Getaway: West Bay, Dorset
Rosemary and Sam Johnson search out some of the iconic locations used in the acclaimed series Broadchurch
Rosemary and Sam Johnson head to the Dorset coast to follow the trail of acclaimed TV drama Broadchurch
ROSEMARY AND I have many things in common – including a love of caravanning – but television is not one of them.
I like quiz shows, such as the iconic Countdown and the rather brilliant Pointless. Rosemary says they’re boring.
She will watch Big Brother and record Coronation Street so as not to miss an episode, whereas I can stand maybe a minute of either, before having to leave the room as quickly as possible and not come back until they’re finished. Watching strangers argue, whether scripted or not, is not entertaining.
So when a television series comes on that we both want to sit down and watch, it’s quite an event and often results in us wanting to find out more about it. Downton Abbey was one such, but we had already visited the location where it was filmed – Highclere Castle in Berkshire – in our pre-caravanning days.
Another was the final series of Broadchurch, which aired in March 2017. It was about half an hour into the first episode before one of us asked, “Where was that filmed?” and all of two minutes more before an internet search revealed that actually, there is no such place and scenes from the show are shot across Dorset, Bristol and Somerset.
However, the beautiful coastal scenes that we most admired were filmed at West Bay, near Bridport in Dorset. So with a week off work in early May forthcoming, our next touring destination was chosen.
We travelled in changeable weather, but managed to pitch up at our chosen campsite – the Dorset Hideaway, about six miles outside Bridport – in bright sunshine.
We decided to drive straight into West Bay, keen to spot as many locations as possible, but a heavy downpour just as we were walking towards the cliffs sent us running to the pub instead.
Fortunately, the next day dawned bright and clear, and we were quick to resume our tour of exploration. We started at the West Cliff, partly because we immediately recognised some of the buildings from the TV series and partly because the path looked less steep than the East Cliff at the opposite end of the bay. After admiring the view
West Bay provides a spectacular backdrop for Broadchurch
from the top, we returned to the town and noted some more landmarks, including: ■ The Ellipse Café, the interior of which was used to film several scenes. ■ The Folly at West Quay, the exterior of which doubled as Broadchurch Police Station. ■ The East Pier. This, with its spectacular views of the Harbour Cliff beach and the exposed sandstone face of East Cliff, was used to shoot the final scene of the last episode. We – seemingly in common with every other visitor that day – were keen to try to recreate the scene.
On closer inspection of the path from the beach to the top of East Cliff, we decided that it didn’t look as steep as it had from a distance. We were wrong. The climb was exhausting, but the amazing views from the top made it all worthwhile.
Having completed our exploration of West Bay and conquered both cliffs, we rewarded ourselves with a large ice cream and a visit to Abbotsbury Swannery.
Located in the shelter of the naturally occurring Fleet Lagoon and protected by the 18-mile bank of shingle that is Chesil Beach, the swannery has been home to a managed colony of about 600 nesting mute swans since its inception by Benedictine monks in the 1040s.
Swans and monkeys
The swans are fed twice daily and children are invited to participate. The guide clarified that children up to the age of 97 are welcome, so if you’re 98 and want to feed the swans, just lie about your age.
The following day saw us visit Monkey World near Wareham, home to about 250 rescued and endangered chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, marmosets and various monkey species. I’m not ashamed to admit that I love monkeys and primates. They are just so similar to humans, both biologically and in character.
As an example, the human contraceptive pill provides an effective method of birth control for chimps and orangutans. But when this had to be stopped for one female after she caught flu, her pregnancy was confirmed using a test kit bought over the counter at a local chemist’s. Which is why I make no apology
‘The story goes that Raleigh rode past Sherborne’s castle one day in 1592 and liked it so much, he had to have it’
for the sobering nature of this next paragraph. Some of the stories of the animals that have been rescued and brought to this centre are heartbreaking.
Many have been poached from their families in the wild and used as props for photographs in tourist resorts. Some have had their teeth broken with hammers and chisels to stop them biting as they grow older.
Others’ feet have started to deform as a result of being forced into children’s shoes. I am just grateful that centres such as this exist to rescue and try to rehabilitate these animals, and urge you all – even if your love for monkeys and apes is not as great as mine – to pay a visit, watch the behaviour of these fascinating animals and help support Monkey World’s work.
So far, our trip had included animals and TV locations. We decided to add some history to the mix by visiting Sherborne Castle. The story goes that the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh rode past Sherborne’s old 12th century castle – today reduced to a ruined shell – one day in 1592, and liked it so much, he just had to have it.
But he soon realised the cost of restoration was beyond even his wealth, despite his close relationship to Elizabeth I, so instead, he had a grand house built in its grounds. It wasn’t long before the name Sherborne Castle came to refer to the house, not the original building.
Raleigh often liked to sit outside smoking his pipe while looking over his gardens to the Dorchester Road. One morning, a servant, unfamiliar with the habit of smoking, thought his master was on fire and threw a glass of ale over him. Luckily, Raleigh saw the funny side and the servant escaped unpunished.
Raleigh lived at the castle for less than a decade before the newly crowned James I – who disliked him – found a way to have him imprisoned for treason and ultimately executed. The castle and its estate were sold
to the Digby family, who still own it to this day. Stories about the family, who have occupied the house for 400 years, are many and varied enough to fill a book, but one of the most interesting must be that of Lady Lettice, sister of Sir John Digby, the castle’s first owner.
After giving birth to seven sons and three daughters and being widowed – all by the age of 38 – she inherited Geashill Castle in Ireland from her grandfather and was living there at the time of the English Civil War of 1641. However, she refused to surrender to the Irish rebels, even when watching them build a large cannon and aim it at the castle. The cannon exploded the first time it was fired, injuring those around it but leaving the building intact. Lady Lettice’s response was to show her contempt by leaning out of the window and wiping the spot where the cannon had struck with her handkerchief!
Before our stay in Dorset came to an end, there were two
more things that we wanted to do. The first was to spend the evening in the campsite’s own hot tub (available to hire by the hour) and watch the sun set, which felt a bit like being in heaven. The second – at Rosemary’s insistence – was to go for a paddle in the sea the next morning. My, it was cold!
Hypothermia somehow averted, we then decided to break our return journey with lunch at Perry’s Cider Mills in Ilminster and two nights at our favourite site from our trip the previous year, the Forest and Wye Valley camping site in St Briavels, Gloucestershire.
‘A forest of bluebells kept us walking on for another mile before realising we were heading downhill, not up’
Park in the orchard
In hindsight, it would have been easier not to take the caravan with us to the cider farm.
Not only are the roads not really suited to it – although meeting two huge gravel lorries travelling in convoy in the opposite direction was probably just unlucky – but neither is the car parking. We had to park in the orchard!
It all became worthwhile the minute I tasted their medium-dry draught cider. You can buy this in a minimum quantity of 2.5 litres, which has to be consumed within a week because it’s not pressurised. Not that this was a chore, you understand.
We arrived at our next site in time to meet the (slightly naughty) goats – newly acquired since our previous visit – and go for a walk among the bluebells and wild garlic in the adjacent woodland, before returning for an excellent home-made curry, cooked by the site’s owners and delivered to our caravan. This is available to order on Friday and Saturday nights.
Our plan for next day was to visit the village of Tintern and climb the ‘365 steps’ to look over the Wye Valley from the Eagle’s Nest viewpoint, before exploring the ruined abbey. But we got distracted – first by the alcoholic ice cream on sale in St Briavels village hall as part of a local fete. The Bailey’s flavour was to die for. The second distraction was the fact that there aren’t 365 steps up to the Eagle’s Nest – there are only about 300 now.
The third distraction was a forest of bluebells, which kept us walking on for another mile before realising we were heading downhill, not up. We retraced our steps to find the viewpoint, and we’re glad we did it. Even if you catch the river at low tide, the view is breathtaking.
Sadly, this meant that we didn’t have a great deal of time at Tintern Abbey except to grab a late lunch and a few photos, and learn that it was founded in 1131 and spent most of its life as a monastery before Henry VIII tried to destroy it in the 1530s.
Our time in Dorset was great. But the best thing about our trip inspired by a television drama was spending the whole week with no TV reception. It was wonderful. More please!
Sam and Rosemary take in the view from the cliffs at West Bay
Sam lends a hand at for feeding time the swans
ABOVE The swannery at Abbotsbury, home to about 600 mute swans BELOW Monkey World is a multi-species sanctuary
BELOW Rosemary and Sam add some history to their itinerary by visiting Sherborne Castle, originally the home of Sir Walter Raleigh
Rosemary tries out the carved in Cork Oak Seat the gardens at Sherborne Castle
LEFT Draught cider at Perry’s Cider Mills made the journey worthwhile, despite having to park the caravan in an orchard INSET Sam and Rosemary take a break from exploring with an alcoholic ice cream at St Briavels RIGHT Looking out over the Wye Valley from the Eagle’s Nest viewpoint
Why we stayed at…
Did we mention the hot tub?