Colmer’s Hill – Bridport’s Iconic Landmark

Colmer Hill on a cold Boxing Day

A walk up the distinctive Colmer’s Hill and a pootle around Symondsbury makes an enjoyable local trip from West Bay. Colmer’s Hill is highly visible when you visit Bridport. Look down West Street from the Town Hall and there it is, a backdrop to the street view. For locals travelling back to Bridport the sight of it is simply a sign they are home.

What is Colmer’s Hill?

It’s a pretty little hill almost 100 metres above sea level, rising above Symmondsbury Village on the western edge of Bridport. It has a symmetrical cone shape and is topped with a distinctive copse of pine trees. Its name was originally Sigismund’s Berg, after a Viking chieftain, Berg being Norwegian for hill. Sigismund landed with a raiding party near Bridport during the Viking invasions. It is said that the beacon at the top of the hill was burning at the time. Sigismund’s Berg merged over time into Symondsbury, giving its name to the nearby village. The name Colmer’s was given much later in the 19th century, named after the Reverend John Colmer. He was the landowner and local rector of Symondsbury from 1805-06.

The Colfox family, whose lands still include the hill, planted 21 Scots pines at the top in 1918 to commemorate local people who died in the First World War. Less than half of the original trees are left now. A few years ago a ring of Monterey pines were planted, so pine trees will always be there.

A Source of Inspiration

Colmer's Hill Hilary BuckleyMany artists and photographers have been drawn to Colmer’s Hill. The light constantly changes the hill’s appearance. It is often surrounded by a mist in the early morning or backed by a sunset in the evening. In early summer the southern facing side is covered with bluebells. In late Autumn the bracken becomes golden. Local artist Hilary Buckley has produced 53 different paintings to date of Colmer’s Hill with many available to buy as prints. Here is a block stamp print put together of all her paintings of the hill. Marion Taylor, another local artist, compiled a book of several artists’ pictures of the hill.

Climbing Colmer’s Hill

The walk up Colmer’s Hill is short and quite steep (but not as steep as East Cliff!). It gives you a great view from the top. The first time for us was on a very cold Boxing Day several years ago when we all felt the need for a little exercise after the usual Christmas overindulgence. This fitted the bill perfectly. The picture at the top was taken that afternoon. The wintery setting explains the lack of colour in a scene which is often such a vibrant inspiration to artists and photographers!

From West Bay it is about a ten minute drive to Symondsbury. Go left at The Crown roundabout. After about 3 minutes, at the summit of the A35 incline, turn right (B3162). Once off the A35 immediately turn left signed towards Symondsbury and the Ilchester Arms. Colmer’s Hill is clearly visible. In the centre of the village look for parking to the left of the Church (or park in Manor Yard, see below). The public footpath route is straight on up this lane and takes you around to the far side of Colmer’s Hill before climbing on it. There is also a well worn permissive path bearing left past a few garages in about 100 meters from the main road.

Having reached the trig point at the summit you will be rewarded with the grand views of the coast and rural landscape. A great spot for a photo. The public footpath continues West on to the knobbly top of Quarry Hill. This hill has views towards Chideock and Seatown and Colmer’s Hill itself.

Symondsbury Village

Symondsbury is an ancient, pretty village with a church, village school and country pub. Manor Yard, part of the Symondsbury Estate, contains several shops, artisan workshops and a cafe centered around a lovely tithe barn which dates back to the 14th Century. The cafe, Symondsbury Kitchen, serves breakfast, lunch and a selection of cakes and coffee. Surely you deserve a slice of cake after your climb? One of the shops in the yard, Bridport Cycles, hires out bikes and there is an 8 km bike trail from the yard around the estate.

The pub, The Ilchester Arms, is a 16th century village inn with oak beams and a huge open fireplace in the bar area. We’ve not eaten there but we do know they stock Palmers ale. Good if you are a little parched after your walk!

You can also set off from Symondsbury to walk down the mysterious holloway mentioned here. There’s a network of these secret tracks between Symondsbury and North Chideock.

Films Set In West Dorset Part Two – Inland

Sleuth at Athelhampton House 1971

Did you see my recent post about film locations along the Jurassic Coast?  This time we move inland, including movies filmed in the historic manor houses and grounds of Mapperton and Athelhampton. Seen the film? Why not take a trip and visit one of these stately homes and gardens to experience the scenic locations in real life. Mapperton House is less than 20 minutes drive away from West Bay, just 5 miles northeast of Bridport. Athelhampton is about 40 minutes drive away, 5 miles east of Dorchester. Perhaps extend your visit and spend some time exploring Dorset’s county town, or the Iron Age fort of Maiden Castle, 2 miles south of Dorchester.

Mapperton House

RestorationMapperton House has been the backdrop for several period dramas. The 1995 film Restoration was filmed at Mapperton House and Forde Abbey (in Somerset). It is a costume drama starring Robert Downey Jr., Meg Ryan, Sam Neill and Hugh Grant. Set in the 1660s, Robert Downey Jr. plays a young doctor who falls out of favour with Charles II.

Gwyneth Paltrow in EmmaThe adaption of Jane Austin’s Emma (1996), the tale of love and match-making, starred Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam and Ewan McGregor. It was filmed in several Dorset and Somerset locations, including Mapperton House.

Far from the Madding Crowd 2105In the 2015 film of Hardy’s Far from The Madding Crowd the house was transformed into Everdene Farm, the farmhouse Bathsheba inherits. Mapperton’s elegant front courtyard was turned into a mud-caked 19th century farmyard for the filming.

Athelhampton House

Tom Jones 1963Tom Jones, the 1963 adaptation of the Henry Fielding classic, was filmed in twelve separate locations in Dorset and Somerset including Athelhampton House, Cerne Abbas, Beaminster and Nettlecombe (Somerset). It starred Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans and Joan Greenwood. Tom Jones is set in 18th century Somerset and tells the story of a baby abandoned at a country manor who is raised by a kindly squire.

Sleuth at Athelhampton 1971Athelhampton House and gardens were used as the main location in the 1972 mystery thriller Sleuth starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. The house played the role of a large stately home in the Wiltshire countryside, belonging to Andrew Wyke (Olivier), a crime fiction author who invites hairdresser Milo Tindle (Caine) to his home after learning of his wife’s infidelity with him. A lethal game of cat and mouse follows and the film has one of cinema’s most memorable endings. Incidentally, the maze in the top picture was built in the grounds for the film, as were the gargoyles along the driveway in the opening shot. and the house interior was recreated in Pinewood Studios.

Cate Blanchett in ElizabethThe 15th century house was also used in 1998’s film Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett, loosely based on the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign.

From Time to Time 2010The children’s film From Time To Time (2009), directed by Julian Fellowes (who owns a manor house himself, West Stafford House near Dorchester) stars Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, and local resident Harriet Walter. A WWII evacuee goes to stay at an aunt’s manor house, filmed at Athelhampton House and Julian Fellowes own home, which he discovers to be a timewarp portal to a past age. Nearby Puddletown was used for church and village square scenes.

Eggerton Hill and Maiden Castle

Terence Stamp as TroyIn the original 1967 adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd Fanny’s meeting with Sergeant Troy (Terence Stamp) out with his Dragoons is up on the (then-unpaved) road over Eggardon Hill. Troy’s seduction-by-swordsmanship display takes place within Maiden Castle, south of Dorchester.

Ciaran Hinds in Mayor of Casterbridge TV SeriesThe 2003 TV film of The Mayor of Casterbridge starring Ciaran Hinds was filmed around Askerswell, Cerne Abbas, Maiden Castle, Stonebarrow and Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.

Salwayash, near Bridport

Tamara Drewe 2010Gemma Arterton starred in BBC TV adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbevilles in 2008 and returned to Dorset in 2010 to star in the film Tamara Drewe. This tale is a modern take on the Thomas Hardy novel Far from The Madding Crowd. Scenes were filmed in and around the picturesque village of Salwayash, near Bridport, with Arterton returning home to beguile the men of a small Dorset village.

Stay tuned for the third instalment of movies with scenes around West Dorset. We’re off to Lyme Regis next…

 

Films Set In West Dorset Part One – Jurassic Coast

Far from the Madding Crowd at Eype 2015

When I read that this summer’s blockbuster film Dunkirk has some scenes filmed in Weymouth it prompted me to look into what other films have West Dorset locations. Filmmakers have been drawn to West Dorset over the years by the unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses. Notably the area is the backdrop for several period dramas, in particular adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s novels where the scenery is as integral to the story as the plot and the characters.

There’s too many films for just one post so I’ll split them over a few, grouped by locations in West Dorset. First up, movies with scenes set along the Jurassic Coast but not including Lyme Regis, Portland and Weymouth, they’ll need a separate post or two. Next time you watch one of these films see if you can spot the local sights. Or why not explore the beautiful local coastline by tracking down some of the film locations?

Jurassic Coast

Small Back Room 1949 - on Chesil bankThe British film-making team of Powell and Pressburger made The Small Back Room in 1949, a psychological drama. It’s famous for a rather gloomy look at the war effort and its twenty minute bomb-defusing finale. Michael Powell said he made the film specifically to use Chesil Bank as both a location and a story setting. Dorset’s now-vanished Abbotsbury Station appears in the film. You can also see St Catherine’s Chapel overlooking Portland and Chesil beach itself, where the bomb-defusing scene takes place.

Dam Busters PosterDespite local tourism claims, none of 1954’s The Dam Busters dramatic scenes were shot in Dorset. However “bouncing bomb” inventor Barnes Wallis acted as the film’s technical advisor and his own 1942 actual footage of test-drops of dummy bombs over the Fleet Lagoon was used throughout, including in the final raid scenes. The Fleet Lagoon thus ‘doubled’ for the real German dam-lakes in the final dams attack sequence.

The Navy Lark 1959 - West Bay HarbourThe Navy Lark, released in 1959, was filmed in and around West Bay. In it West Bay is a small fictitious channel island called Boonzey Island. Pier Terrace is the Naval Headquarters of the island. This was a spin off from a BBC radio comedy series about an incompetent crew of a Royal Navy ship. Similar to the ‘Carry On’ and ‘Doctor’ films, this black and white film’s stars included Cecil Parker, Leslie Phillips, Hattie Jacques and Gordon Jackson.

Far from the Madding Crowd 1967The original 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch, was directed by John Schlesinger with Nicolas Roeg as cinematographer. Twenty locations across two counties were used including the Tithe Barn in Abbotsbury where Bathsheba’s wedding dance is held. This barn, dating from the 1390’s, is the largest thatched building in the world. It is now home to Abbotsbury Children’s Farm. Cottages in Abbotsbury village form the backdrop when Troy disembarks from a cart on his wedding night.

Bedknobs and BroomsticksDisney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971) mixes animated characters into live-action settings. It’s not set in Dorset but the script’s finale calls for a deserted area where an army of ghostly knights line up to oppose a German U-boat landing a raiding party. The ruined castle seen in these shots is clearly Corfe Castle. One scene is said to use the old railway station at West Bay. I’ll have to watch it again and keep a look out!

The Scarlet Tunic 1998The Scarlet Tunic, a version of Hardy’s fact-based tragic short story of the Napoleonic Wars era entitled The Melancholy Hussar Of The German Legion, is an independent low-budget film made in 1998. Filmed at Chideock, Seatown and Bridport using a local crew, it was admired for its photography and scenery but generally reviews were poor and it received little distribution.

The Burrows in Harry PotterThe swampy reed beds of the fleet lagoon near Abbotsbury Swannery were used as the entrance to the Weasley family home in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The filming took place in 2007 in a huge field of reeds less than half a mile west of the Swannery with body doubles used instead of the principal actors. To create the studio set filmmakers harvested lots of reeds and moved them to Leavesden Studios for the shots where you can clearly see the actors.

Far from the Madding Crowd Poster 2015The most recent film version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene was filmed in several locations around the county. West Dorset residents took part as extras on the film. The cliffs over which Gabriel Oak’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) sheep are driven by the out-of-control young sheepdog are just down the coast from West Bay at Eype (see top picture).

On Chesil Beach 2018The film On Chesil Beachadapted by Ian McEwan from his own book, is due to be released early 2018. It is set in the early 1960s and centres on a young couple who spend a fraught wedding night at a hotel there. It stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as the couple, with Samuel West and Emily Watson also in the cast. Principal photography began in October 2016 on Chesil Beach. There is no actual hotel there.

Next time find out about some of the movies filmed inland in West Dorset, including those with scenes at Mapperton and Athelhampton House. Coming soon to a screen near you!

est Dorset’s unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses has made it an ideal location for many films, in particular various period dramas and especially adaptions of Hardy novels.

Simon Calder’s Five Top UK Seaside Resorts

Simon Calder’s Five Top UK Seaside Resorts

Well-known travel journalist Simon Calder’s five top UK seaside resorts article in Waitrose Weekend this week leads with West Bay. He writes in the introduction that he has “picked five favourite resorts full of character as well as nourishment beyond the beach.”

He starts his write-up of West Bay by mentioning a less than complimentary quote from Trailblazer Guide to the Dorset Coast Path (some people really don’t like the Quay West Development beside the harbour do they?!) but then goes on to extol the “proper fishing harbour, ice-cream shacks and a cliff-fringed corpse-free beach”. In case you were wondering, the corpse reference is a nod to Broadchurch. He also goes on to add that Bridport, West Bay’s “mothership”, demands attention. Read his words on West Bay here (click on photo to make bigger):

Waitrose Weekend 6th July West Bay

 

West Bay Rock Fall June 2017

Rock Fall

*** Update 3/8/17 The coast path is open again. Please keep to the path and away from the cliff edge. *** I’ve not seen it myself but the rock fall on East Beach last week, triggered by heavy rainfall, was a substantial one. Part of the coastal path by the golf course was taken away. The mound of rocks on the beach reaches quite a distance from the base of the cliff. Luckily it happened overnight and nobody was hurt. It does bring it home that you always need to be very careful and not go too near the edge of the cliff on Jurassic coastal path walks, or the base of the cliffs on the beaches too. Currently the cliff path remains closed and the base of the cliffs around the rock fall have been cordoned off with safety warnings in place.  Please don’t go too near to have a look.

Here is the BBC report on the rock fall.