Hetty finds welcome respite from London at The Bull, a very fine Dorset hotel

Just three hours drive from London, West Dorset boasts some of the most stunning landscapes in the country. Not far from Dorchester lies the small but bustling market town of Bridport, home to The Bull Hotel, where we chose to spend a relaxing and refreshing weekend away from the Big Smoke. The Bull is an old sixteenth century coaching inn, beautifully restored by its owners Richard and Nikki Cooper in 2006.

Being so desperate to escape London life and get some fresh air in our lungs, we couldn’t resist a stop off and a blustery walk along the majestic Jurassic coastline. West Bay www.westbay.co.uk is a short drive or half an hour walk away from Bridport and is a major gateway to the (otherwise known) Dinosaur Coast, which covers 95 miles from Exmouth in Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset.

Local gossip gleaned later in the weekend was that David Tennant and Olivia Coleman recently filmed the new gritty ITV detective drama, Broadchurch on this very beach. With the huge domineering cliffs and 180 million years of history it creates the ideal dramatic backdrop.the bull hotel review

Back to The Bull where on check in we experienced the first of many delightful members of staff. We were taken up to our room, named “Rooftops” a Zoffany-wallpapered delight up in the gables. But there was no hanging around: We had been told of a secret ‘speak easy’ style cocktail bar, hidden at the back of the hotel. Our search found The Venner Bar through a surprisingly large ballroom where chandeliers and duck-egg blue walls line a great party space, ideal for weddings.

The Venner bar, is an eclectic mix of elaborate Georgian chairs and cosy worn leather, here we tasted some of the best cocktails outside of London all designed by Lloyd Brown the imaginative Bar Manager, our favourite concoction the Mai Tai, involving a lime being set on fire, was shaken up for us by the super talented Chris and Ben and complimentary canapés kept us going making it a venue to settle into.

The next day brought with it what felt like Spring-time, after a delicious breakfast of kippers and eggs benedict, we made our way to Lyme Regis, a 20 minute drive away. By this stage in the trip, ‘Pirate Spotting’ had become our favourite car amusement, there are an extraordinary number of bearded, earringed fisherman types roaming the county who we imagined hiding wooden legs and treasure chests under their waders. Discarding our coats and scarves we walked along the beachfront and as the sun hit the pancake-flat water it felt like summer was on its way. Sadly on the 2nd of February we weren’t quite there yet but it was nice to pretend with coffee outside The Bay Leaf restaurant looking across to the unpolluted horizon.

After getting a sugar hit with some seriously good local fudge and popping into The Town Mill Brewery where our favourite beer was named “granny’s teeth” (unsurprisingly we didn’t like to ask how this one was brewed!) we made our way back to Bridport where the local market was still in full swing. Antiques, jewellery and other trinkets can be bought every Saturday along the high street. However, my bargain hunting had to wait as the Six Nations were calling. The Stable is a pizza, pies and cider venue, started by the hotel owners, Richard and Nikki and now with locations in three South West towns with hopes to expand more. The Lamb and mint pizza was delicious and was washed down nicely with a classic pear cider (54 ciders to choose from in total) and an England win. The national anthem had never sounded so good!

After slightly over ordering on the pizza we changed our dinner reservation to later. The main hotel restaurant serves rustic local cuisine and we sampled scallops, squid and steak, followed by a perfectly cooked creme brûlée and a peanut butter slice. A fully booked evening proves that this isn’t just a restaurant for the residents but a destination to travel to for various stylish foodies.

We blew the cobwebs away on Sunday morning with a walk along the beach at Burton Bradstock followed by tea and lemon and parsnip cake at the Hive café, definitely worth a stop. Lobster, crab, shrimps and various other fresh seafood are on the lunch menu so we made a pact to come back and have a seafood session another time.

After saying goodbye to all our new friends at the hotel (clearly a well-treated bunch, happy to be working in such a friendly environment) we packed the car with sandy Barbours and boots to make the journey back North.

Although Monday morning dawned sunny and fresh in London, it’s not a patch (excuse the pirate pun) on the sea air and the escapism we felt in Dorset. Day dreaming about future holiday cottages to own, boats to be sailed and fish to be caught will have to keep us going until our next trip. Not much pirate spotting to be done in Waterloo…

The Bull Hotel offers rooms from £85 a night www.thebullhotel.co.uk

Current ‘Lose the Blues’ special offer is £69 per person per night, minimum 2 night stay including master double bedroom, breakfast, a three course dinner at the restaurant on one night and 2 courses at The Stable on the other. http://www.thebullhotel.co.uk/lose-the-blues-2013

Or http://www.thebullhotel.co.uk/three-for-two Three nights for the price of two. Both offers valid until March 28th

  • David Armston

    A sad day when Country Life provides such an entirely inaccurate review.

    If this comment is published, it will be a miracle.

    The Bull Hotel is a splendid old coachhouse hotel impressively restored many years ago by the present owners into the style described at the time as “shabby chic”, now sadly in places just shabby.

    To describe the Venner Bar as a “speak easy style” establishment is absolutely preposterous. In summer the cigarette smoke from the loud courtyard below wafts up into the room, in winter the slight damp tinge found in various corners about the whole property exerts itself.

    The staff in the Venner Bar are its saving grace. Unfortunately the Venner Bar has for some time been little more than a venue for self-aggrandising cooing from friends of the owners. If by speak-easy you mean you will be eyed disdainfully and conversation hushed as you enter, regardless whether you are resident of hotel or town -spot on. It’s a weekly private function (it’s usually open no more often than weekends) to which residents, it must be regretfully accepted by the management, might just turn up.

    The rooms at the Bull vary wildly, some are spacious, beautifully furnished, others the dregs of a french flea market clashed into a box room overlooking a high street where the so affectioned market will setup; vehicles, horns, shouting and all, at 5am. Do not intend to sleep well at the Bull if sleeping at the front of the hotel on market days.

    Do not expect to sleep well if it is warm on your holiday, given there is no cooling. Do not expect to sleep well if your room overlooks the courtyard and the late night revelling that goes on there courtesy of the Stables “Pizza, Pie & Cider Bar” that attaches to the main hotel.

    The restaurant in The Bull is known locally as acceptably good, you can always get a table and the staff are always attentive – The Bull is where to go if you can’t be bothered to choose a cuisine or everywhere else is full. The Bull is where you go when you’ve missed Sunday lunch in the surrounding traditional pubs – but now we are all “various stylish foodies!?”

    The Hive Cafe is wonderful of course, so is the Olive Tree restaurant just over the road from the Bull, recently winning awards The Bull would at best be several years and chefs from obtaining – and yet worthy of no mention at all in this article?

    After years of it being locally known that the owners are at best eccentric (and not in a good way) and at worst offensive – I am saddened to see such transparent propaganda clearly intended to offset the negative press found elsewhere regarding this establishment and contradict local knowledge of previous despicable treatment of young staff – “clearly a well-treated bunch, happy to be working in such a friendly environment” tosh indeed..

    You betray the local population of Bridport, of whom many I would suggest are your readership, when you so slander our town by promoting a PR fraud at the expense of genuine local business. You betray your own readers who might make that “3!?” hour drive to have a terrible time.

    Perhaps your readers would care to enquire of Mr & Mrs Smith or TripAdvisor regarding the realities of The Bull – and the personal experiences of some guests at the hands of the owners themselves. As someone who moved from London to Bridport and stayed at the Bull on 5 occasions prior – I can assure you The Bull was not a highlight but a necessity, Bridport’s only other failing being a lack of improved hotels.

    One may travel further along the coast to Lyme Regis and obtain a much more consistent hotel experience, the town of Bridport itself though is a joy to visit.

    A shame.

  • Olivia Rollins

    I have been looking for a lovely hotel to spend our anniversary. Thank you Hetty for inspiring me, this one sounds perfect!!