FEW writers' works are as suffused with their native landscape as Thomas Hardy’s, his literature immeasurably drawn from his ‘Wessex’ origins.

Figuring large in the landscape of his mind, many of Hardy’s settings are inseparable from the places that inspired them.

Not to be overlooked however, Hardy’s acknowledged fascination with the folklore of Wessex is another facet of his ‘partly-real, partly dream-country’ and his references to tradition and culture evident throughout his work, yet his belief in the supernatural is also an element of Hardy’s fictional and personal writings that is worthy of note.

Drawing directly on local tradition, whether embellishing the background and plots of his fiction, or of particular interest to himself and included in his personal note books, Hardy’s literary spectres are emblematic of the Dorset ghost tradition.

His knowledge of West Country ghost lore not only stemming from his own family circle and that gathered from local belief however, as Hardy himself experienced first hand, on more than one occasion, what he presumed was a brush with the afterlife.

Hardy’s enthusiasm for a personal spectral encounter of his own became apparent when he was interviewed in 1904 by the journalist William Archer.

Sixty four years old at the time, in Hardy’s own words, “...I seriously assure you that I would give ten years of my life – well, perhaps that offer is rather beyond my means – but when I was a younger man, I would cheerfully have given 10 years of my life to see a ghost – an authentic, indubitable spectre.”

Hardy went on to say that he thought he was “...cut out by nature to be a ghost-seer… If ever a ghost wanted to manifest himself, I am the very man he should apply to.”

It would seem that Hardy’s patience was to be rewarded however as 15 years after he’d spoken with Archer, his second wife, Florence, was to relate in a letter to a friend written in 1919 that Hardy had indeed seen what he assumed to be a ghost: “He saw a ghost in Stinsford Churchyard on Christmas Eve, & his sister Kate says it must have been their grandfather upon whose grave T.H had just placed a sprig of holly – the first time he had ever done so.

The ghost said: ‘A green Christmas’ - T.H. replied ‘I like a green Christmas’. Then the ghost went into the church, &, being full of curiosity, T. followed, to see who this strange man in 18th century dress might be – and found – no-one. That is quite true – a real Christmas ghost story.”

Though Hardy himself was to make no later allusion to his experience in Stinsford churchyard, despite his interest in the supernatural, Florence nevertheless later related a further experience of Hardy’s, in 1927, a year before his death.

She recalled that: “During the evening he spoke of an experience he had a few years ago. There were four or five people to tea at Max Gate, and he noticed a stranger standing by me most of the time. Afterwards he asked who that dark man was who stood by me. I told him that there was no stranger present, and I gave him the names of the three men who were there, all personal friends. He said that it was not one of these, and seemed to think that another person had actually been there. This afternoon he said: ‘I can see his face now’.”

One might suppose the spirit of Hardy himself to be somewhat restless; it was, after all, his wish that he be buried at Stinsford, but his friends insisted that a burial in Westminster Abbey was the only appropriate choice for someone of Hardy's literary prominence.

Consequently an accommodation was reached and while his ashes are interred in Poets’ Corner his heart was removed for separate burial at Stinsford churchyard, alongside the grave of his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford who had died in 1912, next to whom his second wife, Florence Dugdale Hardy would later be buried.

With his heart resting in the soil of his beloved Stinsford then, the model for his ‘Mellstock’ so affectionately described in Under the Greenwood Tree, assuredly Thomas Hardy does indeed rest in peace.