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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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
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
and serves delicious sea food (although they also have steak on the menu).
and some rather nice puds.
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.
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
and had fantastic sea views from two balconies.