Bridport to Bridgwater
Enjoy postcard views, famous landmarks and chocolate-box towns
Follow the route – Bridport to Bridgwater
> Leave Bridport heading for West Bay, then turn on to the B3157 for 8 miles (13km) to Abbotsbury.
Abbotsbury shelters in a valley between high chalk downs and the shingle coast of Chesil Bank, which sweeps round to the ‘Isle’ of Portland. A long main street of thatched limestone cottages heralds your approach to the village centre, clustered round the 15th-century church and the Ilchester Arms public house.
From opposite here a narrow, unsignposted road leads high up over Black Down Hill to the Hardy Monument, an obelisk commemorating Vice-Admiral Hardy. St Catherine’s Chapel, built for seamen in the 15th century, looks down from its grassy knoll nearby, and near the church are the remains of an 11th-century Benedictine abbey. The one surviving feature is a fine thatched tithe barn, the largest in England.
Places to stay in Abbotsbury
> Leave Abbotsbury uphill on an unclassified road to Martinstown, then turn left and on to the B3159, then left again for Dorchester.
The county town of Dorset is in the heart of Thomas Hardy country and is still the busy market town portrayed in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Hardy’s statue stands near the top of High West Street. Founded as Durnovaria by the Romans in AD 70, Dorchester has many fine Georgian buildings. Judge Jeffreys was sent here by King James to punish rebels after the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. At Old Crown Court, six local farmworkers were sentenced in 1834 to be transported to Australia for forming a trades union: they became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
There are numerous sites of interest, including the floor of a Roman town house and Maumbury Rings, a Roman amphitheatre. The town boasts three museums: the Dinosaur Museum; the Military Museum, which is the unlikely location for Hitler’s desk; and the Dorset County Museum.
Places to stay in Dorchester
> From Dorchester head north on the A352 for Cerne Abbas.
Visiting Cerne Abbas
Before entering Cerne Abbas, as you pass through Godmanstone, look out for what was the smallest pub in England, the Smith’s Arms, just 20 by 10 feet (6 by 3m). Cerne Abbas itself is a charming village and its main source of interest is not difficult to spot. Cut into the steep chalk hillside behind the village, the Cerne Giant, a well-endowed figure 180 foot (55m) high, is a fertility symbol dating from Roman times.
AA-recommended walks near Cerne Abbas
> Continue north on the A352 for Sherborne.
Sherborne claims, with some justification, to be one of the most beautiful towns in England. Set in a gentle valley among wooded hills, it has a charming stone-built centre. Two kings of Wessex were buried in Sherborne’s Saxon abbey, the mother cathedral of the Southwest until 1075. Sherborne Old Castle dates from the 12th century, and Sherborne New Castle was built by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1590s. It was here that Sir Walter was ‘extinguished’ by a servant who first saw him smoking tobacco he brought from the New World.
To the south of Sherborne is a ridge between Leweston and Lillington. This is a watershed, with rain in Leweston running to the English Channel at Christchurch and Lillington’s rain finding the Bristol Channel at Burnham.
Places to stay in Sherborne
> Leave Sherborne on the A30 heading west for Yeovil.
Yeovil is a thriving industrial and administrative centre, known for its gloves and helicopters. It suffered disastrous fires in 1499, 1623 and 1640, and during World War II air raids destroyed many of its oldest buildings. One to survive was the 14th-century stone church, impressive for its simplicity and size.
Places to stay in Yeovil
> Leave Yeovil on the A30 and turn right on to the A3088, turning left for Montacute.
This is yet another delightful hamstone village. In a corner of the square is the entrance to its showpiece, Montacute House, a splendid Tudor mansion in formal, landscaped gardens. It was built by Sir Edward Phelips, chief prosecutor of Guy Fawkes in 1605.
Although on a smaller scale than Montacute, nearby Tintinhull House and Garden attracts many visitors each year.
Places to stay near Montacute
> From Montacute take the unclassified road to Stoke-sub-Hamdon, then turn right to go over the A303 to Martock. Turn right on to the B3165 then on meeting the A372 turn left heading for Westonzoyland.
Westonzoyland’s 100-foot (30m) church tower looks boldly over Sedgemoor, once covered by sea and now a vast expanse of fenland – the largest wetland of its type anywhere in Britain. A map in the church porch will show you how to explore the historical connection, for near here the last battle on English soil was fought. A granite monument on this quiet open land is all that marks the spot for posterity.
Things to do near Westonzoyland
> From Westonzoyland continue on the A372 for 4 miles (6.5km) to Bridgwater.
A quiet quay on the River Parratt serves as a reminder that this town was a busy port until it became over-shadowed by the port of Bristol. Modern shops now line the quay, and it is no longer used by any ships. On the waterfront the Water Gate is all that remains of a 13th-century castle, destroyed along with much of the town by Cromwell’s army during the Civil War (1642-9).