Category Archives: Literary history

FAIRY TALE ROAD, GERMANY – not all Grimm

The Musicians of Bremen


Once upon a time, a boy called Richard left his family and friends for a while and went out into the world, seeking fame, fortune and fun. He flew over the sea and landed in the city of Frankfurt, where people ate long sausages and drank beer from the largest glasses he had ever seen.

Just outside Frankfurt is a road, 400 miles long, winding through the countryside. People call it the Fairy Tale Road, and along it are towns where many adventures had begun, long, long ago.

The Brothers Grimm were born in Steinau, near Frankfurt. Their house is now a museum and for many visitors it’s the start of the Fairy Tale Road. Other towns along the road proudly spruik their fairytale credentials too. Any deep dark forest has to be the very one where Red Riding Hood got lost and any castle with a tower on top offers visitors the chance to rest very comfortably like Sleeping Beauty or let their hair down like Rapunzel.

Unfortunately I had no time for getting lost in forests and, although sleeping in castles is fine if they’re centrally heated, it can also be rather expensive.

Instead I cut to the chase and took a train to Hamelin, where the famous tale began in 1284. The area around Hamelin Station was anything but the stuff of fairytales – nondescript streets with Internet cafes and doner kebab shops.

Things became a little more fairytale-like as I entered the Altstadt or ‘Old City’. A line of white rats painted on the ground led me on a walk through wide squares and narrow lanes, where half timbered houses were covered with brightly coloured wooden carvings, and many had numbers over the door claiming they were hundreds of years old.

Altstadt, Hamelin


In the storybook, Hamelin’s rats were drowned in the River Weser, but they’ve sneaked back into the town since then. Pedlars sell rat-shaped cookies, and there are rat statues, rat fountains, rat toys, paintings and postcards, and nearly every building is called ‘rat’ something. There’s the Rat Catcher’s House, Rat Catcher’s Hall, Hotel Rat Catcher, and even the town hall where the mayor and corporation hold important meetings is called the ‘Rathaus’.

Pied Piper - town hall clock

I walked out of the town along the River Weser where the rats had drowned. It was pleasant green countryside, and many of Hamelin’s citizens were riding their bicycles and exercising their dogs. But the sky grew dark and rain began to fall heavily, and soon I knew exactly how the rats must have felt.

So I turned back to the train station. ‘When does the train go to Bremen?’ I asked a little man in a blue jacket and red peaked cap. ‘At ten minutes to two precisely,’ said the man, with a twinkle in his eye. And, sure enough, it arrived on time, exactly as the little man had predicted.

You remember the Bremen story of course; donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster set out for Bremen to become musicians. In the storybook, the animals never reach the town, but there they are now in a particularly beautiful market square, standing on top of each other.

In front of the ornate town hall stands a giant statue, six hundred years old and several metres high, of Roland, the defender of Bremen, holding his unbreakable magic sword, Durendal.

Roland Statue - Bremen Market


An intriguing narrow lane called the Bottcherstrasse led away from the square. It looked really ancient, but when I googled it later, I learned that although some of the houses were old, it was developed into a museum street in 1926-30, with money donated by a burgher of Bremen, Dr Roselius, who made his fortune from the invention of decaffeinated coffee.

At last it was time to leave the Fairy Tale Road. Richard hadn’t yet found fame and fortune, but he had found fun. ‘One out of three is a start,’ he laughed, and went on his merry way, hoping to live happily ever after.

TRIP NOTES:

Getting there:
The best way to explore the Fairy Tale Road is by car, but trains run from Frankfurt to Hamelin and Bremen. Prices to either town start from EUR29 one way. For full fares and timetables, see bahn.de/international.

Staying there: Hotel zur Krone, Hamelin, has single/double rooms for EUR68/80 hotelzurkrone.de Hotel Bremer Haus, near Bremen station, has rooms for single/double EUR80/110. hotel-bremer-haus.de. Both hotels include breakfast.

Further information: hameln.com, bremen-tourism.de

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Filed under Germany, Hiking, Literary history, Travel, Travel- Europe

BOOKS AS TRAIN TICKETS – a brilliant idea!

This is not exactly a travel story, but it’s such a brilliant idea I thought it worth a spot on the blog…

I’ve been reading the Dutch Book Week Present. My wife was given it for free because she bought another Dutch book. It’s an entertaining and thoughtful little story called Duel by Joost Zwagerman, published in a neat hardcover edition, and I’m very pleased to have read it.

Each year the Netherlands Book Week committee publishes a novella commissioned from a Dutch author. This little book is then given away by bookstores to customers who purchase books to a certain modest value. Good value for them and the publishers and authors because it stimulates book buying and reading.

Then on the Sunday of Book Week itself, copies of this Boekenweekgeschenk (Book Week Present) become valid train tickets. Anyone clutching a copy of the book can travel free all day on the trains to anywhere in the country. The expectation is that readers will meet up with other train travellers on a Book Week pass and run an informal book club session during their journey.

Is this not the most brilliant idea, stimulating reading, social interaction and use of public transport? Could it work in other countries too? I would love to see Australians meeting each other on a pleasant Sydney ferry ride, chatting for twenty minutes about the latest Tim Winton, Peter Carey or Kate Grenville.

It would surely cost very little to organise – even if the commission/publishing element were omitted (which would be a pity) it would be possible to simply nominate, say, three newly published books which would operate as tickets for the day. Leave the rest up to the public. If people who are normally non-readers rush to buy the books for the bonus travel, that’s a plus. If book readers who are normally non-public transport travellers take advantage of the scheme, that’s good publicity for the railways, buses and ferries.

How about it? Could it work in your city?

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Filed under Art, Holland, Literary history, Travel- Europe

MUSEUM OF HELL – Changi, Singapore

Tribute messages to POWs, Changi Museum


My father sometimes mentioned of his dear friend John that ‘he was in Changi, you know.’ He found it remarkable that John could remain so gentle and generous, with a successful family and professional life, after over three years in hell.

These days Changi is the site of Singapore’s state-of-the-art airport, but not far away is a small museum dedicated to those who suffered under the Japanese occupation of the island from 1942-45.

I hesitated to visit it. I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with hearing the details of the horror, and indeed visiting Changi Museum is a confronting experience some of the time. There are the unavoidable photos of emaciated workers on the notorious Burma-Thailand railway, of a blindfolded Australian soldier moments before his execution, and of the heads of decapitated Singaporeans that were displayed around town to intimidate the local population.

Changi Museum

But overwhelmingly the museum tells a positive story of courage, friendship, ingenuity and survival, and stands as a symbol of how things have moved on.

The museum is a simple, white rectangle, enclosing an open-air chapel, a replica of one of those formerly used by the prisoners. It was moved here in 2001, so it’s no longer on the site of the former prison camp, which during the occupation consisted of seven separate compounds, spread over 25 square kilometres. Some 15,000 Australians, as well as many more British troops and civilians were interned there.

Just inside the door is Ray Parkin’s drawing ‘Two Malarias and a Cholera’, which has become the museum’s emblem. It depicts an incident Parkin witnessed on the death railway, where able-bodied men were forced to work, leaving only the sick to tend the very sick. The malarias are two skeletal figures supporting the cholera, so weak and thin that his shorts have fallen down around his ankles. It is an image of pathos and cruelty, but not without some black humour.

The museum’s first corridor tells a roughly chronological history of the occupation of Singapore in February 1942. In just 55 days the Japanese overran the Malay peninsula, surprising even themselves. They took Singapore having made no provision for housing prisoners, so they hastily ordered all soldiers and alien civilians to march out to the British barracks at Changi.

Conditions were overcrowded and uncomfortable to say the least. A diagram on the museum floor shows the dimensions of the tiny cell where four women lived for three years. A raised concrete slab was considered the most desirable ‘bed’ while the others slept on the floor beside it. A squatter toilet in the corner was the only source of water.

Singaporean civilians were treated particularly brutally as the feared kempeitai, the military police, enforced harsh discipline and the island was given a Japanese name, ‘Syonan-to’.

The true horror began when prisoners were taken to work on the Burma-Thailand railway. After a year and a half of disease and atrocious forced labour, those well enough to return to Changi felt they were ‘coming home’. But they still lived in harsh conditions, with meagre rations and of course, no idea of how long it would last.

It’s the museum’s little artefacts that give a sense of how Changi prisoners attempted to make the best of their impossible situation. There are secret radios hidden in a matchbox and a broom, a children’s book (“The Happiness Box”), sandals of recycled rubber and a quilt incorporating women’s names and hidden symbols, which women hung over the wall of their compound as a message to their loved ones in the men’s quarters.

Programmes from the concert parties that entertained prisoners at the Coconut Grove Theatre, and descriptions of the ‘University of Changi’, where prisoners shared their expertise with others, tell of their spirit and inventiveness.

Changi Chapel

In a chapel are replicas of the murals painted by Bombardier Stanley Warren. He was an inmate of the dysentery ward above St Luke’s Chapel and nobody expected him to survive. But as he listened to the hymns coming up from below he started to recover and offered to paint the chapel.

He had a limited colour pallet. Warren crushed billiard chalk to get his blue and terracotta pots to get his russet colour. Although the paintings appear quite conventional, our guide tells us that faces of the apostles were those of Warren’s mates who had died.

A gallery is devoted to work by other interned artists, eloquent watercolours of sky glimpsed over walls, and clusters of hollow-eyed prisoners in rags or loincloths. I didn’t know that Ronald Searle, later famous for his hilarious illustrations in the St Trinian’s School and Molesworth books (my favourites as a ten-year old), had been a Changi POW. It was extraordinary that he retained his sense of humour.

A display tells the story of the notorious Selarang Incident, when after an attempted escape and the execution of a group of soldiers, including two Australians, POWs were forced to sign undertakings not to escape.

In the open-air chapel, visitors can light candles or leave crosses and poppies with their messages. There are lots of ‘lest we forget’ notes and many which are more specific – ‘In loving memory of Joe, who despite much suffering went on to become a wonderful Australian’.

Chains of paper cranes

Significantly, there are also strings of Japanese paper cranes, and a Japanese visitor has written in the visitors’ book, ‘If we do not study history, history repeats itself.’ Our guide tells us that staff sometimes find apologies left by descendants of Japanese soldiers. The world has mercifully changed for the better, in some places and in some respects at least.

Of course many died in Changi, and others lived on with the scars inflicted there. But my father’s friend John, and thousands like him, showed us that humanity can survive almost anything.

TRIP NOTES:

Getting there: SBS buses (number 2) run regularly to Changi Museum from the centre of town. Cost is $S1.60 (about USD1) each way.

Staying there: Reasonably-priced hotel accommodation is the Hotel 81 chain. http://www.hotel81.com.sg Prices start at around $S70 a standard double. The five star Crowne Plaza at Changi Airport has rooms from $S283. Go to http://www.wotif.com and search ‘Singapore Changi Airport’ for other options.

Further information: Entry to the museum is free. Audio guides cost $S8. http://www.changimuseum.com

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Filed under Literary history, Singapore, Travel

PERE LACHAISE CEMETERY, PARIS – celebrity grave-spotting

Oscar Wilde's tomb

I didn’t kiss Oscar Wilde. He’d already been kissed enough. We found him in Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery, lying under a large block of sandstone, enigmatically carved by Jacob Epstein. His grave was covered with lipstick and messages scrawled with felt pens; ‘Je t’aime’,  ‘Merci pour tous’ and ‘L’importanza d’essere Oscar!’

Maybe Wilde would have been flattered by the attention, but one contribution, ‘Dennis and Flavia was here from Brazil’, suggested that not all his visitors were true theatre lovers. Kissing his stone must be listed in some tourist guide as one of  ‘Ten Things You Must Do in Paris’.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

When it first opened in 1804, Parisians thought Pere Lachaise was too far out of town for grieving families to visit. Even after a publicity campaign, involving moving Moliere and La Fontaine out there to pull in new customers, it continued to struggle for business. But when Balzac laid characters from his novels to rest in Pere Lachaise, tourists went looking for the graves of fictional heroes, and soon real people wanted to RIP there too. Now it’s home to Balzac himself, to Proust, Piaf, Seurat, Rossini, Chopin, Bizet, Delacroix, Gertrude Stein, Sarah Bernhardt, Charlie Chaplin and Jim Morrison. Their neighbour is the very quiet Marcel Marceau.

Each year Pere Lachaise attracts many thousands of visitors, maps in hand, sniffing around its 70,000 graves, looking for their favourite dead people. The cemetery is popular, but at 44 hectares it’s the biggest park in Paris, so it’s anything but crowded. The dead may be a little cramped, but there’s plenty of room for those of us still living to wander along the cobblestone paths, or to sit under the giant chestnut trees and reflect on what this life and death business is all about.

We had to share our James Douglas Morrison moment with a couple of other Doors fans, though there was no queue for tickets. We’d read that he was the celebrity most visitors come to see, but we found him tucked away behind a little fence, his grave adorned with last week’s drooping roses and a bunch of plastic flowers.

Edith Piaf is also a little off the path, opposite Modigliani. She has a marble slab, a crucifix and an urn marked simply ‘EP’. Poignantly, Piaf shares her grave with her two-year-old son, Marcel Dupont. And more plastic flowers.

There were bunches of them on the Auschwitz monument too, along with a hand-written note, in French, which read, ‘What horror! It is a disgrace to see these faded, artificial flowers as a memorial to these people. One hopes the caretakers clean them up soon!’

Tending Chopin's graveWe could only agree. If you’re seriously devoted to the departed, you should go to some trouble, as a man was doing for Chopin, carefully arranging cut flowers in vases. Someone had planted and tended a lovely bed of purple irises on Charlie Chaplin’s family tomb. Leaving plastic flowers seems to say, ‘We know we should think of you more often, but we have busy lives. So here’s something to keep you going while we’re off enjoying ourselves.’

Other graves are falling into disrepair, the owners having moved on, leaving no forwarding address. On some mossy tombstones, authorities had posted bossy equivalents of abandoned vehicle notices, to the effect that (as far as our inadequate French could decipher) – ‘This grave appears untended. It will be demolished unless someone comes to claim it.’
When we’d found everyone we’d heard of in Pere Lachaise, we moved on to the Montmartre Cemetery. The entrance is overshadowed by an ugly iron bridge, but inside is an oasis in a particularly crowded part of Paris. Less beautiful than Pere Lachaise it may be, but the brochure was gratuit, which immediately made us well disposed towards it.

Here lie Stendhal, Delibes and Offenbach, as well as Mme Weber, inventor of the can-can, and Alphonsine ‘La Dame Aux Camelias’ Plessis. Francois Truffaut’s grave was a triumph of art direction; simple marble adorned with a tiny jar of fresh red and orange roses.

Tombs can often be pretentious or just plain kitsch. Inscriptions try to say too much and end up being pompous or trite. Tomb designers are seldom artists of the same calibre as the famous departed. There are exceptions; there’s a lovely statue of a little girl on Gustave Guillaumet’s grave and Nijinsky’s final resting place bears a delicate bronze of the dancer in character and thoughtful pose.

We met an English couple, confused by a concrete box with a black metal door labelled Famille de Gas. ‘We thought it was a gas meter,’ they said. We didn’t know Degas was a pen name either. Or should that be a ‘nom de pastel’?Foucault's pendulum, Pantheon

Across the Seine, serious honouring of dead heroes happens in the Pantheon. Suspended under the dome, Foucault’s pendulum swings inexorably back and forth, illustrating the rotation of the earth. In the crypt below, the “Grand Hommes” of the French Republic are buried. Victor Hugo is there, Voltaire and the Curies too, and Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola were moved there from Montmartre. Most moving we found the memorial to the resistance leader Jean Moulin, killed by the Nazis.

Finally, in the Hotel des Invalides is the grandest tomb of them all. For 8 euros, including the audio guide, visitors can wander around the massive marble coffin containing whatever is left of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon's coffin

Celebrity grave-spotting was a diverting way to pass a couple of days in Paris, yet compared to the contributions many of these people made in their lifetimes, they don’t have a lot to add in death. We spared a thought for them as we stood by their resting places, but we’ve really been closer to them when listening to La Vie en Rose or Carmen or reading Pere Goriot or The Happy Prince. Seurat’s paintings are considerably more beautiful than his tomb.

Sitting and thinking under a spreading chestnut tree, it all fell into place for me. Life is short and you’re a long time dead. An impressive grave can squeeze a few more drops out of your celebrity, but if you hope to achieve anything in this world, it’s best to do it while you’re still alive.

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Filed under Art, Literary history, Paris, Travel, Travel- Europe

RYE – England’s best preserved village?

Four hundred years ago, John Cheston decided to demolish his house, overlooking the cemetery of St Mary’s church in Rye. He’d just removed the first roof tiles when a cry came from the burghers below, ‘Desist, thou scurvy varlet! (or words to that effect) Thou despoileth our streetscape and wrecketh our potential tourism industry.’

The city fathers invoked a 1606 heritage law, thus sparing Mr Cheston’s house, and securing Rye’s future as a centre for artists, writers, musicians and miscellaneous bohemians. It has become a perfect location for filming British costume dramas and a very popular short trip out of London.

Rye claims to be England’s best preserved village, and who am I to argue, not having seen the other contenders. The Ryers (or ‘Mud Heads’ as they’re uncharitably known in the rest of Sussex) have been particularly sensitive about building conservation since 1377, when some rowdy Frenchmen cruised across the Channel, literally set the town alight and nicked the church bells as souvenirs. A heavily-armed delegation paid France a return visit and brought the bells back. Rye was restored to its former glory and now boasts more historic buildings than any town in Britain.

The village is almost too cute to be true. An elegant white windmill neatly balances the cluster of black wooden huts where fisherman used to hang their nets. Steep, narrow streets wind between houses with the Tudor timber frames and slate roofs we tourists love. The battlements of Ypres Tower and Landgate Arch, and the aforementioned St Mary’s church are striking remnants of the town’s medieval past.

Rye was once a major harbour for warships, an important member of the Cinq Ports, and given the title ‘Rye Royale’ by Elizabeth I. But eventually the sea gave up the battle against the silt and beat a retreat. Now at low tide small fishing boats lie on their sides in a muddy channel while sheep graze on the Romney Marsh between Rye and the nearest beach, several kilometres away.

Nobody seems to miss the sea too much. Tourists still flock to hobble over Rye’s cobbles, browsing the galleries and pottery shops and drinking traditional English coffee (a tasteless, milky liquid that pre-dates the modern macchiato) in charming traditional tea-rooms.

It’s all very genteel these days, but Ryers also take pride in their grimy past, the smuggling era in particular. Rye was the haunt of the owlers, as smugglers were known in the eighteenth century. In dark back rooms, deals were done on smuggled liquor, tea and luxury goods, and also on wool and banned English language bibles. ‘Pssst – wanna buy a cheap bale of Romney Marsh and a couple of gospels?’

The Mermaid Inn, now an upmarket hotel, was the hub of these nefarious activities, and night ghost tours are run through the secret passages of the town. Inspired by a visit to Rye, Rudyard Kipling wrote A Smuggler’s Song, ending, ‘Them that asks no questions, isn’t told a lie, So watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by!’

I also heard the macabre story of a girl called Amanda and a young monk named Cantador, who were bricked into a wall as punishment for their illicit love affair. Apparently Cantador’s ghost often sings in Turkey Cock Lane, now a carpark behind Rye Lodge Hotel, though he was taking a break when I visited.

I loved the permanent exhibition of penny arcade machines in the Rye Heritage Centre. I’m such a sucker for these things. I bought seven old copper pennies to feed into the slots of my choice. The fortune telling machine issued a card that assured me: ‘You will discover easy methods of making money,’ which was encouraging news for someone who’d just swapped a perfectly good pound for a measly 7 pence.

My remaining six coins I invested in storytelling dioramas, where little models move around when the penny drops. The fun comes not because these things are so ingenious; it’s because they’re so unbelievably tacky that we’re delighted when they do anything at all.

For instance, I watched a miniature miser refuse a donation to a tiny Red Cross nurse rattling a tin. The devil popped up and a bag of money disappeared from the miser’s safe. Then there was the totally non-PC ‘George and Mabel in the Park’. George raised his hat to the attractive girl on the bench beside him, while surreptitiously lifting her skirt with the end of his walking cane. All good, naughty fun.

Back in the town, I shared a stroll with my fellow tourists, English, French, German and Dutch, noting the plaques on houses testifying to former residents. For a place with a population of less than 5,000, Rye has had an extraordinary number of celebrity Mud Heads. Jacobean playwright John Fletcher, Joseph Conrad, G.K.Chesterton and H.G.Wells all lived here. American novelist Henry James spent his final years in the impressive Lamb House.

More recently, Sir Paul McCartney sent his kids to local Rye schools and Spike Milligan was vice president of the Rye Rugby club. He’s buried in nearby Winchelsea, below the world’s wittiest (self-written) epitaph. Church authorities would only let the family inscribe it on his headstone in Irish, but translated into English it reads, ‘I told you I was ill.’

Mine was a fleeting visit, but I can see why they all came to Rye, and I can guess why they stayed.

The writer was a guest of 1066 Country Tourism.

TRIP NOTES:

Getting there: Trains leave at least hourly from London Charing Cross to Rye, take just over 2 hours and cost from GBP24 off peak, one way. See nationalrail.co.uk

Staying there: For numerous accommodation options, see visitrye.co.uk

Further information: Entry to the Rye Heritage Centre is GBP3, town audio guide costs GBP3.50. For other activities in Rye, See visitrye.co.uk and 1066country.com

First published, Sun-Herald, Sydney

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Filed under England, Literary history, Travel, Travel- Europe

DORSET, ENGLAND – cycling round Thomas Hardy country

I took a pushbike on the Piddle Pedal to Puddletown and Tolpuddle. It was almost worth doing just for the sound of that sentence, but cycling round Dorset had other things going for it. This quiet rural area may be less well known than, say, the Cotswolds, but it’s just as beautiful and has no crowds, madding or otherwise.

This is classic English countryside, where hedgerows divide lush fields from shady lanes, grey stone churches nestle in sleepy thatched villages, small birds sing from bushes and briars, and beech foliage and oak boughs inspire us to try our hand at poetry. Dappled light filters through the forest onto a tapestry of bluebells and history. This is Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.

Holly from Cycloan in Dorchester supplied me with maps, suggested an itinerary and rented me a Giant Boulder mountainbike. It looked macho enough to ride over an avalanche, but fortunately I never met anything so challenging. I wheeled it nervously across busy London Rd, lugged it through a gate into a field and hardly saw a car for the rest of the day. The cycling route was well signposted and rated easy. Anybody with legs could do it. I even met a disabled cyclist riding a hand-cranked recumbent bike.

The route started out along a bridle way beside the babbling Piddle. It’s just a stream, but I found it hard not to smirk whenever its name was mentioned. Undergraduate humour seemed to be a recurring theme in Dorset. A famous attraction of these parts is the Cerne Abbas Giant, an ancient figure carved into a hillside. He’s huge, naked and, um, very pleased to see people. Surely he was created by the lads during a big night on the mead several centuries ago.

East of Dorchester I rode into true Thomas Hardy territory. The thatched cottage where the poet and novelist was born and began writing is now open to the public, thanks to the National Trust. It’s simply furnished in nineteenth century style, and visitors are encouraged to sit in the great man’s bedroom, gaze out over the pretty garden and soak up the atmosphere that led Hardy to write Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd. His ashes now lie in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, but his heart is buried beside the church in nearby Stinsford, where he and his family were parishioners.

The sun broke through as I bounced along forest trails and into Puddletown. ‘No puddles in Puddletown today,’ called a cheery local, giving me the impression that he’d used the line before.

Then it was a short roll down the road to Tolpuddle, where a modest (and free!) museum ensures that the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs won’t be forgotten. In 1834 six farm workers dared to discuss collective action to protect their miserable wages. They were tried on trumped up charges and transported to Australia. The outcry that followed led to their pardons, and continued as the union movement gathered unstoppable momentum. A rally held here each July attracts thousands from around the country.

My bike’s suspension was doing its job, so my backside felt up to branching off the Piddle Pedal onto the longer Ride of the Desert King. The title had nothing to do with the terrain. England’s land was as green and pleasant as ever, but now I was heading for Clouds Hill, the country retreat of T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia. The little house was closed and, though sometimes open to visitors, I’d heard there’s not a lot to see inside.

A warning sign appeared by the roadside: ‘Tank Training Area’. I was approaching Bovington army camp, where Lawrence was stationed when he had his fatal motorcycle accident. Bike v. tank is unfair competition, so I turned back into the forest, following signs to the village of Moreton. Lawrence’s mortal remains were buried there, and an elderly bus party had come to visit them. His grave was unremarkable, but St Nicholas church in Moreton had to be one of the most beautiful I’d ever seen, with its unpretentious square tower and a real surprise inside.

There was no stained glass. Instead, the arched windows, point-engraved by Dorset artist Laurence Whistler, were of clear glass, letting light flood in, and allowing us to see the trees and sky beyond. Dawn French’s Vicar of Dibley would have felt right at home here, though the views may have distracted attention from even her most brilliant sermon.

In the charming Moreton tea rooms I ate field mushrooms on toast, smothered in Dorset Blue Vinny cheese sauce, while the clear-eyed Lawrence, looking remarkably like Peter O’Toole, stared from photos on the walls. Then this Desert King mounted his trusty steed and rode on with the wind at his back and canola blooming yellow by the path.

I dropped off my bike back in Dorchester, the handsome, solid county town Hardy used as a model for his fictional Casterbridge, and in the Dorset County Museum found an excellent collection of Hardy memorabilia and a replica of his study.

All in all, it had been a great day, and I’d earned a drink. Both Hardy and Lawrence were regulars at the Kings Arms Hotel, a fine old coaching inn near the museum. There was an ale on tap named after a local watercourse. I tried to keep a straight face as I ordered it:‘A pint of Piddle, please.’

The writer was assisted by Dorset and New Forest Tourism Partnership.

TRIP NOTES:

Getting there: Trains to Dorchester from London Waterloo take just three hours and cost from GBP17 one way.

Staying there: The Kings Arms, Dorchester, has rooms from GBP85. kingsarmsdorchester.com For other options see dorset-newforest.com

Further information: Bike hire from GBP12.50 per day from cycloan.co.uk. Hardy’s cottage entry is GBP3.50. Dorset County Museum entry GBP6.50. For other activities, see dorset-newforest.com

First published -Sun-Herald, Sydney

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Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, England, Literary history, Travel, Travel- Europe