Anyone who has ever been anywhere near Bridport will instantly recognise the distinctive, tree-topped bump of Colmer’s Hill. Every time we drive past, I think “I haven’t walked up there since I was about 13 years old” – until today!
Symondsbury, the nearest village to Colmer’s Hill, is an almost Disneyesque quintessential English village, with a beautiful Manor House, church, village school, country pub and a fantastic estate yard centred on a very beautiful tithe barn, but until recently the yard, barn and surroundings were little more than picturesque ruins. A very dramatic but sympathetic renovation programme has created a fantastic Phoenix from the ashes; comprising a courtyard & cafe, several shops and craftsmens’ workshops, a bike hire shop and centering on the now stunning tithe barn, it is a pretty impressive renaissance.
The barn dates back to the 14th century, and is now a venue for beautiful weddings and other special events. We visited the Symondsbury Summer Faye back in the summer, and the gardens and courtyard were looking lovely, with the honey-coloured stone glowing in the sunshine.
On arrival, we first took the dogs and headed up through the village to explore Colmer’s Hill. This is a short but steep walk, easy enough to find if you just head right out of the estate yard, go right again and follow the stony track uphill until you see the signs for Colmer’s Hill permissive path. It is a bit of a puff to the top, but well worth it: the views are a 180 degree panorama of countryside, villages and the coast, with views on a clear day over to Portland. Sadly, today was not particularly brilliant weather, so my photos are a bit on the drab side – you will have to paint in the blue skies and green fields with the power of imagination!
Having convinced ourselves we’d earned a cake, we headed to the Symondsbury Kitchen – a stylish new cafe in the main courtyard. There is a strong design feel that unites all the elements on the estate; smart, no-nonsense, keeping the character of the buildings but with 21st century luxuries. The cafe has lots of outdoor space for lazy summer days, but today was more of a log fire kind of day, so we went inside and had very good coffees, and I had a really excellent cake: root vegetable cake, which included carrot, parsnip and beetroot, and was moist, light and really very good!
There is a small but well-stocked general store selling the basics and also local and estate made preserves, beers etc. Also on the yard are Lobster in the Cupboard (gifts etc), Busy Bee Florists, The Shed hair & beauty, and Colmers Hill Fashions. Bridport Cycles offer hire as well as sales, as there is also an excellent (& free) mountain bike trail over the estate, and a bike skills park which is accessible with a yearly membership.
We had a lovely chat with Miranda Berrow, a ceramicist with a workshop and gallery in the yard. She produces an intriguing range of cups, mugs, lamps and dishes, in wonderful colours often embellished with gold and many hand-painted by workers in Sri Lanka, where she works for several months a year over-seeing production and training the artists in brush stroke techniques.
Serendipitously, there was also a chocolate tasting going on around the corner, in a chocolate shop I didn’t even know existed (how did that one pass me by?) Amuse has been open for just a few months, but they have amassed quite a range of flavours and varieties of chocolates, and between my friend and I, I think we tasted them all! Personally, my favourites were the dark chocolate praline, and the brandy cherry, but there were also some really interesting varieties including a tamarind and grapefruit, and a beautiful steamed ginger. I can see them being very popular, especially with prices starting from just £1 for a lolly!
Symondsbury Manor Yard is a great destination, with the free bike trail & walks, the lovely food, great shopping and such a pretty country setting. I think locals will go for the cafe, visitors will love it for the range on offer, and anyone from overseas couldn’t help but be bowled over by the whole village of Symondsbury and its picturesque Englishness. It is an easy walk from Bridport, and with the Ilchester Arms offering another option for pub meals and Sunday lunches, it is well worth popping over to Symondsbury to see how you can breathe new life into such a historic village.