Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1840 and many local Dorset towns and villages appear, albeit with fictional names, in his novels, the area of Wessex is thought to be a combination of the west country counties of Dorset, Somerset and Devon.
The Dorset County Museum in Dorchester has a fine collection of Hardy memorabilia. It is the Dorset County town and well worth a visit. Dorchester is the inspiration for Casterbridge in The Mayor of Casterbridge, it is also home to Max Gate, now owned by the National Trust, the home designed and subsequently lived in by Hardy until his death in 1928.
Thomas Hardy also spent a couple of years at Riverside Villa in Sturminster Newton, a town which he described as idyllic, here he wrote Return of the Native, and is referred to as Stourcastle that novel. Sturminster Newton is a pretty market town known as the heart of the Blackmore Vale, the Vale of Little Diaries in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. A couple of miles north of Sturminster is the large village of Marnhull a thought to be Marlott, the birthplace of Tess and home to Crown Inn, the Pure Drop Inn in the novel, drinking place of Tess’s father.
Shaftesbury about 8 miles north west of Hinton St Mary, Shaston in Jude the Obscure, is the highest town in Dorset. The town has fine views from Abbey Walk over the Blackmore Vale and has the very picturesque Gold Hill made famous by the nostalgic Hovis television advert.