Exploring Lyme Regis in Dorset was not what I had in mind when I got into my car early one Sunday morning in October. The plan was to explore Beer village in Devon. But it was a sunny Sunday in the autumn of 2020 – and no one knows how the rest of this year is going to pan out here in the UK, lockdown wise. So I decided to go further east while I had the opportunity. I was in no doubt as to what my new destination should be: Lyme Regis.
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Lyme Regis is known as The Pearl of Dorset, and no wonder. It is such a charming and quirky town, you would want to explore it even if it wasn’t right by the sea. The town centre is brimming with cute little independent shops, selling delicacies, gifts, crystals and, of course, fossils. It is also full of charming pubs, restaurants, tea rooms and bars – and obviously there is ice cream for sale everywhere! There is so much to see and do, but as I had the amazing good fortune of finding a free parking space, I only had two hours to do it in.
Mindful of only having two hours for exploring Lyme Regis, I decided to leave the shops for now. Instead I headed straight for Lyme Regis’ main attractions: the sea, the beaches, the cliffs and the famous Cobb.
The lit bit
Fellow bookworms and film fans will of course be familiar with Lyme Regis. The town is famous for being the setting of The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles [book | film starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons]. It also features heavily in Persuasion by Jane Austen [book | film starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones]. Naturally, I headed straight for The Cobb in the hope of finding Captain Frederick Wentworth. In my humble opinion, he is the dashingest of all Jane Austen’s dashing romantic heroes.
I didn’t find Captain Wentworth. What I did find, was the somewhat frightening experience of going for a walk on a slanted, uneven surface in the wind. It wasn’t scary for the doggies and kiddies and elderly ladies or anyone else who were out promenading on The Cobb that day, though. I am just not good with anything where you risk loosing your footing. Still, I felt the fear and did it anyway!
“… the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see the charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.”— Jane Austen, Persuasion
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.—Jane Austen, Persuasion (Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot)
There has been a breakwater on this site since at least 1313, but most of the current Cobb was built after The Great Storm of 1824. It would be iconic even if it hadn’t been immortalised on the big screen.
The harbour and Sandy Beach
Once I had done the lit bit, I turned my attention to the pretty harbour and Sandy Beach. You would never have guessed it was nearly the middle of October! (Shout out to the super friendly labradoodle I met on the newer harbour wall.)
The views were absolutely stunning, both to the east and west. I am definitely coming back here some time to hike the South West Coast Path! The hike from Lyme Regis to Golden Cap should take about 2,5 hours (5 there and back), so that definitely needs to be done at some point. (Update Sep 2021: I did the hike from West Bay to Golden Cap instead.)
Famous for fossils
Lyme Regis is part of The Jurassic Coast, and Jurassic cliffs means dinosaur fossils! I have mentioned Mary Anning (1799-1847) before, and Lyme Regis is naturally very proud of her! She discovered the first complete Ichthyosaurus to be found in England when she was just twelve. (Her older brother Joseph had found its head, which was four feet long, a year earlier.) This was controversial at the time, as most Victorians were creationists.
Mary Anning also discovered the first complete Plesiosaurus and the first Pterosaurus (a complete Dimorphodon aka Pterodactyl) to be found outside of Germany. Sadly, due to her religious views, lack of education and funds, and the fact that she was a woman, she wasn’t given access to England’s scientific institutions at the time, and had to sell her fossils for money. The men who bought them often took the credit for her discoveries, but now we know better. Many of Mary’s finds are on display at the Natural History Museum in London.
A couple of films are currently being made about Mary Anning’s life, which sadly ended when she was only 47. Saoirse Ronan, Kate Winslet and Gemma Jones are all starring in Ammonite, which is slated to be released on the 13th of November (UPDATE: Here is an excellent review of the film from Smithsonian Magazine). Mary Anning & the Dinosaur Hunters is currently in post-production, but does not have a release date yet.
The Jurassic Coast in Dorset
Lyme Regis is known for its blue lias cliffs, which consist of layers of limestone and shale. They were formed in the late Triassic / early Jurassic period, which means they are 195-200 million years old. Roughly 50 million years younger than the red cliffs in Budleigh Salterton, in other words. Unlike the red triassic cliffs, blue lias cliffs are known for being rich in fossils – particularly ammonites.
Exploring Lyme Regis
Every time I visit Lyme Regis, I get the urge to book myself into one of the many charming B&Bs so I can stay for at least a week. I think I may need to realise this dream soon, because there is so much more to explore! I want to hike Golden Cap, go on a fossil walk and a history walk around town and explore the Ammonite Pavement on Monmouth Beach.
In addition, I want to visit the Lyme Regis Museum, go to the Marine Aquarium at the end of The Cobb, and stroll along the River Lym. Not to mention seeing the stained glass window given in memory of Mary Anning in St. Michael the Archangel, and visit her grave in the churchyard.
It seems exploring Lyme Regis will require a return visit or two – and I can’t wait to go back.