The moment we drove into Dorset – one of the few counties without a city or motorway – I felt like I was entering Broadchurch, the fictional town featured in the ITV drama. The roads narrowed, the skies grew big and the fields became greener. What’s more, we’d arrived in time for the Annual Potato Festival!
Much of Broadchurch is filmed in West Bay, and those stark orange cliffs, the chalet where DI Hardy lives, and the coastal path that leads to Jocelyn’s home are all prominent landmarks. The Bull, in Bridport, is the very same hotel that Olivia Colman, David Tenant and the cast of the series stayed while filming. Series writer Chris Chibnall lives in Bridport, and is a regular at this 16th century coaching inn. He was seen writing there the week after we visited. Working on another series perhaps?
However, West Bay has more than one claim to fame. The village became ‘Bridehaven’ in 1999 for the Nick Berry TV series Harbour Lights, and the Bull itself appears in the Thomas Hardy short story ‘Fellow Townsmen’, set in Bridport. For a time, it was one of the most famous coaching inns of the West Country, and still attracts a fair few celebrities. Guests often ask to bed up in the rooms once occupied by their favourite actors.
As I checked in, I wondered if any celebrities had stayed in my room. The receptionist led us up two narrow staircases, across a sloping floor to the family room. I was about to ask her about Broadchurch but my three-year-old squealed in delight at the super-kingsize bed, and it was all I could do to stop him jumping on it.
A moment later, I was smiling, too, as I realised our room was connected via a small lounge to the children’s room. We had our own bedrooms, plus two sofas, a coffee table and TV in between. That meant we wouldn’t have to watch TV in the dark with the volume turned down, while the little ones slept. Another nice touch, teddy beds, toys and books had been left in the cot.
The Bull describes its individually-styled rooms as ‘shabby chic’, though I’d say ours was definitely on the chic-er side, it was fashionably rustic. No corporate branding here; the Bull is elegantly decorated and sympathetic to its historical roots, with wooden floorboards exposed under the carpets, original bay windows, and striking signature wallpaper.
The Bull has a gastro-pub, pizza restaurant, courtyard garden and tea-rooms open to the public. Last summer, fans poured into the courtyard to get autographs and selfies with Colman and Tenant. The hotel also hosted wrap parties for the cast in the grand ballroom upstairs.
Being on the high street, I found our room was quite noisy on the Saturday night, but it didn’t stop me sleeping in the comfortable bed. What did wake me, however, was my three-year-old crying on the corridor as he’d locked himself out of his room by trying to exit through the wrong door. I raised this with the hotel afterwards and they assured me they’d fit a lock on the inside so it couldn’t happen again.
The following morning we visited the market at Bridport and the colourful potato festival, and then set about exploring the Jurassic Coast, where many of the dramatic Broadchurch scenes were filmed (see here). We met with friends and walked from Eype – where the ‘murder hut’ is – along the South-west Coastal path, inland to a farm, and finished for a delicious Sunday lunch at the New Inn.
We had such a great time in West Dorset. No wonder the cast of Broadchurch fell in love with it, too. Pauline Quirke even bought a home here after filming. As I checked out, there was just one more thing I had to know – who had slept in my bed? It turned out it was Will Mellor, the psychic from series one of Broadchurch. I was happy with that.
Food and drink
The Bull’s restaurant and bar area is open-plan with a lively atmosphere. It’s popular with locals as well as hotel guests and tourists who pop in for afternoon tea. Dishes include everything from quail scotch eggs with bois boudrain dipping sauce to deep fried squid with a tomato and pepper compote, and chargrilled creedy carver duck breast with passion fruit sauce, braised bok choi with chilli, ginger and soy.
Breakfast is served in the hotel restaurant, where the waitresses are ever so friendly and attentive. This is also where the Broadchurch cast ate, usually very early in the morning because of a long filming schedule. I discovered that Olivia Colman had chatted to everyone, and even swapped baby stories with the pregnant receptionist, while David Tenant wore a baseball cap and tended to keep himself to himself. There’s a choice of several dishes, inlcuding eggs Benedict or smoked salmon with scrambled eggs. Both are delicious, and with cereals, fresh warm pastries and fruit, will fill you up until dinner.
Price: Special deals start at £79 per person for dinner bed and breakfast. For details please call 01308 422878 or see the website
Address: The Bull,34 East St, Bridport, Dorset DT6 3LF
Radio Times Travel rating: 8/10. A beautiful old coaching inn that’s steeped in history, and serves a killer cooked breakfast
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