on the Jurassic Coast
We all have our favourite places to visit. One of mine, less than a two-hour drive from my home, is West Bay in Dorset. Lying a short drive south of Bridport, this little place attracts visitors to the beach and harbour. It is on what has become known as the Jurassic coast due to the abundance of fossils found in the rocks of the cliffs and on the beaches.
My most recent trip had the benefit of being very warm and lovely sunshine. A day to wear my old and trusty Tilley hat and factor 50 sunscreen. The central feature of West Bay is the harbour which still has some working fishing boats, which is nice to see. Many small cabins sell a variety of foods around some of the edges of the harbour. I did enjoy my sausage and chips (french fries for my American readers), and they always seem more enjoyable by the sea.
West Bay was also a location for the filming of the TV crime drama, Broadchurch starring David Tennant, Olivia Coleman and Jodie Whittaker.
The cliffs rise in either direction along the coast from the harbour, and those who like to walk cliff-top paths will not be disappointed. It’s a pebble beach with a few sandy spots as you head west from the harbour. The sea was clean and clear as I looked down from the end of the harbour wall. The River Brit flows into the harbour through sluice gates, and those wishing to ‘mess about on the river’ can hire a rowing boat. For those that want more power, there is a powerboat experience from the harbour for a fast trip out to sea. Check out the Lyme Bay Rib Charter for more details.
Once a railway ran into West Bay, and today, there is a railway carriage restaurant on an installed rail section at the old station. The line opened on March 31st 1884, and Great Western Railway named the station West Bay to encourage holiday traffic. Sadly passenger traffic ceased in 1930, and the goods service ended with the line's closure in 1962. The station was restored in 1995 and is now the Station Kitchen and Restaurant. I have yet to sample the food, and I promise to report when I do. You can walk or cycle part of the way to Bridport on the old trackbed.
A harbour was first recorded at West Bay in the 13th century, and ships were built during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Wooden shipbuilding ceased in 1878. Fishing was the primary form of employment following this period, and an information board outside of The Salt House informs visitors about the fishing trade.
From the late 17th Century, Dorset fishermen, mainly from Poole and Bridport, set sail in the Spring to Newfoundland, Canada. Salt was used to preserve the catch, mainly cod and also some seals. The fisherman would then sail along the American coast or across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean to sell the fruits of their dangerous labours. After the long trip, they would return to Dorset. This difficult way of living carried on well into the 19th century.
On the east side of West Bay Harbour is a small museum; it is free to look around, and if open when you visit is worth a look inside. If you look to the left as you approach the museum, you will notice a collection of buildings. The largest is the Customs House Emporium, with over 100 dealers selling new, vintage and antique items. It’s interesting to look at the building from the inside, even if you’re not interested in buying anything. There are places to eat and drink too!
West Bay is small and doesn’t take long to walk around, but I think that adds to the charm. There are possibly more static caravans than buildings, but that doesn’t detract from the seafront and harbour. I am sure I will visit again.
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