West Dorset

West Dorset

With some of the best beaches in the country, West Dorset has traditional seaside holiday resorts, a dramatic coastline – great for walking, lively fishing towns, and no end of pretty thatched villages, along with large swathes of bucolic, rolling countryside, little changed from Thomas Hardy’s time. Stretching from the sandy expanses of Weymouth in the east to cliff-backed Lyme Regis in the west, the varied coastline forms part of the Jurassic Coast: packed with fossils, its geology is so unique that it has UNESCO World Heritage status. Home to the original River Cottage, West Dorset is also at the forefront of the local, seasonal food movement, with restaurants and cafés serving up homegrown and foraged produce and fish caught fresh in the sea that morning. Add numerous village pubs with roaring fires and pretty beer gardens, selling locally brewed real ales, and West Dorset is rural Britain at its best.

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Eat and Drink

With its coastline backed by fertile farmland, West Dorset has long been at the forefront of Britain’s resurgent interest in local, seasonal food and drink. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was the catalyst for many pubs, restaurants and cafés to start using the produce that grows in their backyard, and can often be foraged for free, but he was only capitalising on the excellent quality of the ingredients already available in Dorset. Today, you won’t have to travel far to find a seafront café serving mackerel caught from the sea that day and simply grilled, while inland there’s no shortage of local pubs offering meat and game reared on the neighbouring estate and vegetables and herbs grown in their own gardens. The abundance of dairy farming means that cafés sell locally made ice cream, while pubs in the region sell beer brewed in Bridport, and you can even buy bread baked with locally grown organic wheat, ground into flour at a watermill in Lyme Regis – and you can’t get much shorter food miles that that.

Shop

One of West Dorset’s charms is its lack of commercial shopping centres – you certainly don’t come here for a dose of retail therapy. However, attractive fishing towns such as Lyme Regis have no shortage of galleries and gift shops to peruse, while the lively Bridport market is a great place to rummage through stalls selling everything from old LPs to hand-carved children’s toys, vegetables grown on allotments and a wide selection of artisan cheeses. Inland, you’ll come across farm shops selling their own meat, vegetables and homemade jams and pickles, while the kiosk on the harbourfront at West Bay is the spot to pick up fresh fish straight from the boats. And if you’re into antiques, some of the world’s oldest artefacts can be picked up at the many fossil shops in Lyme Regis, their hoards of gems, fossils, crystals and amber appealing to children and serious collectors alike.

Things to Do

The archetypal seaside holiday region, West Dorset is home to traditional bucket-and-spade resorts like Weymouth, with its long sandy beach, and the fishing town of Lyme Regis, with its steep, cobbled streets and bustling harbour. It’s fringed by a dramatic coastline, broken up by towering cliffs, small coves and the 18-mile-long pebble bank of Chesil Beach. For those who like their holidays more active, there are some great walks, both along the coast and inland, as well as some good cycle tracks, and there’s no shortage of watersports, such as diving and sailing – indeed, Weymouth is hosting the 2012 Olympic sailing events. Inland, the countryside is dotted with pretty thatched villages, ancient hill-forts such as Pilsdon Pen and bustling market towns, such as Bridport. The region is also home to the country’s oldest swannery at Abbotsbury, plus there’s history galore in the ancient county town of Dorchester, and in the fossils that can be found along the beach at Lyme and nearby Charmouth.