Monday, 30 April 2012

Thomas Hardy and Emma at the Old Rectory, St Juliot's

The Old Rectory, St Juliot's, North Cornwall.

As Hardy buffs will know, the Old Rectory at St Juliot's, in a remote part of North Cornwall, hidden away down a warren of sunken lanes and in a dell of its own, is where Thomas Hardy was sent as a young architect to restore the roof of the church and thus met his first wife to be, Emma.

Photos of Thomas Hardy and Emma in the dining room of the Old Rectory.

Her flowing, abundant golden curls and her blue eyes inspired his novel 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' and it was wonderful to re-read the fictionalized account of their meeting whilst I was sitting at a desk by the window in the room Hardy is thought to have stayed in.

The Old Rectory is now a B and B, and staying there is something I have always wanted to do but had no reason to when I lived in a nearby cottage many years ago, in the late 70s . I used to take winter lets to hole up and write my first novel ('The Triple Spiral') but had to move out before tourists arrived for Easter and the rent went up out of my reach.

So it was lovely to be in Cornwall at a time of year when I was usually leaving: a chance to see those famed daffodils, primroses and the blackthorn (which is, of course, white) blossom covering the cliffs above Boscastle- a sight I usually missed.

View of the cliffs looking north from above Boscastle. Beeny is the highest cliff in view: where Emma would ride her pony and Hardy walk alongside in their days of courtship.

Far from the crowds mooching round harbour at Boscastle, it was a peaceful and blessed relief to wander up the lane from the rectory to St Juliot's church with its daffodil-strewn graveyard

or to go round the woodland gardens of the Old Rectory itself which were stunning - camellias and early red rhododendrons also out. The owners encourage you to wander about - to sit on the seat where Hardy and Emma sat overlooking the Valency Valley (where they lost a picnic cup), and to tour the small-holding with their reddy brown and black stripped pigs, their Jacob's sheep, geese and solar panels. This is a self-sufficiency green idyll.

Hardy's marriage to Emma turned sour and he treated her appallingly, only to repent when she was dead. A nostalgic visit to North Cornwall, walking their old haunts and seeing her ghost, led to some of his greatest poems. I think I love the poems more than the novels. Though re-reading them this visit, with their overblown language, 'opal' and 'sapphire' sea and Beeny's wild weird 'chasmic' beauty, it's hard to appreciate that the more difficult poems presaged the early Modernists.

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