It was 75 years ago today that he crashed.  Returning from camp on his motor bike, no doubt going much too fast, he didn’t see the two delivery boys over the brow of the hill until it was too late.  He swerved, lost control and hit the tree head on.  He was not wearing a crash helmet of course.  It was 1935 and anyway, that was the nature of the man. 

A simple stone dwelling, two up, two down, hidden from the road and the heath by rhododendrons,  Clouds Hill is his only personal memorial.  It represents T.E. Lawrence;  private, scholarly, a lover of music, open fires and fast motor bikes.  I like it. It is dark and cosy; a refuge, a safe place, a place of peace.  Freudians would say a womb; well sometimes a room is just a room!

Downstairs is a library, dark wood panelling, pictures, books, mementoes, a model plane, the motor torpedo boat he was helping to design, prints of Arabia, a boxy arm chair with a reading stand, a large bed, the mattress covered with light brown leather.  To the right of the door is the bathroom, the walls panelled with cork, an abundance of hot water. Lawrence loved hot water. 

Upstairs is  the music room; leather door, leather settee,  paintings; Allenby on the landing, Prince Feisal propped up against the wind up gramophone with an enormous horn.  I ask the guide if he could play it.  He does and Elgar conducts his violin concerto with Yehudi Menuhin as the soloist.  The sound is tinny and the motor runs down after a few bars.  The other upstairs room is like a cabin, the window a porthole from a ships chandlers, a bunk bed high on the chest of drawers, the walls covered with tin foil to stop condensation, cheese under glass. 

E.M.Forster stayed there, but was disturbed by the Nightjar that settled on the roof and churred all night.  He threw a stone at it and broke a slate. Lawrence never mended the slate; he liked his visitors to make their mark.      

‘Clouds’ Hill is a very masculine place’, the guide comments.  He’s right.  It’s the refuge of a private man;  a bachelor pad, a den, a place to shut the world out.  Lawrence never actually lived there; he ate and slept down at Bovington Camp.  It was more a ‘pied a terre’.  Every day at 4.30pm, he would get on his bike and drive the mile to Clouds Hill, relax, read, listen to music and write. 

Literary friends; the Hardys,  the Shaws, E.M.Forster used to visit him.  There is copy of one of GBS’ plays inscribed ‘To Private Shaw from Public Shaw’.  Private Shaw was very hospitable to his friends, but never fussy. He served tea in mugs without milk and food had to be eaten with a spoon out of tins.  There is no kitchen and the toilet is at the back of the garage where he kept his motor bike.  It was a Spartan, ascetic, hermit-like existence, but Lawrence liked the luxury of books, music and hot water.   

The Greek inscription on the lintel above the door is loosely translated as ‘Why worry?’   Lawrence of Arabia had left the anxiety of celebrity, relinquished the myth and become the very  private TE Shaw.  One guessed he was homosexual; he certainly enjoyed the simple companionship of squaddies and often invited them down to Clouds Hill, but the reality may have been that he was asexual and still deeply traumatised by his experience in Damascus.   

Clouds Hill is, for me, a place of pilgrimage.   It is not easy to find, only open a few days a week and does not  even merit a sign on the A35. I am glad.  Let the crowds pass by to the competing attractions of  Monkey World and The Tank Museum and leave Lawrence to enjoy his friends in peace.         

From Clouds Hill I drive south, turn right by the dramatic stumps of Corfe Castle and find my winding way through Church Knowle to Kimmeridge.  The ladies at St Nicholas Church ask me to stay for the Ascension Day service, but I decline. Organised religion feels too political, too intrusive to me.  So as soon as I can, I leave to find solace by the sea, where the nodding donkey still pumps up the oil from the shale beds and Reverend Richard John Clavell’s tower stands sentinel on the cliff edge. 

It was in Clavell’s Tower that Thomas Hardy courted Elizabeth Bright Nicholls. 

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