On the Dorset trail of Lawrence of Arabia

It’s 100 years since Lawrence of Arabia first arrived in Jordan and the centenary of the Great Arab Revolt. A good time to walk the TE Lawrence trail in Dorset and visit his home, near Wareham

Lawrence moved into Clouds Hill, a former Forestry Commission property, when posted to the tank corps at nearby Bovington in 1923. After his death in 1935, the two-up, two-down cottage was given to the National Trust.

Lawrence was a pragmatic man. A Greek classicist, he translated Homer’s Odyssey to pay for the cottage. And he sold his dagger (now on display at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford) to raise £200 to replace the rotting upper floor.

He used explosives to remove an overhanging tree and filled in windows to save heat. The tiny window in the guest room is a porthole. “He was a great recycler,” says Peter Preen, the cottage curator.

Lawrence’s desire to live for the present is evident in the lack of ornamentation in the cottage, and there is little trace of his years in the Middle East during the first world war.

It was a retreat. His alias became TE Shaw: George Bernard Shaw inscribed one book “To Private Shaw from Public Shaw”.

His luxuries were music and reading. The music room upstairs still contains the gramophone that entertained guests including Hardy and Forster, but the records and books from the downstairs library were given to the Ashmolean on his death.

Lawrence of Arabia, who died in a motorcycle accident

Lawrence of Arabia, who died in a motorcycle accident

There is a small bathroom but no kitchen, as Lawrence hated the smell of cooking. His hot meals were cooked by a neighbour: Lawrence’s death was caused by his motorbike colliding with the butcher boy’s bike when the boy was delivering a pork chop.

The accident spot is marked by a simple stone memorial on the Lawrence trail — and the next stop is the church and graveyard where he is buried.

The funeral service was held in St Nicholas in Moreton. Mourners included Winston Churchill, who met Lawrence at the Cairo peace conference in 1921, and who was said to be about to offer him a cabinet position.

The church was bombed in 1940 and rebuilt a decade a later with beautifully engraved clear windows, the last dedicated in 1985. The light is dazzling inside the church as we leave it to walk 400yd to the cemetery: the funeral carriage that carried Lawrence’s body is now a feature of the coffee shop on the way.

The simple headstone records his name as Lawrence, even though he had changed his name to Shaw by deed poll.

The trail starts and finishes at the Bovington Tank Museum, on the base where Lawrence spent two miserable years before transferring to the RAF in 1925. He had only retired and moved back to Dorset a matter of months before his death.

The National Trust is rebuilding Lawrence’s book and record collection at Clouds Hill as far as is possible — many books were first editions or signed by guests. They include several from Churchill inscribed to “Loorance” — as he was known to Arabs who could not pronounce his name.

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Details

The TE Lawrence trail is a 6¾-mile circular walk (which can be split into smaller sections) that starts and ends at Bovington Tank Museum (tankmuseum.org) and takes in Clouds Hill and Moreton. For more details, visit dorsetforyou.com/396517.

Clouds Hill is 30 miles from Puggs Meadow in Kington Magna, about an hour’s drive, through beautiful rolling countryside

I first wrote this article for The Sunday Times in July, 2010. Contact details and figures have been updated.

2018-07-25T12:21:25+00:00

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