We went to visit friends Pam and Steve who have recently moved to Bridport, just a couple of miles inland from the Jurassic coast near the western end of Chesil Beach. The train gets as close as Dorchester where they drove to meet us.
Bridport was once the centre of English rope making, surrounded by hemp and flax fields and having houses with 100 feet long narrow gardens which were once ropewalks. Even the pavements are extra wide so that thinner twisted strings and cords could be made on them. By the way, the ancient trade of cordwainer never made cord – much too obvious – he made shoes, new ones. Cobblers just repaired shoes.
The coat of arms of the town features three hooks – a vital part in the process of twisting the separate strands of a proto-rope in one direction whilst simultaneously twisting the three strands together in the opposite direction. The museum has demonstrations once a week during the season.
We stayed at the Wetherspoons, an hotel called the Greyhound with excellent rooms. We had a room at the front, so had the extra local pleasure of enjoying the sounds of the Wednesday market stalls being erected from about 5am. Your modern market stall is made of iron tubes which seem to fit together best when repeatedly struck with steel hammers. Spoon’s breakfasts proved too much for us after the first morning – just too much food – so we ventured out. Once to the Lime Tree Cafe, a space which is also home to ‘the oldest cheese shop in Dorset’ (perhaps) with 40 to 60 types of cheese always available. Their croque madame, with its gruyere, ham and fried egg, was delicious. On the third morning we met Pam and Steve at the newly refurbished Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute which serves breakfast from 9am in the delightful Georgian building. Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast – lovely.
‘Spoons offered some good real ales but the most memorable beer was a canned US style IPA from Windsor and Eton Brewery called Treason IPA, not only bursting with those fragrant hops but also c.£2 for 330ml – an excellent price. The best beers were encountered at the micropub – ‘The Pursuit of Hoppiness’ – where Meg’s Bomb from Arbor Brewery was my favourite.
Here we are drinking something unfined and with an orange taste from a different brewery, but still in the P. of H..
The Cancer Research charity shop, visible from our hotel room, declares it once hosted a visit from Charles II on 23rd September 1651 – it was the George Inn at the time. By the bridge at the east end of the town a gravestone-like marker tells the reader that another king dropped by for one night. Richard III (for it was he) stayed at a house across the river on 5th November 1483 where: ‘he may have looked out of the window opposite’.
We visited the Arts Centre which had an exhibition of prints of some Matissse cut-outs. The highlight here was grabbing the work table after children left and having a go ourselves.
Other notable meals out include dinner at Dorshi, (an Asian inspired restaurant on the same street as Pam and Steve – but the street has turned into a pedestrian passage by the time you reach Dorshi), and Sladers Yard at West Bay, an art gallery and lunch venue where it was possible to spend several thousands of pounds on a single wooden chair or a much more reasonable £14 on mackerel pate, salad and a beer (Durdle Dor from the Dorset Brewing Company).
West Bay is a recent name for what was once called Bridport Harbour. When the railway got there in the 19th century the company wanted tourists to use it and felt that Harbour was less attractive than Bay. Bridport Harbour was the port of Bridport, whereas the port in Bridport means market. So Bridport is a market on the river Brid (or Brit) whereas Bridport port is West Bay. Clear?