Column: Far From The Madding Crowd

By Ashutosh Mishra

London: Railway service in England is pretty efficient. Trains are fast and run on time. Instances of disruption of service are few and far between. The kind of shambolic scenes that we generally witness at railway stations in India are but rare here. Extinction Rebellion protesters, who practically laid seize to this city about a week ago, had succeeded in triggering chaos at a few stations but they were dealt with quickly by the police and the commuters themselves. With some of them pulled down from the roofs of trains order was restored within a matter of hours and the service was back on the rails.

Train service to destinations outside London is just as good as the service within the city. In fact, outbound trains are cozier and faster. Travel is a joy. Last weekend we visited some fascinating places in Dorset county in South West England known for the Jurassic coast, a long stretch on the English channel with cliffs and rock formations showing millions of years of geological history.

The train from Waterloo to the Weymouth, a South Western Railway service, is a joyride with a fantastic window view of picture postcard towns, rolling meadows and sheep and cows grazing lazily in the fields. We got down at Wool, a large village with old world charm. From there we took a taxi to Durdle Door, an impressive limestone arch in the sea, not far from the Lulworth cove, a fan-shaped bay on the south coast that is also a tourist honey-trap.

The great English novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy is closely associated with this part of the country which finds a reflection in some of his works. The Lulwind Cove in which Sergeant Troy takes an impromptu swim in his 1874 masterpiece “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a barely concealed reference to the Lulworth cove with which he was so familiar.

Water in the cove, wrote Hardy, was “smooth as a pond.” It still is with a cerulean blue quality like the sea at Durdle Door which has off-white, wave-eroded cliffs flanking it on one side. The Hardy country, as it is known here, is now a mixture of pastoral charm and modern life with eateries and shops that draw tourists in droves.

Delving deeper into the area’s Hardy connection I came across a write up that mentions a short poem by him titled ‘At Lulworth Cove a Century Back.’ It is considered to be an ode to John Keats who is believed to have left England from near Lulworth Cove on his way to Rome.

“Good. That man goes to Rome—to death, despair;

And no one notes him now but you and I:

A hundred years, and the world will follow him there,

And bend with reverence where his ashes lie.”

Hardy’s country, with so much to make a student of English literature feel nostalgic, is all about the magnificence of Nature. It is actually Far from the Madding Crowd.

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