Unspoilt coast where you can find the 'real Broadchurch'

West Bexington teasles
-Credit: (Image: Martin Hesp)

When a well-known poet, author and explorer comes up with an idea and invites you somewhere special for a jolly good day out, you’d be mad not to go along with the plan. So when West Country-based James Crowden called to say he’d been enjoying the new Hesp Out West series and that he had a perfect excursion in mind, I listened very intently indeed.

“There’s a beach cafe that serves top-notch food, there are plenty of options for wonderful walks along this unspoilt corner of the Dorset coast, and there’s a wonderful organic farm where you can buy some unique ingredients to take home,” said James on the phone.

We set a date and... It poured with rain. Indeed, we visited West Bexington on the West Dorset coast on the one day last week when the weatherman was warning not only of heavy rain, but of savage gales.

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Never mind. The lunch at The Club House down on West Bexie’s windblown beach was truly magnificent and at the Tamarisk Farm Shop we met the farmer and bought some of his milled organic barley flour.

As for missing out on a walk it didn’t really matter as far as the writing of this feature is concerned, because a few years ago I did the best hike you can do out of West Bexington – one that takes you way up onto the coastal ridge so that you can stroll east, before descending to lovely Abbotsbury and returning along the coast path past the famous Swannery.

For those who don’t know it, West Bexington is to be found a few miles east of West Bay, the Dorset harbour village where they filmed all three series of ITV’s Broadchurch and the 2015 version of Far From the Madding Crowd , not forgetting two series of an old 1990’s favourite called Harbour Lights . Go east past West Bay’s famous red and (dangerously) crumbling cliffs and you reach a rather lonely empty section of the littoral which is geography’s way of building up a head of steam to form the long and magnificent Chesil Beach.

A high ridge escorts this shoreline as it marches east – and the B3157, which weaves its way along the contours in between, must be one of the most scenic roads in all of England. Halfway between the villages of Burton Bradstock and Abbotsbury, you’ll see the collection of seaside villas otherwise known as West Bexington, stretching down from the road towards the seashore. Most of the community would have been built after the First World War, but there are parts (including lovely old Tamarisk Farm) which are truly ancient.

A single lane served the place by descending directly to the sea and down at the end, almost on the beach itself, is the much-celebrated Club House. I say “much-celebrated” because the place has won not only two AA rosettes but a huge reputation. Despite being a stormy day, the restaurant was packed – we met diners who’d come from afar afield as Gloucester and Taunton just for lunch.

The young head chef, Will Hickton, is a talented chap who is passionate about using the freshest local produce at the restaurant, which is part of a triumvirate that includes the Hive Beach Café in Burton Bradstock and The Watch House in West Bay. Will’s lobster bisque, which I had as a starter, was one of the best soups I’ve consumed in a very long time. Light, but deeply flavoured, with a hint of citrus. A shellfish bisque would be on my list of Desert Island dishes if I were ever forced to make such a selection, and this was a very good one indeed.

Lobster bisque at The Club House
Lobster bisque at The Club House -Credit:Martin Hesp

James and I went for the £40 sharing platter as our main and were duly presented. A gargantuan seabass was brought to us on a large wooden board with a few beautifully cooked chips and other sides, such as a watercress salad and a creamy slaw.

The big fish itself was perfectly cooked – we cleared every last morsel of its succulent flesh from nose to tail.

Sea bass at The Club House
Sea bass at The Club House -Credit:Martin Hesp

Will, who is an amiable chap, cooks in an open-sided kitchen and he seemed happy to have a quick chat while he turned out dish after dish for the hungry crowd.

The whole operation at The Club House is overseen by the charming general manager, Ferenc ‘Fefe’ Kovacs, who is not only in charge of the drinks offering as well as running front of house.

He brought me a sublime mocktail based on elderflower which is in season right now, while James, who wasn’t driving, had something equally as exotic but with alcohol.

Fefe is a level-three sommelier and his carefully-curated wine list and cocktail collection recently saw the restaurant reach the finals of the ‘Best Bar List’ category at the 2024 Trencherman’s Awards.

Cocktail and mocktail at The Club House
Cocktail and mocktail at The Club House -Credit:Martin Hesp

As we sat there enjoying the food and admiring the wild maritime views I couldn’t help but feel that West Bexington has a sort of John Buchan-esque, 1930’s, between-the-two-world-wars, vibe. It’s a special place. And The Club House would be a wonderful place, indeed, to watch the sunset turning the sea red while sipping a cocktail just before dinner.

And talking of wonderful places, Tamarisk Farm, just up the road, also belongs in such a category. I will never forget visiting this place a few years ago when one of the members of the Pearce family, which owns the farm, told me: “We have one or two elderly animals that graze out in some of the fields – and sometimes I think they have such a lovely life, they forget to die.”

Tamarisk Farm
Tamarisk Farm -Credit:Martin Hesp

It seemed such a wonderfully content and peaceful thing to say in this troubled modern world, that I based an entire newspaper column on the idea of being too happy to kick the bucket. Last week, farmer Adam Simon (who married in to the Pearce family) said another thing which tickled me... “We’re producing really good eggs from hens which are pasture-fed – they live in two nicely painted converted old caravans – one’s called Cluckington Palace and the other is Hensington Palace.”

Adam Simon at Tamarisk Farm
Adam Simon at Tamarisk Farm -Credit:Martin Hesp

Having bought half a dozen of Tamarisk’s regal eggs, I can report that they are worthy of a Royal Warrant.

The family has been here for the best part of 70 years, farming organically. Indeed, Tamarisk was one of the first registered organic farms in the UK. Long may it continue.

I also purchased a bag of Adam’s barley flour with which I made a truly delicious sourdough loaf. Barley flour doesn’t rise as well as wheat flour but what it loses in airiness it makes up for in flavour. Mixed two-thirds to one-third with a strong white bread flour it makes a loaf which acts as an ideal base for the scrambled version of those palace eggs. So, some wonderful ingredients to take home... And having lunched so well, you might – like me – feel the need to work off some of the calories and enjoy those scenic surroundings... I promise, the following walk is one of the best coastal hikes in the entire South West region.

West Bexington: The hike near ITV's famous 'Broadchurch' village

West Bexington beach
West Bexington beach -Credit:Martin Hesp

This hike scores 10-out-10 for views, history, interest, individuality and, last but not least, because there’s such a good watering hole to round things off.

High coastal ridges don’t come better than the great grassy limestone upland that runs west to east along the West Dorset coast. In fact, there’s a wondrous long distance trail called the South Dorset Ridgeway that traverses the entire shooting match. It runs from the West Bexington area to Osmington Mills, a distance of some 17 miles, and offers stunning views of the Jurassic Coast along almost every step of the way.

Our shorter circular walk follows a couple of miles of the airy trail, but it begins in the car park adjacent to The Club House restaurant down on West Bexington beach. We walk up the lane to find the footpath which begins its climb out of the village near Tamarisk Farm.

In climbing this path we get all the hard work over in one short sharp haul – it only takes 25 minutes to reach the top of the ridge – after that, it’s all either level walking, or downhill.

The West Bexington ridgeway sign
The West Bexington ridgeway sign -Credit:Martin Hesp

So we turn east on the long distance trail and, by taking the right-hand path where the track splits, we are able to stroll through the high National Trust owned fields to Tulk’s Hill situated above wonderfully named Labour In Vain Farm. We continue along the ridge by crossing the road and heading east toward the big 10-acre earthworks with a trig point, called Abbotsbury Castle. It is believed this ancient hill fort was built by the Celtic Durotriges tribe, who lost control of it when the Romans invaded in AD 43. Apparently they didn’t put up much of a struggle when the second Augustian legion of Vespasian marched along the ridge.

Then it’s on to Wear’s Hill where we take the spur down to the village of Abbotsbury. Turn right to walk down to the main road, which we cross to find Chapel Lane just a little way down on the left.

We are now heading seawards towards the famous Swannery, but just before reaching this wonderful tourist attraction, we follow the a path around to the right and pass around St Catherine’s Hill to head for what is the very beginning of the grand seven-mile stretch of Chesil Beach.

West Bexington beach west
West Bexington beach west -Credit:Martin Hesp

We arrive at the beach at the far western end of The Flete, which is the large lagoon which escorts the inland part of the Chesil Beach shingle all the way to Portland. From here, it’s simply a matter of marching along the coast path back to West Bexington... and the excellent Club House restaurant.

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