The harbour town of Lyme Regis lies on the south coast of England on the border of the counties of Dorset and Devon. This area is known as the Jurassic Coast, a Unesco World Heritage Site stretching more than 150km and renowned for it’s dramatic cliffs, rock formations and fossils. Lyme Regis slopes steeply down to a charming seafront with a beach and a small harbour teeming with fishing boats and, while it is a popular seaside resort, it has escaped the influx of major hotels and amusement arcades and retains a bustling historical charm. The harbour is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by the Cobb, a dramatic sea wall originally constructed in the 14th century and rebuilt in 1820, which has literary connections, appearing in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and John Fowle’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. In addition to the town’s charms, it forms an ideal base for exploring the surrounding area whether your interests are in sandy beaches, quaint historical villages or fossil hunting.
While it is one of the simplest attractions in the town, my visits to Lyme Regis always commence with a walk to the end of the Cobb. This dramatic construction sweeps round the harbour and you can walk along the top to stand at the outermost point, which is constantly battered by the ocean on one side and provides a view of the charming harbour and town on the other. The contrast between the tempestuous ocean and serene bay is testament to this feat of civil engineering. From this viewpoint, the town can be seen as a whole with its harbour and beach backed by seafront houses painted in pastel shades of pink, orange and blue and the rest of the town stepping up the hill into the distance. I find this particular location a place for peace and contemplation, although care is needed if the weather turns, as waves can often break over the Cobb and the access steps found at various points can be tricky. They are almost two centuries old and beginning to show their age.
Being on the Jurassic Coast, palaeontology plays a large role in Lyme Regis. The town is home to Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, a privately owned museum that features a vast range of fossilised specimens, with plenty of hands-on activities for the kids. Just around the bay from Lyme Regis is Charmouth Beach, also famous for its fossils, so make sure you take your fossil hammer and see what you can find. While there are a number of shops catering for all things palaeontological, it isn’t all about fossils and there are many shops selling local crafts and produce including at the Town Mill, which also boasts a working watermill, art galleries, garden, café and craft studios. Boat trips are available at the harbour and can either be pleasure trips along the coast or sea fishing trips for anything up to a full day. Being a working harbour, fish is obviously top of the menu, be it freshly caught sea bass and John Dory in one of the many restaurants, or traditional fish and chips eaten al fresco on the seafront. For a more peaceful sojourn, try a walk through the Lister Gardens, which offers views down to the seafront and harbour.
If you’re staying away from the seafront, be prepared for a steep walk back to your accommodation, which can be a little taxing after a long day on the beach and a hearty fish and chip meal.
You can’t visit Lyme Regis without a fossil to remind you of your stay and there is no shortage of shops catering to this need. For the younger ones (or young at heart), there is an almost limitless supply of toy dinosaurs to help create your own Jurassic World.
Lyme Regis is not home to any large hotels, but there are numerous guesthouses and bed and breakfasts providing comfortable accommodation. Alternatively, there are cottages available to rent for those who prefer self-catering, which is certainly my preference as it provides an opportunity to cook some of the delicious local produce.
1. Visit Dinosaurland Fossil Museum
2. Eat fish and chips on the seafront
3. Stroll through the Lister Gardens
4. Walk the length of the Cobb
5. Take a sea fishing trip