must never feel intimidated 🙂 THank you for posting. xB


Another dreamy rabbit hole wander with Ben and friends. Please and thank you.

I have the same weather here in N.C— foggy, rainy and a great day to stay inside and work‚or I’ll try.
xo, lissy

Hi Ben, I love your blog (& have ordered mail order from your shop-delicious brown paper tape & paper parcel), but I rarely comment; I think some others who comment sound so clever I am a bit too intimidated to join in the conversation! However, preamble done, I wanted to say thank you for showing us Thomas Hardy’s house. I visited it many years ago whilst holidaying in the area and found it wonderfully atmospheric and simply fascinating to see. I think the garden was more fully in bloom as it was the summer and the flowers were lush and plentiful. I also wanted to say I love love love the colours you have chosen for your dining room. Brash, bold, yet comforting to someone of my age (50) because they remind me of the ‘chic’ tastes from my childhood! So thank you for taking me back in time this week.

Your garden in the mist looks heavenly. Love the rows of cloches
and how it lovely it is! Aiming for that here…
The green/orange/purple is inspired and glad your tulips have obliged you. Thus says the woman who has just ordered ‘Lipstick’ pink linen for the loose covers of my sofas. Matches the cherry blossom.
Gorgeous as always. Thank you for sharing.


Lipstick pink sounds fab. 🙂

Keith Brookssays:

It was a foggy weekend in Poundbury not helped by Clive Cobb’s van handbrake failing and it decided to leave its parking space near Buttermarket and roll 100 yds into the side of my Ben Pentreath designed house.


Keith oh NO!!!!!

Peter Crispsays:

I love Hardy’s poetry (you can keep the novels) more every year – it’s not primarily youth’s cup of tea, I should say, but one of the consolations of middle age.


Wonderful post, Ben! I’ll give Max Gate a miss – how brilliantly you evoke its doomy atmosphere!

Re: Hardy’s heart: it was his express wish that his heart should be buried in Dorset. I heard a truly gruesome story about it that might have come from a Hardy novel. Apparently, the heart was removed and as the remains were being attended to, the cat snatched the heart…….. feel free to delete this post if you think it’s too much information…..


It’s fantastic information 😉

Erica W.says:

I can’t get past the heart-only burial. Is that a common thing for writers? Does everyone with his ashes in the writer’s corner at Westminster Abbey have his heart extracted pre-cremation and buried in his home town churchyard? Was this something Hardy specifically requested? What is up with that???


If you’re not going to do a David Hicks geometric carpet in the dining room, olive green is surely the next best thing.


Yes… yes… I thought of a Hicks carpet I must admit, it might have been a tiny bit too much ‘do not adjust your screen’…!

Sophie Ruckersays:

Wonderfully atmospheric photos of the woods. The gloom of Max Gate is perfectly described in Christopher Nicholson’s recently published novel ‘Winter’ (Fourth Estate). Thank you for the vibrant purple and orange to uplift us!

Ben, I couldn’t agree more with you more, Max Gate is vile. I find it strangely at odds with his writing and his attitudes; expecting, somehow, for it to be in sympathy with the Dorset landscape and traditions. It is not.

Colour combo is delicious! Mustard yellow silk cushions embellished with Japanese Obi ties?


Mustard yellow is floating around in my head

Ben that was one of may favourite blogs of all time. You have an excellent sense of humour. Loved the pics of the woods and the surprise of the picture postcard cottage Hardy was born in. Yes agree much better writer than architect and loved the fact you dropped off to the garish carpet joint. Nice contrast. I have read this entry three times and makes me laugh every time. A delight!


chuckle, and thank you!

Derek Hepworthsays:

Wonderful photos of the woods in the mist- I do hope you collected the wild garlic leaves for your salad. And visiting the National Trust’s properties reminded me that you promised a blog on dumbing down at that institution’s houses- hope you will get round to sharing your thoughts soon.


Derek thank you for the reminder. You’re right. I will add it to the list…!

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