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Leaving my heart at Stinsford

"Of durance – that is I; The eternal thing in man,

that heeds no call to die"

– Heredity, Thomas Hardy

Intro

The sound of the birds are muffled now as I sit on a woven gold cushion, dust swirling in the sunlit air. The floor in front of me is flooded with colour – the window spilling a rainbow of glass shadows over the ledge onto the carpet.

It's not hard to see why Thomas Hardy loved this place – unlike its serious, poe-faced brethren, this little church wraps its arms around you in paternal warmth, making you feel like you've always known it, always belonged.

So I can see why, a century after his death, Thomas Hardy's heart remains here.

Belonging

I'm sat inside Saint Michael's Parish Church; a kindly building, tucked neatly into the Dorset hills, which has been politely minding its own business since the 13th-century.

This is the place where Thomas was baptised, where he visited each Sunday when he was a boy, where he taught Sunday school, and where, in later life, he returned to as a man, keen to aid in its restoration and upkeep.

It's also a place where Thomas Hardy's family made their mark: his grandfather, Thomas the First, was an active part of the choir, rewriting the instrumentals to perfection; whilst several other family members sealed their reputations as accomplished violinists in the music gallery.

This is also the place where Thomas wished to be laid to rest alongside his first wife, and true love, Emma Gifford.

But it was not to be.

Sleeping

Although the soft ground of Saint Michaels' Parish Church cradles Hardy's parents, as well as his brothers and sisters, only one part of Thomas sleeps in this spot of Dorset earth today.

A grateful nation thought Hardy deserved the grandeur in death that he actually shied away from in life, and so placed the poet's ashes in a chilly Westminster Abbey at Poet's Corner – leaving his heart interred in Stinsford.

As I wander back outside into warmer air, I feel sad. I know that Thomas Hardy's heart belongs here, but so too does the rest of him surrounded by the people he loved, whose hearts he warmed. And I find myself hoping that he isn't lonely up there in London so far away from us all.

And so I end my trip to Stinsford by finding Hardy's smokey-grey tomb, with it's three modest tiers, and singularly poignant inscription:

"Here lies the heart of Thomas Hardy, son of Thomas and Jemima Hardy."

I have nothing to place on the grave, no token of admiration to give; so I just stare for a while, blinking against the sunlight.

Then, slowly, I make my way home – my heart a little heavier than before.


CITY


Profile photo of Claire Robinson

Meet Claire. An award-winning freelance writer, based in Gloucestershire, England, with an obsession for travel and gin. Her difference? Everywhere she goes, she seems to bring calamity along also. So her stories have a humorous edge - and are mostly about Claire making a travel buffoon of herself. For Claire, too much travel content is serious and high-brow. Her take on travelling is the opposite - her view is a fun one, with a lightness of touch that makes travelling feel real and human. And if she makes people laugh along the way with her tips, personal stories, and guides, then all the better.



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