A Hardy showing of Wessex folk

'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' comes alive at Dorchester's museum - as do a smugglers' den and a riddle book. Fiona Macaulay unravels a few surprises.

An enormous mask with cow horns and goggly eyes is the first thing to surprise you in the galleries of Dorchester County Museum. This is the Ooser, a pagan creature, his body draped with cow skin and sackcloth, whose role in Dorset folklore was to frighten people.

The galleries are the latest project of Bremner and Orr Design Consultants, creators of the Roald Dahl Children's Gallery in Aylesbury. Their brief here was to display the finest Thomas Hardy collection in the world, along with smaller collections of lesser known Dorset writers such as John Meade Falkner and William Barnes. They needed to make them appealing to children, without excluding the literary enthusiasts.

This exhibition is not for toddlers, but for children who can read small- print books for themselves. Teenagers and those a bit younger will find plenty to interest them - and adults, too. Bremner and Orr have used striking props to bring the collections to life.

Hardy had a great love for the old ways of the countryside and descriptions of them weave their way through his work. In The Mayor of Casterbridge he describes a skimmity ride, which is brought to life in one of the displays. Models of a husband and wife who were accused of mistreating each other would be tied back-to-back on a donkey and paraded through the streets. Some of the musical instruments and kitchen hardware that might have been used by the accompanying procession to create as much din as possible are shown, along with contemporary drawings and accounts of skimmity rides.

Hardy was not only a successful writer; he was also an accomplished architect. Max Gate (now owned by the National Trust) is the house he designed for himself near Dorchester; the galleries have a reconstruction of his study. There is also a replica of the huge Neolithic sarsen stone that he found in his grounds, which further stimulated his interest in Dorset's ancient history.

There are displays about the women in Hardy's life and the characters behind the books, in particular The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. A touch-screen computer offers up lots of gems, including an interview with Julie Christie on the set of the film of Far from the Madding Crowd.

One of the most interesting characters among lesser known writers in the galleries is William Barnes, a great friend of Thomas Hardy. A Victorian renaissance man, he was a teacher, poet, antiquarian, priest and linguist (with a working knowledge of 60 languages). You can sit at his desk and look at a model of him in the odd, archaic dress that he always wore. Other aspects of his life can be explored on a computer, complete with recordings of his songs (including "Linden Lea") and poems in Dorset dialect.

Children too young for Barnes's poetry or Hardy's novels will find the perfect introduction to Dorset writers in Moonfleet, a ripping yarn by John Meade Falkner, about a boy, John Trenchard, who discovers, in a smugglers' den, a clue to the hiding-place of the pirate Blackbeard's diamond. A large panel illustrates John trying to hide from the smugglers among the rats and coffins. Beside it is a barrel where you search for the clue in a secret compartment.

Younger members with a cheeky sense of humour will also enjoy being introduced to the Dorset tradition of riddle-making. There's a riddle book to look through - one example, for instance, reads "Under the water, over the water and never touches the water. What am I?" (A woman crossing a stream with a pail of water on her head.)

Here you can follow clues to various objects in the galleries. All those which are answers to clues are clearly marked, so if unravelling a riddle proves too difficult, you can do it the other way round and fit the object to a riddle.

Dorset County Museum, High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset (01305 262735). Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, adults pounds 2.35, children and concessions pounds 1.20, family tickets (two adults, two children), pounds 6.50

pit stop

After you've had your fill of literary Dorset, sample some of the county's edible offerings at Potter In (01305 260312) on 19 Durngate Street in Dorchester. There are always fresh flowers on the pine tables and, in winter, a real fire adds to the welcome at Sue Collier's charming establishment, tucked away down a narrow lane off the main shopping street. Everything on the menu - from traditional English breakfast (pounds 3.70) to scones with jam and clotted cream (pounds 2.25) - is available all day, and virtually everything, including some 20 or so ice creams, is home-made. High-chairs and children's drinking mugs are there for younger customers, who can have smaller portions at reduced prices. Open 9.30am-5pm Mon-Sat.

From Egon Ronay's Guide 'And Children Come Too ...' (Bookman, pounds 9.99)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?