LYME REGIS, Dorset’s most westerly town, shelters snugly between steep, fossil-filled cliffs. Its intimate size and photogenic qualities make this a popular and congested spot in high summer, with some upmarket literary associations – Jane Austen summered in a seafront cottage and set part of Persuasion in Lyme (the town appears in the 1995 film version), while novelist John Fowles lived here until his death in 2005 (the film adaptation of his book, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, was shot here).
Colourwashed cottages and elegant Regency and Victorian villas line its seafront and flanking streets, but Lyme’s best-known feature is a practical reminder of its commercial origins: the Cobb, a curving harbour wall originally built in the thirteenth century. It has suffered many alterations since, most notably in the nineteenth century, when its massive boulders were clad in neater blocks of Portland stone. On Bridge Street, the excellent Lyme Regis Museum displays artefacts related to the town’s literary connections, including John Fowles’ office chair, and provides a crash course in local history and geology, while Dinosaurland on Coombe Street, fills out the story of ammonites and other local fossils. Foodies should head to the Town Mill Complex in Mill Lane, just off Coombe Street, where as well as a working mill, pottery and art gallery there’s a fantastic cheese shop, local brewery and café/tearoom.Read More
Lyme’s Jurassic Coast
Lyme’s Jurassic Coast
The cliffs around Lyme are made up of a complex layer of limestone, greensand and unstable clay, a perfect medium for preserving fossils, which are exposed by landslips of the waterlogged clays. In 1811, after a fierce storm caused parts of the cliffs to collapse, 12-year-old Mary Anning, a keen fossil-hunter, discovered an almost complete dinosaur skeleton, a 30ft ichthyosaurus now displayed in London’s Natural History Museum.
Hands-off inspection of the area’s complex geology can be enjoyed all around the town: as you walk along the seafront and out towards The Cobb, look for the outlines of ammonites in the walls and paving stones. To the west of Lyme, the Undercliff is a fascinating jumble of overgrown landslips, now a nature reserve, where a great path wends its way through the undergrowth for around seven miles to neighbouring Seaton in Devon. East of Lyme, a huge landslip in 2008 closed the Dorset Coast Path to Charmouth (Jane Austen’s favourite resort), as well as blocking the two-mile beach route to the resort, which was previously walkable at low tide. At Charmouth, you can rejoin the coastal path leading to the headland of Golden Cap, whose brilliant outcrop of auburn sandstone is crowned with gorse.