The Character of Wessex: The West Dorset Vales

The West Dorset Vales character area, centred on Bridport, is bounded by the Jurassic Heritage Coast to the south, whilst the Wealden Greensand encloses it to the north and west. This is Broadchurch country, with West Bay at the area's eastern boundary.

The area remains strongly rural in character, and much of it would still be recognisable to William Barnes and Thomas Hardy today, if they were somehow transported through time. Medieval field patterns predominate, and much vernacular architecture can be seen in the region, with Ham Hill stone featuring prominently as a building material.

Vales imply hills, and the West Dorset Vales contain an impressive array of hill forts including Eggardon Hill, Pilsdon Pen and Coney's Castle. Colmer's Hill (illustrated), with its clump of Scots Pine on top, is a well-known landmark locally.

Historically, the West Dorset Vales are important as the cradle of British paleontology, with many important fossil finds. It also contains Whitchurch Canonicorum, a rare example of a shrine to a pre-reformation saint, Saint Wite, whose relics survived destruction by Oliver's Army. It is believed that this is because its rural isolation meant that the Roundheads couldn't find it!

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