An exciting few days in Lyme Regis for one thing!
As a place it’s hard to beat for sea-loving foodies. In May 2021 it provided our first real respite from the demands of covid lockdown and working from home, and did so again this month.
Our journey here was surprisingly slow, and as neither of us especially enjoys driving we were impatient for a coffee stop after an hour or so. The drizzle and low cloud, coupled with every available agricultural vehicle in Wiltshire and Dorset choosing Tuesdays for their weekly outings, reinforced the tedium. Even I conceded that walking round Maiden Castle was a bad idea, and we turned for lunch in Dorchester. (To think – there could have been yet another neolithic hillfort featured on the blog!)
Not the most prepossessing county town, but with a plethora of solid looking old fashioned cafes from which to choose the Walnut Tree. It provided an excellent Cauliflower Cheese and Confit of Duck all for less than £20. The incredibly cheap cook shop sold very stylish washing up brushes… yes, it’s that sort of a holiday.
I don’t understand why parking ticket machines are designed either to take cash (we had none) or a complicated procedure with an app – rarely the same one – and not bank cards. (However, renewing the car parking from one’s bed shortly before 08.00 each day does have merit)
Our small double room faced the sea, and the views were increasingly striking as the weather worsened. January and February have been benign – some modest frost, lower than average rainfall, and masses of sunshine, so we were unprepared for storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin as they swept in from the Atlantic in quick succession.
But our first day was straightforward. A walk to Up Lyme, beginning on Sherborne Lane close by the hotel, dropping down to the river, and along a very narrow car-free passage between picturesque cottages and tiny gardens.
The monks of Sherborne had managed the town’s many watermills since the twelfth century; several have now become homes or flats, though one remains as an artisan hub in the very centre of town. We dined well in the Millside restaurant, and lunched at nearby East, once a vegetarian outlet, now Korean.
The next day promised dry weather and a favourable midday low tide which allowed us to walk east at the sea’s edge from Lyme to nearby Charmouth, leaving the town via the new, impressive sea defences.
The cliff top footpath has disintegrated, and now at high tide the coastal path users cross the golf course…
We passed one of the many disintegrating soft cliffs which now attract zealous fossil hunters of all sizes and seriousness. Large cobbles and boulders which smother what sand occurs made for very slow progress. Great slabs of shale littered the beach, many bearing the signature ammonite impressions. Every child we met had found one or two to take home. Mary Anning would have been proud.
Is it the film that has made her so famous? or is it her place in the KS 1 curriculum…?
Mary Anning is not the only celebrated person from the past. Sir George Sommers, who in 1606 discovered uninhabited Bermuda, was rewarded by the king for his loyalty with land and property in and around Lyme. His is a statue that may survive the current iconoclasms; he died in 1610, on Bermuda, and before any suggestion of colonisation or slave-trading. He looks out over the Cobb from his plinth:
I was taken with the art work, benches, plantings and general celebration of the richness of being human in Lyme – especially grateful in a gale force wind for the decorated but essentially concrete bench, of which more later..
Lyme has more than its fair share of bookshops (four), cafes, pubs and restaurants as well as a friendly warm and cheerful population, some of whom veer towards benign eccentricity and other-worldliness – rather like its popular art. It has a very regular bus service too; several beehives and bat boxes; a theatre perilously close to the waterfront and rather too many properties awaiting the return of their glory days…
We especially warmed to an artisan cafe now run by Tom, formerly a chef, and unstereotypically friendly.
Undoubtedly one of the high moments of the holiday was dining at Robin Wylde. This is a modest-looking restaurant on the main street, with its understated small print menu (dinner begins at 18.00) the only indication that food is available – though even that is seriously misleading…
It took Harriet Mansell only six months to make a big splash here with a very small pop-up restaurant in 2019. She then launched this bolder project – with its made-up name (everybody likes Robins, don’t they?) just as lock down began. She has recently opened Lilac, a wine-bar cum restaurant in a nearby cellar.
Her training involved an internship with Noma, in Denmark, where she started not at the coal face but on the forest floor, foraging for hours on end to find unusual and never commercial flavours and produce. Today she uses several types of seaweed, gathered locally; funghi, wild garlic and rhubarb in her suite of dishes, accompanied by pairings with wines and alcoholic drinks made on the premises. There are only 24 covers; four women in the kitchen, and three more front of house.
The petits-fours were sensational! Brave tutte!
Storm Eunice hove into view on what should have been our final day. It was clear from the Red Alert that travel was unwise; and had we delayed, our journey would have taken us into the next Red Alert over SE England. Fortunately the hotel had capacity for us to stay for another night, and we hunkered down. Just as well! Our car was parked up the hill in the car park which made the national news, fortunately at some distance from the handsome, large pine that we had admired on our arrival…
What was remarkable was the view of the Cobb from our little bedroom window at 08.00 that morning:
Rough seas, high tides and huge waves were a part of my childhood in Scarborough, so it was thrilling to experience once again the elemental force of wind and sea. After breakfast, I ventured into the hotel garden to peer down over Langmoor Gardens to the boiling sea. Within the shelter of the garden it was possible to stand up – just – though taking photos of the trees was tricky.
The real challenge came once outside the shelter of the garden. Standing on the edge of the cliff path was virtually impossible – and I flung myself on a gaudily decorated but solidly concrete bench in order (see photo above) to hold the phone steady enough to take these shots:
Later in the day, as the tide went out and the sun occasionally broke through the hail storms, the scene changed dramatically again and again; sometimes faint sunshine, minutes later torrential rain. It was an exhilarating afternoon.
The journey home (via Southampton to help move family belongings from flat to house) wasn’t easy, interrupted by electronic tyre pressure warnings, road works, traffic jams, tree damage and yet more torrential rain.
This blog is without a poem, a book, a piece of music. It was a holiday after all!. But this is made up for by several sea birds, and some trees; three special people and a very delightful place…