The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset — a bird’s eye view

Lyme Regis Photograph by Grahame Austin of Kitchenham Photography; text by Jo Draper

Lyme Regis

Dorset’s western outpost is the town of Lyme Regis, the most westerly parish in Dorset, butting up to Devon. The town was a medieval seaport and since the 18th century it has been a holiday resort too. Although never a large town, it has been important in geology and in literature. Mary Anning, the famous fossilist, made many important discoveries of fossils here in the early 19th century and helped establish geology as a science. The town appears in many books – most famously Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818) and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) by John Fowles, who lived locally. Until the railway arrived in 1903, it was a rather exclusive resort because it was too difficult for the day-tripper to travel there. All that changed with the train, and day-trippers as well as longer-stayers have been welcomed ever since. The railway no longer exists.

From the air the landscape looks much flatter than when walking: Lyme is a hilly place. The photograph is taken at high tide with very little beach showing. On the left is the Cobb, the little harbour whose Portland Stone walls writhe in sinuous curves, keeping the force of the sea off the town proper. Without the Cobb the town would have been washed away. The older houses where the Cobb meets the land stand out well, with the steep Cobb Road leading up inland.

The Langmoor Gardens, the green patch coming down to the seafront, are on very unstable land: attempted development here in 1962 led to a spectacular landslip. This instability is why the old town was in two parts – a little settlement at the Cobb and the town proper in the more stable valley. The trees mark the steepest slopes in the gardens and continue across Cobb Road, again on the steeper land. Houses and a hotel line the shore in the centre, and rougher looking parts of the sea-wall (actually a heap of rocks) frame the river mouth. The old town starts here, with the church visible as a grey building on the right, and dense older houses in the river valley and leading uphill along Broad Street to the left.

Car parks show as large, angular, greyish areas – Holmbush, off Cobb Road, to the left, Woodmead in the centre, and Charmouth Road on the extreme right. Planned developments of houses from the 20th century are much more regular than the old town, especially off Anning Road in the centre; the green area is a playing field. Caravans, all white, show as small rectangles on the top right, off Charmouth Road. East Cliff, on the extreme right, looks very vulnerable with the cliff falling away. New sea walls and more rocks protect the shore to the left of the green point – these walls incorporate the new sewage works.

Although it has grown a good deal in the 20th century, there are still lots of fields just inland. On the top left, the attractive countryside can be ignored: this is the start of Uplyme – which is in Devon.

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