My last blog post at the start of the year marked ten years of owning our West Bay Cottage. No one would have guessed what Year 11 was about to bring. A trip to the cottage in early March and then lockdown meant we didn’t go back until July. We decided in May that if we could open the cottage in the summer at all it would be safest to leave big spaces between bookings. Once I’d arranged and rearranged bookings with that in mind it meant there were no gaps left for ourselves! So it was very nice to get down there again last weekend. Plus it gives me a few cottage related bits and pieces to update on here (which is a good thing as I’ve almost forgotten how!).
We had a lovely long weekend at the cottage in July, checked all was all fine, and gave it a late spring-clean. During lockdown we’d had all the windows refurbished by a local sash window company. They’d sent pictures of our renovated windows but it was good to finally see them in real life. They make such a difference to the cottage. A pleasure to open and close and no more rattling on windy evenings.
Another happy sight was outside the cottage. I was so pleased a lovely gardener had started to look after the front and back gardens last year. I hate to think what they would have looked liked left untended for so long. Luckily she loves gravel gardens and has made it much nicer and more colourful than my efforts ever could.
Why the badger picture? During our July weekend we looked out of the front window late one evening and saw three small badgers running around. They were easy to see as they’d turned on our sensor light. How lovely we thought. Perhaps not so lovely we agreed after we’d got a message from one of our August guests saying badgers were getting into the bins. We hoped it was just a phase they were going through. This Sunday we woke up to find a bin turned over and fish and chips leftovers scattered. I’m hoping two bungees now secured on the lids will put a stop to this unruly badger behaviour. If you stay on our cottage please keep them on the bins and do let me know if you have another messy badger invasion, although we don’t have a Plan B yet.
[NOTE ADDED – Our first guests after this reported that the determined badgers made a such a racket in the night they had to bring the bin inside, two big chunks had been taken out of a lid. Bungees not a success. We have a new plan, we are putting the bins in the garage for now.]
That weekend in March we ate at The Hive Beach Cafe. They have a shop in the cafe and I couldn’t resist this poster. In July we got to hang it up, half way up the stairs. What is especially nice is that a local Lyme company makes them using seaweeds collected at our beaches in Dorset as well as Devon and Cornwall.
Did you indulge in a little lockdown retail therapy? I told myself it was good to support some independent businesses in a small way but frankly it was more for my own gratification. The excitement of a parcel arriving! So I bought a couple of very tactile additions for the cottage. First, a super soft sheepskin rug. I put it in the cottage’s back bedroom this weekend and your feet just sink into it. I was tempted to bring it back home again. Also, a gorgeous feather duster. Why use a dreary duster when you can be cleaning the cobwebs away with one fashioned from ostrich feathers? When William Morris said his ethos for domestic life – “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”- he might just have been talking about these two lovelies.
Well, that’s our cottage news. Fingers crossed we can remain open over the coming months, and for now we’ll be continuing with the big empty buffers between bookings for the peace of mind of guests, cleaners and ourselves too.
For us the start of a new decade marks ten years of owning our cottage and running it as a holiday home. If you are reading this perhaps you would like to do the same one day? Here’s how it all started for us, and some things we’ve picked up along the way.
How it all started
We need to go back to the summer of 2009, while we’re camping in Eype, just down the coast from West Bay. No plan to buy a holiday home but I knew there was a cute looking cottage for sale in West Bay. I like to potter around estate agent’s websites occasionally, and we already loved West Dorset, in particular Bridport and West Bay. So we went to look at it, just for fun. We fell in love with it. Furthermore we could see the benefit of having our own little place in Dorset, near my parents. They were getting old and both unwell so it would make visiting them regularly easier. Plus the cottage was running as a holiday let already. We though we could do the same to cover its day to day costs. But really it wasn’t these practical thoughts that swayed us, owning a cottage by that beautiful coast and we’d be “living the dream”! We had to make up our minds quickly, the estate agent told us there were others interested. So we went for it, remortgaging our own house. We were lucky enough to win a nerve-racking sealed bidding process.
We got the keys to the cottage in early November (see top picture). The first evening we arrived in a howling gale with water coming in under the door! The cottage had been renovated within the last couple of years and we had bought a lot of the contents as part of the sale. We didn’t expect we’d need to do much to get it ready for guests. As soon as we stayed in it we found there were some things that needed improving fast. New beds and hob were first on the list, and stopping the fire alarms going off all the time. This was soon followed by a new TV (and an aerial, as it turned out we were connected to number 3’s one!), some baby stuff, the wood burner, and bits and bobs like mats, rugs, cushions, towels, bedding, kitchen utensils, garden furniture…the list goes on. We refreshed it indoors with a coat of paint.
What do we need to do?
Our knowledge about letting out a cottage was non-existent. I bought a book and found lots of useful information on an online holiday rental owner’s forum, Lay My Hat. We swotted up on the legalities, including a fire risk assessment and booking terms and conditions. I put together a visitor’s book with all the information our guests might need about the cottage, and our favourite things to do in the area too. A couple of simple spreadsheets later and we were ready to keep a track of bookings though the year (oh the fear of a double booking) and record all incoming money and outgoing costs, a tax requirement.
We needed a website and were happy the url westbaycottage.co.uk was available. We took some photos and planned the pages and what we wanted to say on them. That Christmas my husband set up a website (luckily he knew a bit about that sort of thing). We kept the same rental fees as the previous owners. A West Bay website advertised local holiday accommodation. We paid for a listing, linking to our website. An early decision was to keep things independent and look after the booking process by ourselves. Mostly to keep the costs down for us and prospective guests. A booking agency might bring in more bookings but we wanted to keep control and high occupancy wasn’t imperative.
The good times
Our website went live at the start of 2010 and it didn’t take long before we had a few bookings. I was nervous before our first guests arrived in March but I needn’t have worried. All was well. I was pleasantly surprised with the numbers of bookings coming in. The cottage was busy that first year, the numbers bumped up with family and friends wanting to stay there too. It turned out West Bay had a lot of fans, and this was before Broadchurch!
As the years went on we learned more about running a holiday home and streamlined the booking process. In 2017 I bit the bullet and created a responsive website. This was new to me but I followed online lessons on how to create a vacation rental website using WordPress. Daunting at first but quite fun. SEO remains a mystery to me but I started to share the odd Facebook entry, twitter comment and Instagram photo from West Bay Cottage. The course encouraged people to write blog posts, so I started to do that too. Mostly subjects I enjoy researching and find interesting about the area, like its history and the films and TV programmes made there. Statistics consistently show that the Dorset apple cake and Dorset knobs posts are the most read from google searches. Food wins hands down!
And a few not-so-good times
There have been a few stress-inducing times over the years. Late 2010 we had noisy builders next door, without warning, upsetting one set of guests. In 2014 a couple staying were very unhappy to find a camera crew on their doorstep. Turned out the Broadchurch team were filming a scene next door! We’ve had a few boiler problems over the years too. Just this New Year’s Eve we had to dash to the cottage to sort out the new “smart” thermostat. Very occasionally we’ve had a complaint. A couple of them with good reason and one or two not so much, a criticism about seagull feathers in the backyard springs to mind. It goes without saying that we want everyone to have a great holiday and find our cottage a pleasure to stay in. Even after ten mostly trouble-free years the worry that something might go wrong, or be found not up to scratch, still gets me. Being an off-site owner doesn’t help. The first thing I do when we arrive back at the cottage is read the comments left in the visitor’s book since our last visit. It’s so nice to read that people have had a happy time and enjoyed the cottage. It makes it all worthwhile.
Has letting the cottage covered the costs?
Yes, letting our cottage has enabled it to “pay it’s way” so far, with some thanks to Broadchurch for making West Bay even more popular. We put much of the profit back into the cottage. Lots has been replaced at least once, including all the kitchen appliances, the tiling in the kitchen and bathroom, stuff in the TV corner, the table and chairs, as well as less obvious things such as the electrics and the boiler. For us the opportunity to keep it as charming and practical as we can is definitely worth it.
A couple of tips for prospective holiday home owners
We’ve learnt that staying there often ourselves is invaluable, although it’s not the relaxing time guests enjoy. We check up on things and do any repairs, replacements, touch-ups or deeper cleaning required. Plus I feel the need to return all the kitchen things to their “rightful” position and move things around on the kitchen shelf!
Anything we might do differently with hindsight? Ideally we’d like to live nearer to our holiday home. The same old car journey gets a bit boring. The expected journey time of three hours expands if the M25 is slow. We reckon the prospect of 90 minutes max travel time ahead would be much more appealing on a Friday evening. But the gripe is not really one to be levelled at our West Bay cottage, it’s more a negative aspect of living just north of London but loving West Dorset!
So my advise to anyone thinking of buying a holiday home is, if you want to do it purely for financial profit, it’s probably not worth it. But if you like making a place nice, running your own business and fancy faffing around with a website, then yeah, just go for it.
West Bay has a history of flooding. It is something we became aware of when we were buying our cottage and needed to set up home insurance. Since then we have had several anxious times after our phones have bleeped with a message from the Flood Information Service to tell us that there is a flood warning in place for the harbour and to expect flooding imminently. Fortunately every time it has been a false alarm. The worst we have known was one Friday evening back in 2014 when they even evacuated the flats behind The Esplanade (see picture above). So good news when the Environment Agency teamed up with West Dorset District Council and agreed to install new sea defences at both beaches.
The West Bay Coastal Improvement (WBCI) scheme
To find out more about the scheme please read here.
Unfortunately for West Bay residents and visitors it wasn’t feasible to do the construction work in the winter months, but the groups involved with the scheme reassured that they would do “everything practically possible to minimise public loss of enjoyment of West Bay’s wonderful beaches” and every effort would be taken “to minimise disruption, noise and dust”. Hmm, the work is very much underway now and my cleaner has just told me that it is very difficult keeping on top of dust at the moment, cars look like they have been on a desert drive! She says it feels like an earthquake when they drop the rocks on the beach. It all sounds rather interesting if you like that sort of thing but we are very sorry if your holiday in West Bay isn’t quite as relaxing or dust-free as it usually would be.
The work is set to be complete in early July (and they have said they will stop until September even if it isn’t) apart from a couple of things. A new boardwalk at the far end of East Beach is being built in September to help accessibility and improvements are going to be made to the River Brit bank (the caravan park side) over the winter period.
Be part of the growing number of volunteers helping clean our beaches. Removing harmful plastics, bits of old fishing gear and all the other rubbish from our beaches is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution and protect marine wildlife. Pick up a piece of plastic and you ensure no fish or other marine animal can ever mistake it for food. Bin an old fishing line, rope or net before a seal or seabird gets tangled in it. Plus you get to help make the beaches more beautiful for everyone too.
West Bay Beach Clean Group
West Bay has a Beach Clean Group which runs regular beach cleans. We took part in one a while back. We scoured West Beach, filling a bin bag with a motley collection of bottles, bottle tops, plastic straws, bits of lost fishing gear, wrappers, tin cans and the like. Much of it was single-use plastic used to contain food and drink.
Visitors are very welcome to join in a beach clean. For info, places, dates and times see here.
Bio-Beads Plastic Pollution
Over the last year or so the West Bay Beach Clean Group has become particularly concerned about the numbers of tiny plastic pellets found washed up on the beaches during beach cleans. They found some nurdles, the raw material from which nearly all our plastic goods are made. They also found many bio-beads. These are a type of bead used in their billions in the treatment of waste water. They are only about 3.5mm diameter and so are quite hard to spot. Birds, fish and other marine animals often mistake them, and other small bits of plastic, for food. This can be fatal for the wildlife if the beads block their digestive system. Some of the bio-beads contain significant levels of toxins which again poses a risk to health.
Both Exmouth and Uplyme water treatment plants, run by South West Water, use billions of bio-beads to filter waste. The result is cleaner bathing water in the South West but the issue is when they escape. The company admit to a couple of major spillages in the past, including one in Cornwall ten years ago which spilled billion of the pellets into the sea. They say that they have taken steps, and continue to do so, to prevent beads escaping from their works. Sadly it does nothing to remedy the huge numbers out in the environment already.
This photo is taken from the West Bay Discovery Centre centre website here. It shows their collection of nurdles and bio-beads collected from West Bay Beach Clean sessions by the public.
You don’t need to wait for an organised beach clean to help keep the beaches cleaner. Writer, surfer and TV presenter Martin Dorey came up with the #2minutebeachclean concept, the idea to encourage people to spend just two minutes at a time picking up litter. A growing number of beach lovers are now helping rid the world’s beaches of marine litter and plastic pollution, two minutes at a time.
There is a network of over 500 Beach Clean Stations around the UK and Ireland. These are boards near beaches where you will find information, pickers and bags. They are proving really popular. A trial of a station at Bude in Cornwall found the amount of litter on the beach dropped by 60% within a year. West Bay has one.
The next time you are on the beach why not get involved and do your bit to help with ocean conservation? After all, it only takes a few minutes. You can take a picture of your marine litter haul on your phone and post it to Twitter or Instagram. Just hashtag your photos #2minutebeachclean #dorset.
A great way to explore our local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is on a bicycle. I hesitate to write this as, fine as I am with cycling down a hill, I’m not keen on the going back up. I love the beauty of West Dorset’s rolling hills, just not when I am puffing up one of them on a bike. This isn’t helped by the sight of my husband and daughter disappearing into the distance ahead. But, if you are not such a wuss as me pedalling up slopes, cycling is a wonderful way to take in the stunning scenery. Explore the varied landscapes in West Dorset, and do it all at your own pace.
Suggested Cycle Routes In The Area
For inspiration have a look here at West Dorset Pedal. It’s got five maps for rides ranging from 11-17 miles. It also suggests pit stops for food and drink. Quite right. After all that pedalling you surely deserve to refuel in a village tea room or country pub. A good route if you are staying at our cottage is the first, exploring Bridport and Netherbury. It has an add-on to West Bay itself. Two other routes take in the Frome Valley and the beautiful villages and coast round Abbotsbury (the route ‘Land of Bone and Stone’). Another explores West Dorset’s finest hill forts. You might want to print off a route or two before your holiday.
From Bridport there is also easy access to the National Cycle Network Route No. 2 (a 30 mile route from Dorchester to Lyme Regis), also with plenty of lanes and villages to explore.
Local Places To Hire Bicycles
If you haven’t got the space or the inclination to bring your own bikes you can hire them nearby at Bridport Cycles at Symondsbury. There’s a cycle trail running from the shop in an 5 mile loop on private land.
If you want to enjoy the beautiful countryside and not worry about making it up the next hill you can go on a guided electric bike tour. Now that sounds more my thing.
Bike Storage At Our Cottage
We have a new door on our garage which actually locks. This means that if guests want to bring bikes on holiday we can arrange for them to have a key to the garage to lock them away securely. Happy Cycling!
If you want more information on staying in our cottage please take a here or head to our Enquire and Book page for availability, the rates and how to book.
Swains Row sometimes has prickly visitors, and I’m not talking about any of our cottage guests! If you go outside late in the evening in the warmer months you may see a hedgehog snuffling around in the front gardens. Number 4 is particularly keen on these spiky neighbours, as you can see above from this plaque on the front of their cottage.
Sadly the hedgehog population is in decline in Great Britain. We’ve lost a third of all our hedgehogs in the last ten years. Pesticide use, habitat loss and roads are all thought to be taking their toll on their numbers. To encourage hedgehogs into your garden you need to make sure they have a safe access in and out. Leave an area to go a bit wild with shrubs, long grass and log piles or compost heaps. You can also pop out a dish of cat or dog food and water each evening.
At the end of the front garden next door you can see a big a pile of apple tree twigs left there to encourage our spiky neighbours. Let’s hope they make a good foraging and nesting site for a hedgehog or two. Perhaps it’s home to a snoozing hedgehog at the moment. A new arrival or two next summer would be lovely. I’ve just read that baby hedgehogs are called hoglets, a term introduced in the 1990s. Cute eh.