Meet the owners – Wellhayes, Dorset

Just inland from the famous Jurassic coast of Dorset, tucked away in a magical woodland setting, is Wellhayes. You tumble down a driveway cutting through the woods and emerge in a green and open clearing where James and Emma, you’re charming and cultured hosts live. Overlooking a lake – where guests are welcome to partake of a spot of wild swimming – are two beautiful holiday homes, Wellhayes Barn and The Store at Wellhayes. This time we’re chatting to James about what brought them to Wellhayes and find out a bit more about what makes this such an amazing place to stay.

Have you always lived and worked at Wellhayes?

I grew up very near Wellhayes and, apart from a spell at University in St Andrews and some time in my 20s working as an equestrian course builder throughout the UK and Eire, have always lived near Lyme Regis, returning in the early 1990s to establish a furniture design and manufacture studio.

As well as managing Wellhayes and continually improving the buildings and grounds, I work as an architectural designer with a specific interest in historic buildings. I am currently half-way through studying for an MSc in Sustainable Building Conservation with the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University. Emma moved here from London in the early 2000s with her son Noah, who has now grown up and returned to London. Emma established the School of Bodywork in Exeter in 2006 training people to become successful therapists and provides a range of postgraduate training. She also runs a thriving local clinic. As well as being keen cyclists and hill walkers (with our dogs who love a good ramble too) we are well connected to the artistic community in the South West.

What was your motivation behind starting your business?

The initial motivation was financial. We had bought a small stone building set in 14 overgrown acres that had a great deal of potential but needed an enormous amount of work. I was keen to use my design skills and practical know how to create the kind of buildings I had always wanted to live in. We opened The Wellhouse in 2015, Wellhayes Barn (below) in 2016 and The Store in 2018. The motivation is now so much more than financial. We love hosting guests and showing them what we have created here. It’s been an enormous lifestyle change but the benefits have been profound: welcoming people from diverse communities and showing them all that this area has to offer.

Tell us about what’s on offer through you or nearby

It is easy to spend a week – or longer – at Wellhayes without leaving, something we have often done without realizing! From taking walks, saunas and swimming in the lake to curling up in front of the fires or barbequing on the terrace on a sunny afternoon. Further Afield there are plenty of things on offer:

Walking – Dorset is webbed with amazing walking routes including the South West Coast Path, parts of which you can access very easily from Wellhayes.

Paragliding – Eddie Colfox runs Sky Safaris and will take you on a tandem paragliding flight (weather permitting).

The world’s only pure milk vodka distillery – Visit Black Cow Distillery and sample a fantastic spirit made using the whey created in cheese production. You can book a tour of the distillery and have a cocktail or stay and have lunch. If you’ve timed it right, you’ll find Mark Hix preparing the meal in the bar and kitchen I designed.

A spot of retail therapy – For well made contemporary products that are both practical and beautiful visit Ryder and Hope in the heart of Lyme Regis. Theres’s also Sladers Yard in West Bay which is great for contemporary British art, furniture and craft.

Do you have a favorite place for a tipple or a meal?

We really enjoy The Fountainhead in Branscombe is a great pub with good food. There’s a great walk to it from Beer Head Caravan Park.

For something more upmarket I’d definitely suggest Mark Hix’s Oyster and Fish House which is always worth a visit, either for champagne and oysters on the terrace (at any time of day!) or for more serious dining inside with locally caught fish and produce. It’s only about a 50-minute walk from Wellhayes making it easy to combine exercise and champagne – perfect.

If there was one thing you’d say was unmissable for your guests what would it be?

It’s so difficult to keep it to one thing. My preference would be to hang out at Wellhayes: grab some fish, meat or vegetables from one of the amazing local producers and cook up a storm either inside or on the barbeque. Failing that, probably a long walk along the coast path: head east to The Anchor at Seatown (below) or further to The Hive at Burton Bradstock. Head west past Lyme Regis through the Undercliff to Axmouth or The Fountainhead at Branscombe.

What’s the best thing about running your business?

I have run my own business for as long as I can remember and the best thing without question has been the rich and varied mix of people it has bought me in contact with.


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