Great British boltholes: A review of The Bear, Dorset


Delightful Dorset: Inside the heritage-chic Georgian pub that’s perfect for exploring the delights of the Purbecks

  • The Bear is a lovingly restored 18th Century coaching inn located in the town of Wareham, Dorset
  • Its ten rooms are named after famous bears – Aloysius features a ‘showstopper’ bathroom with copper bath 
  • Chef Chris Button serves imaginative dishes featuring local, seasonal and humanely sourced ingredients

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Wareham would be the perfect spot for a Time Team holiday – this little Dorset town is simply stuffed with history for Channel 4’s experts to devour.

One of England’s last Saxon walled towns and where Civil War battles once raged, these days its streets are lined with pretty Georgian cottages of red brick and Purbeck limestone leading down to a little quay. Here you can kayak along the River Frome, buy delicious cheeses from the farmers’ market or sit with a pint gazing across heathland at the 1,000-year-old Corfe Castle that dramatically crowns the nearby Purbeck Hills.

All this is just a few miles – as the pterodactyl flies – from the fossil-rich beaches of the Jurassic Coast.

The Bear’s necessities: The cosy bar with its wooden floors ‘honeyed with age’ and comfy scuffed leather armchairs

The Bear opened with eight rooms in July 2020, adding two more in lockdown. Pictured is one of the sumptuous copper baths

The Bear opened with eight rooms in July 2020, adding two more in lockdown. Pictured is one of the sumptuous copper baths

If you want to explore it all from a lovingly restored 18th Century coaching inn, which champions eco practices without so much as a whiff of hair-shirt… follow The Bear.

Frankly, it’s hard to miss: a giant stone bear stands sentinel on its entrance on the high street, which sits between two huge Georgian bay windows, puffed out like the cheeks of a cherub.

Light floods through into the cosy library on the left and restaurant-bar on the right: both a mix of beams, wooden floors honeyed with age and comfy ‘there goes the afternoon’ scuffed leather armchairs.

Janet Strange and daughter Emily bought the dilapidated Bear in 2018, working with local craftsmen using traditional techniques to painstakingly restore its interior. In the process they uncovered many original features, including a Victorian bread oven.

The Georgian inn is perfect for exploring neighbouring Corfe Castle (pictured), says The Mail on Sunday's Jennifer Cox

The Georgian inn is perfect for exploring neighbouring Corfe Castle (pictured), says The Mail on Sunday’s Jennifer Cox 

Its ten rooms are named after famous bears, and ours – Aloysius, from Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited – features a double-height bay window while the bathroom is a dazzling showstopper with freestanding copper bath and huge walk-in shower.

We settle down to dinner after a wander along the river and a visit to 11th Century St Martin’s Church, which features a memorial to local adventurer T. E. Lawrence. We mention our excursion to Janet, who, extraordinarily, recounts how they found Lawrence of Arabia’s birth and death certificates during The Bear’s renovation. In Wareham, history refuses to be a thing of the past.

The USP: Heritage-chic Georgian inn perfect for exploring the Purbecks, from Wareham’s charming quay and river walk to neighbouring Corfe Castle where you can catch the steam train to Swanage, start of the Jurassic Coast.

The rooms: The Bear opened with eight rooms in July 2020, adding two more in lockdown. Hedonists will love Aloysius and Pooh Bear’s copper baths; Paddington and Goldilocks are perfect family rooms.

The food: Chef Chris Button serves imaginative dishes featuring local, seasonal and humanely sourced ingredients. Don’t miss afternoon tea – Emily Strange runs the Love Cake bakery in Swanage and her chocolate Guinness cake is a thing of wonder.   

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