These Dorset gems offer a winning combination of coast, countryside and a thriving arts scene. Words: Lesley Gillilan. Illustration: Tom Jay

This is Far from the Madding Crowd country; an idyll of sleepy thatched villages set among the rolling chalk hills of Thomas Hardy’s Dorset. It’s also been called River Cottage Country (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s downshifting, real-food adventures began in and around Bridport). And West Bay – Bridport’s salty little sister – has now earned star status ever since hitting our screens in TV drama, Broadchurch, back in 2013.

Featuring an alluring back-drop of towering sandstone cliffs and achingly beautiful coastal scenery, the series has brought crowds of new visitors to the area. Many will decide to stay – and who can blame them.

Bound together by a two-mile trail of suburbia which follows the River Brit down to Lyme Bay, these Dorset twins make a winning combination: Bridport, the old-fashioned market town, and West Bay, the harbour village with a long stretch of shingle beach. Bridport’s wide streets are lined with butchers and craft bakers; a Georgian clock tower looks down on quaintly-named Bucky Doo Square. West Bay is all about fishing, fish and chips and bucket-and-spade holidays.

Photo: L.Trott/Shutterstock

Both places form a gateway to the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. And the gentle farmland of Hardy’s Dorset is right on the doorstep too. ‘I love the fact that you can see woods and green hills from almost everywhere in town,’ says Bridport newcomer Laura Cockett.

Laura moved from Liverpool a year ago when she was appointed the new director of Bridport Arts Centre. Although she didn’t know Dorset, had never been to Bridport, and didn’t know anyone in the area, the move offered her the change of scene she’d been looking for. ‘And I’d always wanted to live in the West Country,’ she says.

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Away from the city, she feels more connected to the seasons, she loves the starry night skies, the coastal walks, the lively arts scene and the town’s friendly community of ‘fascinating people’.

‘I probably thought that the Arts Centre would be the cornerstone of local culture but actually there’s so much more going on here,’ says Laura. The town has two theatres and hosts numerous food, arts, music, and literary festivals (it even has a Hat Festival in September). ‘It’s not quite the sleepy place I was expecting.’

In the town, the more obvious places to look are West Allington (for Georgian houses), Victoria Grove and St Andrews Road (Victorian terraces) or right in the centre (17th century cottages on South Street or East Street) but a search for a Bridport home is always full of surprises: a myriad of back streets, secretive alleys and walled gardens lie hidden behind its high-street buildings.

In West Bay, sea-view bungalows perch on the cliffs and blocks of modern apartments overlook the harbour (prices from around £250,000). For chocolate-box Dorset – all hamstone, thatch and views of National Trust coastline – head for popular seaside villages such as nearby Eype or Burton Bradstock, but expect to pay handsomely for the privilege.

Illustration: Tom Jay

Local beaches include East Beach at West Bay, Eype, Seatown and Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock – together they form one long stretch of Jurassic Coast shingle linked by the cliff-top walks along the South West Coast Path. The town boasts the Electric Palace Cinema (a restored 1920s theatre which stages film, theatre and music events), the Bridport Arts Centre (, the Lyric Theatre, street markets, a monthly farmers’ market and a busy Vintage Quarter. There are lots of great places to eat in the area, too: the Watch House Café ( in West Bay is a good summer option, or there’s also a café at Sladers Yard Gallery; in town, The Bull Hotel ( has a laid-back restaurant as well as the cool, clubby Venner Bar and the The Stable pizza and cider house. Annual events include the Literary Festival, around September time.

Once a centre for making rope and sail cloth, Bridport now breeds artists, writers, musicians and small artisan food companies (the area has given birth to Clipper Teas, Denhay Farms bacon and Palmers Brewery ales among others). The nearest stations are at Axminster, Crewkerne and Dorchester, all roughly half-an-hour’s drive and on mainline routes to London Waterloo (by car, the journey to London takes around three hours). The nearest airport is Exeter International (35 miles).

Bridport’s main secondary school is the Sir John Colfox Academy which is rated as Good by Ofsted.  Those who live a bit further west (Morcombelake or Charmouth) are eligible to attend the Outstanding-rated Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis.

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Photo: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock

Houses with sea views are rare, and command a hefty premium, as do Bridport’s finer period properties – outnumbered by post-war bungalows. And if you fancy one of the pretty Grade II listed cottages on South Street, beware of market traders setting up outside at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning.

The Seaside Boarding House (

This is perfection: a contemporary guest house with old-fashioned values, luscious beds, fine linens, sophisticated spaces, indulgent bathrooms, a dash of vintage, a fabulous seaside restaurant (majoring on fresh Lyme Bay seafood), cocktails on the sunny terrace and the best location for miles. Hive Beach is a few steps away. You can hear the sea from your downy pillow. Doubles from around £180 per night.

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The George in Bridport (, a traditional Palmers Brewery pub run by down-from-London licensees Julian and Annette. ‘Order a bottle of wine on a Monday or Thursday and you get a free cheeseboard.’

The National Trust’s Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast, offers panoramic views of Lyme Bay ( ‘Everyone who visits me is forced to walk there,’ says Laura.

St Michael’s Trading Estate, or ‘the Art & Vintage Quarter’ (, is a mix of antique shops and artists’ studios among old rope walks and net factories, once the heart of Bridport’s cordage industry. Laura loves Pam’s cluttered emporium (