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Lyme Regis holds special memories for us. We first visited on our honeymoon and returned shortly afterwards with our toddler son. For us now, it is a short trip to the south coast from our Somerset home, but back then it was a good six-hour journey from the North of England. This West Dorset coastal town is a firm favourite with us and the thousands of visitors that come every year.
Lyme Regis is often used by film and TV producers to depict period drama locations. Even if you have never visited you will surely be familiar with some of its landmarks. It has a charm but not a faded one – Lyme Regis is a vibrant modern town that cherishes its past. It requires little disguising of the 21st Century to be transformed into a film location.
Lyme’s claim to fame though goes back far earlier than the advent of TV and Film productions. This high spot of the Jurassic coast is known the world over for the quality and quantity of the fossils found on this stretch of coast. For this the thanks for starting the discovery of this treasure trove goes to a local girl Mary Anning, who is now commemorated with a sculpture on the seafront. From around 1811 she was involved in the discovery of an extraordinary range of fossils that attracted worldwide attention. One of the reasons to come to Lyme Regis for many people is to stroll the extensive stretch of coast in the hope of discovering that latest dramatic find. If you would rather find them in a shop or on a sale table outside one of the seaside cottages along the seafront or in a winding street, then you will be spoilt for choice. The fossil industry is still thriving here. I suppose the provenance of some will be dubious but an enjoyable hour or two can be spent searching for a small treasure.
Lyme is blessed with many independent shops, antique shops and local food outlets. You will not starve here and my wife Niamh settled on a Chinese takeaway from Red Panda, located on the raised section of Broad Street just before reaching the seafront. Exceptionally fine it was. However, I wanted Fish and Chips but the most popular one was really busy. But, I waited, and waited, and waited. By the time I was served Niamh was long finished eating and ready to move on.
Broad Steet is indeed broad but it also rises steeply away from the seafront. It is worth the climb, up one side and down the other taking in the shops, looking down the old alleyways to see if there are more gems to be found. Depending on how much you enjoy shopping and browsing this could take some time.
It was a ideal time to wander over to the Cobb once again as the sun started to slip away.
Before that thought we headed up to the old church of St Michael the Archangel located on the cliff higher up Church Street from the end of Broad Street. Mary Anning is buried here and the views back over the old town that it dominates are worth the climb.
The Cobb is the most well known and filmed feature of Lyme Bay. Built centuries ago and reinforced over the years this solid structure has provided the harbour that made possible the ability of ships to land here.
I saw the Cobb recently featured once again in a TV period drama. However, it will be forever associated with the film French Lieutenant’s Woman starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Much of the film was shot in Lyme but the dramatic action scenes filmed on the Cobb are memorable. Jane Austen also used the Cobb in her novel Persuasion. The town and the Cobb are perfect for conveying a sense of place and time in filming of these novels.
The Cobb is a quite extraordinary structure and one that retains its character. There are no unsightly safety features desecrating this ancient landmark. For that reason care needs to be taken if you decide to make the walk to the end of the pier. The Cobb is wide but it has a dramatic camber. Yes, by all means stroll but do not daydream as the camber will take you inexorably towards the edge and the drop into the sea. It is also prone to having waves break against it, throwing spray or even the residue of the wave over the walkway. It is not to be attempted in any kind of poor weather. If you keep your head and watch your feet you can be rewarded with fantastic views and some great photography possibilities. I find you do spend a fair amount of your time on the Cobb worrying about some of the more brave or foolhardy ones taking risks to get that extra view or photo opportunity. One of England’s more dramatic man made edifices but take care – sea to your right and a long drop to the harbour floor to your left.
The harbour that the Cobb facilitates is packed with all kinds of boats and vessels. So many in fact that you wonder if some could ever make the journey to the harbour entrance. It seems possible to reach the other side of the harbour by stepping on the boats. Again, this a wonderful spot for photography, especially in fading summer light. At low tide we walked across the sand to the other side, slightly safer and lower than the Cobb. It was pleasant to sit there overlooking the Cobb and the swaying boats in the harbour but remembering to keep an eye on the incoming tide. The sun sets in a colourful swathe of light on the seafront, changing the colour of the line of bathing huts. Swimming and water sports continue into the darkness until you can see no more but still hear the voices and laughter coming from the sea.
It is time to take our leave. Walking the incline from the beach to the car park to Holmbush Car Park at the top of Cobb Road we take time to turn and take in the late evening view. The harbour lights reflect into the harbour and sea, making a peaceful, engaging sight to bring our visit to a close.
We linger but eventually turn and promise another visit soon.