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.

The Greatest Fossil Hunter Ever

Mary Anning Painting

Mary Anning’s story is fascinating. Born in Lyme Regis in 1799, she lived her whole life there hunting, collecting and selling fossils. The Natural History Museum proclaimed her the greatest fossil hunter ever. Yet the scientific community didn’t completely accept her during her lifetime or give her as much credit as she deserved. Why? Because she was female, poor and working class. If you’d like to know more please read on. Are you lucky enough to be visiting Lyme soon? Find out about the town’s most remarkable person before you go.

Her Early Life

Copy of Ichthyosaur skull displayed in Lyme Regis museumAt fifteen months old Mary Anning survived a lightening strike which killed the three other people sheltering under the tree. Unlikely as it sounds her family maintained that the sickly baby girl became much smarter and livelier as a result.

As a young child she would often go out on the beaches of Lyme fossil hunting with her older brother Joseph and her father, a carpenter and an amateur fossil collector. The family was poor and selling the fossils was a necessity to bring in money. It was dangerous work particularly during the winter months, out in storms and after landslides. Her father died when she was only eleven, leaving the family in debt. Mary, along with her mother and brother, continued collecting and selling fossils to tourists from a table outside their house.

In 1811 Mary’s brother discovered a four foot long skull. With its long snout and prominent teeth it might have been a crocodile except that it had huge, bulbous eyes. A creature never seen alive. A few months later Mary found the rest of the skeleton. It became quite a sensation, rocking the scientific world.

Her Fossil Expertise


Sketch made by Mary Anning
Mary eked out a living by finding, painstakingly recovering and selling fossils throughout her life. As she continued to make important fossil discoveries her reputation grew. Scientists and collectors from around Europe and America visited her in Lyme. However the majority of her finds ended up in museums and personal collections without giving her any credit.

Mary read scientific papers and dissected animals to gain a better understanding of anatomy. She became an expert in the delicate work of removing fossilised bones from the rocks, then reconstructing skeletons. She knew more about fossils and geology than most of the gentlemen geologists and stayed in frequent contact with them. They published information she gave them, but often neglected to mention her name.

Despite her incredible understanding of fossils and skeletons she was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London. Not surprisingly she grew resentful of the scientists who failed to acknowledge her work, remaining an outsider barred from full participation because of her sex and social class.

The dangers of her occupation was highlighted in October 1833 when her dog was killed by a landslide that nearly killed Mary too.

The Huge Importance Of Her Discoveries

Mary Anning’s fossil discoveries caused major controversy as they challenged the belief that the world had been created as described in the Bible. If God’s creation was perfection, how come these creatures no longer existed, so must have been imperfect? Those who had faith in Genesis as literal history required every species ever created to be alive still. They also believed that everything had been made within a week. Why were different types of fossils found in different layers of rocks, evidence that the animals had existed during different eras?

The spectacular marine reptiles that she unearthed provided the evidence for extinction, shaking the scientific community into looking at different explanations for changes in the natural world. This indirectly lead Darwin into his insights which culminated in his publication The Origin of Species in 1859.

Her Death

In the last few years of her life, Mary became increasingly sick, suffering from breast cancer. She began taking laudanum for the pain and local people mistook the effects of the drug for drunkenness. When the Geological Society’s members learned of her plight, they started a fund that paid for her treatment. In 1846 they made her an honorary member of the society. She died in 1847. A eulogy was read at a society meeting and they published her obituary.

After her death her story attracted increasing general interest. In 1865 an article in a magazine edited by Charles Dickens celebrated her life and achievements.

Mary was probably the inspiration for the 1908 tongue twister, “She sells seashells by the seashore.”

In 2010 the Royal Society included Mary in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures Book CoverIf you enjoy reading historical novels then Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier is a great way of finding out more. Like her most famous book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier takes real historical events and people and winds a fictional tale around them.

In Remarkable Creatures two alternating voices tell Mary’s story. One is Mary, the other is Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster sent by a married brother from London to live more cheaply in Lyme. Elizabeth begins searching the beaches for fossils and meets Mary, then a child. Despite their differences in class and age a loyal friendship develops, founded on their shared passion for fossil hunting. As well as an absorbing story it is also a revealing portrait of female friendship. They, as much as the fossils, are the remarkable creatures of the title.

A production company optioned the book earlier this year and so, who knows, maybe a movie beckons.

Visiting Lyme

When you are visiting Lyme the Lyme Regis Museum, on the site of Mary’s birthplace, has a Mary Anning wing which tells the story of Mary and Lyme’s fantastic fossils. They also offer guided Mary Anning and fossil walks. Click here to see if there are any scheduled conveniently for you. Incidentally the museum, built in 1901, was commissioned by Thomas Philpot, a relative of Elizabeth Philpot.

Mary Anning’s grave is in the churchyard of St Michael’s Parish Church. A stained glass window there, paid for by the Geological Society, commemorates her life.

Getting to Lyme Regis from the cottage is an easy drive down the A35. Alternatively you can take the Jurassic Coaster bus which goes from outside The George. You can even get a water taxi there from the harbour. Even if you aren’t interested in Lyme’s fossil history you’ll find plenty to see and amble around, and lots of places to have a bite to eat. If you are interested I hope this potted history of Mary Anning’s life helps to enrich your visit a little. If you want to know more, Remarkable Creatures is well worth reading and particularly suited to a holiday on the Jurassic Coast!

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.

Films Set In West Dorset Part Three – Lyme Regis

The French Lieutenant's Woman 1981

Did you see my previous posts about films with scenes in West Dorset? This time we head west to Lyme Regis, most notably seen in adaptations of John Fowles and Jane Austen books, and in particular that famous scene. Why not head to Lyme Regis where you can check out the film locations in real life?

Lyme Regis

West 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.

Manhunt Poster 1941This first screen version, renamed Man Hunt (1941), was directed by the great German director Fritz Lang and shot entirely on soundstages and Hollywood-backlot studio sets. These were described as “hilariously inaccurate English backgrounds” in Halliwell’s Film Guide. The film is of local interest for the finale. Unlike the novel only the climactic final reel is set in Dorset, on Lyme Regis Undercliff, where cornered rogue-gentleman Walter Pidgeon cleverly dispatches smooth-talking Nazi agent George Sanders.
Peter 0Toole in Rogue MaleA more authentic remake, called Rogue Male, was produced in the 1970s by the BBC, starting Peter O’Toole.

In 2016 it was announced that Benedict Cumberbatch is to star in a new film adaptation of the book.

French Lieutenant's Woman 1981Lyme Regis resident John Fowles saw his book The French Lieutenant’s Woman made into a classic film (1981) starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, all filmed in Lyme Regis. One of the most memorable moments in cinema history, the scene with a solitary Meryl Streep standing at the end of the Cobb wall, in her hooded cape and waves crashing all around, made Lyme world-famous. Rumour has it that it was actually a stunt man dressed in her cloak!

Persuasion 2007Jane Austen’s last great novel, Persuasion, is in part set in Lyme Regis. Chapters 11 to 14 are set in the seaside town with the characters, who arrive in November, describing the out-of-season holiday resort. A cautionary tale with the character Louisa Musgrove “taken up lifeless” after falling on the pavement of the Lower Cobb when jumping off steps there. The 1995 BBC film and the 2007 ITV film versions of Persuasion both filmed scenes there.

The Boat that Rocked poster 2010The Boat That Rocked, a 2009 British comedy film written and directed by Richard Curtis, was filmed at Portland Harbour, Castletown on Portland, Lyme Regis and Kimmeridge. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost and Kenneth Branagh all play pirate radio DJ’s. It is set in the 1960s when the pirate radio stations broadcast music from ships moored just outside British territorial waters.

Films set in West Dorset will return!  Weymouth and Portland the finale…

 

Guitars On The Beach

Guitars on the Beach 2014

Guitars on the Beach is becoming an annual event in Lyme Regis. This year it’s on Saturday 17th June. Each year they put up a stage and invite everyone to come along to the beach with a guitar. The aim? To create Britain’s Biggest Band and break the record for most guitarists playing the same song together at the same time.

We’ve taken part a couple of times. Our first time in 2013 was also the first one ever. The date was the day that Buddy Holly would have turned 77 so Rave On was chosen as the song.  A classic but also a simple three chord tune that even a beginner can attempt. As we approached the beach we joined a stream of folk with guitars on their backs or carrying deckchairs. A sizeable crowd gathered. Unfortunately just as it was getting going it began to pour with rain and a powerful storm soaked us through! In the end over 2,200 guitarists played Rave On, not once but twice. And then again as there was a bit of a mix up over the time and they wanted to make sure everybody got into the record!

The next year Ian Gillan from Deep Purple had agreed to appear so, along with Rave On, the plan was to play Smoke On The Water. We were more prepared. My husband tuned a guitar for me in such a way that I could easily play the main riff after a lesson and after a fashion. On the Saturday off we went, plus a friend of my daughters and four guitars. The sun shone, Ian Gillan took to the stage, people in boats moored off the shore burned smoke flares, and the event even made it onto the BBC news website. Funnily enough, you can easily spot my daughter and her friend in one of the photos as they were still wearing their “Where’s Wally” hats! Not usual attire I hasten to add, bought along for the Bridport Hat Festival which had been earlier on the same day. We didn’t break the world record (over 6,000 in Poland in 2009) but did beat 2013’s total with 3,325 people. I am now the proud holder of a certificate saying I’ve played in The Biggest Band In British History.

On Saturday June 17th the record bid is at 5 pm. There’s more acts to follow and the event is scheduled to go on to 10 pm. The web site has a list of the songs that are going to be played by the crowd, and the chords for them. It’s fun and raises money for charity too. If you are nearby why not dig out that old acoustic, practise a few chords, and go along and join in?