Dorset Magazine – March 2023
English | 117 pages | pdf | 91.77 MB
Welcome at Dorset Magazine March 2023 Issue
When Alfred the Great became King of Wessex in871AD, it firmly rooted this Anglo-Saxon Kingdom into our island’s history. Nearly a century later, the great earldoms of the late Anglo-Saxon period, including Wessex, were swept away by our Norman conquerors.
It wouldn’t be until 1874, that the name ‘Wessex’ returned to common parlance when Thomas Hardy first mentions ‘South Wessex’ in Far from the Madding Crowd. In the preface to the 1895 reprint, by which stage people would be familiar with the ‘partly real, partly dream-country’ of Wessex, Hardy reflects on his adoption of an ‘extinct kingdom’ plucked from the pages of early English history. ‘The series of novels I projected being mainly of the kind called local, they seemed to require a territorial definition of some sort to lend unity to their scene. Finding that the area of a single county did not afford a canvas large enough for this purpose, and that there were objections to an invented name, I disinterred the old one.’
It appears that even Hardy was surprised at how enthusiastically the press and the public embraced the idea of ‘a Wessex living under Queen Victoria’ – up until this point Wessex was connected to pre-Conquest times.
‘The appellation which I had thought to reserve to the horizons and landscapes of a merely realistic dream-country, has become more and more popular as a practical definition; and the dream-country has, by degrees, solidified into a utilitarian region which people can go to, take a house in, and write to the papers from’
Contained within the Wessex landscapes, and something
that Hardy would have been familiar with are holloways.
In his 2011 book Holloway (a glorious collaboration with Dan Richards and illustrator Stanley Donwood), Robert Macfarlane describes these deep paths as ‘the view down a rifled barrel; an eye to the keyhole; a glimpse into the shade world’.
I have always been intrigued by these creases in the land, some dating from before the first Wessex came into being. Who could resist immersing oneself in a holloway called Hell Lane? (It runs between Symonds bury and North Chideock.) So, I’m excited to see what secrets are discovered when Natural England carry out a 30 scan of Shute’s Lane in March, a holloway near Bridport. I have no doubt that from the carvings on its walls to the flora and fauna it supports, much will be revealed. But as Macfarlane says: ‘They are rifts within which time might exist as pure surface’. So, for me that sense of a mysterious hidden world will always remain within the bosky depths of a Dorset holloway. ♦
Helen Stiles – Editor – Dorset Magazine – Fallow @dorsetmag