Things to see and do in Lyme Regis
PUBLISHED: 11:45 10 February 2016 | UPDATED: 11:45 10 February 2016
Karol Kulik shares some of her favourite things to see and do in her home town. Photographs by Peter Wiles
Once a thriving port in the Middle Ages, Lyme Regis adapted to changing times by becoming one of Dorset’s premiere seaside resorts in the 19th century. Ever since, its mild climate, sea bathing, Jurassic cliffs, picturesque promenade and historic Cobb have attracted holidaymakers, day-trippers and incomers, like the characters in, as well as the authors of, Jane Austen’s Persuasion and John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
What draws so many visitors and delights residents like myself is the sheer variety of cultural, coastal and physical pursuits that such a small town (with just a population of 3,637) offers.
Stepping out in Lyme
Even without the lure of fossils, walking is Lyme’s most popular activity. There are a number of wonderful coastal and inland routes to explore: short or long, uphill or level, on your own or escorted. While walking to the end of the Cobb, Lyme’s famous harbour wall, may be the number one choice for fans of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the award-winning Church Walk from Charmouth Road Car Park along the top of the brand new sea defences is hard to beat for breathtaking coastal views.
Those curious to know more about the town should join one of the escorted walks run by Literary Lyme. They offer a selection of themed walks focusing on Lyme’s history, famous writers and fossil hunters, although doing it in Regency costume, like members of the Jane Austen Society do, is not a requirement. You can find out more about their themed walks at literarylyme.co.uk.
Go fossil hunting
For ramblers and fossil hunters, at low tide Lyme’s beaches offer tantalising evidence of the area’s Jurassic past with ammonites, belemnites and other more substantial creatures emerging gradually from the surrounding cliffs. To guarantee a safe and successful hunt take one of the 3 hour guided Fossil Walks organised by the Lyme Regis Museum. Fossil experts Paddy Howe and Chris Andrew will teach you how to ‘see’ fossils, point to probable specimens resting at your feet and help you release them from their pebble homes. You can find a list of Fossil Walk dates at lymeregismuseum.co.uk.
The Museum itself is built on the site of where Lyme’s most famous fossil hunter Mary Anning once lived, and offers a fascinating insight into the areas history and geology as well as its artistic and literary connections. Special children’s events are organised during school holidays, and anyone who can identify (let alone spell) ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs or coprolites will treasure this as a ‘must see’ destination.
Although fashionable outlets like Seasalt and Fat Face have joined the shops lining Broad Street, what makes Lyme Regis special is its idiosyncratic independent stores. Perhaps the most famous is Alice’s Bear Shop at 55 Broad Street. In the back room is the Hospital for Sick Bears where owner Rikey Austin and her staff patch up wounded teddies. You can visit the hospital, buy a new teddy bear or even make one yourself at one of Rikey’s day-long workshops (alicesbearshopuk.com).
There are three fascinating recent additions to Lyme’s quirky shop selection. On the curve, where Church Street and Bridge Street meet, is The Writing Room (writingroomlyme.com), a haven for writers and stationery lovers that is like stepping into someone’s front room. Owner and writer, Janis Lane, continues Lyme’s literary tradition by offering time and space for writing and other creative workshops on subjects like calligraphy and journaling.
Further up Broad Street is Edwards & Parr, a gifts and interiors shop with its own artist-in-residence. Here you can watch wildlife portraitist Emma Bowring painstakingly create lifelike studies of rare or endangered creatures. See more of her work online at emmabowring.co.uk or admire it in the gallery at Edwards & Parr.
Finally, for pampered pooches the Pug & Puffin on Broad Street is a specialist in canine (and human) goodies. It is a place where your dog can enjoy its own taste of pawfect retail therapy (pugandpuffin.co.uk).
Three architectural treasures ranging from a water mill, to a seaside theatre and an Art Deco cinema form the cultural heart of Lyme Regis.
Originally a drill hall, The Marine Theatre provides a year-round programme of professional productions, music and comedy acts and local amateur groups. It also fosters new talent through its unique ‘R & D by the Sea’ project in which theatre companies use its facilities to develop new plays. Find a list of what’s on at marinetheatre.com.
Further up the high street is the Regent Cinema, an amazing Art Deco picture palace that first opened its doors in 1937. Recently stylishly redecorated it is part of a small independent cinema chain and offers a broad range films as well as live screenings of opera and ballet. For a full listing of events visit lymeregis.scottcinemas.co.uk.
Lyme’s Town Mill is a 700-year-old watermill that was rescued from dereliction by local volunteers, many of whom still lead the hands-on tours of this working flour mill (townmill.org.uk). Described by one national newspaper as ‘a hotbed of artisan enterprise’ the Town Mill’s cobbled courtyard is home to some lovely shops, a café and a brewery as well as artisan studios and two art galleries (townmillartsguild.com). The venue hosts a number of special events throughout the year including MillFest (14-15 May). With so much going on it’s easy to see why the Town Mill has become one of Lyme’s most congenial locations.
All at sea
From Easter onwards, weather permitting, the best hour you can spend in Lyme Regis is at sea, cruising along the Jurassic Coast on board one of the many traditional wooden fishing boats that depart from the harbour. A fishing (or scenic) trip costs £9 per adults and £6 per child with all gear and tuition provided. Longer deep sea trips can also be arranged, try harrymay.com.
If you want to know more about what is living under the sea in Lyme Bay then a trip to the Marine Aquarium on the Cobb is a wonderfully interactive experience where you can feed mullet and handle starfish. Find out more at lymeregismarineaquarium.co.uk.
For the sporty who want to get out on the water then windsurfing, kayak hire and paddleboarding lessons are offered from April through September by Boylos, the watersports shop on Marine Parade (boylos.co.uk).