ITV's Broadchurch is back for series two, so we asked Matthew Hancock to take us on a tour of the hit show's location, West Bay in Dorset.
The body is probably male, medium build and partly decomposed. There is no obvious cause of death. I’m standing in West Bay in Dorset, below the iconic landmark for the TV series Broadchurch: the distinctive layered cliffs where the boy from the first series was found dead above the shoreline.
The body I find on the beach is actually that of a dolphin, but as any fan of the series knows, things are never quite what they seem around here...
For a start, unlike the bulk of the characters in Broadchurch, the people who live and work in West Bay, are decidedly normal, only too happy to help visitors, even despite the boost in tourism the resort has experienced since the first series. The town is really the seaside adjunct to lively Bridport, part of the World Heritage-listed Jurassic Coast. Startling geology aside, it’s atypical of most Dorset seaside resorts: an odd mish-mash of traditional and startlingly new architecture, where colourful fish-and-chip stalls are some of the only concessions to tourism in a little harbour largely given over to fishing.
As you walk around (the place is tiny, only takes 15 minutes), you’ll pass some familiar buildings from series one: the pretty coastguard cottages where Jack Marshall lived and the newsagents where he worked before he was hounded to his death. Head up the coast path along the clay cliffs to the west of town, and you’ll find the magnificent house where Charlotte Rampling’s character lives in series two.
In the new series of Broadchurch, the courtroom is the main venue for the unfolding drama. This was filmed at the flash main building of Exeter University. But in West Bay, you’ll want to hang out on the modern Jurassic Pier, where characters Hardy and Miller have their heart-to-hearts in the best place to get a view towards the cliffs.
It is these famous cliffs that lure most people to West Bay, and the first thing I want to do after a walk around town is head to the top of them.
It’s a steep climb east out of town, but once up the views are superb. I walk for about an hour east along the coast to the neighbouring resort of Burton Bradstock. The path passes perilously close to the edge at times (and genuine tragedies have resulted from falls here), though my main concern is being hit by a golf ball from the neighbouring golf course at the top: something you don’t see on the TV series.
I return along the shingle below the cliffs back to West Bay’s beach, a steep bank of shingle popular with walkers. I pass the Freshwater Beach caravan site where suspicious character Susan Wright lurked for much of series one. Today the caravans are all eerily shut up and empty, though it is surely a fine spot in summer.
I imagine David Tennant, Olivia Colman et al must enjoy their work stays in the area. For a small place, West Bay is surprisingly well supplied with quality places to eat.
Right on the beach, the Watch House serves superb seafood (try the seafood and chorizo broth or the scallops with samphire). Its wood-fired pizzas also hit the spot. There’s an outdoor terrace facing the sea, though cold winds persuade me to stay inside a cosy canopied area, where a medley of dogs and families build up a pleasantly warm fug. A short stroll along the seafront, Sladers Yard is the place for coffee and cake, with seats inside a spacious eighteenth-century former rope warehouse that now doubles as a gallery and exhibition space.
A railway was built to West Bay in 1879, though it closed in 1962 and all that remains is the old station building and a short section of track by the long-stay car park. The station building now houses a café serving cheap and cheerful tea, scones and snacks. You can also follow the old rail route on foot up to Bridport.
If you’ve got room for more food, the Riverside Restaurant is the upmarket choice, facing the River Brit. It shares a similar outlook to the riverside cabin where David Tennant’s character lives in the second series. Fish is again the highlight: Portland crab tagliatelle, John Dory with mussels or pan fried Turbot are all superb.
I leave thinking that in reality, overeating is the most likely cause of death in West Bay. But let’s wait until the end of series two to see if that is really the case…
Explore more of Dorset with the Rough Guide to Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Compare flights, book hostels and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.