Arriving in Dorset

We moved to the Cotswolds in May of 2010 and each summer spent a week in Dorset or Cornwall. We were happy in the Cotswolds and didn’t think of moving to the coast, but we liked to visit in the summer. As much as we loved Cornwall, the way that narrow piece of land juts out into the Atlantic, it just felt too far away from everything and too exposed to the elements in winter. We loved Dorset, but we didn’t know it well and thought the walking would not be as good as the Cotswolds.

We had decided to settle permanently in the Cotswolds when in early 2015 we found out that an incinerator was to be built very close to our favorite area and we felt like we needed to move. Air quality was starting to matter to us. We had good air quality in all the years we lived in Santa Fe and knew it would not be as good in England because we were settling in a very populated area. If you live in the UK and are concerned about air quality, the best place to be is the south-west, with the wind coming in a south-westerly direction, right off the sea.

We were starting to think Dorset might be the place for us. The walking is better than we thought at first. It took most of the year, but we finally found a nice house to rent in Bridport. Rentals are not easy to find in the Cotswolds, but it is more difficult in West Dorset. The population is smaller and there is not as much demand. We did three trips down to West Dorset to look for a house to rent and explore the area, staying in holiday cottages for a week in March, again in May and again in July. We passed up one house that we should have taken in a village near Bridport, but the village was very small with no services and in a valley that gets sea fog. We missed one in Bridport because I dithered for a week before making an appointment to see it. By the time another good house came up for rent in early September, just before we were leaving for two weeks in Italy, we were ready. We drove down, spent a night in Dorchester, saw the rental, said we would take it and drove back.

Of the three couples who looked at the house on the day they did showings, all three wanted it. Unfortunately we were not chosen. But, a week into our Italy trip we got a phone call that the chosen ones had changed their mind and we got it. We moved in mid October. From the moment we arrived, we both loved it here.

Bridport on a wet winter afternoon

Bridport is similar to Stroud (where we lived in the Cotswolds) with a population of 13,000+, but it is in a less populated area and further away from large cities. Bridport, like Stroud, is not on the tourist-trail for good reason – it isn’t very pretty. But it interesting, full of independently owned shops (plus a small Waitrose), with a the remains of an industrial past (they made rope in the old mill buildings along the river). A lot of people retire to this area, but you see young people around town.

From Bridport we can walk to the sea at West Bay in under an hour, or drive in 5 minutes. West Bay is a typical beach town with a line of wooden booths selling fish and chips, ice cream, tea and Dorset apple cake. There is a modern pier that you can walk out on for a good view back to the gorgeous cliffs and a short seawall walk along the west beach. In warm and sunny weather the small town is packed with tourists. In cold and wet weather you have it to yourself. You can walk west on the South Coast Trail to Eype and Seatown, or east to Burton Bradstock.

West Bay
West Bay on the Dorset coast near Bridport

A few miles east of West Bay is Hive Beach in Burton Bradstock. This one is my favorite. We can drive there in 10 minutes. Burton Bradstock is a pretty village with thatched cottages crowding along the main road. You don’t see the sea from the village. At the end of the village you turn down a street lined with bungalows, go up a slight hill and before you is the magnificent beach and cliffs and sea. There is a large car park (free to National Trust members) and a very good restaurant, the Hive Beach Cafe, popular with visitors and locals. In the summer the sea is calm and there is good swimming at West Bay or Hive Beach. In the photo below you can see that the water is rougher in the winter. You can walk on the South Coast Trail west to West Bay or east along Chesil Beach to Abbotsbury.

Hive Beach
Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock

One of my favorite towns in this area, Lyme Regis, is a 20 minute drive. Lyme is a tourist destination and has more restaurants and more visitors than Bridport. Last summer we spent a week in an apartment there, right on the sea. We had a great week, swimming every day, walking along the sea, enjoying their summer festival. They recently opened a new sea wall walk on the east beach. There is a lovely walk up along the river to Uplyme (which is in East Devon – Lyme Regis is almost on the border). From Lyme Regis the South Coast Trail has been diverted away from the cliffs heading east to Charmouth, so isn’t that interesting, but walking west towards Axmouth you walk in beautiful woods called “the undercliff”. A recent landslip has blocked the path near Axmouth, so you have to do it as an out and back.

The photo below is of The Cobb, an historic pier mentioned by Jane Austen in “Persuasion”. You can see the Granny’s Teeth steps where Louisa Musgrove fell (in the photo above the heads of the group of three people on the left). It was also made famous by local author John Fowles in “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. The top part that you walk along is seriously sloped, so it takes a bit of courage to get up there. Climbing the Granny’s Teeth steps takes more courage than I have.

Lyme Regis
Lyme Regis, The Cobb

I have only talked about the towns on the sea. Inland there are other interesting towns and villages. The county seat of Dorchester is a bigger town and is only 30 minutes by car. Weymouth, south of Dorchester on the sea, is larger but we have not been there yet. I will write more about Dorset as we get to know the area more.

Maybe our enthusiasm for the area is just the excitement of moving to a new place. I reacted badly when a friend suggested I was leaving the Cotswolds because I had itchy feet. I loved the Cotswolds! But maybe they were right. I always had it in my mind that we would have five years in the Cotswolds. I do like to live in different places. Very, very slow travel. Whatever it was that pushed us to leave, we are happy with where we have landed.

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

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