A postcard from one of the UK’s last ‘proper’ seaside towns
Weymouth is finally back in business
- Lottie Gross, travel writer with PR support from our member In The Bag PR
30 JULY 2020 • 12:46PM
With the mercury rising, Britain’s seaside towns and beach resorts are readying themselves for the onslaught of sunbathers from London and other landlocked areas this week. As the skies clear and the mini heatwave approaches, it’s likely that many coastal residents will be plotting their escape routes.
Perhaps nowhere more so than Dorset. After Durdle Door was forced to close in May and June’s ‘major incident’ in Bournemouth, where almost half a million people descended on the town to enjoy the 30-degree heat, there’s likely to be a little anxiety rising among locals and officials.
Even Weymouth – which has long been characterised as a rather shabby seaside town – has seen significant crowds on its vast stretch of sand. While it didn’t suffer nearly as badly as Bournemouth back in June – possibly thanks to its ‘rough-around-the-edges’ reputation – photographs taken yesterday (July 30) showed people gathering in their hundreds, each claiming their spot between windbreaks, pop-up tents and children building sandcastles. I was there, walking among them, struggling to stay more than a metre apart from kids darting to and from the shoreline and adults racing behind to try and enforce social distancing.
I watched pedalos bobbing out in the ocean, donkeys trudging with gleeful toddlers on their backs, and children catching crabs off the sea wall – “I caught 80 yesterday,” a young girl barked at me as I eyed up her writhing bucketful.
Weymouth has all the elements of the classic seaside town, and some of that might seem dated or tacky, but not everyone thinks that’s to its detriment. “Weymouth is one of the last proper seaside towns that’s left,” says Mitch Tonks, serial restaurateur and chef on the south coast. He owns Rockfish (therockfish.co.uk), a small chain of fish restaurants with locations at Poole, Dartmouth, Weymouth and more. “Plus,” he says, “the council does an amazing job of preserving the beach. The sand is raked every morning – like it’s St Tropez.”
To be clear, Weymouth is not quite St Tropez – it’s missing the superyachts for a start – but while ‘faded seaside charm’ is something of a cliché, it is something that the town has in spades. The Georgian and Victorian townhouses packed in along the seafront remind you that it was “The Place To Be” back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its beautiful, intricate clock tower and the remnants of its Art Deco pier, now an Italian restaurant and amusement arcade, are relics of a bygone era of holidays.
But that’s not the only face of this coastal town. Beyond the bucket-and-spade vibes there are green shoots of a more refined holiday experience. There’s certainly nothing tacky about Rockfish, for example. Tonks’ latest addition to his portfolio offers a more modern and upmarket take on fish and chips, without any soggy batter in sight. I ate an entire lobster for my lunch, but there was sea bream, mussels and monkfish on the menu too, all bought at nearby Brixham Market that morning.
There’s also nothing downmarket about the Crab House Café (crabhousecafe.co.uk), a tiny shack-like building overlooking the Fleet Lagoon on the edge of town, where Chesil Beach forms a natural barrier from the mighty ocean beyond. Oysters grown right outside the door are served on ice, and whole crabs and meaty hake fillets make mean mains. At nearby Al Molo (almolo.co.uk), even if the Art Deco vibes aren’t to everyone’s taste, the authentic Italian pasta cooked by Giuseppe Vannucci is a crowd-pleaser – that, and the panoramic views over the beach, of course.
There’s natural beauty to be found beyond the sandy beach, too. Weymouth is in prime position for excursions to the Jurassic Coast’s best fossil hunting beaches, says local guide Martin Curtis. Head over to the Isle of Portland, which juts out into the ocean just west of the town, and you can enjoy blustery cliff-top walks by its classic red-and-white lighthouse, or explore quiet coves and escape the crowded beaches of the mainland. “That view from Portland back towards Chesil Beach is one of the best in Dorset,” says Curtis. “You don’t get views like that anywhere else on this coast.”
It’s also on Portland where some of the better accommodation can be found. Eschew Weymouth’s musty old seafront B&Bs and book into the Penn Castle Estate (thepennestate.co.uk), where there’s a neo-Gothic castle for hire, a beautiful lodge overlooking the ocean and a static caravan site for cheaper breaks. Their latest venture is a cluster of luxury lodges, which are being hewn out of the rocks above the beautiful Church Ope Cove. Base yourself here and you’ll be well placed for beach days in Weymouth, watersports in the marina (adventure4all.co.uk), and excellent hikes.
It seems that after Covid-19 stifled a chunk of the summer season, Weymouth is finally back in business as restaurants and bars embrace social distancing measures. On the seafront, even the local clairvoyant is set up for safety, with hand sanitiser and a plastic screen inside her dark, mystical booth on the promenade. “The clients don’t mind it,” she says, “they say it doesn’t take away from the experience.”
So what’s in store for the town’s future? “We’re on the rise,” she predicts. “Weymouth’s been quite run down over the years, but I think it’ll be good.”