Here’s a photo of West Bay Harbour and East Beach taken from the air. Swains Row is almost hidden behind Harbour House but I’ve added an arrow to show where it is. Can’t miss it!
Incidentally, I got the still photo from a YouTube video. Please have a look if you’d like to see the drone footage over West Bay and the nearby Jurassic Coast. It gets much sharper after the first 15 seconds or so.
Well I never. Yesterday West Bay was included in a Daily Mail article about how the rich and famous are colonising Britain’s seaside hotspots. Read below what the Mail has to say about West Bay, one of the “poshest seaside towns in Britain”.
West Bay, Dorset
Celeb spotting: Pauline Quirke , Billy Bragg, Fiona Phillips.
Where to hang out: Riverside, the fish restaurant near the harbour.
Best for: Fans of TV crime dramas.
West Bay, just outside Bridport, is where TV series Broadchurch and Harbour Lights were filmed – and where Leonard Rossiter walked into the sea in The Rise And Fall Of Reggie Perrin, making the cliffs there Britain’s most famous after Dover’s white ones.
It’s on the fossil-laden Jurassic Coast, which used to attract natural history enthusiasts.
Now, the crowd is more likely to be wearing Manolo Blahniks than sandals and socks, and be celeb rather than fossil hunting.
West Bay is getting steadily more upmarket, thanks to hipsterfication of Bridport, a mile away, with its Arts Festival, and Saturday flea market, selling outrageously priced junk that Londoners insist will look fabulous in their Shoreditch flats.
In case you want to read about the other posh seaside spots too, as judged by the Mail, here’s the whole article.
Does it sound like West Bay to you?
I am a little baffled by the West Bay snooty label, the idea that the place is teeming with the rich and famous. Have you ever spotted a celebrity there? I’m not sure Pauline Quirke fits the bill of snooty celeb anyway! Surely everyone is not swanning around the local caravan holiday park wearing their Manolos? I don’t think the comment that “hipster” Bridport’s eclectic street market sells “outrageously priced junk” is true either. I love the jumble of old and new, craft and bric-a-brac. Did the reporter who wrote the article ever actually visit West Bay and Bridport? Poshest seaside town? Snooty-on-sea? No fear. I like West Bay just the way it is. A mix of places to eat, a choice of activities. Something to suit every pocket and every taste, whether snooty or not!
When I read that this summer’s blockbuster film Dunkirk has some scenes filmed in Weymouth it prompted me to look into what other films have West Dorset locations. Filmmakers have been drawn to West Dorset over the years by the unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses. Notably the area is the backdrop for several period dramas, in particular adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s novels where the scenery is as integral to the story as the plot and the characters.
There’s too many films for just one post so I’ll split them over a few, grouped by locations in West Dorset. First up, movies with scenes set along the Jurassic Coast but not including Lyme Regis, Portland and Weymouth, they’ll need a separate post or two. Next time you watch one of these films see if you can spot the local sights. Or why not explore the beautiful local coastline by tracking down some of the film locations?
The British film-making team of Powell and Pressburger made The Small Back Room in 1949, a psychological drama. It’s famous for a rather gloomy look at the war effort and its twenty minute bomb-defusing finale. Michael Powell said he made the film specifically to use Chesil Bank as both a location and a story setting. Dorset’s now-vanished Abbotsbury Station appears in the film. You can also see St Catherine’s Chapel overlooking Portland and Chesil beach itself, where the bomb-defusing scene takes place.
Despite local tourism claims, none of 1954’s The Dam Busters dramatic scenes were shot in Dorset. However “bouncing bomb” inventor Barnes Wallis acted as the film’s technical advisor and his own 1942 actual footage of test-drops of dummy bombs over the Fleet Lagoon was used throughout, including in the final raid scenes. The Fleet Lagoon thus ‘doubled’ for the real German dam-lakes in the final dams attack sequence.
The Navy Lark, released in 1959, was filmed in and around West Bay. In it West Bay is a small fictitious channel island called Boonzey Island. Pier Terrace is the Naval Headquarters of the island. This was a spin off from a BBC radio comedy series about an incompetent crew of a Royal Navy ship. Similar to the ‘Carry On’ and ‘Doctor’ films, this black and white film’s stars included Cecil Parker, Leslie Phillips, Hattie Jacques and Gordon Jackson.
The original 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch, was directed by John Schlesinger with Nicolas Roeg as cinematographer. Twenty locations across two counties were used including the Tithe Barn in Abbotsbury where Bathsheba’s wedding dance is held. This barn, dating from the 1390’s, is the largest thatched building in the world. It is now home to Abbotsbury Children’s Farm. Cottages in Abbotsbury village form the backdrop when Troy disembarks from a cart on his wedding night.
Disney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971) mixes animated characters into live-action settings, obviously aiming for the same success as the earlier Mary Poppins. It’s not set in Dorset but the script’s finale calls for a deserted area where an army of ghostly knights line up to oppose a German U-boat landing a raiding party. The ruined castle seen in these shots is clearly Corfe Castle. One scene is said to use the old railway station at West Bay. However the entire film was shot in Disney’s studios in California! Dorset backdrops were courtesy of plate shot technology, where a photograph is applied to a glass plate which is then positioned to appear as the actual background to a scene.
The Scarlet Tunic, a version of Hardy’s fact-based tragic short story of the Napoleonic Wars era entitled The Melancholy Hussar Of The German Legion, is an independent low-budget film made in 1998. Filmed at Chideock, Seatown and Bridport using a local crew, it was admired for its photography and scenery but generally reviews were poor and it received little distribution.
The swampy reed beds of the fleet lagoon near Abbotsbury Swannery were used as the entrance to the Weasley family home in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The filming took place in 2007 in a huge field of reeds less than half a mile west of the Swannery with body doubles used instead of the principal actors. To create the studio set filmmakers harvested lots of reeds and moved them to Leavesden Studios for the shots where you can clearly see the actors.
The most recent film version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene was filmed in several locations around the county. West Dorset residents took part as extras on the film. The cliffs over which Gabriel Oak’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) sheep are driven by the out-of-control young sheepdog are just down the coast from West Bay at Eype (see top picture).
The film On Chesil Beach, adapted by Ian McEwan from his own book, is due to be released early 2018. It is set in the early 1960s and centres on a young couple who spend a fraught wedding night at a hotel there. It stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as the couple, with Samuel West and Emily Watson also in the cast. Principal photography began in October 2016 on Chesil Beach. There is no actual hotel there.
If you’ve read this and want to see some of the film locations for yourself but haven’t booked somewhere to stay we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage or head to our Enquire and Book page for availability, the rates and how to book. Or keep on reading. In the next post find out about some of the movies filmed inland in West Dorset, including those with scenes at Mapperton and Athelhampton House. Coming soon to a screen near you!
est Dorset’s unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses has made it an ideal location for many films, in particular various period dramas and especially adaptions of Hardy novels.
Well-known travel journalist Simon Calder’s five top UK seaside resorts article in Waitrose Weekend this week leads with West Bay. He writes in the introduction that he has “picked five favourite resorts full of character as well as nourishment beyond the beach.”
He starts his write-up of West Bay by mentioning a less than complimentary quote from Trailblazer Guide to the Dorset Coast Path (some people really don’t like the Quay West Development beside the harbour do they?!) but then goes on to extol the “proper fishing harbour, ice-cream shacks and a cliff-fringed corpse-free beach”. In case you were wondering, the corpse reference is a nod to Broadchurch. He also goes on to add that Bridport, West Bay’s “mothership”, demands attention. Read his words on West Bay here (click on photo to make bigger):
*** Update 3/8/17 The coast path is open again. Please keep to the path and away from the cliff edge. *** I’ve not seen it myself but the rock fall on East Beach last week, triggered by heavy rainfall, was a substantial one. Part of the coastal path by the golf course was taken away. The mound of rocks on the beach reaches quite a distance from the base of the cliff. Luckily it happened overnight and nobody was hurt. It does bring it home that you always need to be very careful and not go too near the edge of the cliff on Jurassic coastal path walks, or the base of the cliffs on the beaches too. Currently the cliff path remains closed and the base of the cliffs around the rock fall have been cordoned off with safety warnings in place. Please don’t go too near to have a look.
One of our favourite beach pastimes is to look out for interesting bits and bobs when wandering along the shoreline. Shells, sea glass (if we are lucky), pebbles that catch the eye. Once we took a metal detector onto West Beach. Our expectations where dashed when all we found was a lump of old chain, some rusty nuts and bolts and a couple of squashed coins!
We especially like to look for stones with a hole in them, known as ‘hag stones’. In folklore these stones are said to have protective powers. In Dorset they have been used for many years to protect people against witchcraft. Fishermen, well into the mid 19th century, tied them to the bows of their boats to protect against bad luck, accidents and the inability to catch fish. This is mentioned in a book about Dorset, published in 1906. An Abbotsbury fisherman relates that in his youth, when a particular boat caught no fish when neighbouring boats were catching plenty, it was thought that the boat was “witched” because the stone had “not been placed, or not properly placed, or not placed soon enough, on the boat”. To dispel the bewitchment, “a mackerel stuck with pins was placed in the stern hatch.” To this day hag stones are sometimes still hung on local fishing boats.
It wasn’t just fishermen who believed in the charm of the stones either. People used to hang hag stones on key chains or on the end of their beds to protect from nightmares. It was believed that if you looked though the hole you could see through to the ‘faerie realm’, or put a curse on your enemy. The stones are also known as holey (or holy) stones although it is not clear if this is because they have a hole through them, or ‘holy’ from being a source of protection against evil.
We have taken the hag stones we have found home, threaded them on a length of string and hung them in the garden. Next time you find yourself on a beach with time for a little beachcombing, why not keep your eyes open and you may soon find some beach treasure to take home. A simple reminder of your happy holiday.