Family Days Out In Dorset

Bridport Museum photo from their website

With all the lovely beaches along the Jurassic Coast you may not want to stray far from the seaside but if you fancy a change there’s lots of attractions for families in the area. Here’s a quick round-up, picked to all be within a 45 minute drive of the cottage. From Monkey World to the Tank Museum, a Sea Life Centre to local animal farms. And a bit of seaside fossil hunting too. Just click on the links to find out more, get directions and check opening times, some of the attractions are seasonal.

In and around Dorchester

Old Teddy Bear ExhibitThe ancient county town of Dorchester is 16 miles away, roughly a 30 minute drive. Attractions include Thomas Hardy’s town house, shops, pretty streets and churches and child-friendly eating places. There are several little museums serving up an eclectic mix. These include a Dinosaur Museum, a Teddy Bear Museum, and Tutankhamun, Mummies and Terracotta Warriors exhibitions. Sadly these display copies rather than the actual Tutankhamun treasures, mummies or warriors. Individually they seem pricy given the size of the exhibits but you can get a saver ticket which combines entry to all five of them. The Dorset County Museum is better value. There’s also a military museum, Keep Museum.

Maiden CastleTraces of Dorchester’s prehistoric roots include the Maumbury Rings and Maiden Castle, an ancient earthwork on the outskirts of the town. The largest iron age hillfort in Europe, Maiden Castle dominates the skyline and once protected hundreds of residents. Excavations have revealed occupation began more than 6,000 years ago. Have a climb, a walk and enjoy the superb views. Free entry and parking.

Near Dorchester is Kingston Maurward gardens and animal park, a grade II-listed gardens set around a large Georgian English country house (now an agricultural college). Children will especially love the animal park, with its pigs, alpacas, cows, ponies, sheep, ducks and hens and plenty of room to play and have a picnic.

Bridport and inland

Rope machine photo from museum websiteBridport Museum on South Street is worth popping into when you are in the town. It’s recently undergone a major refurbishment. Find out about Bridport’s history from prehistoric times onwards. There’s a special emphasis on the story of the rope and net making industry which has shaped many of the town’s streets and buildings. This informative little museum has free entry and is child-friendly with interactive exhibits and a dressing-up box.

Kingcombe CentreKingcombe Centre, a 25 minute drive inland from the cottage near Hooke, has natural history, wildlife, craft and art courses throughout the year. Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve surrounds it. The centre has activities such as pond dipping and nature walks for families and children. Have a look here to see if anything appeals.

In and around Wareham

Monkey World WarehamRoughly a 45 minute drive from the cottage, Monkey World in Wareham is a monkey sanctuary, a rescue centre, for primates. It has decent sized enclosures for the animals and a very large outdoor adventure playground for children. A perfect outing for any monkey fan.

Tank MuseumWest of Wareham, the Tank Museum in Bovington (again about 45 minutes drive) is, not surprisingly, a museum with lots and lots of tanks. Good for a rainy day if you like tanks, or you know someone who does.

Also near Wareham is Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park. Loads for young kids to see and do with lots of animals and activities including go-carts and pedal tractors.

Heading west along the coast

Charmouth FossilsThe Jurassic Coast is where you’ll find some of the best fossil hunting in the UK and Charmouth is the very best place to start. Entry to Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is free and it’s packed with interactive displays and fun things to do. There’s a fossil display which contains some remarkable finds. You can rent a hammer to hunt on your own or follow a guided walk led by one of the centre’s experts. Either way it’s a great day out and will always reveal exciting finds. Book online for a fossil hunting walk or rock pool ramble. But be careful, the cliffs around Charmouth are very unstable.

Pavement Outside Lyme Regis MuseumLyme Regis is a lovely town for families to visit and in particular it’s a good place for fossil and dinosaur enthusiasts. In 1811, after a storm caused parts of Lyme Regis’ East Cliff to collapse, Mary Anning, twelve years old and already a keen fossil-hunter, discovered a complete dinosaur skeleton, an ichthyosaur over 5 metres long. There are two museums in Lyme with fossil exhibits, Dinosaurland Fossil Museum and the Lyme Regis Museum. One of the buildings on the Cobb houses an aquarium too.

Heading east along the coast

Situated near Burton Bradstock, The Jurassic Fun Centre at Freshwater Beach Holiday Park is a handy rainy day destination. Activities include a fun pool with slides and a ten-pin bowling alley.

Pigs at Vurlands Animal FarmKeep going along the beautiful coast road to Swyre and you reach Vurlands Animal Farm. This is a family run business suitable for a day out with young children. There are plenty of farm animals to see, a play area, and, in the summer months, a free bouncy castle. It’s wheelchair and buggy friendly. Your ticket is valid for a further seven days for free re-entry. The Eggcup Tearooms are on site for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

At the swannery in SpringGo further east along the coast to Abbotsbury where you’ll find three superb attractions all located within a mile of each other around the village, Abbotsbury Children’s Farm, Subtropical Gardens and the Swannery. If possible visit the Swannery during cygnet hatching time between mid May and the end of June. The gardens have spooky illuminated fright nights near Halloween. You can buy a passport ticket which allows three visits to an Abbotsbury attraction.

Falling ManOn Portland there’s Tout Quarry Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve. Entry and parking is free. An abandoned quarry has been turned into an sculpture park, the sculptures carved in the Portland stone. It’s an atmospheric place with lovely views over Chesil Beach and Lyme Bay. The park is a maze of pathways through the quarry with sculptures dotted around. Keep your eyes peeled to spot them! The hidden sculptures include a fish, a Viking boat and the famous “falling man” by Antony Gormley. Wear decent shoes. Afterwards you could head out to Portland Bill, the most southerly part of Dorset, to see the red and white lighthouse and the waves crashing around Pulpit Rock.

Weymouth

Weymouth makes a good day trip. The Sea Life Adventure Park is a facinating aquarium, with general tickets including access to the Jurassic Skyline viewing tower. The park has a new play area called Caribbean Cove. It includes a splash zone so pack swimming costumes even if you are not planning on a beach day.

Alternatively the Victorian Nothe Fort, located at the entrance to Weymouth Harbour, is a labyrinth of (apparently haunted) underground passageways and outdoor areas with plenty of space for children to run free. The interactive exhibits are full of interesting facts about the fort, the harbour and Weymouth as well as more general military history. Kids love finding the hidden mice too! It has a brilliant view over the harbour from the ramparts.

If you’ve read all this and haven’t yet booked accommodation for your trip to the area, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage if you wish, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Family Days Out In East Devon

Family Days Out In East Devon

Lyme Regis is in Dorset on the border with East Devon. Here’s some family-friendly things to do over the border, all under 40 minutes drive from our cottage.

Seaton

Seaton is the first town on the coast in East Devon as you head west from Lyme Regis. It’s perhaps not as attractive as its coastal neighbours (they have set the bar high) but there are several attractions to visit in the vicinity.

Seaton Jurassic Visitor Centre opened in 2016. Visitors get to travel back 200 million years aboard their time-ship! Seaton was underwater during the Jurassic period so there is lots about prehistoric sea creatures and their evolution. It’s very interactive and children get an explorer’s passport, answer questions and collect stamps.

Seaton TramwayTake a trip on Seaton Tramway, a narrow gauge heritage tram which travels three miles through the Seaton Marsh and Colyford Common Local Nature Reserves in the Axe Valley. It is one of Devon’s major tourist attractions carrying over 100,000 passengers a year and offers a unique way to travel along the Axe estuary.

Seaton Wetlands Nature ReserveSeaton Wetlands Nature Reserve stretches from the estuary at Axmouth to the village of Colyford. Nearly 4km of level trails and boardwalk through beautiful marshland and reed beds alongside the river Axe, home to an abundance of wildlife.

Beer

Who wouldn’t want to visit a place called Beer? Beer is a pretty village with a small fleet of working fishing boats, a shingle beach and surrounding picturesque white limestone cliffs.

PecoramaPecoramaBeer’s miniature railway and gardens theme park, stands above the village of Beer, high on the hillside overlooking the sea. It’s suitable for families, garden lovers and model railway enthusiasts. You get to ride a miniature train on the Beer Heights Light Railway. There are several play areas for children. All three generations of our family had fun on the zip wire when we visited.

Beer Quarry Caves are a vast man-made complex of underground caverns created by centuries of quarrying the famous Beer Stone, used to build St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle. Guides give you an hour long tour of this vast complex of underground caverns. It’s a good trip on a wet day as it doesn’t matter what the weather is like when you are down there. Open March until the end of September.

Sidmouth

Sidmouth is a seaside town that nestles beneath red cliffs and the green hills of the glorious Sid Valley. Jacob’s Ladder is the sandy, western end of Sidmouth’s town beach, which is mostly pebble. There’s plenty of rock pools.

Donkeys in Sanctuary ShopThe Donkey Sanctuary is near Sidmouth on the A3052 with hundreds of donkeys. You can meet the main yard donkeys or spot them in the fields. When we went it was such a foggy day you couldn’t see the donkeys in the fields! A new restaurant recently opened. Admission is free.

Here’s a coast path walking route, starting in the car park in Weston near Sidmouth, that will allow you to take a well-deserved rest at the sanctuary and meet the friendly donkeys!

Inland in East Devon

Visit Forde AbbeyForde Abbey, an historic house and gardens. The impressive building, originally a Cistercian monastery,  dates back 800 years. Star of the show is the beautiful grounds and gardens with a spectacular fountain. Children are encouraged to explore every corner following a letter box trail around the garden. In summer you can go fruit picking. There is a cafe there too.

We didn’t find the market town of Axminster memorable when we visited but did enjoy lunch at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Axminster. It gets busy so best to book.

If you’ve read all this and haven’t yet booked accommodation for your trip to the area, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage if you wish, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Inspiration For Your Romantic Break

Romantic break

Do you want to whisk someone off on a fabulous romantic break? West Dorset is a perfect destination. Perhaps some of these ideas will inspire your romantic escape to our cottage for that special getaway!

  • Enjoy a countryside walk and the dreamy scenery of gentle rolling hills.
  • Stroll around the harbour together with an ice cream or a bag of chips.
  • Simply take to the South West Coast Path and gaze at the beautiful coastline.
  • Feast your eyes on the blanket of bluebells across Eype Down in late spring.
  • Enjoy an afternoon cream tea at Downhouse Farm or The Seaside Boarding House.
  • Visit Bridport on a Saturday where you can meander all morning perusing the market, record and book shops, cool cafés, antique and craft stores.
  • Walk along a beach holding hands.
  • Pack a picnic and head to a scenic spot, perhaps Hardy’s Monument, St Catherine’s Chapel or a local beach.
  • Fly a kite on Eggerton Hill.
  • Tour a vineyard and enjoy a tasting at Furleigh Estate, a vineyard and winery.
  • Set off in a rowing boat and take in the glorious scenery while drifting along the River Brit.
  • Walk through the woods on Langdon Hill.
  • Enjoy a distillery tour, vodka cocktails and lunch at the Black Cow Distillery.
  • Take to the skies on a champagne balloon flight.
  • Take a portable barbecue and supplies to a secluded beach for an evening supper.
  • Head to Bridport early evening for a movie or a show at the art deco Electric Palace.
  • Get yourselves down to the pier at dusk, look towards Lyme and watch the sun sinking over the sea. You may be rewarded with a beautiful sunset.
  • Enjoy a candlelit meal in one of West Bay’s restaurants or pubs.
  • Make the most of Dorset’s dark sky and gaze at the stars together.
  • Snuggle in front of the wood burner in the cottage.

Feeling the love? So why not channel your inner Bridget Jones and visit West Dorset for a Full-Blown Mini-Break Holiday Weekend, or stay longer and explore all that the area has to offer. If you haven’t yet booked accommodation we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Watching The Bees

Saints v Bees

For only the second time in history, the first being exactly 60 years ago, Bridport Town FC made it into the third round of the FA Cup qualifiers.

They were drawn against St Albans City, three divisions above them. St Albans is my home town so I went along to watch. Having never seen the Bees before I was a little disappointed to see they were wearing red kits rather than black and yellow stripes! Thinking my loyalties might be torn, I found myself supporting Bridport. I do like an underdog and they needed all the support they could get!

And the match? In the first half Bridport went down two goals but rallied in the second half to bring it back to 2-1. The last 10 minutes or so was all pressure by the Bees. The St Albans crowd was visibly anxious. But Bridport just couldn’t get that equaliser and the match finished 2-1 to Saints. Good effort though.

A Girls Weekend Away

Cork on Table

Fancy a girls-only weekend away? A chance to get together, to chat, laugh, catch up, relax, reminisce and recharge your batteries. A getaway to our cottage is great for just that. I speak from experience as, at least once a year, I’m lucky enough to spend a weekend there with three of my oldest friends (in every sense of the word oldest, ha ha!).

Eating Out – The Blow-Out

Station Kitchen CarriageThere’s not much actual cooking in the cottage these weekends. Nuh-uh. The fridge is full of bottles and nibbles. With so many places to eat out we are spoilt for choice. Decisions, decisions. We treat ourselves to one blow-out meal each trip. It’s been The Station Kitchen for the last two years. Having sat in the train carriage last year we really had to go back to try the waiting room too. I went very retro with prawn cocktail followed by a great steak. My friends were very happy with their scallops and lamb dishes. Sadly we were too full this time for puddings. One year we made the very short walk to The Riverside for a special treat (we did have “significant” birthdays to celebrate). Another time we took a trip to Lyme where we had a lovely lunch at Mark Hix’s place with the views over the bay. We’ve also over the years had great Saturday evening meals and Sunday lunches at The West Bay Hotel. I’ll gloss over the not-so-good Sunday roast we had a few years ago at another local hotel!

More Eating – Lighter Bites

Lunch at Soulshine CafeWe need to fit a visit to a cafe or two into the weekend. A few weeks ago we had a yummy lunch (crab sandwich, mussels and two moroccan chicken salads in case you’re wondering) at the Soulshine Café in Bridport. We were lucky enough to stay dry in their little garden out the back. Last year we raved about Rachel’s (one of the wooden huts at The Mound) for Sunday lunch (sadly not possible this year as you do need the weather to behave). We recommend The Seasider too if you fancy fish and chips back at the cottage, Friday evening perhaps.

Watch House CafeThe Watch House Café fits the bill for a nice breakfast, lunch or brunch on the beach. Or indeed a slice of cake in the afternoon, including Dorset apple cake.

The Cornish BakeryThis year we added pasties to our repertoire, with the new kid on the block, The Cornish Bakery, a couple of minutes walk away in the old Harbour Stores building. A pasty and a Portuguese tart provided a cheap and tasty lunch eaten back at the cottage. I really did have to go back the next day, home alone now, for another one.

Shopping

Another pull to the area is shopping. A wander around the Customs House one time made Kate’s day when she found a vintage book about Richard Burton (she’s his biggest fan). One Sunday we ambled around the Car Boot Sale (Mel is still using her salt pig bargain!). Or Bridport for some proper retail therapy with the Saturday Market and mix of independent galleries, books shops, boutiques and chain stores too.

Things To See

From top of St Marys ChurchEach year there is something different to visit. A food festival at Hive Beach one year. This year the Open Studios event was being held so we spent an enjoyable hour or two  wandering around several of the St Michael’s studios in Bridport as well as the ones in West Bay. It was a Dorset heritage weekend too. We braved climbing to the top of St Mary’s Church with rather a small opening at the top to clamber though, best for Kim the climbing wall enthusiast! It gave us a 360 degree bird’s eye view of the town, down to West Bay and across to Colmers Hill too. Next year the Hat Festival maybe?

Exercise

It’s not all eating and drinking. We walk, a little anyway. Up to Bridport or around West Bay. The stroll along the pier to breathe in that sea air and get that view of the honeyed cliffs. If we are feeling energetic (or to walk off all the food we’ve been eating) we take a quick hike up East Cliff. We’ve walked the other way too, to Eype with the glorious view of the Golden Cap and Lyme Bay in the distance.

Staying In

With the Electric Palace and Bridport Arts Centre up the road you might think I’d mention the shows we’ve been to, the variety of film, theatre, music and comedy evenings we’ve packed into our weekends. Nope, we like to spend time relaxing in the cottage, time just to chill. Open a bottle, watch some DVDs. We did have an eclectic mix of them this year, the Good (The Birds), the Bad (Sharknado) and the Ugly (Machete). Don’t worry, we didn’t leave the DVDs behind!

Sound like your sort of a weekend? Well then, book a short break at the cottage, one for just the girls, and start planning now. Take a look inside the cottage, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Bridport Open Studios And Floorboards!

Bridport Open Studios And Floorboards!

I was lucky enough to spend a West Bay weekend during the Bridport Open Studios event this September. Every year over 75 of West Dorset’s artists, designers and makers open their galleries, studios and homes for people to explore, view and have a chat about their work.

There were three Open Studios in West Bay. I’d never realised before that The Old Timberyard, the big old warehouse you can see as you look out of the front bedroom window, houses two artist’s studios on the top and middle floors. It was a pleasure to visit them and see their work inspired by the sea and rocks of the coast here, with the added bonus I could see our cottage out of their windows from a viewpoint I’d never had before!

On the middle floor is the huge studio of abstract artist Jon Adam. His pictures were big and stunning but I couldn’t help being sidetracked by his… floorboards! Not something I usually get distracted by but they were the same as the ones upstairs in the cottage, dark and unusually wide. In the studio some of them were very, very long too. I’d always though we had these wide boards due to the ship building history of West Bay, with the same planks used for ship decking too. Jon told me that actually the tree trunks our floorboards are made from were shipped back from America in the eighteenth-century. West Bay, then known as Bridport Harbour, was a busy port with ships setting sail laden with rope and nets to trade. For the return journey large American logs were used as ballast in the ships’ holds in order to remain upright and stable at sea. Upon arrival in England, those same timber cargoes were made into, amongst other things, our floorboards.

South Dorset Ridgeway Field GuideOn the top floor is Amanda Wallwork. Her work is concerned with the archeology and geology of the South West landscape. Her richly coloured and rocky paintings are constructed from layers of plaster and oil paint. She’s also created charts of the barrows of the Dorset landscape, reimagining them as constellation maps. Most recently she has produced a Field Guide and two maps (more to come) exploring the landscape of the South Dorset Ridgeway. The concept behind these is to highlight how the rocks below the surface influences the landscape we see today. The Field Guide gives an introduction to the landscape and some of the things to look out for, with the two maps show walking routes in the Abbotsbury and Portesham area. There’s now a set in the cottage cupboard.

Chris Neaves Bright Day West BayUnfortunately my budget wouldn’t stretch to an original painting but I did treat the cottage to a print of the harbour. Very appropriate I think. The artist is Chris Neaves and he has a little gallery in Bridport on Gundry Lane called Cloud 9 Studio. I’ve given it a frame and it’s now waiting to return home to West Bay.