When one is tired of London then one is tired of life. But now it seems when one is tired of London one moves to Lyme. Or at the very least visits for a long weekend.
Lyme Regis. Historic town, seaside resort, fishing port, world famous Cobb and Jurassic coastline in south west Dorset. It’s all of that and a whole lot more. If you squint you could be in Georgian England or the 1950’s. There is a beautiful timeless elegance, a barely faded grandeur with a faint smell of hot salty vinegary chips and the sound of seagulls squawking. It is at once a world famous tourist destination and a thriving local community. And it is twinned with Bermuda. Of course.
The place is steeped in history with fossils embedded in its very foundations and the quirky Dinosaurland Fossil Museum to prove it. Housed in an old church the privately owned museum has a collection of over 10,000 geological specimens. And built on the site of Mary Anning’s home is The Lyme Regis Museum which celebrates the most famous female fossilist as well as the science, art and landscape of the area. To experience actual history take a walk along the Cobb which dates from the 13th Century. If possible walk all the way to the end wearing a big cloak and renact the Meryl Streep scene from The French Lieutenants Woman. The author John Fowles was a local. If you time it right you may be in the town during one of its big annual events like the Fossil Festival or the Folk Weekend. Check out the art deco Regent Cinema or some great live entertainment at the Marine Theatre, coined the little theatre by the sea.
The beach is glorious, mostly stony with a sandy part at one end which is rammed during the holiday weeks. But there are places to be alone if you want them like the fossil ledge at the far end of Monmouth beach. And the other end a mass of exciting rock pools. This is a children’s paradise. There is an amusement arcade, crazy golf and table tennis. But the greatest way to spend the day on the beach is to hire one of the sherbert coloured beach huts from the ice cream kiosk and kick back in the stripy deckchairs.
The southwest is spoilt for amazing food producers, innovative chefs and artisan makers. A big chunk of them are represented in Lyme in one way or another. Let’s start with the Mongers – fish and cheese. The Watchhouse opposite the Cobb sells fresh local fish presented over piles of ice and a service to buy now and pick up later after a hot, steamy day on the beach. At the other end of town is Justin the Town Mill Cheesemonger in a tiny shop with a huge selection of artisan cheeses.
The food of kings is fish and chips, piping hot, eaten straight from the paper, sat on the shingle looking out to sea. There are some great places to get these including Herbies food kiosk on Marine Parade. Sometimes chips just won’t do (I know but apparently some people feel like that) so why not pizza? There is a cracking new kid on the block Poco Pizza serving delicious wood fired pizzas from their wooden shack tucked away at the far end of Marine Parade. Ingredients are fresh and well sourced and the garlic bread is already a big hit. Or pop to The Whole Hog which is quite literally a beloved roast dinner in a bap. And for pudding? Ice cream of course. From another new arrival just off Broad Street with the best chocolate sorbet (in the world IMO) and a Willy Wonka array of ice cream like hazelnut, salted caramel, basil and chilli or carrot cake. Named Frank and Beans Gelateria, Beans is the owner and Frank is her dog. Happy face.
Whilst Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s brilliant River Cottage sits 5 minutes away from the centre of Lyme another high profile foodie and local boy Mark Hix has his Hix Oyster and Fish Housecommanding the best view in town. Our favourite spot is the terrace at lunchtime looking out across the harbour, Cobb and miles of Jurassic coastline. Maybe with a plate of oysters while you pore over the menu and a glass of whatever Mark is drinking that week which is usually a seasonal cocktail or his signature Hix Fix. If you are a serious foodie and can take or leave bobbing boats then book the chef’s table in the kitchen and watch experts at work. Either way the food is fantastic and the trad fish pie, fish fingers and simply grilled on the bone sit perfectly alongside several innovative dishes using the best local ingredients like the fillets of Lyme Bay tub gurnard with shrimps and sea purslane.
For a true Hix Fix you can stay at his a stone’s throw from the restaurant and choose from one of eight uniquely designed rooms with a breakfast hamper delivered which includes sweet and savoury pastries. Alternatively, and a personal favourite of ours, book Dorset House Hotel for their stylish bedrooms, convivial communal breakfasts and hands on hosts where nothing is too much trouble. Their bread and granola is homemade and their full English breakfast ingredients locally sourced. It’s got all the positives of a traditional B&B without the highly patterned carpet and greasy fried eggs.
Lyme does cool shops really well. And there is none better than the new store Found, the first from the creative team Ryder&Hinks (already known for their interior design service). Unconventional stockists, the products have been carefully sourced to include furniture, local artisan crafts, lighting, skincare and textiles in an awesome mix of wood, concrete, sheepskin, copper, navy and botanicals. They have worked hard to put together collections so you don’t have to and included iconic pieces like a hanging rattan egg chair (want, want, want) and hand carved hanging seagulls (perfect reminder of your Lyme visit). Go, see, buy, you’re going to love it.
Then wander down the street to Ginger Beer (sister of grande dame gifts and vintage emporium Susie Cole great for drawing room chic) to a fantastic selection of garden and outdoor focused gifts, vintage and practical camping equipment. Like walking into an Enid Blyton story and luckily they sell ginger beer too. Lucy-Ann is a big favourite with locals and tourists alike who love her bespoke jewellery service and the chance to watch her working in her studio. Another hugely welcome arrival at the bottom of Broad Street is The Writing Room, a new specialist stationery shop tucked away in a characterful Georgian townhouse. Step into the tiny front room and check out the Lamy fountain pens, Staedtler essentials, Forget-Me-Not's beautiful vintage fabric-covered notebooks, Leafcutter designs from California and plenty of inspiration for younger writers. You can even write a letter there and then on one of the unique handmade seeded papers (the recipient can plant after reading to enjoy a mini wildflower meadow) and Janis Lane, the owner/writer will post it for you.
As you would expect there is some great café action in Lyme including superb coffee at the top of Broad Street in Amid Giants and Idols with a second stop off half way down the hill at the Galley Café for their amazing mackerel and beetroot pasties. And Aroma at the very bottom of the hill for delicious gluten free alternatives and a great children’s area. But if you only have time to go to one make it the , tucked away down Coombe Street, making their own sourdough loaves, croissant and veg curry lunches. Created, run and lovingly constantly tweaked by Clive and Lucy Cobb, this is the brilliant flagship Town Mill that has led to further bakeries in Poundbury, Plymouth and…er…Rousdon. Clive’s latest venture is in an old petrol station on the coast road on the outskirts of Lyme alongside Lucy’s Merchant and Mills inspired Natural Fabric Store. Eat croissant, drink macchiatos, sew a fishermans smock.
Lyme Regis. Difficult to do it justice in one sitting. Go for a week at least. If not the rest of your life.