The Bridport Literary Festival And Books Inspired By West Dorset

Bridport Literary Festival Cover

If you love books and are interested in all things literary then the Bridport Literary Festival is the festival for you. This year it runs from the 4th to 11th November. An eclectic mix of writers of both fiction and non-fiction are coming to West Dorset to talk about their writing. It attracts audiences of all tastes and all ages from all over the county as well as visitors from much further afield. Most of its venues are in Bridport with a couple in Sladers Yard, just around the corner from our cottage.

Authors and Books Connected With West Dorset

Do you find that a familiarity with the locations in a book helps you picture the story more vividly? Do you like to visit the places mentioned in books you’ve enjoyed? The Literary Festival has authors and subjects from near and far but it has made me wonder about the authors who have been inspired by, and the books set within, the landscape of West Dorset. Here are some suggestions of books to read, and story locations to explore, during a holiday in the area.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis in 1803 and 1804. She set several chapters of her final novel Persuasion (1817) in the seaside town. The main characters arrive in November, and the description of the out-of-season town is still recognisable today. The book’s dramatic events led to a flow of fans to the town. The poet Tennyson is said to have gone straight to the Cobb saying “Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!”

Thomas Hardy

Thomas HardyWith the rolling hills of the Dorset countryside often called Hardy Country, Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) probably requires no introduction. He is one of the greatest Victorian novelists and Dorset’s most famed author and poet.

Here’s a post which gives a brief account of his life and novels. It has useful links if you want to explore the towns and villages he knew so well and used as settings and inspiration for the “Wessex” of his tragic stories.

Falkner’s Moonfleet

MoonfleetA friend of Hardy, J. Meade Falkner (1858–1932) wrote Moonfleet, the classic children’s adventure tale of shipwrecks and smuggling, first published in 1898. He grew up in Dorset and based much of the story there, set a hundred years before his birth. The name Moonfleet is a merging of the old family name Mohune and the village of Fleet, by Chesil Beach. The headland in the book, called The Snout, is Portland Bill.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles 1st edition book coverArthur Conan Doyle‘s famous detective novel The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1901), featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes, takes place largely on Dartmoor in Devon. However it may have had several local sources of inspiration for the ghostly, murderous hound. Conan Doyle was staying at Parnham House near Beaminster when he first heard a mysterious hound baying in the night. Local folklore may have influenced the concept. There’s tales of a spooky “Black Dog of Uplyme”. Portlanders tell of a spectral black dog, “The Row Dog”, with large saucer shaped eyes prowling the island during the hours of darkness.

In Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy drew on local belief that the black hound is a protector of vulnerable young women. Conan Doyle used this idea too. His ghostly hound appears first as a protector of a persecuted woman, forming the basis of the Baskerville curse.

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson by Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter sketch of LymeFor a smaller member of your family – West Dorset featured in the drawings of Beatrix Potter‘s final book, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930). In 1904 she spent a family holiday in Lyme Regis, staying at the Mariners Hotel in Silver Street. During her time there Beatrix did a sketch in sepia ink of a steep street leading down to the sea. Years later it became the background drawing for the tale. She combined several Devon seaside towns and Lyme to create the settings of the story.

John Cowper Powys

John Cowper Powys (1872 – 1963) was a British philosopher, writer, lecturer, literary critic and poet. Weymouth Sands (1934) was the third of his “Wessex” novels, which include Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), and Maiden Castle (1936). Powys was an admirer of Thomas Hardy and these novels are set in Somerset and Dorset, part of Hardy’s mythical Wessex. As with Hardy’s novels, the landscape plays a major role in his works. This modern classic draws on his vivid childhood memories of the seaside town of Weymouth.

Critics consider Powys one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. An article in the Guardian describes his work as a “form of literary marmite”; he is not a writer everyone can stomach but admirers are always hungry for more. Consider yourself warned, his books do not sound like typical holiday reads.

Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male

Rogue Male CoverWest Dorset is the central setting and a backdrop for a relentless manhunt by German agents operating on British soil in London and Dorset in the classic thriller novel Rogue Male written by Geoffrey Household in 1939. The book was reissued in 2014 to mark it’s 75th anniversary.

The geography of West Dorset described in the book can be followed on a real map, including a local holloway.

John Fowles

The author French Lieutenant's Woman 1981John Fowles (1926 – 2005) moved to Lyme Regis in 1968 and lived there for the rest of his life. His 18th century villa, Belmont, is now a holiday let.

Fowles set his most famous novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), in and around the town. The film of the book made Lyme’s Cobb harbour famous too. Remember Meryl Streep (or her stunt man!) standing hooded and windswept, staring out to sea?

The writer said that his 1963 book The Collector was based on “a bizarre real-life incident that happened in the 1950s” in Dorset.

Fowles was curator of the Lyme Regis Museum for ten years and did much to ensure its survival.

Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse in The Way Through The Woods

The Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter (1930-2017) includes one story, The Way Through The Woods (1992), partially set locally. Morse has gone on holiday to Lyme due to the area’s literary associations  saying”it’s where some of the scenes in Persuasion are set.” “And The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. He visits Dorchester’s Kings Arms Hotel (a Hardy site) and the County Museum there, Moreton Cemetery (grave of TE Lawrence) and stays in Lyme’s seafront Bay Hotel. While in Lyme, Morse meets a woman who calls herself Louisa Hardinge after Hardy’s own lost love.

Colin Dexter said Lyme Regis was his “favourite place on Earth”.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan‘s tells the tale of a disastrous honeymoon, set in the early 1960s, in his novel On Chesil Beach. It was nominated for the Booker Prize award in 2007.

Chesil Beach is the 18-mile shingle spit, part of the larger Jurassic coast. In an interview McEwan mentioned that he took a couple of stones from the beach when researching the novel. He was later criticised for removing items from a site of special scientific interest!

Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier

The life of Lyme Regis’s Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter ever, is captured in the novel Remarkable Creatures (2014) by author Tracey Chevalier. Read this post to learn more.

Minette Walters

Top crime writer Minette Walters lives in Whitcombe, near Dorchester. With a change of genre to historical fiction, The Last Hours (2017) focuses on a small Dorset estate. Walters set the story in 1348 at the time of the Black Death, a subject she became fascinated with after learning that it entered England nine miles from where she lives, at what is now Weymouth. (One historical fact unlikely to encourage visitors to this part of the country!)

Recommendations

Can you recommend any other books inspired by the beautiful landscape and coast in this area? If so I’d love to hear about them. Please leave a reply below.  

Stay with Us for the Bridport Literary Festival

Do you want to attend some of the events at the Bridport Literary Festival or explore some of the most beautiful literary heritage sights in England? If you do and 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.

A Weekend In West Bay

West Bay Cod & Chips

I was mulling over writing a post with ideas of how to make the most of a weekend in West Bay. A rough plan of where to go and what to do with a bit of a timetable too. Then I came across one that someone had made earlier. I like it. It suggests roughly the same things that I would. There’s lots more that I’d like to try to squeeze in but realistically it’s a good itinerary if you only have two days. I mean the weekend is meant to be enjoyable, not a mad race against the clock. The post has also got a nice little film, which is more than you’d get from one of mine. So rather than write my own post this time I thought I’d share this one with you: Click here.

Thanks to Claire, the owner of the blog. That’s a photo from the post at the top here (picture copyright Weekend Candy).

It almost goes without saying that our cottage is perfect for a West Bay weekend. By arriving on a Friday it means you wake up on Saturday ready for action. This is great as you really should visit Bridport Saturday morning / early afternoon with the market in full swing and Bucky Doo Square at it’s liveliest.

Read about 10 of our favourite things to do locally here.

Dorset Knobs

Dorset Knobs Close Up

With a name guaranteed to invoke much hilarity among children, Dorset knobs are a local speciality. Read on if you are interested in finding out more about them:

  • Originally Dorset knobs were made from leftover bread dough with added butter and sugar, hand-rolled and left to dry in the dying heat of the oven.
  • These days they are still made from bread dough which contains extra sugar and butter. They are rolled and shaped by hand and baked three times. Once cooked, they are roughly the size of a golf ball, very crumbly and rather like a dry, hard breadstick. They keep crisp and tasty in a tin for months. Don’t be fooled by the picture, they are much crispier than a bread roll.
  • It is thought their name comes from the hand-sewn Dorset knob buttons that were also made locally. They have also been compared, in size, to door knobs.
  • In the past there were a number of producers of Dorset knobs. Today the only firm to produce them commercially is Moores Biscuits of Morcombelake, four miles west of Bridport. They have been making them for more than 130 years.
  • The company makes roughly two million knobs a year but only during January and February. The 8 – 10 hour process means they are not economically viable to produce for longer. By the start of March the demand for sweet biscuits has increased again after the New Year lull and the company returns to its profitable and less labour-intensive biscuits.
  • The knobs are now baked in Moores factory in Bridport. Moores still has a Craft Bakery Shop in Morcombelake. Visitors can buy biscuits and knobs there and also look around their art gallery of West Country paintings and bakery bygones.
  • They can be eaten with cheese (traditionally Blue Vinny), dipped in tea or cider, or taken with honey and cream. This is known locally as thunder and lightning.
  • Dorset knobs were a favourite food of local author Thomas Hardy. He liked them with stilton cheese.
  • The Dorset Knob Throwing Festival has been held the first Sunday in May since 2008. As well as throwing them, other knob-related activities at the food festival include guess the weight of the knob, the knob and spoon race, knob darts and knob painting. Earlier this year the organisers announced that Moores thought that the festival had “run its course”. After the subsequent outcry they relented and said that the festival would be coming back as a biennial event in 2019, bigger and better.

Bag of Dorset knobs

  • Dorset knobs are normally sold in a bag or tin in Dorset delicatessens, farm shops and independent food stores. I think our nearest stockist is Groves Nursery. They would make a nice little present to say thank you to someone who has been watering your garden / feeding your goldfish / looking after your hamster (etc) while you holiday in West Dorset. But be warned, supplies are limited. When they’re gone, they’re gone, until next year anyway.

Shopping In Bridport

Some of the great shops in Bridport

Bridport is only a five minute drive away, or a twenty-five minute stroll from our cottage. You can find many of the well known high street shop names there, including banks, supermarkets, newsagents and chemists. But what makes shopping in Bridport different from any old generic high street is its many independent shops and market. It’s a cool place to wander around.

The Market

You can easily spend a morning browsing Bridport’s street market, held every Wednesday and Saturday. Friendly traders fill the pavements in front of the shops of South, East and West Streets with stalls selling books, ancient tools, clothing, furniture, pots, vintage jewellery, flowers and plants, local foods, books, bric-a-brac, brass things, antiques and various other curiosities and miscellaneous items. Think of it a cross between a traditional market and a flea market. Definitely worth a rummage through some junk to find your treasure!

On most market days between February and September there is live music for shoppers in Bucky Doo Square in front of the Town Hall. The town also has a monthly Farmer’s Market at the Arts Centre and a  Vintage Market within the Art and Vintage Quarter in St Michael’s Trading Estate.

The Shops

Don’t worry if it’s not a market day, there are lots of interesting shops to explore. These include a huge Toymaster toyshop (where we spent many hours when our daughter was little), several galleries, a yarn and a sewing shop, a shop devoted to hats (T Snooks), a hardware shop, a music shop and several book shops. The Book Shop, housed in a building that dates back to the 1830s, is a Bridport institution with an extensive Dorset section. Who could resist a second-hand bookshop called Wild and Homeless Books? For a unique gift Malabar Trading on South Street is a treasure trove of Asian textiles, jewellery and ceramics. Bridport is recognised as a Beacon Town for the quality and variety of its locally produced food. Alongside several supermarkets there are smaller groceries and independent butchers, bakers and green grocers. One of them, R Balson, is Britain’s oldest family business.

The Art & Vintage Quarter

Situated near to the centre of town is the Art & Vintage Quarter where you’ll find The Alleyways with over 50 traders under one roof. You’ll be surrounded by artists, sign writers and artisans plus a collection of antique, vintage and retro shops. A place you can happily lose yourself and drift back in time. If you are keen on collecting vinyl you’ll wonder where the time has gone after stepping into Clocktower Music. Enjoy it all while you can as there are plans afoot to convert some of the space into housing.

Getting There

When you holiday in our cottage it’s worth making a few trips to Bridport. The downside of the lively, busy market is trying to park on Saturday mornings. It’s best to get there early or walk. There is a choice of ways to walk from West Bay. You can head up the same way as the cars but it’s more interesting to follow the old railway line footpath from the play area. Or you can take the footpath at the back of the local caravan site. This path goes through fields, along the River Brit, and comes out near Palmers Brewery.

Of course I’ve only mentioned the shopping in Bridport here. There’s also a museum, loads of pubs, great places to eat and three arts venues. Click here for some details and links.

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.

A stall at Bridport's street market"One man's junk is another man's treasure"Who could resist a homeless book?

Bridport Old BooksWindow reflection

Snooks window for the well dressed gentleman

Another Snooks

I do like an old shop sign

Probably the best town in Dorset

Vintage Stuff

More vintage stuff

Red Brick Cafe at the St Michaels Trading Estate

Dorset Apple Cake

Eating my cake

What better way to cheer up a cold grey day than a slice of Dorset apple cake with, if you like, a dollop of thick cream or custard? Most apple growing counties make some kind of apple cake but the one from Dorset has become the most well-known. It’s a regular in local bakeries and cafés and won a competition to be named the county’s ‘National Dish’ in 2006, held as part of Dorset Food Week that year.

The Recipe

Piddle Valley Cookbook CoverTo use up some leftover cooking apples I decided to bake a Dorset apple cake. What better cookery book to turn to than The Piddle Valley Cookbook, full of “the favourite recipes of the people of the Piddle Valley”? My mum bought it years ago when we lived in Dorset near the valley. That’s her notes in the margin. It’s now a bit dog-eared and you can find it, back in Dorset, in our West Bay cottage.

It has two recipes for Dorset apple cake. The first one looks a little plain. It uses margarine rather than butter which I expect is a sign of its time as the book was published back in 1978. The second recipe isn’t a traditional cake mix at all with no sponge but a bread-crumb, orange, butter and sugar crumble on top of stewed apples.

Interesting, but not what I was envisioning for my Dorset apple cake.

I turned my attention to the internet to find a recipe. Oh my, there are so many different variations. Cinnamon, sultanas or lemon? Wholemeal, plain or self-raising? Mary Berry, Waitrose or BBC Good Food?

A couple of years ago the Guardian newspaper carried an article on “How to cook the perfect Dorset apple cake”. The writer used a variety of recipes and experimentation to come up with her own ‘perfect’ apple cake recipe. But does this make it authentic?

Leakers bakery Dorset Apple CakeThe writer in this article liked best the cake made by Bridport’s Leakers Bakery. He even interviewed the baker but sadly she wasn’t giving away her recipe “handed down and tweaked” since 1914. The photo here is taken from the article and is a slice of the praised Leakers Bakery cake.

The recipe from the Dorset Foodie Family blog looks a good one. The post has a reader’s gallery of Dorset apple cake photos too.

Mixing the cakeI ended up plumping for this recipe, “Greg’s Dorset apple cake“. It’s the one which won the 2006 competition and includes sultanas and lemon but no spices. Here’s a photo, work in progress.

The Verdict

Yum. That’s it in the top image. We’d already had a few warm slices before I thought of taking a photo which, to be frank, wouldn’t win any food blogger prizes. Why didn’t I move the oven glove and put it on a nice plate? Anyway, very nice and lemony, and not a bit like the one I had just before Christmas in the Watch House Café on the beach in West Bay.

So it seems there is no definitive recipe. As long as the ingredients include apples with brown sugar sprinkled on top, then yup, you can call it Dorset apple cake. Do you have a favourite apple cake recipe? If so please share it here by leaving a reply. As for me, that’s enough typing, I’m heading off to the kitchen while there’s still a small slice left. Best eaten fresh – what a drag.

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.