A week in Lyme Regis

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We’ve just returned from a week’s holiday on the south coast at Lyme Regis, somewhere we’ve never visited before. Tucked in a narrow valley between crumbling cliffs of soft rock, it’s a very attractive small seaside town, with narrow streets clinging to the hillsides, its growth restricted by the geography of its location. A very old settlement, it became a highly fashionable resort during the Georgian and Regency period, which is reflected in the architecture.

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Probably its most well known landmark is the Cobb – the harbour wall originally built during the Medieval period (according to the town’s website a man made construction has served as a refuge here since at least 1313) which created the harbour. It’s been rebuilt many times since then. The Cobb features in the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was based on the book of the same name written by John Fowles who lived and worked in the town.

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The Cobb also features Jane Austen’s Persuasion. One of the characters,  Louisa Musgrove, falls from some steps, allegedly the rather precarious looking “Granny’s teeth”

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Despite its size, and poor overland transport links, Lyme was once a major port. Goods from the region had to be brought in by pack horse until a road suitable for wheeled vehicles was eventually constructed down the steep hills that lead into the town. Today the little harbour is the base for a small fleet of fishing boats and pleasure craft.

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The Cobb was actually built a short distance from the town. and although a small group of buildings eventually developed into the Cobb Hamlet, this was separate from the main part of the town. The reason for this is that the coast is made up of very unstable rocks – mainly shales, clays and mudstones – which are very susceptible to avalanche and landslips. The port was separated from the town by a landslip which wasn’t safe to build on. Today this has been transformed into a very attractive part, planted with Mediterranean varieties – Langmoor gardens.

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The promenade along the sea front at the foot of gardens, now called the Marine Parade, was originally created during the Regency period, when it was known as “The Walk”.

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Fossils

Lyme is in the centre of the Jurassic Coast and the rocks in the cliffs that surround the town are full of fossils, which end up on the beach following landslides, after the sea washes the mud away. The beach, particularly the one between Lyme and Charmouth, is patrolled by numerous fossil hunters –amateur and professional – at low tide. We went on a fossil walk organised by the local museum, and it was one of the highlights of the holiday.

There are several shops around the town selling fossils and there is a display of fossils found in and around the town in the Museum. Symbols of ammonites can be found all over the town, many businesses using it as a logo. One even features in the lamp posts.

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The most famous fossil hunter from Lyme was Mary Anning (1799–1847) a who lived in the town all her life. She was responsible for some major finds, including the first complete Ichthyosaur, a complete skeleton of the long-necked Plesiosaurus and a Pterodactylus.

The main shopping street, Broad Street (which isn’t that broad!) isn’t dominated too much by the major chains; there are a number of small independent shops, including a teddy bear shop (with a fossil workshop in the basement!) and a very good independent bookshop

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There are plenty of places to eat both in the main part of town and at Cobb Hamlet. Many of the pubs sold food which was much better than that found in most pubs around the UK, including the seaside. Rather than the standard fare of frozen fish and scampi, microwaved “pasta bake” and baked spuds, a number of the pubs had some more imaginative dishes on the menu made from local ingredients. There were plenty of fish and chip shops and stalls (eating fish and chips on the sea-front is a must during a seaside holiday) and a number of shops and cafes served up rather tasty crab sandwiches. We treated ourselves one night to a meal in one of the top restaurants in Lyme – Hix Oyster and Fish House. Located on the hill above the harbour it has excellent views down to the Cobb and the sea

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and serves delicious sea food (although they also have steak on the menu).

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and some rather nice puds.

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While we were in Lyme we stayed in the Penthouse apartment in St Michael’s House on Pound Street at the top of the hill.

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At one time, the building used to be a hotel, but it’s now been converted into apartments. I don’t know about the others, but the Penthouse was really beautifully fitted out and decorated

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and had fantastic sea views from two balconies.

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10 thoughts on “A week in Lyme Regis

  1. It sounds like you had a great time, and what a fantastic place you stayed in!

    I have very fond memories of Lyme Regis even though that was a long time ago, and I have to admit that the French Lieutenant’s Woman was one of the reasons why I wanted to visit.

    Have you read ‘Remarkable Creatures’ by Tracy Chevalier? It is a fictionalised account of Mary Anning’s life. I found it totally engrossing and it made me want to go back.

    • You’re right Eirene, a great week. The weather was mixed but we only had 1 1/2 days of rain.

      The appartment was great. My wife has a good knack of finding good places and we book them out of the peak weeks (i.e. before the main school hols) which makes them more affordable.

      I fancied going to Lyme because of the literary connections and what I remember seeing in the film f the French Lieutenant’s woman. I re-read the book (better than the film) and also read the Tracey Chevalier book before we went, so I was well prepared. It was interesting to see the places I’d read about. I didn’t read Persuasion, though, as I was put off Jane Austen when we studied Northanger Abbey when I was in the 1st year at secondary school (a long time ago!).

      We went to have a lok at a number of Mary Anning related locations during our visit – that gives me an idea for a post!

      • It’s ridiculous reading Jane Austen in Year 7 – madness. When I was teaching English, the Labour government had the crazy idea that every child in every year should read Shakespeare and it was hell teaching it. By the time those children reached A Level none of them wanted to do English Literature because they were so sick of Shakespeare, so for the first time ever, there were far more students doing English Language, rather than Literature. The result of this brilliant idea of the labour government was that kids were put off not only of Shakespeare but also of Literature and you have just confirmed that point. (end of rant, but it makes me so mad).

        I look forward to reading the Mary Anning post.

      • We also studied Shakespeare in every year of secondary school. I wasn’t keen on A Midsummer Nights Dream in the first year but liked Julius Caesar, the Tempest and Macbeth (my O level play) we studied in subsequent years.I found the plots exciting and at the time I enjoyed performing (although we never performed the plays we used to read them out in class). And since I put aside my inverted snobbery about “petty bourgeois culture” in my 20’s I like to go and watch some Shakespeare at the theatre. So, fortunately, I wasn’t put off that.

  2. I am glad you were not put off Shakespeare and you were lucky in that. During the 1960s and 1970s, within the context of comprehensive schools, the British education system made great leaps and the teaching of Literature in particular, was liberalised. The notion of what constituted Literature was expanded to include more than just the study of ‘dead white men’ . So much of conservative ideology is about looking into the past and what they see as the ‘classics’ is just that -what has been written by dead white men. (Women novelists of the 19th century are the exception that proves the rule). The last Labour government wanted to reverse the inclusion of contemporary literature in the curriculum in the same way that they wanted to disband comprehensive education.

    Having to teach in the context of all the changes they were introducing was painful. It was particularly disheartening teaching in an inner-city school where 45% of the students were Asian/African Caribbean and the changes to the curriculum meant we had to abandon not just contemporary literature, but also international texts that originated from the cultures of the students in our school and which were as ‘great’ and as ‘classic’ as what we were forced to teach.

    Balance is always a good thing.

    Sorry about yet another rant Mick, but it is a subject that makes me really mad.

    • I can understand your frustration, Eirene

      I was a grammar school boy. The schools in my area only went Comprehensive when I was 15, so I was educated through the selective system.

      You might have expected, then, that we’d have studied the “dead white men” (plus Jane Austen and the Brontes!), and we did to an extent, but I was lucky in that from the 2nd year onwards I was taught by two good English teachers. I remember studying Lord of the Flies, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 and the WW1 and 30’s poems (Stephen Spender, Robert Graves etc.). For my O levels we were taught by a young Canadian woman – Mrs Pickthal – who was an excellent, inspiring teacher. I think she was a member of the Labour Party and I’m pretty sure her husband ended up as Labour MP for Skilmersdale (I could be wrong, but it is an unusual name), She picked “To kill a Mockingbird” as our set book, and it remains one of my all time favourites. And we studied the 1930’s poets, including some of their works about the Spanish Civil War. All good choices for a young radical (as I was becoming). Another set were working through The Mayor of Casterbridge and Paradise Lost. Good works of literature I’m sure, but hardly likely to inspire most 15 and 16 year olds.

      • Not a bad selection for a grammar school.

        I used to love teaching ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

  3. Pingback: A week in Lyme Regis | Down by the Dougie

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