Colin Jackson      
    (Written in 2016 and amended in 2018)    
I’ve just read Thomas Hardy’s short story ‘The Three Strangers’ again and my favourite snippet of conversation is still “Yes, I am rather cracked in the vamp”. I’ve often tried to use the expression but to tell the truth the upper part of my walking boots are actually in quite good condition.

‘The Three Strangers’ is set in Higher Crowstairs. Quite where Mr Hardy had in mind when setting the scene is a matter of opinion.

I asked the Thomas Hardy Society in 2014 what it thought and Dr Tony Fincham said that “the consensus of current opinion follows the view of Fred Pitfield [that Higher Crowstairs was] on the Ridgeway on the boundaries of Charminster and Stinsford parishes; between Wolfedale Golf Course & Slyer’s Lane.” Fred Pitfield is the author of ‘Hardy’s Wessex Locations’ published in 1992. Tony suggested that “the most likely site for Shepherd Fennel's Cottage is at Fiddler’s Green, where a ruined cottage still stands.” He is the author of ‘Hardy’s Landscape Revisited’ published in 2010.

During the 2016 Thomas Hardy Society Conference, Tony organised a walk from Wolfdale Eweleaze to Fiddler’s Green (OS map ref: 706941). Wolfdale Eweleaze is at Charminster and Slyer’s Lane is the B3143 between Dorchester and Piddlehinton.

Back nearer home, the Wrackleford Estate has suggested that the Estate Shooting Lodge (OS map ref: 652948) stands at the location of Higher Crowstairs. Certainly Thomas Hardy was familiar with the parish but that’s true of almost everywhere within cycling distance of Dorchester.

Probably the best way to decide where you think Higher Crowstairs might have been is to read the story. Conveniently it’s available in several places online. Make your search and take your choice.

Wherever it was, Higher Crowstairs certainly enjoyed some entertainment on the evening of the story. If you reach a decision as to where Higher Crowstairs was - and it might not have been at either of the places mentioned here - please let me know
  Henry Macbeth-Raeburn's frontispiece for Wessex Tales, Volume Thirteen in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels, The Fennels' Cottage, Higher Crowstairs (1896)