The Dorset Walk – Bridport
Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold do one of their shorter, town-based walks, this time in the ‘capital of West Dorset’
Published in September ’14
West Dorset District Council may have its administrative headquarters in Dorchester, but the true capital of West Dorset is undoubtedly Bridport. Apart from Lyme Regis, it is the only town of significance west of a line drawn from Weymouth to Sherborne, that is in almost a third of the county’s land area. It is therefore the centre for a large number of scattered rural communities but is also a notable town in its own right with a strong industrial heritage, some interesting architecture, a beautiful setting between the sea and the hills and, in recent years, a reputation as the centre for some intense artistic activity.
Distance: A little under 2 miles
Terrain: Pavements and footpaths.
Start: Rope Walks car park. OS reference SY465929. Postcode DT6 3RH.
How to get there: From the east, take the A35 and at the roundabout at the edge of Bridport, continue straight ahead into the town. Go across the traffic lights by the Town Hall, with its distinctive clock, and at the next roundabout turn left into Tannery Road. Follow the road round to the left and turn right into St Michaels Lane, then first left into Rope Walks. The entrance to the pay-and-display car park is on the right. From the west, follow the signs to the town centre at the Symondsbury turn-off from the A35 and turn right at the second roundabout into Tannery Road.
Maps: OS Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis & Bridport), OS Landranger 193 (Taunton & Lyme Regis). But a town plan, such as that in Estate Publications’ Dorset, may be more useful.
Refreshments: Restaurants, pubs and cafés abound
1 Walk out of the car park entrance and straight ahead down an alley alongside Waitrose. Emerge onto West Street. The building across the road and just to the left was the original works of Gundrys, rope and net makers. Bridport has a tradition of making nets and ropes, stretching back to well before the foundation of Gundrys in 1665. The Gundry family became immensely wealthy and owned most of the town. They founded what is now Palmers Brewery, so that on a Friday night they could recover from their thirsty workers what they had just paid them in wages! Macabrely, a hangman’s noose was known as a ‘Bridport dagger’. Today’s successors to Gundrys, AmSafe, specialise particularly in cargo nets for aircraft.
2 Turn right on West Street and walk up to the cross-roads. Cross and walk along the arcaded front of the Town Hall, built as recently as 1786. Turn right down an alley immediately after the Town Hall and emerge into Bucky-Doo Square. There are various theories about the origins of this strange name: for example, that it took its name from a nearby pub, the Buck and Doe, or that there was a prison nearby, a euphemistic name for a prison being a ‘bocardo’. What is certain is that the square is home to a splendid octagonal seat, carved by local artist Karl Dixon in 1996 and decorated with scenes illustrating aspects of Bridport’s life and history. On the left is the neo-classical façade of Bridport Arts Centre, converted from a Methodist chapel, and a little further down South Street are Bridport Museum (well worth a visit) and the Electric Palace, which retains the décor of a traditional cinema but today is used for all sorts of entertainment and has just been put up for sale.
3 Continue down South Street, passing the parish church of St Mary. It contains the coat of arms of the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father, who died in Sidmouth and whose coffin rested overnight here during its melancholy journey back to Windsor. Take the next turning on the right, into South Walk, but first look at the Chantry on the opposite corner. It was built in about 1300, making it the oldest non-religious building in Bridport, and was home to a priest. In the attic there are still traces of a pigeon loft, whose inhabitants formed part of the priest’s diet.
Today the Chantry is let as a holiday home by the Landmark Trust.
4 Follow South Walk to its end and cross the wooden bridge ahead and on the left. On the other side of the bridge turn left and walk down the River Brit, which gives Bridport its name. The Brit here is nearing the end of its journey from its source north of Beaminster, through Netherbury and Pymore. Reaching Skilling Hill Road, turn left over the bridge, which marks the confluence of the Brit and the Asker. On the right is Palmers Brewery with its historic water-wheel. Two Palmer brothers bought the brewery from the Gundrys in the late 19th century and their great-grandsons work there today. As well as brewing, Palmers owns some 70 pubs and inns in and around West Dorset.
5 Cross South Street by the lights, turn left, and in a few yards, just after the garage, turn right through a metal gate. Stay on the broad path ahead as it follows the course of the Asker, ignoring all bridges. As it name implies, the source of the Asker is at Askerswell, under the shadow of Eggardon Hill, from where it flows through Loders and Bradpole. The path leads to East Street, where turn left and cross the bridge and walk up the left-hand side of the street, the better to appreciate the cottages with their attractive roof-line crowding up the slope. About halfway along East Street, opposite the Lord Nelson pub, turn right into Barrack Street.
6 Take the second on the left into Bedford Place, in front of the old Port Bredy hospital; before it was a hospital it was the workhouse and today it is flats. Continue past the entrance to Downe Hall, whose conversion into flats was the cause of bitter local controversy some years ago, and across the back of Mountfield, another imposing house that is now offices. At the end of the Mountfield car park, a drive leads up to the right between stone pillars. If you have the time and energy, this is worth a diversion since it leads to the Millennium Green, which is more of a park than a green and offers some charming paths and a good view over Bridport from the top of Coneygar Hill.
7 However, the main route of the walk turns left at the end of the Mountfield car park, downhill. In a few yards, go down some steps into another car park and, turning left, walk down through the car park to a road. Turn right and take the first on the left, North Street, which is rather less impressive than the three other Bridport streets named after points of the compass. North Street meets one of these, East Street: turn right, then cross over opposite the alley alongside Waitrose that leads back to the car park. ◗