Eype – a photo essay
Ken Ayres takes his camera to visit a west-Dorset village by the sea
Published in October ’12
The origins of Eype – at least as far as its name is concerned – are Old English. First recorded in 1300 as Estyep, then as Estrhep in 1329, its name derives from the word gēap (meaning ‘a steep place’) and ēast and ēasterra (‘east’ and ‘more easterly’). It is tantalising to wonder of which place of early 14th-century importance it was to the east, but a steep place it most certainly still is.
Eype lies south-west of Bridport, and south of Symondsbury. It is a two-part village (Lower and Higher Eype) and also has a beach and where its stream hits the sea there is Eype’s Mouth. All of Eype lies to the south of the highway, here described by poet William Crowe:
Many indenting wheels, heavy and light,
That, in their different courses as they pass
Rush violently down, precipitate,
Or slowly turn, oft resting, up the steep;
This extract is taken from Dorothy Gardiner’s Companion into Dorset, but she has little to add on the village except the brief, but helpful, annotation: ‘Eype is to be called “Eep”.’
This brief note is positively prolix when compared with the output of other normally loquacious Dorset authors. Sir Frederick Treves ignores Eype completely in his Highways and Byways, as do Roland Gant in his Dorset Villages and Arthur Mee in The King’s England. Monica Hutchings’ Inside Dorset describes ‘Eype and Eype Mouth [as] little places…, with an inn and cottages and a minute stream finding its way to the shore’. She continues: ‘There is a small beach here and the prospect of mackerel fishing,’ adding, ‘there is an ancient earthwork on Eype Down.’
Jo Draper’s Dorset – The Complete Guide starts in more lyrical note: ‘A small village close to the sea, approached down a deep and leafy narrow lane.’
The subsequent phrases of: ‘The church of 1865 sits on a prominent lump…,’ and, ‘the rather plain stone cottages sit a little way back from the sea,…’ are perhaps less inspiring, but whilst Eype has not always been a sleepy backwater, mostly it has. It is normally taken as part of Symondsbury, and even when it is lauded, as in the 1863 verse by F Bartlett, it is in a poem entitled Symondsbury. Bartlett wrote:
The cliffs with slopes and flats abound,
All facing the warm south;
And quietly you may lie down
In Summer at Eype’s mouth.
The sea is calm, the air is soft,
The beach is like a floor;
You fancy you could soar aloft,
While bathing near the shore
There is no frost or chilly wet,
The place scarce knows such things;
The seasons there are summer heat
And pure delightful springs.
Eype’s next brush with fame came eighteen years after this poem, when the balloon Saladin touched down at Eype, spilling out two of its passengers who were attempting to offload ballast to avoid a fully-fledged crash in the village. The third passenger, Walter Powell, MP for Malmesbury, stayed aboard, waved as he rushed out to sea and was never seen again. On New Year’s Eve, the balloon’s barometer (or ‘a thermometer with a single human hair’, depending on which source one believes) was found off Chesil beach. Two years later, the balloon’s remains were found… again variously described as in the Pyrenees or in Sierra del Pedroza, in the Asturias in northern Spain; of the MP, no trace was ever found.