Promenade along The Cobb
Lyme's port is protected by a harbour wall known as The Cobb, which has been destroyed and rebuilt on many occasions over the centuries during extreme storms. In addition to providing a handy structure on which to install defences such as cannon, The Cobb protrudes out a considerable distance to sea from the coast and could well be the forebear of that peculiarly British seaside attraction, the wooden pier.
Promenading along The Cobb has been a favourite pastime for Lyme's tourists since at least the 1700s, and provides the setting for a pivotal scene in Jane Austen's novel Persuasion. The more superannuated among us may recall that it also featured in the moody 80s classic movie, The French Lieutenant's Woman, with Meryl Streep seeming to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging around on The Cobb in bad weather looking pained.
The Cobb also seems to be the focal point of Lyme's community activities, and, for example, the townsfolk hold a big fireworks display here on Guy Fawkes' Night (5 November). For those who aren't familiar with Guy Fawkes (sometimes known as Bonfire Night), this is a quintessentially British tradition to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot hatched by disgruntled Catholics in 1605 with the aim of blowing up the Protestant King James I and the Houses of Parliament. Mr Fawkes and his co-conspirators were tortured into confession and subjected to the ultimate traitor's death: being hung, drawn and quartered.
Guy Fawkes Night is usually marked by the burning of a Guy (a human effigy, made out of old clothes and stuffing) on a bonfire, usually accompanied by fireworks - presumably a reference to the gunpowder with which the plotters planned to despatch both King and Parliament to the hereafter? When I was a kid, displaying a guy and collecting money to buy fireworks ("Penny for the Guy?") was a big thing, and we also celebrated the evening with traditional pursuits such as half-drowning ourselves whilst bobbing apples (an almost impossible task, whereby you use your teeth to try to retrieve an apple floating in a large container of water: if you are ever coerced into trying this, I recommend aiming for the stalk unless you have a gape like a thylacine!). Sadly Guy Fawkes Night seems to have been largely eclipsed by the more commercial Halloween in recent years, and whilst I'm a big Halloween fan (actually, I'm a complete festival junkie, so the more, the merrier!), I can't help thinking that the waning of such country-specific celebrations is one of the sadder symptom of globalisation.
In the footsteps of the immortal Mary Anning
Lyme Regis was home to one of my personal heroines, the trailblazing Mary Anning, and it was a privelege to return to the town where she was born, lived and died to retrace the footsteps of this remarkable woman.
It is difficult to explain how influential a figure Mary Anning was in the development of paleontology and in Victorian society in general. Like Florence Nightingale, she broke free from the stultifyingly passive, subservient mould in which most Victorian women were confined, and charted her own course in a male-dominated world, based on her own unique talents: however, she paid a high personal price for her independence and achievements.
Mary was a woman of humble origins, the daughter of a cabinetmaker and the sixth of ten children, only two of whom survived into adulthood. As a child, she was struck by lightning (which killed the woman who was holding her at the time), which was later used to explain her unusual personality. Her father - who died when she was only 11 - had supplemented his income by selling what were known as 'curiosities' (fossils), and Mary and her brother Joseph were skilled fossil hunters from a very young age.
Joseph found their first significant fossil - the skull of a plesiosaur - in 1812, and Mary subsequently excavated its body, after which they sold it to a collector for the princely sum of £23. With this discovery, the Anning's family fossil business changed gear.
With a poor education and a strong Dorset accent, Mary would seem to have been an unlikely candidate to be cultivated by the rich and famous (including King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony). However, her flair for fossil hunting allowed her to excavate the first fossils of marine reptiles - including plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs - which were staggering in their completeness and made a major contribution to the burgeoning science of paleontology. Unusually for a scientist, she also had a canny ability to market her finds - including the purchase of a house with a glass-fronted shop window, which she called 'Anning's Fossil Depot'.
In many ways, Mary's unsual and difficult life presaged the challenges that would face the generations of increasingly career-oriented women who would come after her. Despite her fame and celebrity, she was always an outsider, sought out and cultivated for her knowledge, yet patronised as an amusing curiosity by her social betters and shunned by her own class as a misfit. Her chosen career was physically demanding, and often dangerous (her beloved dog Tray was killed in a landslide from which Mary miraculously emerged unscathed) and was considered to be deeply unbecoming for a female, further reinforcing her strangeness. She never married, and despite the huge significance of her finds, she was treated with great disdain by many of the scientific fraternity, who were jealous of her amazing success and deeply suspicious of a woman who dared to live outside the norms of Victorian society. Her life was characterised by financial insecurity, initially as a result of her father's premature death and the vacillating market for fossils, and latterly by a bad investment which all but backrupted her. Her friend William Buckland (an eminent geologist) successfully petitioned for her to be granted a civil list pension, in recognition of her services to geology, and the £25 annual pension gave her a certain amount of financial security for the rest of her life.
Mary died of breast cancer in 1847 at the age of 47. She was in considerable pain towards the end of her life, and took increasing amounts of laudanum to dull the pain, which lead to rumours that she was an alcoholic.
I think that travel is as much about people as places, and it is an inspiration to be able to learn more about the lives of people such as Mary Anning, who achieved so much against such odds. Mavericks like her make the world a much more interesting place, and we are all the richer for her contribution to science and society.
Take some holiday Reading
Judging by the number of Forum Questions about relevant holiday reading I know I am not alone in looking for suitable holiday reading.
On our first visit "real" visit to Dorset we found in our holiday cottage an impressive selection of local information including "Dorset - The Complete Guide" by Jo Draper.
It is the kind of book I like, perhaps because it reminds me of the guide books my Dad always used. B&W illustrations, a gazetteer, and special topic sections. The one thing it lacks is a good index but it is not too diificult to work ones way around. I bought a copy for myself before our second visit.
Given the omniprescence of Mary Anning and Fossils in this part of the world, "Remarkable Creatures" by Tracey Chevalier based on the life of a remarkable woman is a good choice.
I don't usually enjoy novels that employ a biographical approach intermingling real characters and historical fact with fictitious characters and events. But this one works well.
"Jurassic Mary" by Patricia Pierce is more of a straightforward biography and a good book to read alongside the Chevalier.
And should you arrive bookless in Lyme Regis I am sure you would find plenty of reading material in the shops in my Shopping Tip.
Meet another notable local - A seafaring man.
The plaque on the wall of the Guildhall commerorates Sir George Somers who was born in Lyme Regis in 1554, became Mayor and later Member of Parliament for the Town.
He was, in many ways, typical of those adventurous men of the first Elizabethan Age and lived a colourful, daring and courageous life..
A friend of Sir Walter Raleigh he had access to men of wealth and standing. His activities as a merchant trader and as a privateer running ships licensed to stop, seize and confiscate enemy ships in wartime - made him a wealthy and powerful man, the equivalent, some might say, of a modern Mercenary.
But his fortune enabled him to buy a Manor in a village near Lyme Regis with the delightfully Dorset name of Whitchurch Canonicorum.
With prosperity came respectability. His daring exploits at sea during early colonial expansion earnied him the gratitude of King James 1 who Knighted him in 1603.
His subsequent career was in private colonial expansion leading expeditions to the Americas financed by merchants and noblemen for the Virginia Company who appointed him Admiral of their Supply Fleet sailing between Plymouth, England and Jamestown, America
During a hurricane Somers' ship, the Sea Venture, fetched up in Bermuda, then known as "Virgineola" Britain's first Crown Colony. King James1 renamed the Islands the Somers Isles but now again known as Bermuda.
He was impressed by the island and it is said that his descriptions were used by Sylvester Jourdan, a native of Lyme Regis also onboard Sea Venture) in his book - A Discovery of the Bermudas. (1610).
In turn fancy has it that Shakespeare was inspired by this " land of devils and spirits".
to write The Tempest
Sir George continued his career taking supplies to the colonists but became ill aboard ship form a "surfeit in eating pig" and died in 1610.
Better not to ask why or how - but his heart was buried in Bemuda while his body was pickled in a barrel of brine. 8 years later it was shipped home to Lyme where it was landed on the Cobb to a salute from a volley of musketsand cannon before being taken to the ancient church in Whitchurch Canonicorum for burial.
- Historical Travel
Meet a local notable Man of Science
Jurassic Heritage Site's Links with Welsh Industrial Heritage Site
Percy Carlyle Gilchrist (1851-1935), was born at 8 Marine Parade just round the corner from the wall on which this plaque can be seen.
He studied at the Royal School of Mines and, working together with his cousin, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas, developed an important process that eliminated the high phosphorus content found in Welsh Iron Ore rendering it brittle in use.
In 1878 Percy was working as a chemist at the iron works in Blaenavon, South Wales and it was here that he organized trials of their process which became known as Thomas-Gilchrist Process.
The improvement in the quality of the steel produced helped to return Wales to a leading position in the world steel production until the mining of coal became the main industry of the area.
Also see -Blaenavon Iron Works
- Historical Travel
Responsible Fossil Hunting
Because the relatively soft limestone cliffs around Lyme are subject to constant erosion and landslips they regularly disgorge Jurassic age fossils which can be found on the local beaches.
The fossils are deemed to be "owned" by the landowners (in most cases The National Trust) but in order not to discourage collectors, whether amateur or professional, members of the public are able to keep their finds provided they follow the local "Code of Conduct".
The main points of this are:
Members of the public should not dig into the cliffs for fossils.
You should have a basic knowledge of what you are looking for as there are two categories of find -
Category 1 covers rare and new species and exceptionally well-preserved specimens. These, or any that the finder doesn't recognise, should be taken to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre for identification (along with information regarding the found location and photographs).
Category 2 is the more common finds such as ammonites and partial fish or reptile remains. Provided these are individual specimens found on the beach etc then these can be taken away with the implied consent of the landowner.
The full code can be downloaded using the link below:
- Hiking and Walking
- Historical Travel
- Budget Travel
The kind thing about Lyme Regis is it is completely set up for its tourists!
Lyme Regis provides for all our prganisationsla needs...
There ae eateries galore, there are take aways abound and for those of us on self catering as in making their own sandwiches for the next day... there are food stores. You WILL eat. You WILL drink!
You can get wellington boots, you can get walking boots, hats, scarves, buckets, spades.... you may not be offered the most extensive variety but the desperate never complains ;-)
Did you not know you could bring a hammer, perhaps you forgot it or even broke or lost it - do not worry - Lyme can sell you one...
Relax... this is Dorset... we make fudge and shortcake biscuits in Dorset. We drink cider and we don't worry!
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
The Cobb is a harbour wall which allowed Lyme Regs to 'develop' as a town, in terms of a harbour town, from the 13th century.
Nowdays it is famous for it's 'role' in The French Lieutenant's Woman!
Whatever you know (or perhaps don't know) The Cobb for, it is a romantic little evening walk, swathed in moonlight, sloshed at by the sea... I had a perfect mooon refelcting into the sea as I walked along The Cobb and it made me feel peaceful :-)
You WILL find fossils and bits of fossils... it is IMPOSSIBLE not too and what is more, there will be areas where you wil not be able to help but walk over fossils.......... it really is quite a remarkable place. A place to make you refelct that, despite the mass chaos and destruction we inflict upon this almighty planet of ours, we are in fact, very small!
But anyway collecting fossils - you will find them, you may hammer them (you can even purchase small hammers for this in town) and you may take them home with you to remind you how very young we humans, as a species are!
Fossils are best hunted after a session of rain - it loosens the cliff and creates falls which in turn give fresh expossure to previously undiscovered delights and the fresh rocks that fall are full of wonders to delight.
The material that falls is mostly very damp, flaking and fragile... it needs time to dehydrate and toughen up which means it is good for pulling apart with your fingers to find ammonites and the like but, be careful you do not inadvertently destroy your prize!
PLEASE do care care and caution. The cliffs crumble ...it akes a lot less than a land slide to put an end to you fossil hunting days!
- Family Travel
Walking The South West Coastal Path
At 630 miles long the SWCP is Britain's longest footpath, following the coastline from Minehead in Somerset, round via Land's End and on to Poole in Dorset.
Lyme Regis makes for a great place to join the path for a day hike (or indeed to stop off during the course of a longer one). To the east there is quite a strenuous hike up to Golden Cap, the highest point on the South Coast, with the reward of glorious views over Lyme Bay. Whilst to the west there's the nature trail along the Undercliff to the Devon seaside village of Seaton which in summer can almost be like walking through a jungle as the foliage is so dense.
The town's Tourist Information Centre (see "General Tip") has a couple of freebie leaflets (with maps) with suggested walks and also larger scale maps and guidebooks for sale.
- Hiking and Walking
A Proper Drinking Pub
Being more than a seagull's spit from the front this little pub offers an escape from the hordes. Although having said that it can seem like hordes when there's more than half-a-dozen people in the cosy public bar.
The beer's good (and cheaper than most) and the staff and locals friendly and chatty. I only had time for a very quick pint but was tempted to stay for a couple more (and get a later bus).
- Beer Tasting
- Budget Travel
A Pub With A View
Whilst the Cobb Arms is, in my opinion, the town's best located pub the Rock Point Inn isn't far behind. The pub itself is a bit bland and plasticky but the terrace overlooking the bay has stunning views and even in the rain the lounge bar's window tables offer the same.
It's also opposite the bus stop and so handy for a quick one when waiting for your bus.
- Beer Tasting
Do Your French Lieutenant's Woman Impersonation
Rumour has it that when the Cobb scenes were filmed for this movie, those with Meryl Streep gazing wistfully out to sea from the end of the wall on a stormy day, it was in fact the director who acted as a body double. Whether true or not it is quite a nerve-wracking walk to the end when the weather is rough, the stone surface has been scoured almost smooth and there are no handrails.
I noticed quite a few people getting about two-thirds of the way out before deciding that discretion is the better part of valour. Even though I was wearing shoes with a good grip I chickened out too when I got to the last couple of metres and so I don't blame Meryl for not going all the way.
The Marine Aquarium
Lyme's Marine Aquarium is in the row of former warehouses on the Cobb. There's informative exhibitions of the local fish and other sea creatures who inhabit the bay. I see enough of the things at work and so gave it a miss but for a rainy day thing to do (if you're not a pub person) it looks quite interesting.
On the wall outside there's a reproduction of the 1879 harbour dues, the income from which was used to maintain the Cobb and the harbour in general. It caught my eye that there a due of 1 shilling for each passenger, arriving or departing - so our wonderful government's airport taxes are nothing new then!
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
Side trip to the town of Beer
While you are in the area of Lyme Regis, there are good reasons to make the short excursion to the town of Beer. This delightful town has less tourist than Lyme Regis but is surely worth a visit. The beach is pretty (but stones and pebbles, not sand), and used to be known as a smuggling base; it still works as a place for fishing boats. The town has some nice shops, a few pubs and a small church. Overall, it has a good atmosphere.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Family Travel