An Intriguing Weekend Down in Dorset

Posted on September 26, 2011

Diane and I had a weekend break in Dorset and what a lovely weekend of various activities it was. We began our trip stopping of at the picturesque Stourton house near Warminster which is under the control of the national trust. If you are a keen photographer it is a lovely place to visit with a stunning lake and surrounding garden walks ideal for picnics etc. We then proceeded southwards on our journey in to Dorchester where I had booked the Kings Hotel in the High Street so we could meander through the bustling market stalls in between taking refreshments of fine wine and country ales in the quaint ale houses and Inns. At least that is what I had imagined in my mind’s eye when I booked it. However, Dorchester is not as quaint as I thought.

Lakeside at Stourton

Our hotel was nice enough, a Best Western which is not a Hotel Du Vin by any means, but clean and friendly providing a good enough central base. We dumped our bags and headed to the High Street which really took me by surprise. Nothing was happening, it was dead, a town closed down for winter on a balmy Saturday afternoon in late September! It’s actually quite hard to explain, Dorchester should be nice, it has lots of character, but it is a town that is dying on its feet. I have read tales of the death of town centres and here was a classic example of it, it seems that if a town has a Peacocks and a Robert Dyas it is in terminal decline.

We did venture in to a pub at the top of the hill, but in the main bar there was a couple of alcoholics watching horse racing and out on the “patio” area there was just the owners, pissed up, complete with a devil dog and a daughter who was having a swearing competition in an argument with her mother. It wasn’t pleasant. We retired to the relative safety of the hotel and had a drink that was only briefly interrupted by some vomit inducing chat up lines from a guy who had been forced to admit that he was sixty and not fifty, the age he had “accidentally” stated on his internet dating profile . There are not enough gigabytes of memory on the BlogSpot server to publish all his charms, but despite his age setback he kept going undeterred, even after she tried to frighten him off by announcing that she was ashamed to admit that she had had a plethora of sordid and gratuitous one night stands since her marriage break up. Sensing an easy leg over, he came up with this beauty;

“Don’t be ashamed, you have no need to, merely see it as character building and a step to finding the happiness someone like you deserves.”

At this point our evening started taking shape, we decided on eating at the Hotel which actually turned out to be quite good (though Di’s steak was a bit rarer than hoped) before moving down to a weird little pub about thirty seconds walk away that served moderate Ringwood beer and white wine vinegar that should, in reality, have only been used for cooking. However, there was a band playing called The Dolmen, who were from Weymouth and were, would you believe, really good, transforming the atmosphere in the pub right from the off. We had a really good evening jumping around and having a really good laugh with the people in the pub who it turned out weren’t locals, but band groupies. We even got invited to their next gig in Weymouth.

Yesterday we really had to get out of Dorchester for the day so we took a driving tour from Lyme Regis to Portland Bill, two places not only miles apart in distance, but also in appearance. You go on holiday to Lyme Regis; you go to prison at Portland. We really liked Lyme Regis, it is a really pretty little seaside resort with lots of little shops, restaurants and pubs, it felt lively and it was hard to imagine that it was late September sat out in the warm sunshine with tea and sandwiches. We then proceeded to the tiny seaside village of Seatown where we drove down to the front, turned round and headed to the much lauded West Bay, home of the TV series Harbour Lights. What an odd place it is, there are brand new flats on the harbour that look like they should be in London and loads of little temporary ice cream and food huts. I couldn’t work out whether I liked it or not, but the funeral music played by the St Swithuns Brass Band, watched by a large number of coffin dodgers, starting getting me feeling all morbid and in fear of old age so we moved on.

The Harbour at West Bay

Next stop was Bridport, which, to be honest was hard to make judgement on as it was 4.30pm on a Sunday. It seemed nice enough, but the only action taking place was in a JD Wetherspoon, home of the daytime alcoholic in nearly every town in England. We moved along from there to Burton Bradstock where we got caught up on the cliff edge by an elderly couple who were preying on anyone who came their way so they could tell tales of I can’t really remember what. The man was clearly desperate for any kind of company and the lady had lost nearly all faculties, repeating herself time and again leaving Di in a state of bewilderment. As we moved on through Abbotsbury and down the spectacular coast road to Weymouth, I was beginning to wonder if Dorset is home to drunks and mad people only.

The coastline down to Burton Bradstock

Weymouth harbour is nice, no honestly, it really is. The view from the bridge out to sea is lovely and with evening sunshine cascading down on to the calm water and its moored boats; it felt really relaxing until we took a walk along to discover that once again, it was full of piss heads outside pubs. Dorset must have a major alcohol issue, Portland was even worse, it was a really scary place that lacked anything appealing whatsoever, so hopefully the investment from the 2012 Olympics might do it some good, it needs something. We meandered back to eat in a pub just outside Dorchester called The Sun which was nice enough, then we finished the day in the pub that had the band on the previous night. We were the only two people in there, but despite our custom we were made to feel about as welcome as a pair of rabid dogs for having the audacity to interrupt the landlord watching the X-Men on the TV whilst telling his barman how many bouncers he has beaten up in his life. We entertained ourselves with a game of darts before a night cap at the hotel followed by deep sleep.

The Harbour at Weymouth

I really enjoyed the trip, it was far from what I had expected, but it forced us to get out and do things and make the most of it. Dorset has always been my favourite county, but visiting there out of season gave me a whole new perspective on the place, the town centres in particular, appear to be suffering the harsh realities of lack of investment and planning. People are leaving these areas in their droves and there appears no reverse in the trend, it is a really sad decline. Dorchester is the county town of Dorset, but it really doesn’t feel like it.
I will book Lyme Regis next time instead.

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