HARDY enthusiasts are set to descend on Dorchester to mark the birthday of the famous county town writer.

The Thomas Hardy Society has lined up an exciting programme of events for its annual Birthday Weekend celebrations, which will take place on Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8.

The events will begin with a Far From the Madding Crowd walk led by society chairman Tony Fincham at 10am on the Saturday.

The five-and-a-half-mile route will start at St Mary’s Church in Puddletown and take ion Warren’s Malthouse, Weatherbury Farm and Little Weatherbury.

Thomas Hardy Society secretary Mike Nixon said he expects there to be plenty of interest in Far From the Madding Crowd with the film that was shot in West Dorset due to be released later in the year.

At 3.30pm on the Saturday Dr Rebecca Welshman will be giving a lecture in the council chamber at County Hall entitled Objects of the Inner Eye.

The lecture will look at personal archaeology and emotions in the work of Hardy.

Mr Nixon said it was good to see Dr Welshman, who has recently achieved her Phd, representing the younger generation of Hardy enthusiasts.

He said: “It will be an interesting experience because we do need more younger members.”

After tea on the members room at County Hall crowds will gather at the Hardy statue by the Top O’Town roundabout for a selection of Hardy readings followed by the traditional wreath laying ceremony.

The ceremony will be led by Mayor of Dorchester Peter Mann and Dr Welshman.

A wreath will then be laid at William Barnes’ statue at St Peter’s Church.

In the evening there will be a buffet supper at the Dorset County Museum before the Dorchester Bards perform an evening of prose, poetry and music in the museum’s Victorian Gallery from 7.30pm.

On the Sunday Cannon Vernon White of Westminster Abbey will lead a morning service at St Michael’s Church in Stinsford, which will be followed by a wreath laying at Hardy’s grave.

Mr Nixon said that, with an impressive line-up at this year’s International Thomas Hardy Conference and Festival at the end of July, the Birthday Weekend celebrations promise to be the perfect warm up.

He said: “Because it’s conference year there is always a real buzz about the place.”

Mr Nixon said there had been interest from all over the world for the conference, with a pleasing number of younger delegates and strong interest from India and the subcontinent.

For more information about the Birthday Weekend and the conference visit hardysociety.org