These pretty neighbouring towns on the Jurassic Coast are steeped in tradition and home to a vibrant food and arts scene. Words: Jessica Johnson. Photographs: Louise Haywood-Schiefer
The royally quaint market town of Bridport is sited just over a mile inland from West Bay, a colourful working harbour surrounded by rolling Dorset hills and Hardy-esque views to the Jurassic coastline. In Bridport, the influences of time and tide are palpable. You’ll hear the seagulls before you see them, swooping over several hundred listed buildings which line some of the broadest streets in the country; under the orchestration of King John these were originally designed to accommodate the twisting and dyeing of ropes and nets during the late 12th century.
Wearing a thick knot of rope as its signature crest, Bridport Museum is a loyal friend to the town’s tight-knit arts and literary scene. Just yards from the museum is both the Bridport Arts Centre – home to the acclaimed Bridport Prize for writers – and The Electric Palace, an eclectic Art-Deco theatre all the better for its worn, tilting seats and floral murals; since its revival to a full-time working venue in 2008 the red velvet curtains have opened on to the likes of PJ Harvey and Elkie Brooks.
Market day (Wednesdays and Saturdays), sees the town at its bustling best. Much of the action takes place around Bridport’s centre, Bucky Doo Square, where tables are piled high with antiques, clothes and bric-a-brac, musicians storm the pavements and shops and cafés throw their doors open wide for a shopping experience reminiscent of yesteryear.
The town’s proximity to the sea is a culinary boon. From West Bay Harbour freshly landed boxes of fish feature at Bridport’s monthly Farmers’ Market which offers tourists, traders and locals a taste of the county’s finest flavours. These include seafood, ciders and the Dorset apple cake, a local speciality bake for which every tearoom has its own delicious recipe.
9AM BULLISH BREAKFAST
I’m staying in The Bull, a luxury, boutique hotel on George Street that’s becoming Bridport’s go-to destination for first-class food and accommodation. Since taking the reins in 2006, ex-Londoners Richard and Nikki Cooper have pulled on an abundance of quality fare to make their name on the local food scene. House sausages are sourced from Rawles Butchers, opposite, and there’s an extensive breakfast menu featuring full English breakfasts, Dorset kippers, homemade breads and locally pressed apple juice. My plate of scrambled eggs on toast, topped with slivers of locally sourced smoked salmon sets me up for the day ahead. I’m already looking forward to the evening’s supper.
11AM SEASIDE SCAMPER WITH DOGGY FRIENDS
The Bull’s resident springer spaniels, Lulu and Alice, are willing companions for guests ready to explore the local coastline, so off I head to the rocky headland of Golden Cap for walkies, my pockets full of warm sausages for emergency bribery. We park up at The National Trust car park, and Alice leads the way, scampering through the mossy undergrowth of Langdon Hill Wood, sunshine flashing in quick bursts behind the dark silhouette of the trees. All at once we have a vista out to sea and it is truly breathtaking.
2PM A SLICE OF DORSET
After a jaunt around Bridport market I head to West Bay where fishing boats bob in the harbour and wooden kiosks – selling everything from crab sandwiches and cornets of ice cream to mackerel fishing trips out to sea – line the arm of the harbour wall. As late afternoon approaches, the vertical sandstone cliffs glow gold on to the sweeping beach, currently the location for ITV’s whodunit drama Broadchurch. Like any good detective on the prowl for lunch, I do some homework and follow my nose to Slader’s Yard, a café and gallery showcasing an artisanal mix of crafts, art and furniture. A moreish fresh crab sandwich is followed by a pot of tea and a slice of homemade apple cake; softly infused with spices and a generous glut of moist fruit, it’s really so good I ask for the recipe.
7PM TIPPLES AND TALES
The Bull’s Bar, furnished in walnut, chinoisery and antique mirrors is like a modern-day speakeasy for cocktail lovers. Whether you like it shaken, stirred, or a bit of both, head mixologist Lloyd Brown will leave no request unattended to. As I sip on a potent mojito, he informs me that the room is named after a Colonel Venner, who, during the Monmouth Rebellion, shot a certain Mr Coker straight through the window of the hotel.
8PM FISH SUPPER
The Bull’s head chef George Marsh’s menu offers a flavourful take on Dorset’s produce, from field, land and sea. Marrying together globe artichoke and pink grapefruit in a salad tossed with toasted almonds and pecorino is a creative triumph. My main course is a fillet of Lyme Bay seabass – perfectly cooked –which arrives with a tomato and coriander dressing, garden salad and bowl of hot, crunchy chips. Simple and delicious.
11AM ANTIQUES ROADSHOW
After a light breakfast of fruit, croissants and coffee, I make a beeline for St Michael’s Trading Estate. It’s home to the Vintage Quarter, a vibrant community of over 35 traders who sell hand-curated furniture, clothes and collectables at affordable prices. The Old Albion is an Aladdin’s Cave of vintage oddities including British flags, mannequins and retro glassware, which sit next to giant neon stars and bold seaside lighting. After a three-hour mooch, I realise this is thirsty work. Thank heavens then, for the Red Brick Café, a homely eatery serving up zesty salads and homemade cakes to the melodious strings of a resident violinist. With a mug of hot chocolate and that ubiquitous slice of apple cake, I watch the yard fill with bargain hunters, all primed for their next second-hand find.
2PM FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!
It would be impossible to leave Bridport without a visit to the Hive Beach Café, which, back in 2012, was the runner up in the coast Awards for Best Beach Café. Founded by Steve Atrill when it was just a shed on the beach 20 years ago, the café’s quest for fresh locally sourced food and drink has carved a loyal following of customers. The tempura-battered cod with minted mushy peas and triple-cooked chips is one of the most popular house dishes, I discover for good reason. In a salty sea breeze plonked on the fossilised shores of the Jurassic coastline, it’s a lunch experience to dine out on.
For more suggestions for weekend breaks by the sea click here.
NEED TO KNOW
- Stay at…THE BULL The Flamingo Room, so named for its statement wallpaper, is one of 19 individually furnished bedrooms at this Regency-style bolthole, which comes complete with lounge, ballroom and Victorian courtyard. Bathrooms are stocked with Neal’s Yard products. Double rooms start from £83.33 based on two people sharing thebulhotel.co.uk.
- CLASSIC COTTAGES Set on a coastal Dorset farm with stunning views of Golden Cap, ‘The Parlour’ cottage is ideal for families and well located for visits to Bridport and West Bay classic.co.uk.
- HOW TO GET THERE From London, a car journey to Bridport and West Bay takes around three hours via the M3 and is easily accessible from both Bristol and Devon. The nearest train stations are Dorchester West and Dorchester South, from which there are regular bus services to the towns. For more information see visit-dorset.com.