– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
Today we are visiting one of those places that has always been part of my life. We used to come here regularly when I was a child, travelling in my uncle’s old Morris 10, often loaded up with at least 7 family members……in a 4 seater car! These were the days before seat belts and health & safety regulations took hold, and in any event, the car would barely travel at more than 30 mph with all that weight up. And of course, there was all the picnic paraphernalia that had to be strapped to the luggage rack in an old suitcase, a primus stove to cook on, paraffin, kettle, frying pan, plates, cutlery, water, and a myriad other things; and all for a day trip 🙂 ! The place in question is the Hardy Monument.
The Hardy Monument
So why does this place mean so much? Well, when I was a child, we had no car and no way of reaching the monument, or anywhere else that was too far away from where we lived for that matter. The exception was for one period in the year when my father would borrow my uncle’s old car for his annual holidays….in return for his maintaining it for the rest year as my uncle knew nothing about engines! But for those two weeks each year, we were able to go and visit our favourite places, and this was one of them.
For a child, the excitement of having a car for a short time was immense and we absolutely loved it. All of us would pile in it and travel for miles, very slowly, even sometimes having to get out and walk up the hills because the car just couldn’t make it with so much weight on board! In these days of motorways and speedy travel, it seems hard to imagine how far we travelled back in the 1950’s, making it to places like Regent’s Park Zoo, a 200 mile round trip, all driven at 30mph, or maybe 40 on downhill sections 🙂 , and all on country lanes.
Anyway, enough reminiscing 🙂 ! Some might think that the Hardy Monument might have been erected in memory of arguably Dorset’s most famous son, the author Thomas Hardy, but in fact it was erected in memory of a different Thomas Hardy altogether. This monument was erected in memory of Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy who was a commander at the Battle of Trafalgar and served on HMS Victory. He is famed for being asked to kiss Nelson as he died. Admiral Hardy lived in the nearby town of Portesham and his family owned the Portesham Estate, including Black Down on which the monument was erected.
The monument stands just 72 feet high but Black Down itself is 850 feet above sea level, making the monument visible from as far as a 100Km away. Its visibility was key because Hardy’s family wanted it to be used by seamen as a navigation aid. Its shape is also deliberate since it mirrors the shape of the telescope that Hardy used…..although some still say it resembles a factory chimney! Octagonal in shape, its corners are directed towards the main compass points.
As with all ancient monuments, this one has fallen into disrepair at times and was restored by Hardy’s descendants in 1900 and again in 1908 before being passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1938. At some point it became derelict again and certainly when I visited in my youth I was unable to climb to the top. Fortunately the National Trust carried out a refurbishment programme in 2011, safeguarding it for future generations.
One other interesting fact is that the stone to build the monument came from a quarry at the bottom of the hill. That quarry though had been closed for years because it wasn’t economically viable, so it was re-opened just to extract the stone for this building and then closed again.
The Hardy Monument, or Hardy’s Monument as we knew it, is one of those places that held an air of mystery about it when I was a child and as I was growing up. This was perhaps in part because it was closed to the public at the time with dangerously crumbling steps inside. And I remember always wishing I could climb to the top but never being able. When it was restored and opened again after many many years, I still did not quite get round to climbing those 122 mysterious steps into the unknown until on a recent walk when I finally made it to the top and fulfilled a childhood dream.
Was it worth the climb and the wait? Well, in truth the views from the top are simply amazing, but then, the views from the bottom are equally awesome. For me though, it was much more personal than that, so for me, it was definitely worth it!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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