With the country finally opening up we’re eager to get out and about this summer and West Dorset is topping our list of places to visit. There are so many creatives living and working in the area and it’s such an easy destination to reach. If you manage to get there this weekend you’ll be in time for the end of Dorset Art Weeks, which wraps up on 6 June. The event has artists all over Hardy country opening their studios for visits. We’re particularly smitten with Brian Rice’s modern almost Memphis-style abstract paintings and Vanessa Bowman’s whimsical floral still lifes. You may recognize her work from the pages of House & Garden, when she illustrated the evolution of Garden Editor Clare Foster’s newly planted garden across several issues in 2019.
We’re starting off in Beaminster, where Louise Chidgey and Cass Titcombe’s sister spaces, Brassica Restaurant & Mercantile are joyously back open (left). Louise curates the shop and styles the interiors with a well-honed eye thanks to years working with the Conran Shop and trend forecasting firms WGSN and Stylus. It’s filled with glassware from Tuscany, table linens from France, Liberty-print cushions, colourful candles, plus wine, provisions, and ready-made meals to take away. “It's all things for creating a convivial atmosphere when you entertain at home,” she says. They also sell furniture including small caned pieces in the store and she’s planning on their own ceramics collection down the line. Shopping done, stay for lunch or dinner in the restaurant and enjoy whatever the day has on offer. Cass, who co-founded the award-winning London restaurant Canteen, cooks everything himself based on what comes in fresh from the farm and sea that day.
From there, wander around town, popping into a lovely smattering of shops like Rambling Rose florist and Little Toller bookshop, then hop back in the car and head over to Mapperton. The stately house & garden, home to the Earl and Countess of Sandwich, is well worth a visit, having won last year’s Historic Houses Garden of the Year award. They’ve also embarked on a massive rewilding project of 180 acres of farmland and have just launched Mapperton Camps on the site, wherein two six-meter bell tents are available for rent if glamping is your style. Rest assured there’s plumbing on site and the views of the surrounding Dorset countryside are astounding.
If it’s sea views you’re after, however, make your way south towards West Bay (made famous by Broadchurch), driving through Nettlecombe en route. You’ll find a handful of incredibly talented artisan and maker studios at a pair of neighboring farms here: Browns Farm houses woodworkers Alice Bogg and Jack Draper along with sculptor Brendon Murless (we are particularly fond of his plasterwork). Further down the road, Mappercombe Farm houses artisan blacksmith Colleen du Pon (centre); Stoneform, a collaboration between designer/lettercutter Zoë Cull and mason/sculptor Alex Evans; as well as the studio of ceramist Ali Herbert, who’s collaborated with floral decorators JRASIC for the Dorset Art Weeks open studios (right). If you don’t make it this weekend do call ahead to arrange studio visits.
Carry on south to Bridport—being sure to stop in at Malabar Trading for a global array of pillows and textiles imported from India, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and beyond—then through town, snake round the bend, past towering hedges and eventually you’ll come out at Seaside Boarding House. Perched on the cliffs of West Bay, it’s a charming, peaceful hotel perfectly situated for a relaxing weekend of hunting and gathering. Whether that has you looking for fossils along the Jurassic Coast or treasures at the Bridport Vintage Market. Word has it the beloved fair will be back on this summer so long as the virus keeps trending downwards. Look for it in town on the last Sunday of each month.
Photos © Brassica; Colleen du Pon; Ali Herbert