West Dorset’s Gentle Embrace
I don’t really get the countryside, it’s all so open-ended and unsettling. Generally speaking, I prefer to see the edges of a place. Its invariably cold, there are insects you really don’t want to know about and its creepy from dusk till dawn. Plus, its damp. I don’t do damp. After a weekend in the country I feel like a consumptive in need of a sanatorium, wanting to be wheeled out into the sunshine on a daybed with brisk nurses in starched uniforms feeding me beef tea whilst I recuperate from the whole ghastly experience. Its fair to say that I’m an urban girl and winkling me out of London is not a task for the fainthearted. After all, what’s a walk without shops to look in? I mean really.
However, the siren call of one area of our sceptred isle consistently throws my firmly fixed notions out of my double-glazed city-view window. That area is West Dorset. Quite uncharacteristically, I completely adore the landscape and the seascape too. And there is my mea culpa. As the countryside can bring forth my inner curmudgeon, my grump, my Grinch; the seaside always induces an ear to ear smile, feelings of contentment and hand-clapping-Pharrel-levels of ‘happy’. Oddly, peculiarly, in West Dorset both land and sea affect me super-positively.
So what is it about this bit of England that gets to me more than any other? Is it the gentle, undulating, feminine curves of the land? Gorgeous cone-shaped Colmer’s Hill? The astonishing sight of so many ancient hill-forts, burial mounds and barrows? Legends of black magic on EggardonHill and fairy glades near Thomas Hardy’s house? Imagining T. E. Lawrence racing through the countryside on his Brough, reminiscing about the Arabian desert? The river Brit snaking its way through Bridport, provoking my daydreams of Celtic Brigid, Goddess of inspiration and healing? The buzzards lazily circling the fields of the Bride Valley?
And you’ll notice I haven’t yet started on the seascape…
The Jurassic coast is a joy, not just for those who like to clamber up the absurdly unsafe blue Lias scree with small picks and buckets seeking ammonites or perhaps an ichthyosaur like Mary Anning. It is a dramatic coastline, with soaring cliffs (West Bay), smugglers coves (Osmington Mills), the astonishing phenomenon that is Chesil Beach and its Fleet Lagoon – home to swans that have nested there since the time of King Cnut. Busier beaches (Weymouth and Lyme Regis) lay alongside empty, contemplative, peaceful beaches (West Bexington, Cogden) that are smothered in rock samphire and wild garlic.
I could go on. But I won’t, as I want you to discover this beautiful area for yourself and enjoy exploring it as much as I do. It won’t let you down, you have my word.
I always want to go back to West Dorset. I go back when I feel tired and my batteries need recharging, I go back if I don’t feel too well. I take friends and family who are in need of fresh air and good food and nurture. We always come home feeling better. Doctor Dorset’ I call it.
You’ll need a car to see the treasures of this county. You’ll need your walking shoes too if you want to conquer some of the coastal path or explore Maiden Castle and some of the other hill forts. Go in Spring and see the landscape smothered in lambs and bluebells; go in summer and bask in Portofino-like sunshine; go in autumn and enjoy the dearth of caravans and visit natural phenomena like Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door without the queues; go in winter when its windy and raining and sit inside a steamy café in Lyme Regis watching the waves crash over the Cobb. Go and feel as elemental as the seasons.
There are treasures beyond measure in this part of England. There’s also some of the best food you’ll ever eat in the UK. West Dorset is rightly very proud of its produce with organic farms aplenty and local food awards. There’s cinnamon-y apple cake for tea and Lyme Bay plaice, sole, ray, bream and crab that’ll have your lips smacking.
If you’ve read my London Walks, you’ll know that I like to stop for a nice cup of tea wherever I go. Nothing changes when I’m in West Dorset and my favourite places for tea are:
I hope that if you know it, you already love West Dorset as much as I do or if you haven’t been there, that I might have inspired you to take a visit.