No doubt it is just a strange fancy, but the West Dorset town of Bridport seems to me to possess the character of an eccentric, colourful and charming uncle who one has always rather suspected of murdering his first wife. Apart from its one time job of making rope for hanging people (leading to the phrase ‘stabbed with a Bridport dagger’), I cannot put my finger on what it is about this delightful town that engenders such feelings but, like the uncle, it amply rewards those who take the time to pay a call.
Time to get your bearings. Perhaps, driving into town, you will have noticed a remarkably neat, round hill to the west of the town. This is Colmer’s Hill and is conspicuous for its small collection of pine trees perched on top. A quick drive or long walk to Symondsbury will bring you to the foot of the hill. Footpath access up the hill is a bit vague but you should find your way easily enough. I favour the challenging north-west face. At the top you can count the trees (a game I played with my daughters was to guess how many there were before you get there) and admire the simply outstanding view – sea and hills and clear sight of Bridport high street in the distance. The only conceivable way to end your walk is with a well-deserved visit to the Ilchester Arms, thoughtfully placed at the bottom of the hill.
Saturday is one of the two market days, the other being Wednesday, and the second Saturday in every month sees a farmers’ market, too. Bridport takes its market very seriously and fills its exceptionally broad streets to bursting, with stalls selling books, ancient woodworking tools, furniture, items with no known purpose, pots, flowers and food in intimidatingly large variety and quantity. It is like a gigantic jumble sale.
Even without the market, Bridport is an extraordinary place to shop. If you ever wondered what happened to all the interesting shops that used to enliven your own town, I can tell you that they did not close, they merely moved to Bridport. It boasts two enormous and cavernous toyshops, four greengrocers, five bakers, no less than six butchers, a shop devoted entirely to hats (Snooks), shops that sell tools and shops that sell food with incomprehensible names such as pasakas and masoor.
In Bridport, you seem to be able to buy anything you want, and one shop, Frost’s, has seemingly taken on the job single-handed by being a newsagent’s at the front and progressively everything else as you walk about a quarter of a mile to the back.
Sunday is a day to be beside the sea. Bridport’s companion town, West Bay, is a mile to the south. It is a seaside for boating and walking rather than swimming (especially at this time of the year), but it accommodates these gentle pursuits admirably.
The old harbour entrance, which had a spectacular knack for channelling modest waves into sizable tsunami, has been replaced by a shiny new one, designed as much for promenaders as seafarers. It takes you 250m (820ft) out to sea, where you are afforded a stunning view of part of the Jurassic Coast; in particular the massive and vertiginous sandstone cliffs to the east.
An energetic walk along the top of the cliffs will have you wondering why anyone would be foolish enough to walk along the beach at the bottom, and a walk along the beach will have you aghast that anyone could be mad enough to walk along the top. Indeed they are notoriously and tragically dangerous, but that is the nature of cliffs.
West Bay is famous for its fish and, weather permitting this month, you can hire a boat and skipper for a half a day’s fishing at reasonable cost. For the family there is the chance to hire a row boat by the hour to take you up the looping, reed-lined River Brit. As you cast off, trying to remember how oars are operated, you may notice a white restaurant close by to your right. There is something romantic about a restaurant that has its own bridge, and such is the Riverside Seafood Restaurant. Its seafood is famous throughout Dorset and beyond for its excellence.