Unpacked: the ideal British beach retreat at Seaside Boarding House

In her monthly column exploring the best of British hotels, Pamela Goodman finds no-frills beach heaven at the Seaside Boarding House on Chesil Beach in Dorset
Unpacked the ideal British beach retreat at Seaside Boarding House

On an out-of-season trip to the Dorset Coast, I strike it lucky. The weather is set fair, the sky is winter blue and there’s a fair old nip in the breeze blowing off the sea with even a touch of frost lacing the sand of Chesil Beach. 

Directly above the beach, or at least this stretch of it (Chesil Beach is some 18 miles long), stand two, white Edwardian villas – identical when first built in the early 20th century, but now showing the tweaks and changes brought about by a century of different owners and different uses.  One remains a private house (what a spot!), the other - for the last eight years or so - has been a hotel, rescued from obscurity by two business partners who used to run London’s Groucho Club. 

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The Seaside Boarding House (about as far away in reality from the connotations such a name might evoke) turns out to offer everything I want in a seaside hotel. Touching on the subject of that beach again, you can have sand between your toes within barely more than twenty paces of the hotel’s front door. Look east to the left and you can see all the way to Weymouth and the Isle of Portland; look west to the right, and there are the high cliffs of West Bay and Golden Cap, and the twinkle of Lyme Regis beyond where Dorset becomes Devon. The glorious South West Coastal path trundles right past the hotel while, just a whisper inland, are the pretty village of Burton Bradstock and the attractive market town of Bridport. 

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Dog-walkers and hikers are thin on the ground when I’m there, but numbers I imagine swell massively in summertime, many of them stopping on the terrace at SBH for coffee or lunch. Down on the beach, members of the local Blue Tits Chill Swimmers Club brave the steely blue sea, while other beachgoers hole up in The Hive, a shabby chic cafe, famous locally for the freshest of fish and open all year round from early morning to mid-afternoon.

Not all of SBH’s nine rooms directly overlook the sea, though most will offer a glimpse. We go full-frontal, our lovely room (No. 301) with bay windows framing a mesmerising Jurassic coast panorama, seeped in a golden sunrise when we pull back our curtains in the morning. I almost think it’s an illusion when, propped up in bed, cup of tea in hand, I spy two dolphins cavorting in the sea. 

The room, like the others I see, is supremely comfortable – a simple blend of carefully curated antiques, elegant, tasteful fabrics, plain walls and wooden floors. Nothing jars; nothing feels out of place – the mood is pitched just right. No TVs though, which I like, but others may not (you can ask for one if you’re desperate).

Downstairs, a clever, single storey extension to the front of the house maximises sea views for both the bar and restaurant, capturing the maritime vibe – lots of breezy, seaside colours, buckets and spades by the front door, a small sitting room with coral-patterned wallpaper. I see the whole place bathed in sunshine but imagine that whatever the weather this would be a good spot for a couple of nights’ escapism.

Local friends join us for cocktails and dinner. Cocktails, I’ve been told, are rather the thing here and I rather agree. The list is extensive – all the old favourites, plus a few I’ve never heard of so, not wishing to rock the boat, I head to familiar territory: a French 75 before dinner and an Espresso Martini after.

Dinner is easy-going and convivial. Fresh fish for some, local meat for others, vegetarians well-catered for – all very seasonal, paper tablecloths overlaying starchy white ones, vases of narcissi, a big moon outside reflected in a calm sea. What’s not to love?

Don’t go expecting fancy spa treatments, a gym, room service (other than morning tea brought to your bedroom door) or elaborate gardens. Dress down, not up; bring your dog, your walking boots, your book, your binoculars – maybe even your swimming trunks and an umbrella. Go antiquing in Bridport, walk to West Bay for lunch and enjoy every minute of being right beside the sea.    

The Seaside Boarding House (theseasideboardinghouse.com; 01308 897 205). Double rooms cost from £245 B&B.