Walk: Burton Bradstock — where the wheels of industry once turned flax into big business

Burton Bradstock's Hive Beach at Sunset
Burton Bradstock's Hive Beach at Sunset

Length: about two miles. Time: An hour or so and time for a walk along the beach. Terrain: level village paths and lanes in the village, a steepish climb and walking on shingle.

The thatched cottages and sleepy lanes of Burton Bradstock today still hold clues to its once thriving industrial heritage

The thatched cottages and sleepy lanes of Burton Bradstock today still hold clues to its once thriving industrial heritage

Park in the National Trust car park at Hive Beach, off the B3157 coast road between Bridport and Abbotsbury (DT6 4RF).

The beautiful beach at the Hive Beach is part of the Chesil Beach — the largest shingle ridge in the world and a striking section of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

We come back to the beach later, but to start the walk, walk along Beach Road with your back to the sea, towards a pretty thatched cottage ahead.

At the main road turn left and after a short distance cross the road towards a metal farm gate and a wooden fingerpost pointing to the village.

Take the track running alongside a holiday site. In summer, the profusion of wild honeysuckle scrambling along the hedge perfumes the way.

Step down a fairly steep stone step and cross Bredy Road, also known as the valley road, or “bottom” road (the main A35 is “top” road!)

Pass through a kissing gate and head straight across this pasture called Corncrake and owned by the parish council, towards the village. You can see the church tower rising up behind the houses.

At Timber Bridge — although it’s now made of metal — cross the river where two water courses converge — part of the secret of one Richard Roberts’ success in taming the river Bride to power his flax mills.

Roberts (miller-turned-gentleman thanks to a judicious marriage, merchant, experimenter, entrepreneur and speculator) made his mark on West Dorset’s spinning and weaving trade in the late 18th century by creating powered spinning mills in Burton Bradstock.

A path alongside a mossy old garden wall takes us to the imposing gateposts of The Rookery, a very fine early monastic house, extended in the 16th and 19th centuries.

The Rookery, a very fine early monastic house, extended in the 16th and 19th centuries
The Rookery

Pause for a moment on the old clapper bridge crossing the river — there are often families of ducks enjoying the swirl of the water — with a lovely view of the Rookery gardens. Rookery Cottage on the right is a “roses round the door” example of a Dorset longhouse.

The Old Clapper Bridge, on our Burton Bradstock walk
The Old Clapper Bridge

Pass the primary school and St Mary’s Church on the left and take the first turning on the right, Darby Lane.

The little tenement cottages here echo the years gone by. The women of the household would have earned much-needed extra money braiding nets, which hung from a hook in the front lintel.

Continue past Darby House, a gracious Georgian-fronted dwelling and turn right into Grove Road.

We are now heading towards Richard Roberts’ triumph, his flax-swingling mill.

Richard Roberts’ flax-swingling mill
Former flax-swingling mill

He lived in Grove House, which we pass on the left. A small but lovely, typical Dorset country house, with an ancient mulberry tree in the garden, it was built by Roberts’ wife, Martha Hoskins, the widow of a prosperous local farmer.

Grove House, on our Burton Bradstock Walk
Grove House

After The Piggeries on the right — originally drovers’ accommodation, now a house — the tall building ahead was The Grove Mill.

A stone plaque marks its date as 1803, making it the first flax-swingling mill in the south-west, where the flax was beaten and crushed by the swingling machinery into tow, the raw flax fibre. The shadow of the old machinery bays can still be seen in the brickwork.

The exterior of Burton Bradstock's Flax Mill

In the next decade Roberts added two more spinning mills — the taller buildings on the eastern end.

The mill is now flats and the Mill House on the opposite side of the leet was an earlier 17th-century flour mill, which Roberts incorporated into his flax operation.

The rear of Mill House, on our Burton Bradstock walk
The rear of Mill House

Walk past the private entrance to the Mill House and cottage, through a gate, and take a pleasant stroll along the riverside.

Water birds and even thirsty badgers are to be seen here — and it can get very muddy after rain! The thunder of water indicates the sluice gates Roberts installed to divert the water from the Bride to the mill leet for power and fresh water. He was constantly striving to improve the supply of water so vital for his businesses.

The perfect place to sit on our Burton Bradstock walk

A bench under a tree on the bank is perfect for a picnic stop. Continue along to where the footpath meets a farm track. Head to the right for a few yards and spend a few minutes leaning on the old stone bridge, watching the water gurgle by and imagine it pushing through the mills to the satisfaction of Mr Roberts.

Retrace your steps back into the village and continue along Grove Road, past quiet thatched cottages — look out for the thatch duck keeping watch from a rooftop! — to the junction with Middle Street. Turn right and then left at a little green and admire the fine 18th-century brick frontage of the house opposite.

Girt House on our Burton Bradstock Walk
Girt House

This is Girt House, or the “great” house, where Roberts lived during his latter years.

Continue along this road, called Shadrack, towards the Anchor Inn and opposite the pub turn left down Church Street.

Burton Bradstock Village Green
Burton Bradstock Village Green

The village green ahead, known as Parish Pump, has a memorial seat around the tree installed to mark the accession of King Edward VII in 1901. There’s a chance to sit down and admire the White House, dating from 1635 and once the Rector’s abode and the neighbouring Wesleyan Methodist Chapel (now a community library), once in the Roberts’ family.

Walk on and take the road dipping down to the right of the church. Down the hill and ahead of you is the site of another Roberts’ mill.

Now a residential development, some of the old machinery is on display at the entrance. It was here, where a mill originally spun wool, that hemp and flax fibres were carded in a process called hackling, ready for spinning and weaving.

At the sharp right hand bend, look left and see a row of terraced cottages, backed up against the churchyard. These were built for Roberts’ weavers.
His “factory” churning out spun thread was a strong competitor for nearby Bridport and an army of outworkers in surrounding villages made his products of table linens, sailcloth, hammocks and sacks.

Continue along Mill Street towards The Three Horseshoes — and note a curious carved stone head on the gatepost to the pub yard. There were at one point 15 pubs in the village — now just two!

Turn left and walk along the High Street (the coast road), passing the recreation ground on the left. At the corner opposite a car sales office, cross the road (watch out for traffic again) and climb up the steep Cliff Road.

At the top you will meet the South West Coast Path along the top of Burton Cliff, one of the finest examples of the distinctive, alternate hard and soft layered geology of this Bridport Sands area, which make it appear to glow bright gold in the sunlight.

(WARNING — dogs on leads and children under firm control here. Do NOT go near the cliff edge or walk under the cliffs — landslips are very common.)

This point, known as “lookout” was where the fishing farmers (or farming fishermen) of Burton watched for the shoals of mackerel coming close to shore.

On a clear day there is a marvellous view from here towards West Bay and its cliffs — now familiar from Broadchurch — and the curve of Lyme Bay, is clearly visible.

Go through a gate on the left and cross the fields behind the Seaside Boarding House and the neighbouring white house on top of the cliff.b This takes you back to the car park and the chance to take a stroll along the beach.

Hive Beach, on our Burton Bradstock walk
Hive Beach

Meals and refreshments are available at The Anchor, The Three Horseshoes, the Seaside Boarding House and the Hive Beach Café. There are picnic tables at the recreation ground.

Looking back at Burton Bradstock on our walk

*Adapted from The Roberts’ Trail, published by Burton Bradstock Parish Council.

One comment

  1. Richard Sims says:

    I have just read the piece on the walk at Burton Bradstock. There are one or two comments that I would like to make.
    1) the picture captioned “the swinging mill” was a flax spinning mill of c1811.
    2) the cottages by the church started life as warehousing and were converted later.
    3) the single storey spinning mill, now converted into housing, was built c1875 after a fire had destroyed the original flax spinning mill of c1794. As far as I know it did not spin wool. The original spinning mill was a typical three storey mill but was rebuilt with a single storey after the insurance payout was not sufficient to rebuild it to the original.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *