The coastal communities of Seatown and Eype are a stone’s throw away from each other on Dorset’s world heritage Jurassic Coast. SHARON GOBLE rocked up there to sauna and SUP, and to check out all the things to do in Dorset.
When a place is called Seatown, you can’t help but arrive with certain seaside expectations. Seatown in Dorset certainly delivers coastal charm, although its name is misleading because it’s not a town but a hamlet of honey-coloured houses.
Leaving the main road that runs through the village of Chideock, it’s less than a mile down a country lane to Seatown’s shingle shore. By the beach are two unexpected delights: a fantastic pub serving food and award-winning local real ales, and a timber sauna hut on wheels. I’m here to try them both out.
Three friends are joining me for a communal sauna experience with a difference; the Seaside Sauna Haus is nothing like the saunas I’ve been to before at spa complexes or municipal swimming pools. For starters, it looks like a shepherd’s hut…the glamping kind.
We arrive in our swimsuits with towels and beach shoes, as per instructions. There’s laughter as owner Sarah Higgins hands us pointy felt hats to help stop the heat going to our heads. We don our pixie hats and off we go, up the steps, through a small changing lobby, and into the heat generated by a wood-fired metal sauna stove (mind your legs as you enter and exit).
There’s convivial chatter with two of Sarah’s regulars as we select our seats on the wooden benches – the higher you go, the hotter you get. There’s also a curved cubby hole on the floor for those seeking a gentle sauna. Best of all, there’s a window to take in the view.
Between sweating it out in the sauna, we cool off in the sea. On our final sauna session, Sarah comes in for what turns out to be a blissful finale. She adds water and essential oils to the coals before wafting around the scented steam by manipulating a cotton towel. The ultimate inhalation to clear our airways.
Sarah set up her sauna in 2020 after a friend jokingly suggested the idea. At the time, it was the only beachside sauna on the South West coast, but others have come along since as part of a ‘new wave’.
Sarah says: “Above our door is a sign saying PIRTIS, the Lithuanian word for sauna and therapeutic practices like using dried leaves and salt scrubs. We trained with a lady in Lithuania, and she was pleased to see that the authentic wood-fired sauna movement is taking off here.”
In Seatown, you can combine your sauna with stand-up paddle boarding. Sarah’s colleague Sally Newman offers trips and tuition for beginners or improvers through Seas Today. You can hire a board from her or bring your own; you need to know what you’re doing as the beach slopes steeply out to sea, and there can be strong cross-currents.
The sauna has given us an appetite. We’re spoilt for choice: seafood or wood-fired pizza from one of the pop-ups on the beach? The beer garden of The Anchor Inn lures us in with the promise of a spectacular view. It doesn’t disappoint.
Publican Matt Mullett makes the most of the inn’s location by swimming in the sea every morning. He says it sets him up for the day: “We’re open year-round, seven days a week. We serve a lot of seafood, as you’d expect, and use a lot of local suppliers.
“A fisherman in the village lands our lobster and crab right on the beach, and another guy hand dives for the scallops we often have on the menu.”
It’s a 45-minute walk along the South West Coast Path from Seatown to the beach at Eype (pronounced Eeep). By road, you make your way (slowly) along a narrow winding lane with few passing places. Driving from Higher Eype to Lower Eype, you pass a traditional pub, The New Inn, with a rear garden overlooking the valley, and Eype’s Mouth Country Hotel, an establishment from a bygone era with sea-facing rooms.
I discovered Eype in summer 2022 when my family stayed at Eype Mouth Chalet Park. It turned out to be the perfect base from which to paddleboard. The sea on that occasion was crystal clear – for me, there’s nothing more mindful than paddling along on a calm day, observing the seabed beneath you.
Eype is steeped in history, founded in the 7th century BC by Greek traders from Epirus (hence the name) after a shipwreck. Next came farmers, fishermen, boatbuilders and smugglers. Then, in the 1930s, the rich and famous arrived, hosted in style at the Bonville Hotel (now the Eype’s Mouth Hotel).
That’s the potted history, but you can read more on the information boards inside the hut by the beach car park. You might happen across Caroline Judd, the smiley car park attendant and a font of knowledge about all things local.
I ask her about the solitary wooden chalet perched on the cliff edge. It was the setting for the murder of Danny Latimer in the hit TV drama Broadchurch, created by local writer Chris Chibnall ‘as a love letter to the scenery of the Jurassic Coast’.
Caroline tells me: “The hut is known affectionately by the owners, the Wingfield-Digby family, as The Bungie. During the war, a small detachment was stationed in the chalet to keep a defiant watch over Lyme Bay. The cliff’s edge has crept closer and closer over the years, but the family still holidays there.”
Eype is one of those rare beaches unspoiled by a cafe, catering van or kiosk. If you find yourself in need of a boost before heading up the hill to explore Thorncombe Beacon and Eype Down, Eype Eats is a little bakery and cafe with a secluded garden, tucked up a path just inland and usually open for breakfast and light lunches. Delightful.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
Looking to stay in Seatown or Eype? There are options to suit every budget.
- The Anchor Inn has three king-sized B&B rooms, all with stunning sea views. (theanchorinnseatown.co.uk)
- Golden Cap Holiday Park in Seatown, Highlands End Holiday Park in Eype and Eype House Holiday Park are all run by West Dorset Leisure Holidays. They offer camping, glamping and caravan stays, including budget breaks in eco-friendly pods with sea views. (wdlh.co.uk)
- The Symondsbury Estate, a short drive inland, offers luxury holiday cottages, shops, a cafe and a visitor centre. (symondsburyestate.co.uk)
Rising to over 600 ft (190 metres), Golden Cap is the highest point on the South West coast.
Erosion of the soft blue lias clays that make up the cliffs along this stretch often exposes fossilised ammonites and belemnites that you may find on the beach.
You may also come across iron-rich rocks like lodestone and magnetite, thought to have come from Chesil Beach after a shipwreck in the 1800s.