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A Wessex trail: Dorset’s Hardy Way leads to the historic Smugglers Inn | Dorset holidays

A Wessex trail: Dorset’s Hardy Way leads to the historic Smugglers Inn | Dorset holidays

No one appreciated the rural English landscape more than a certain corn merchant’s son from Suffolk. John Constable made it his business to paint bucolic splendour, and perhaps no one has ever done it better. And when he went on holiday, on his honeymoon no less, he chose one particular village.

I’m standing there, by the old, ivy-clad church wall in Osmington, Dorset, surveying the thatched roofs ahead and the rising slope of the chalk hill beyond. Through a gateway I spot a blue plaque on the old vicarage wall: “John Constable, English Romantic Painter, 1816, lived here for three months”.

I’m not sure the information is entirely accurate. The honeymoon lasted six weeks and, although Constable did sleep and eat in the vicarage, most of the newlywed’s holiday must have been spent standing in front of his easel at various locations within easy walking distance of this spot. Not very romantic, I’d say; certainly not from the point of view of his bride, Maria Bicknell. Their host, the Rev John Fisher, had trimmed any expectations she might have entertained, describing his home life in the invitation: “My wife is quiet & silent & sits & reads without disturbing a soul. Mrs Constable may follow her example.”

Osmington is still a quiet place, easily reached across the fields from our start point in nearby Osmington Mills. Next door to Constable’s honeymoon home is the 12th-century St Osmund’s church, where the gravestones give the flavour of days gone by on this coast: plenty of drownings. When Constable came, the whole area must have had the appearance of a duck crossing a pond: serene on top, frantic underneath. The smuggling across the Channel was at its lucrative and dangerous peak – brandy in those days, not people. Walking down through the village, my partner, Sophie, spots a bottle buried in the wall, said to be placed there by a smuggler, pointing the way to some stash, perhaps.

Sutton Poyntz – a lovely village with its beck running down the centre. Photograph: Nick Dawe

The path leads us across soggy fields by the River Jordan towards the village of Sutton Poyntz. The river’s name may or may not be biblical, but the water here certainly had magical qualities, emerging from springs under the Dorset Ridgeway and serving several mills. Sutton Poyntz is a lovely village with its beck running down the centre and a pub,…

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